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MILLER: An Academic Controversy in Arizona Shows America is Still America

By  Abraham H. Miller
   DailyWire.com
This picture taken on April 27, 2020 shows thousands of books piling up on pallets and shelves in a warehouse of book distributor Les Punxes in Sant Feliu de Llobregat, near Barcelona, during a national lockdown to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 disease. - With bookstores closed, there is little order or revenue for a publishing sector that had not yet recovered from the previous crisis. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP) (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)
Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images

Sometimes even in the politically correct and intellectually stifling world of academia, a refreshing breeze of sanity reminds us that this is still America.

Professor Nicholas Damask of Scottsdale Community College posted three questions on a quiz about the inferential relationship between radical Islam and Islamic religious writings.

The section was on radical Islamic terrorism, and the questions were totally within the purview of the course and the instructor’s area of expertise, having written a doctoral dissertation decades ago on the subject of terrorism.

By way of disclosure, I was a member of Professor Damask’s doctoral committee back in the day. Even as a graduate student, he showed a remarkable capacity for scholarship, and the idea that he would use his talent to inflame passions about Islam, or any other religion, is simply wrong.

It should also be noted that while everyone should take professor ratings on the Internet with a huge grain of salt and a glass of Alka- Seltzer, for the two and a half decades Professor Damask has been teaching, he has received outstanding ratings and comments. An overwhelming majority of students indicated that they would take another course from him.

One student in the class took exception to the questions on the quiz and posted them on social media without any context. Predictably, they drew a lot of hateful comments, including death threats toward Professor Damask and his entire family.

Clearly, the purveyors of these threats no more represented traditional Islam than did Professor Damask’s questions.

If the professor’s questions could be seen as opining that Islam was not a religion of peace, the hateful responses ironically served as confirmation by embracing the worst stereotypes about Islam.

Social media is a representative sample of nothing, but the satire was inescapable nonetheless.

We might make allowances for the passions of the immature and uneducated, especially since social media does not always bring out the best in people.  What was difficult to comprehend was the reaction of Professor Damask’s superiors, who rushed to judgment, denied him any form of due process, issued an apology in his name without his permission, and then proposed that he become an acolyte of some unnamed imam who would school him in the true nature of the relationship between radical Islam and terrorism.

This assumes that there is one universally accepted understanding of that relationship. Indeed, one can almost hear Islamic religious leaders parsing the differences between the greater and lesser jihad, noting that traditional Islam has been hijacked by groups who kill in the name of Islam and whose victims are primarily Muslims.

It is Muslims who stand in the path and fight against the radical jihadists.

Of course, the bureaucrats at SCC probably understood none of that. Their rush to judgment was based on what they saw as a public relations and political correctness problem.

As some on social media were rushing to extinguish Professor Damask, his superiors were rushing to extinguish his First Amendment and due process rights – a pattern of behavior that, compared to radical Islam, is far more threatening to our democracy.

But in the midst of this brouhaha, voices of sanity emerged – and they are to be commended. Maricopa County Community College District Interim Chancellor, Dr. Steven R. Gonzales, rose to remind the community of the purpose of an education and his abhorrence that Professor Damask’s due process and First Amendment rights had been trampled in a rush to judgment.  “The questions were taken out of context from a unit examining violent political and social movements, and the subject they addressed – the reliance of certain violent groups on religious texts as a justification for their actions – was within the scope of the course,” said Dr. Gonzales, adding that the individuals posting the objections were not even involved in the class.

Kathleen Winn, governing board member of Maricopa County Community College District, noted the sheer hypocrisy and selectivity in the application of standards of offense. The showing, by another professor in the same district, of a pornographic movie denigrating Jesus had been defended on the grounds of academic freedom. The destruction of a Trump balloon covered in swastikas had been defended on similar grounds.

Only, a misperceived attack on Islam had drawn the ire of academic administrators and a rush to judgment unworthy of the positions they hold.

Amid the continuing caricature of itself that academia frequently presents, such sobering voices, reflective of our traditional values, inspire hope that America is still America.

The Daily Wire, headed by bestselling author and popular podcast host Ben Shapiro, is a leading provider of conservative news, cutting through the mainstream media’s rhetoric to provide readers the most important, relevant, and engaging stories of the day. Get inside access to The Daily Wire by becoming a member.  

Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a distinguished fellow with the Haym Salomon Center.

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