The latest speaker to be “disinvited” from an American college is prominent feminist scholar Phyllis Chesler, whose participation in a University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, symposium on honor killing earlier this month was withdrawn days before the event. Behind the cancellation lies a sordid tale involving faculty machinations, threats from a dean, and at least one shattered window. Together, they offer a case study on the intellectual and moral corruption of academe.
Chesler is an emerita professor of psychology and women’s studies at the City University of New York whose pioneering scholarship exposed the horrors of honor killing, forced marriages, and other brutalities women suffer in Muslim lands and beyond. She was invited to deliver a lunchtime lecture on “Worldwide Trends in Honor Killings” at a conference on “Violence in the Name of Honor: Confronting and Responding to Honor Killings and Forced Marriage in the West” on April 13-14, cosponsored by the law school and the Saudi-funded King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies.
Emails obtained by Campus Watch (CW) from University personnel who requested anonymity show that early on the morning of April 7, a triad of professors – Joel Gordon, Mohja Kahf, and Ted R. Swedenburg – pressured Center director Thomas Paradise to cancel Chesler’s appearance. They were joined by a dean—the emails point to Arts and Sciences Dean Todd G. Shields as the likely suspect—who threatened to cancel the symposium and freeze funding for the Middle East Studies Program (MEST), a unit of the King Fahd Center, if Chesler spoke.
The professorial trio plotted to isolate and besmirch Chesler, should their efforts to disinvite her fail. The three demanded that a “qualified” speaker—i.e., one who disagreed with her—follow Chesler’s remarks, that MEST “publicly withdraw its sponsorship,” and that it provide copies of “Islamophobia Is Racism,” a flagrantly biased, pro-Islamist bibliography “created by a collective of academics inspired by the Ferguson syllabus, for distribution at the symposium.” To complete their virtue signaling, a statement would be read “condemning Islamophobia and bigotry, and affirming [MEST’s] commitment to gender justice and diversity.”
Chesler was charged with “Islamophobia,” a verbal weapon created to question the emotional stability of its targets and silence all criticism of Islam rather than advance debate. Its use against Chesler, herself a psychologist, is not the last irony of this episode.
Some opponents also resorted to violence to silence an outspoken opponent of violence against women. According to emails dated April 7, a window was “shattered” at the private home of Fahd Center director Paradise further to intimidate him into cancelling Chesler’s lecture. A faculty email that day states “the insurance co will replace it [the broken window] without a formal police report too which makes it all easier.” How much easier is made clear by the fact that despite this first-hand account obtained by CW, the University of Arkansas Police and the Fayetteville Police Department informed CW that there are no records of broken windows either at Paradise’s house or at a university building. No report filed means no investigation, no paper trail, and no publicity—smart moves if the goal is to shield the University from bad news rather than apprehend the perpetrator(s).
The university has a chapter of the Muslim Students Association (MSA), a Saudi-founded organization that promotes Islamist propaganda—including Islamic supremacism, opposition to women’s rights, hostility toward America, and anti-Semitism—on campuses nationwide. That Islamists played a role in cancelling Chesler’s talk is revealed in a professor’s April 7 email stating that he anticipated “campus Muslim organizations would get involved” and “a Muslim RSO [Registered Student Organization] might be involved too.” Later that day the same professor emailed a colleague that things were “getting heated,” “really getting ugly and complicated,” and that “it is getting ugly and they are rallying.”
That bigotry triumphed in Fayetteville last week. Chesler’s scholarship exposing the horrific crimes of honor killings and forced marriages sank her invitation not because she’s “Islamophobic,” but precisely because her work undermines the Wahhabi-funded cult of victimology. By its tenets, because all Muslims are victims of Western colonialism and prejudice, no exposure of systemic social problems in Muslim societies—including the brutal slaughter of women—can be allowed, much less supported.
An iron triangle of politicized professors, pusillanimous deans, and petrodollars won the day in Arkansas, a triangle that must be broken for freewheeling debate to be restored at American universities.
Winfield Myers is director of academic affairs and of Campus Watch at the Middle East Forum.