When the airliners took down the World Trade Center towers, Americans struggled to find answers. They found some, but a discernible haze over the minds and eyes of Americans existed in those post 9/11 days. The truth many failed to realize was that the jihadists were already here. They were in our towers; the ivory ones.
The cloud of confusion in the minds of a majority of Americans, including those in government, had been created by the academic community since the 1970s, according to Walid Phares. He has taught at Florida International University, University of Miami and Florida Atlantic University in addition to lecturing at others according to http://futurejihad.com.
Phares’ book, Future Jihad, examines the historical context of jihad, the groups of radical Islamists that seek to establish a caliphate, as well as the reasons America was unprepared and left in confusion by the attacks on September 11, 2001. Phares is a terrorism and Mid-East expert for MSNBC/NBC as well as a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington D.C.
“Endless numbers of scholars, opinion makers, and foreign policy bureaucrats were even blurring the vision of mainstream America,” wrote Phares. “Hundreds of articles, books, panels, and shows played down the threat of jihad and its determination to engage in a ‘wholly and holy’ war against mainland America.”
But how and why was the academic community so wrong about jihadists before 2001?
Phares explains in his book that Bin Laden’s advantage and our unpreparedness, were the result of a jihadist penetration. The penetration began in part with Wahabi [one group of radical Muslims seeking to wage jihad] oil money that “targeted a number of nerve centers such as universities and community and religious organizations.” This funding, beginning in the 70s and continuing through the present day allowed Wahabists to blur the thinking of Americans, effectively blinding them to the threat of jihad.
“Students are misinformed by their professors, who were misinformed by theirs—who were funded by the Wahabis,” wrote Phares. “If you poison the factory, you devastate the streams and blur the nation’s vision. From academia you reach the media, government, foreign policy, and eventually the military.”
Phares said that the reason Wahabi funding had so much of an effect on the academy was because there was nothing there to “regulate, counter, provide alternatives, or check the content” of these Middle East studies programs.
“By funding the very programs that were supposed to teach American students about the Middle East and its political culture, the donors were taking control of the knowledge,” Phares writes.
These programs presented a “sanitized” and inaccurate version of the history of the region, one in which conquest and jihad were erased or turned into spiritual inner experiences, according to Phares. These ideas translated into experts hiring students of like-mind or helping them get jobs in industry, media and government, and for two decades it worked; the American public and a majority of people in the government were unaware of the infiltration.
In 1997, Phares said he was interviewed by CNN about terrorists infiltrating the United States. He explained that “ ‘in America, terrorists can build 90 percent of their network on a campus, using all facilities from desks, meeting rooms, fax machines, computers, and on top of it arrange to get a budget from the Student government.’ It is only the last 10 percent, the final sprint toward the actual act of terrorism, that is illegal.”
Being aware of the past infiltration through the academic community should cause alarm as well as foster change to prevent it from continuing. Despite Yale’s recent admission of a former Taliban propagandist to their student body, there is some progress being made. While the Wahabi stream of thought and power is still obstructing change where it can, many people are seeking reform.
“Academic opposition to jihad-in-residence is on the rise. Other views, unable to be expressed through existing programs, are developing in their own fields, such as homeland security studies, terrorism studies, and conflict studies,” Phares writes.
So what is the answer?
Phares believes that because jihadism came from “Arab and Muslim societies by radical ideologues” the antidote needs to come from the same place.
“Democratic, pluralist, and humanist Muslims from various social and political backgrounds are the appropriate figures to debate and counter the arguments of the jihadists,” wrote Phares. The answer, in his mind, is that not only is counterterrorism necessary, but “social and intellectual” changes must be encouraged within those countries too in order to give the youth a choice other than jihad.
Julia A. Seymour is a staff writer for Accuracy in Academia.