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This special issue was suggested to us by a reader during my term as AJISS
book review editor. Soon after 9/11, many bookstores and popular websites,
among them www.amazon.com, stocked up on Islam-bashing books whose
main arguments were that Islam posed numerous threats to the United States,
in particular, and to the West in general. Authors took umbrage with President
Bush’s claim that the “war on terror” was not a war on Islam, and that, indeed,
it was Islam that was the problem and the enemy of the modern age. How
about making some scholarly responses to these books, our reader asked.
I was initially of two minds, for these books were not academic treatises.
Should an academic journal spend time on non-academic books? On
the other hand, given how important these books were (and are) in shaping
public opinion about Islam and the presence of Muslims in the West, it
seemed essential that Muslim intellectuals should respond. To do nothing in
the face of the barrage of negative and hostile arguments ultimately seemed
irresponsible. The Muslim community was under attack – spiritually and
physically. If there were no intellectual counter-arguments from a Muslim
perspective, what could an uninformed and curious reader rely on to hear
from the other side? A non-response by Muslims would count as affirmation,
because the reader would have no alternative sources with which to think
about the issues being raised. Thus, we decided to provide scholarly
responses to the Islam-bashing books from Muslim intellectuals (or non-
Muslim scholars empathetic with Islam) that would do more than say “these
books are inflammatory” by providing reasoned analysis and argumentation
as to why such books were not only wrong and misguided, but also that they
were actually inciting hatred toward Muslims.
Not everyone agreed with our thinking, and some Muslim academics
felt it would be a waste of their time to review (hence give unwarranted credence
to) nonacademic populist diatribes against Islam and Muslims. Others
embraced the project with enthusiasm. A few reviewers who had initially
consented found that in the end, they were unable to complete their assignments
because they could not stomach such biased and non-academic books.
When I became editor of AJISS, we decided to devote an entire issue to
Islamophobia and not just review a few influential Islam-bashing books. By
this stage, enough time had passed for it to become obvious that ...