Jonathan Brown


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Challenges of Campus Life for Muslim Students

Professor Jonathan AC Brown speaks on the Challenges of Campus Life for Muslim Students during a panel discussion held by the International Institute of Islamic Thought

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My name is Jonathan Brown, I'm a professor at Georgetown University.

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Some of you I made up for I don't think I've had to do. And I think that actually, you know, meets talk at the video, were very helpful in bringing up something I want, I think is very important. And that's a dealing with ideology in university life. Dr. Shi, Kiki, in the video talked about that academia is the universities are the battlegrounds of ideas and ideology. We all know what ideas are, you know, freedom is idea. Justice is an idea. macro economics is an idea development theory is an idea. Marriage and marriage, you know, gender rights, these are ideas, okay?

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People can talk about ideas, people can learn ideas and manipulate them, like, you know, like toys or objects of Plato and

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in your mind and your discussions. ideology is much more complicated. What is ideology? ideology is the background of your brain. Think about this, it's the, it's the way you see the world. And because it's the background against which you see the world view, people don't really are they aren't aware of their own ideologies until they are made aware of. So an ideology is your worldview. It's your set of assumptions that you have, that you learned when you were growing up from your family, from school from the environment overall. And it's what you believe without even knowing you believe it.

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So what are certain, let's say ideologies you might encounter in university.

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ideology, is

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universities are the most liberal part of the United States, the most liberal bastions in American culture. And therefore the ideology that is predominant in universities is the ideology of liberalism.

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What is the ideology of liberalism? I call it daily show audience ideology, right? If you've, I'm sure some of you've watched The Daily Show. What are the what is the world of The Daily Show? Audience? What are the things that are assumed to be true? What are the things that you don't even have to prove? Because everybody knows that this is this is what makes up an ideology. And

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as Muslims is very likely that you are not going to share in a lot of the elements of liberal ideology. And when you go into the university, that's going to become very quickly a conflict for you. This is what often happens to Muslims. And if they aren't aware that they're having a conflict of ideology, they don't know how to deal with that conflict.

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When you talk when you when you want to discuss ideologies, as I mentioned before, your what it means is you're going to be discussing something with somebody that they are actually not really willing to discuss.

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It means that you're going to you're going to question assumptions that they have that they've never questioned before, that they don't want to question. And in one sense, I think universities are the ideal place to do that. Because the university is a place that encourages the life of the mind in which you can sit and discuss things all the time isn't your main job is to do in university. But like I said, it's, you really get into kind of challenging someone's identity. And that can be really good for people. It was, for example, I was not Muslim when I started college, and then I became Muslim. That was a big change in my identity. So it's good, you can have good changes, but it

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doesn't happen without tension. It doesn't happen without confrontation, you just have to be aware of it. So what is let's talk just a bit briefly about liberal ideology.

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We could have long discussion about what liberalism is. But liberalism in general, you could say is the idea that human beings should not be constrained in any way, by tradition or by religion, that the only thing that should constrain us in public life, in our laws in our public morality in our politics, is a reason you know, that we will only discuss things with each other only talk to one another in a public space in the language of reason, what is provable rationally what is provable scientifically, and if people should not have their consent, they're free and constrained in any way by anything other than reason. And a lot of times in the United States in the West, it's also this

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idea that, you know, you can do whatever you want, as long as you don't hurt other people.

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You can do whatever you want, as long as you don't hurt other people. Now, that's a very, very, very, very short, very, almost amateur description of liberalism, but I think it gets at some important points. And I think that if you imagine kind of a Daily Show episode and the audience of The Daily Show, it is or thinks that can give you an idea.

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idea of what liberalism is in its application. Now,

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it's an ideology, because it's not aware of its own assumptions. When we talk about things like you are free to do whatever you want, as long as you hurt anyone else, as long as you don't deprive anyone else of rights, there's a lot of assumptions of sentences. One, it assumes we agree what hurting is.

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It's if we all agree on what it means to hurt somebody. But there are certain things that hurt people in this room, so you don't hurt being hurt people, we can actually, if you get down to it, there's tons of disagreement about what hurt what hurt means, what harm means. Someone who's religious might think that arm is very different than someone who's not religious. Someone who's, you know, comes from a certain background, I think harm is very different from another background. Second,

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you can do whatever you want, as long as you don't infringe on other people's rights, what is the rights?

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What are people's rights, and one of the core parts of liberal ideology, the United States in the West is a notion of human rights. And human rights are the type of thing that if you really are going to have a very hard time challenging these in your inner University, just get up and say, I don't believe in human rights and see what happens to you. I mean, you're gonna get people throwing tomatoes at you and stuff like that. It's a really controversial thing. But what makes things what makes something a human rights, human right is a right that people have, by dint of being human.

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That means if you are a human being you have these rights. That's what a human right is. Now,

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in the early days of the United Nations, it declared I think, was 1948. It promulgated the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

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It actually lists a couple dozen

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rights that all human beings have. And they can't be deprived, because they have these rights based on being human beings. This is show you some of the intense internal assumptions and deep contradictions

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in such a dot declaration or in such a document,

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human the right number 19 declaration number 19 says that people should have the right to freedom of expression, you have the right to do things like express your opinion about Islam, you have the right to say what you think about the Prophet Muhammad has the right to talk about God, right? These are all things that he will do under the Freedom of expression. And they don't have the right to be constrained. They don't, no one has the right to constrain them. However, if you look at article 29, of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, it says that people can

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communities have the right to limit these

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other rights based on things like quote unquote, morality, quote, unquote, public order.

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Now you see where the assumptions come in, what is morality? What is public order, in France, it's illegal to wear a veil, to wear a face veil, it's illegal to wear a hijab in school, because these are what threats to public order.

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If threats to public order,

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in America,

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you can, you know, I can go jogging down the street with my shirt off.

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And sometimes if I've had an exceptionally long run for me, which is about 17 minutes, and I'm almost about to die of heat exhaustion, I will walk the last part back to my house with my shirt off. And I always think to myself, well, how am I able to do this, but if a woman wanted to do that, what would happen?

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When you guess a woman just walked in right now? No, totally topless?

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Did she would get stopped in the neighborhood, neighbors would call the police police and would stop she would be a recipe for public indecency.

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notions of what's indecent, what's immoral, what breaks public order? This is what I thought I thought genders are supposed to be, you know, I thought we weren't supposed to have gender discrimination in this country. I thought that, you know, one of the things that's bad about Islam is it says women have to cover up they have to cover their bodies in ways it's wrong. If it's not fair, why are we if a woman goes to France, she can go to the beach chocolates? You can't do that in the United States. Is the United States violating her human right? No, because the United States is allowed to do this based on our notions of public order, and morality.

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So you can see that there's so the way human rights even in their official formulation, there's always, culture always plays a role.

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Background assumptions always play a role.

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And this is the second really important point to keep in mind, which is the ideology is about power.

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ideology is about power. It's about those who have power keeping it is

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about those who have power, making other people who are challenged with challenge them, bow down and submit. It's about making sure that other people shape their vision of the world to yours. That's the purpose of ideology.

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Okay, it is not neutral.

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And if you look at the world today, all you do is turn on the news for 10 minutes, and you will have this slammed in your face multiple times. Why is it, for example, that in Egypt, the country where 80%, or 85% of women cover their heads?

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If Egypt were to pass a law that said women have to cover their hair, why is that a violation of human rights?

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Well, in the United States, all localities and states or the mass majority have laws that say women have to cover their upper bodies.

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Why is that? If you have a country,

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where only 15% of the population wants to dress a certain way, wants to uncover their hair. And you have a democracy where the majority is able to pass legislation? Why can you not have a law that is passed that says that we may have to cover their hair? I'm not saying that they should do that, or That's right. I'm just saying, if you believe in democracy, why is that? unacceptable? It's unacceptable, because according to Western culture, that's not how people dress.

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So getting, telling other countries that they're violating women's human rights by making them wear hijab, that's us. That is the West saying, you have to accept Western norms of dress, and Western lifestyle. And if you don't, then you're violating their human rights.

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Whereas let's say suddenly, let's say America became totally impoverished, and France became the global superpower, they very well save the United States, you are violating the human rights of women because you don't let them go to the beach, or the pool topless. It seems ridiculous when I say that, but that's the whole point of ideology, it questioning, it seems ridiculous.

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questioning it seems ridiculous. But that's precisely what I think Muslims should do. And they should do that, not only because it protects their own good, protects our religion and protects our worldview. It also makes other Americans come to terms with their own assumptions, their cultural assumptions.

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And that's something that Americans have to do, if they're going to live in a country that is increasingly diverse, linguistically, religiously, racially, they have to be able to question their assumptions if the country is going to remain stable and prosperous.

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Other other ways in which you can, you might confront sort of liberal ideology, the idea that Muslims are violent,

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you know, you can you see on TV, or professors will say, you know, the problem of Islamic terrorism, the problem of Islamic fundamentalism, why? Why are we Why do you even use these words? Do you know? So there's 1.5 billion Muslims in the world give or take? Do you know what percentage of Muslims are terrorists? And that means if you take the biggest definition of terrorism, you include, like all the Iraqi insurgents include the Taliban, all sorts of movements that are National Resistance, we take all of these groups, you take them all as terrorists, and you take the smallest estimate for the global Muslim population. Do you know what percentage of Muslims are terrorists in the last 27?

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point? 00 6% point 00 6%. Do you know what the death genome percentage of American Muslims have engaged in terrorist actions? And I mean, taking the broadest definition of terrorist action and the lowest estimate of the number of American Muslims, do you know what percentage point 000 7% point 000 7% of Muslims, and I'm just having been convicted of terrorism, they might even be innocent? And even things like, you know, material support for terrorism, the biggest definition for terrorism. So how on earth do we talk about linking Islamic terrorism? When point 00 6% of Muslim terrorists? That's how could you on how on earth? Do you talk about that, in addition, between 1980 and 2005 Do

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you know what percentage of terrorist attacks in the US were done by Muslims?

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6% do you know percentage were done by Jews? 7%. So this is it between 2007 or 2005 and 2009. In Europe, 99.6% of terrorist attacks were not done by Muslims in Europe.

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And yet, when we talk about violence and religion, when you talk about terrorism, the first thing people talk about is Islam. That's ideology, because it has people associating things that in no way should be associated if you were to look at the world through any empirical labs.

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You're more likely to find a criminal if you just go up to an adult male in America, then if you go to a Muslim

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people will say things like, why don't you kill them? Why don't Muslims condemn extremists? Where all the modern Muslims?

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This is absolutely absurd. First of all, I've never met a Muslim who supports terms.

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I don't I mean, I've never met I've only met maybe a couple 100,000 Muslims in my life, but I've never met anyone who's like Yeah, I love ISIS. I love these guys are great, you know, no one I've ever had some

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Muslims trip over themselves to condemn terrorism. If you go to the website of Professor actually, UNC Charles kurzman, he has a whole list of all the groups that condemn 911 the Iranian government and mass condemn 911 Hezbollah condemned 911 the Saudi lifting cuz I'm not 11 years old. Now I can definitely everybody condemned 911. And yet people really believe that Muslims

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support terrorism.

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And if you, what I would encourage you to do is for First of all, I would recommend getting in the book called who speaks for Islam by john Esposito and deli Magaha, which is based on Gallup poll information. And you really have material you can just people can't deal with. It can't challenge it. For example, according to Gallup polling, only 2% of the Iranian population agrees that attacks on civilians can be completely justified. 2% of Iran, Iranian population 4% of the Saudi population believes that, quote,

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attacks on civilians can be completely justified. 6% of the American population believes that attacks on civilians can be justified. So Americans are three times as likely as Iranians to believe that attacks on civilian populations are completely justified. So who is the problem with terrorism?

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This is the kind of questions if when you when you confront people with this information, they will be very upset. They will not know how to deal with it, they'll probably get angry and walk away. Because you've challenged basic premises in their ideology. But this is this is what I think Muslims have to do in this country because Americans can't be lazy like this. We can't be intellectually lazy, because it's not going to help anybody. It doesn't make good policy.

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Things like, you know, you turn on the news today and talk talking about ISIS and killing museums and killing Christians and to say, look at Muslims look at Islam, it's a violent. Why does Islam teach these things? You say? No, Islam doesn't teach? Well, why do I always do it on the news? What I would ask is, wait a second. It's also due to violence. Okay, I condemn ISIS. I condemn these actions. I don't believe any civilians should be killed. I don't believe anyone should be killed because of their religion.

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But you see these and Christians were in Iraq for 1400 years, and nothing happened to them. So the very fact that now it's in the news, you have to explain to me if Islam is really so violent, why were they happy living there for all these centuries? And with no news? No one asked that question.

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They ask you to explain why it's happening. Now. They don't bother to ask why it never happened before.

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Yeah, when people talk about you, so always be ready to ask these questions.

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And I find it off. The most useful thing is not to make statements not to attack somebody, or to ask them questions.

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You know, they asked you about why you know why, or why is ISIS doing this? Why is Islam teach these kind of things? You say? Well, you know,

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why has it where we never heard of this happening before?

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Or they ask about

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why did why did Osama bin Laden think it's okay to attack the United States? Why do you think it's okay to kill civilians?

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And just say, well, it's really interesting.

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Because in Islam, you're not allowed to consider. But Assad denied and his justification

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was not Islamic. Actually. He said the reason why American civilians are free game is because it's America's democracy. And they voted for the presidents who enacted the policies that Osama bin Laden didn't like. So Americans are free game, not because of an Islamic army because of the Democratic argument. And then you ask them, you know, where where I saw this argument used recently,

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Israeli generals talking about Gaza. Alan Dershowitz, the harvard law professor explaining why it's acceptable for Israel to bomb Gaza, bombed civilian population, Gaza. Why? Because they voted for us, therefore they are fair game. Exact same argument. This is not an Islamic argument. This is an extremist argument.

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So, you you have to be aware of what, when people a great example of ideology is that Islam has a problem with free freedom of speech. Some of the Islamic limiting freedom of speech when we the Danish cartoons were posted, published and when Charlie Hebdo in France published pictures making fun of the private Muslims violently reacted, behave themselves, why don't they act civilized understand that there's freedom of expression in the world?

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Do you know it's very if you if you are up for it's a very good book. But the author is very intelligent. And all the writing is clear. It asks you to be intelligent, too. I recommend this book. It's fantastic. It's called on the Muslim question. by Anne Norton, and RT o n. I recommend this book. It's one of the best books I've read in the last couple of years period. And she takes every issue and just demonstrates how over and over again, discourse about Muslims in the West isn't really about Muslims. It's about the West. It shows you the assumptions of the West not anything wrong with Muslims, when the Danish cartoons when that whole Danish cartoon crisis started, when a

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children's book author wanted pictures of the profit for his children's book,

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he couldn't find any. So we bought into this newspaper talking about that the newspaper uns posting, put out an ad saying we want you to draw pictures of the profit.

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They got lots of drawings, but they didn't want just any pictures. They wanted offensive pictures. So they why they only took the offensive pictures then they publish them to the Muslim population in Denmark react. No.

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They got a few letters to the editor angry letters theater, that's it from Muslim. They took the Jillian's posts and people took the cartoons to the amount of local moss and showed it to them to shove it in their face. And look at this a man What do you think of this still, dance was the population didn't react except by the way they're supposed to. They wrote letters they express themselves verbally, they weren't violent anyway, no one was harmed in Denmark.

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It was only when the moms from Denmark met at that Organization of Islamic Cooperation meeting months later in Mecca. And they brought actually a whole bunch of material, a sama phobic material that had been, you know, graffiti, other cartoons, and they should look at the problem we have in Europe with Islamophobia. That's when Danish cartoons became a big issue. And where was the violence? Not in Europe? It was in countries like Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, countries that have their own history of violent protests.

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You didn't have violence in in Europe, Muslim populations didn't go and burn things down. So where precisely as you know, what, where's Muslims?

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hostility to freedom of speech.

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Second of all,

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if you look at these countries, like France, Belgium, Denmark, it's illegal to question the Holocaust. I mean, it's illegal to even talk about the number of people killed in the Holocaust, it's illegal. It's illegal to print or distribute Nazi propaganda, any Nazi paraphernalia.

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It's illegal to engage in hate speech,

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in speech that incites violence.

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So actually, if you look at that, when this gets back to that, you know, Article 29, of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, you can limit, you can limit rights expression, if it's important for protecting morality and public order.

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There's lots of things you cannot say, and you cannot print in Europe. Because these things are illegal.

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It just happens to be that it's all in the profits, not one of them. And instead of talking about greater issues of freedom of speech, in a political community, or fake freedom of speech in a country like France, where you have, you know, 7% of the population, North African or Germany, we have 5% of the population Turkish Muslims, instead of talking about how did how do how does a community that is changing demographically religiously,

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deal with freedom of expression, the sensitivities of these communities, how to how to Europeans, quote, unquote, stand up courageously for freedom of speech by insulting this tiny, little minority, this minority that's already oppressed, it's already marginalized, their countries getting up and standing and insulting their profit. That's an act of courage. What about talking about things seeing whether or not you can criticize Israeli policies?

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Right, whether or not you can have a protest for Gaza. In the UK, these protests get broken up. In France, they've become illegal, right? What about freedom of speech? What about freedom of expression on cheap

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issues with like insulting the Prophet, suddenly, if you knew speech is important, on issues like talking about real justice, and 1000s of civilians being killed, suddenly, agreements just disappears. So these are the kinds of

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ways I encourage you to

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Think about

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the question of ideology in university life.

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university life is a battleground of ideas. It's about amount of ideology. And by bringing people's ideologies to light by asking them to confront, understand their own ideologies, you're not only doing your duty as a Muslim, I think you're doing your duty as an American because you're helping a country become more plural. Thanks very much.