[R4899] Apology Accepted? Combatting Islamophobia without Sacrificing Critical Perspective in the Academy

Created by Judd King
Sunday, 11/19/17 3:30pm


This roundtable panel explores a central challenge faced by the academic community in responding to the unprecedented visibility and political ascendency of Islamophobia - namely, the tension between the compulsion to defend a beleaguered community against damaging aspersions and the scholarly obligation to provide critical treatment of their subjects rather than apologetics.
Increasingly, the problem is that "critical" comments about Islam and Muslims are liable to being selectively appropriated to further the agendas of anti-Islamic ideologues, while sanitized, uncritical accounts run the perennial risk of reinforcing or even justifying beliefs and practices of Muslims that deservedly invite legitimate scrutiny. The dilemma is exacerbated by a widespread skepticism of received authority and expertise; in this case, recent years have seen growing traction for a politically-charged allegation that the academic "establishment" is somehow trying to "cover up" the "reality" of an Islam that is putatively intrinsically problematic. Widely-derided, if well-intentioned blandishments, such as "Islam is a religion of peace," while perhaps reflecting the normative views of most Muslims worldwide, have contributed to a growing perception among the general public that purveyors of outmoded Orientalist methodologies represent a legitimate alternative to a mainstream academia unable or unwilling to move beyond apologetics.
The classic challenge of how to counter assertions that "Islam" itself is somehow a sufficient explanation for terrorist violence without denying that many extremists apparently understand religion as their primary motivation is likely the most salient manifestation of this problem since September 11th, 2001, but it only scratches the surface of the tension between Islamophobia and apology. Often, this means revisiting familiar tropes - the questions of Islam and women's rights, of Islam and authoritarian governance, and of Islam and freedom of speech, to name but a few. In other cases, this mounting tension may change the direction of several fledging conversations which have only recently begun to receive sustained academic attention, including Islam and race, Islam and the LGBTQ community, and Islam and slavery.
This roundtable panel seeks to engage the MESA community in a very timely discussion of how the current climate of polarization and Islamophobia is impacting our approaches to these issues. The panel will be a forum both to compare experiences of panelists from a wide array of research and teaching backgrounds, as well to debate strategies moving forward on how to regain our critical voice without furthering an already inflamed islamophobia.


Rel Stds/Theo



Judd King

(American University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Chair; Organizer; Presenter;

Sadaf Jaffer

(Princeton University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Nathaniel Mathews

(Binghamton University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;