The Esposito Threat: Myth or Reality?

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According to the History News Network (HNN), "Oxford University Press has determined that a number of citations and at least one quotation from Bernard Lewis were mangled in John L. Esposito's controversial book, The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality?" Prof. Esposito is Founding Director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, and a prolific interpreter of Islam. If you like him, he's a courageous voice of academic dissent; if you don't, he's an apologist for Islamist extremism. He may be best known for his pre-9/11 line that radical Islamism was not the threat that others (like Bernard Lewis) were making it out to be.

Anyway, in the later editions of his book, Esposito criticized a 1990 article by Lewis that appeared in The Atlantic Monthly. But a quote he attributes to Lewis does not appear in the article; it's actually the cover blurb. The problem was disovered by Irfan Khawaja, adjunct Instructor in Philosophy at the College of New Jersey and a Lecturer in Politics at Princeton. Reports HNN, "Khawaja told HNN that the blurb oversimplifies Lewis's argument, giving Esposito an opportunity to throw an easy punch at Lewis."

Oxford says it will correct the errors, but Esposito's reaction was bizarre. Asked by HNN for a response, Esposito "replied by attacking the credentials of Irfan Khawaja. Esposito said that he had put Khawaja's name in the Google search engine and discovered that 'Irfan's new website is that of a woman.' Esposito also indicated that a 'search of College of NJ indicates no adjnct [sic] by name of Irfan.' The website Esposito directed us to belongs to a graduate student at the University of Colorado/Boulder. As Khawaja explained to us, 'She apparently collected some old papers of mine and put them on her website to elicit comments, etc.'" HNN also confirmed Khawaja's academic credentials.

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  1. “He may be best known for his pre-9/11 line that radical Islamism was not the threat that others (like Bernard Lewis) were making it out to be.”

    And people still care what he thinks, why, exactly?

    “Esposito “replied by attacking the credentials of Irfan Khawaja.”

    Sure sign of a leftist academic.

    “Esposito said that he had put Khawaja’s name in the Google search engine and discovered that ‘Irfan’s new website is that of a woman.'”

    Only an Islamist apologist would think this would discredit their opponent.

  2. Oh she’s a woman. Of course we’ll ignore her then, no problem. Crazy woman slandering a fine reputable scholar.

  3. 1. Esposito is not a leftist, nor an ‘apologist’ for ‘Islamism’. I studied with him at Georgetown and I can tell you that this is surely the case.

    2. People still listen to him because the underlying reasoning behind is argument, that the Christian and Muslim worlds have a lot more in common than most people think, including theologically speaking (remember that this is Gtown, and most of us are Catholics). Also, statistically speaking, 9/11 was a fluke– Esposito’s line is that bridging gaps between Christianity and Islam does the most to lessen the power of Islamic extremists. I think that’s still valuable.

  4. Ted, could you explain what “statistically speaking, 9/11 was a fluke” means?

  5. “9/11 was a fluke”

    Actually, this is precisely Esposito’s problem. While pushing Christian-Muslim understanding (there is an entire department devoted to this at Georgetown, and it was supposed to be the topic of the 2003 commencement address) he denies the existence of militant Islam. He pushes theology in all of his classes, drawing endless parallels to Christian doctrine, but fails to adequately describe how that theory becomes distorted in the hands of extremists.

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