Outing the Conservatives: Search Committees and the Failure of Academia in the 21st Century

Timothy Furnish, who is one of the more penetrating analysts of Islam’s apocalyptic dimensions, exploring a topic that his colleagues in MESA scarcely touch, is still teaching at a community college. He tells the tale of one experience, and poses the disturbing question — how typical? Like the MSM, academia has allowed advocacy to slip past honesty as a prime directive, with results that make academia at best useless, at worst, noxious, in this moment of crisis. Yet one more reason why, I suspect, the intellectual community that grows in cyberspace will provide the next generation with the most interesting discussions.

Colleges Score Perfect Grade In Liberal Bias
by Timothy R. Furnish
Investor’s Business Daily
June 29, 2007

I was cautiously optimistic that my quest to move from a community college to a four-year school might succeed this time. The gatekeepers at the annual conference of the American Historical Association, where thousands are interviewed but few are chosen, had seen fit to let me pass, and I was now on the campus of a large state university for round two.

Everything had gone well: my 75-minute PowerPoint lecture to a class studying early Islamic history, subsequent interviews with the department chair and dean — I was on a roll.

Then I was outed. During a meeting with the search committee, a professor produced irrefutable evidence that I “appeared to be more conservative than others in my field.”

Worse, the evidence gave him the weapon he needed to deliver the coup de grace: “You sounded like Daniel Pipes!”

Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum in Philadelphia, a think tank that seeks to define and promote American interests in the Middle East, and a widely published scholar on Middle East issues.

The professor had in hand a two-year-old article, titled “7 Myths about Islam,” that I wrote for the History News Network, a Web site run by George Mason University at which professional historians and history buffs read, write and debate myriad topics.

In the article, I argued against seven pious falsehoods about Islam that the mainstream media treat as historical facts: Islam is the world’s fastest-growing religion; Islam was spread only through peaceful means; poverty produces Muslim terrorists; jihad does not mean holy war.

The committee member took particular offense at another myth I described as “a politically correct mendacity,” namely Tony Blair’s statement that on 9/11 Islam had been “hijacked by terrorists.” He even delivered a brief lecture on the definition of “mendacity” for my edification.

I pointed out the Quranic roots of violence and jihad and insisted that jihadists have firm Islamic roots for their lionization of violence. And I stated plainly (as I had in my lecture earlier that day) that the vast majority of Muslims don’t support a seventh-century interpretation of jihad.

In response to the offended academic’s demand that I fess up and call Christianity violent, I answered that Christians had indeed practiced violence throughout their history, but that to do so they had to contradict their founder, whereas Muslims had only to emulate theirs.

Further, I adduced my Middle East Quarterly article, “Beheading in the Name of Islam,” which traces the Quranic, Hadith and historical precedents for jihadist decapitations of non-Muslims.

Challenged by me to refute my work, the objecting professor sidestepped academic evidence — further indication that he lacked the ability to disprove my research. He did, however, betray his political agenda when he said, “Most of our students are conservative Christians who already hold a view of Islam and Muslims similar to yours.”

Was he suggesting that the role of the history professor is to disabuse his students of their religious beliefs — to transform them into reliable fellow travelers — rather than to engage them with solid research and teaching? If so, he needn’t look far for allies.

For another committee member objected that my research into Mahdist (Islamic messianic) movements presented Muslims as imperialists — never mind that the Ottomans were seen as such by co-religionists in Africa and Arabia. Her worldview, shaped by Edward Said’s notorious book “Orientalism,” would admit of only one kind of imperialism: Western.

No one involved in the selection process objected to the accusations that I was too conservative — too much like Daniel Pipes — to join their faculty. At this university, as at so many others, such charges are seen as rational objections to professional weaknesses, not as politicized protests against candidates who fail to pay proper obeisance to reigning pieties.

Before heading home I met again with the search chair, who tried in vain to assure me that the ideological litmus test I’d just failed in fact had never occurred. I asked her if she had ever heard a committee member accuse a candidate of being “more liberal than others in the field.” Of course she answered “never.” When the rejection letter arrived, it was hardly a shock.

I now have a personal story that backs up all the empirical studies documenting the bias against conservatives in the academy. If getting a Middle East or Islamic history job at a college or university means converting from following Bernard Lewis to the false messiah Edward Said, I won’t be changing jobs anytime soon. I only wish search committees would stop pretending that the diversity they seek is anything other than skin-deep.

Furnish is an assistant professor of history at Georgia Perimeter College in Dunwoody, Ga., and the author of Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, Their Jihads, and Osama bin Laden (2005). He writes occasionally for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. His website is http://www.mahdiwatch.org/.

17 Responses to Outing the Conservatives: Search Committees and the Failure of Academia in the 21st Century

  1. igout says:

    The sane and healthy parts of Western society will do what must be done, although I must admit they’re certainly taking their time. Academia and the rest of the pc-elite had better pick a side–and pick it wisely, Otherwise, in the same sense that Stalin would heave a melancholy sign and utter this mild warning, things will end badly for them.

  2. fp\http://fallofknowledgeandreason.blogspot.com/ says:

    lost cause.

    academia is producing generations lacking knowledge,
    unable to reason, indoctrinated with lefist and arabist crap.

  3. SE says:

    Richard, do you consider yourself, your father, and a host of non-leftist members of academia exceptions to the rule?
    There are any number of non-leftist academics with good jobs out there. Could this fellow be knawing on a sore bone?

  4. Richard Landes says:

    first of all, my father was and still is a liberal (and still a democratic voter) — just not a useful idiot. and i’m even more progressive than he is. i think there are lots of good people in academia. it’s a wonderful place.
    but Middle East Studies is a mess, as are significant elements of many of the social sciences and humanities (fields like poli sci, sociology and some anthropology).
    i’ve alsways viewed the “leftist skew” of academia as natural — scholars, esp historians, are most often culture critics. it’s our job. as i put it to my students at the beginning of my class on heresy: if this were the middle ages, i’d have been burned a long time ago.
    but now, when the very freedoms that make academia possible are in danger, academics are behaving foolishly, and they’re so smart that it’s nearly impossible to get them to even consider the problem.
    this isn’t necessarily agenda driven stuff like what hit Furnish. it’s just a combo of “even-handedness” and “cognitive egocentrism” staked down by political correctness.
    it’s not, for the most part malicious. but the consequences are devastating. just when we academics should be saying useful stuff, we’re saying stuff that is, at best, useless, at worst, very bad advice.

  5. Joanne says:

    I don’t think anyone has to pick a side. It’s a question of balance, and the ability to maintain intellectual independence not only from the government or powers that be, but also from one’s colleagues.

    One can be a progressive, and pro-Zionist and against the excesses of political correctness; i.e., the kind of “political correctness” that’s really just political conformity.

  6. fp\http://fallofknowledgeandreason.blogspot.com/ says:

    well, if one side is founded on one big lie and hatred, i dk how exactly you can be balanced. the problem is that the left picked the wrong side. and it’s the side that is anathema to the principles of the left.

    so the people who are supposed to be the smart section of society, the educators, are the dumbest of the lot.
    no wonder the rest of the society is so pathetic.

  7. Eliyahu says:

    The so-called Left, especially insofar as it is led by the Communists, has been pro-Muslim for many years, at least since 1917 when Stalin’s newly formed Commissariat of Nationalities came out with “An Appeal to the Muslims of Russia and the East”
    See link:

    Ironically or not so ironically, taking this position meant a convergence between the Communists and the British Empire which was becoming more and more pro-Muslim during the 20s and 30s and 40s [think of Arnold Toynbee], and especially in recent years when London is being called Londonistan for good reason. This pro-Muslim policy was expressed in India, Israel, the Sudan, Egypt, etc. So the frenzy in favor of boycotting Israel is strongest in the UK today, with various Communist factions leading the hounds against us. But UK govt policy is pro-Arab, despite the silly things that we hear in praise of Blair [as if he were a friend of Israel] who has actually been pro-Hamas. Melanie Philips has shown that. See link:

    Hitler too was pro-Muslim, if you hadn’t guessed. See what he says in “The Tabletalk of Adolf Hitler.”

  8. fp\http://fallofknowledgeandreason.blogspot.com/ says:

    stalin and hitler are known to have hated the muslims, they just their pro-stance for ulterior motives.

    there is a similar use of the pro-muslim stance by the left as a way to demolish western society, but it’s not entirely clear to me that they even think about who exactly they are in bed with.

  9. I remember my first official day in a PhD program for Political Science – the professor asked us to go around the room and answer the following question:

    “If you had to wear a t-shirt that had one or two words expressing your political philosophy, what would it say?”

    It was tragic to see 8 or 9 graduate students, some of whom were clearly uncomfortable, pander to the pressure to say that they were “Liberal, of course” or some variant. It was even more tragic to see the remaining 2 or 3 say smugly that they were glad to be around such enlightened people.

    [For the record, when the question got to me, I said, “I wouldn’t wear a shirt – I’d shave the word “Irrelevant” in my chest hair. I’m not concerned with anyone’s personal politics in a research methods course.”]

    Academia is losing a fair number of talented minds to an unwillingness to be immersed in such an intellectually homogeneous environment. I agree with Richard when he says that cyberspace will provide the most provocative thought in the future – I think we’ll see a proliferation in aggregate/group blogs [think TownHall.com] that unite independent scholars in an effort to become popular [and well-respected] authorities on specific topics. It will be interesting to see how academic “exiles” utilize new media in the private sector – and how the universities respond to that challenge.

  10. Richard Landes says:

    to Matthew — very interesting remarks. i hadn’t thought of the braindrain that academics cause with their assumption that everyone, esp in grad school, agrees with them.

    your anecdote is telling. it’s like the time that i got an invitation to a reception with the adendum, we’ll meet to celebrate (a university event) even if bush wins the election. they just assumed everyone would have voted against bush.

  11. Richard Landes says:

    My apologies to the person who left a comment here challenging me and T. Furnish about the nature of political screening. Somehow it got lost (or i dreamed it — not only do i remember approving it, but even if i didn’t, i should have an email for it and i can’t find it). so here is what i remember:

    the reader said more or less: don’t landes and furnish think they’d also be screening people for political positions, and would be as unwilling to hire a “left-winger” as the liberals at this unnamed college were leery of hiring a “right-winger.”

    i’ll let timothy answer for himself.

    i have two remarks to make. first, yes, if there were someone i thought had a dangerous political agenda, i’d vote against him. we actually had a job candidate who spoke about war crimes of one of the axis countries (his specialty) and ended up comparing george bush’s war crimes unfavorably with the them. that did set off bells.

    on the other hand, he was hopelessly sloppy in his methods (had to be). i followed up on the references he gave: chomsky was his major source for estimating casualties in south-east asia. so it was something of a no-brainer. both ideological slant and methodological sloppiness.

    but the larger question is a good one. in principle, it’s about the seriousness of the scholar, not his or her conclusions. if the work is methodologically sound, reflects a careful and wide-ranging analysis of the evidence, does not have agenda first, then that person deserves consideration.

    i can say without hesitation that if a “right-winger” were to try and get a position and did sloppy work, i’d vote against. (to be honest, i don’t much like genuinely “right-wing” thought. our problem today is how much empirical thought gets written off as right-wing by people (like the “conservative” Gordon Brown) who operate in a fantasy world of denial.

    but i won’t stop there. i do admit that at this point, i think the “moral equivalence/ moral inversion” argument is now truly dangerous. (mind you, i for a time embraced in my radical, soul searching youth — its part of trying to be honest with oneself and own one’s own/ one’s culture’s faults. it’s just that once i looked around at other cultures, and refused to say with Olof Palme — my culture’s oppression is a crime, theirs is their culture — it became clear that we need perspective when dealing with these matters.)

    so in the same way that liberals see the “dan pipeses” of the world as dangerous, so do i see the “noam chomskies” of the world dangerous.

    what’s the difference? well, for one thing, i’d put pipes’ and chomsky’s empirical reliability to the same tests, and my bet is that pipes would come out significantly superior.

    but there’s something else. at this point “progressive” perspectives have so invaded the academy that it’s hard to even hear sane voices anymore. i would hate an academy dominated by right-winger (real ones, not just reality testers exiled by “progressives”) probably more than one dominated by the current crop of PCP1 and PCP2ers. it’s variety we want. the real hope is in the thrash of ideas, the culture of controversy, and a public following and judging to the best of its ability.

    ultimately, that takes place against a backdrop of empirical verification. if you make your case with fantasy statistics, or anecdotal evidence that turns out to be questionable at best, if you only listen to the information that fits your model… then you will eventually fail before an audience of fair-minded and reasonably well informed people.

    it’s one reason i think the blogosphere is where it’s at right now… the independent intellectual community.

  12. Tim says:

    If the accused may be so bold as to weigh in….
    I’d welcome articles and comments by left-of-center folks who can document, anecdotally or empirically, discrimination against them by right-wing academic search committees. Outside of the extremes like a Bob Jones University, I seriously doubt such ever happens in modern American academia. Remember, after that ideological purity test was applied to me, I pointedly asked the search chair–who told me she’d been on at least half-a-dozen search committees–whether she’d ever heard someone branded “more LIBERAL than others in [their] field.” She sheepishly admitted “never.” As Dr. Landes so sagely observes, the issue really should be one of good research, no matter what the field. I never write anything about Islamic history that I have not first researched by delving into the Islamic sources first, usually in Arabic. That, not preconceived political positioning, is how I came to conclude that there is a violent strain in Islam and Islamic thought rather unlike that in Christianity and Judaism. Again, the attacks I underwent for being a “conservative” never made it onto the ground of Qur’anic, Hadith or historical scholarship; no one seemed interested (or able to fathom) WHY I came to write the article in question. Of course, my interlocutors could not read Arabic, so how could they dispute me? Ergo, the attacks were frankly political and ad hominem (implying I did not know what “mendacity” meant), bordering on puerile. If that’s what passes for academic debate–on Islam or any other subject–in a modern American university, then frankly I want no part of it. But it’s a rather sad departure from true academic inquiry.

  13. Eric Martel says:

    I don’t think I was accusing or challenging; I’m on your side. It’s just characteristic of homo sapiens, not just the liberal sort, to prefer their own kind.

    Just read a book about Paracelsus. He could never obtain a university position in medicine because he said Galen was wrong. Long after his death, some universities wouldn’t hire you unless you were a ‘Paracelsian,’ so cheer up, long after you’re dead, maybe no one can work in Middle East Studies without being a ‘Furnish-Landesian.’

    I find it amazing that people who can’t read Arabic are judging your work!

    As for that ‘violent strain in Islam and Islamic thought.’ Why is it that Islam was founded and developed at the same time as the Arab conquests, but almost no one admits this? It seems to me that there are only two ways to explain it: either it’s an astonishing coincidence, or Islam and imperial conquest have something to do with one another. I know only what a layman could know after reading a few popular books, and even I noticed this desire to ignore or downplay the fact that Islam and Empire went together like bread and butter from the start.

  14. RL says:

    So Eric, that was your note i lost? you’re name is familiar.

    as for the future of paracelsus… i agree with your perspective, and even think that’s what will become of my work in medieval history.

    i wrote stuff about the critical role of apocalyptic expectations in the social mutation that took place at the turn of the millennium (which, i argued, set the west off on its peculiar course). the people to whom this picture of the period was most complimentary — the french — hated it and a second rate historian wrote a systematically incomprehending attack which, for reasons i speculate about here, found a welcome audience among the insiders).

    i figure it’ll be at least a decade before some historians, less committed to their “Galen”, finally understand what i’m saying (not really that complicated, but it seems to arouse intense emotional resistance — how dare you say people back then were stupid enuf to think the world was coming to an end…, which is not even what i’m saying, but whatever.)

    the problem is that the particular paradigm shift we need to carry out around the problem of global jihad, cannot be left to the slow motion of intellectual changes. (one of einstein’s colleagues said, “physics advances funeral by funeral.”) this problem is slightly more urgent, and if we don’t get it right, in twenty years the universities will not be teaching Paracelsus, but whatever monstrosity of medicine “jihadi doctors” come up with.

  15. Richard Landes says:

    answer to eric II:

    I find it amazing that people who can’t read Arabic are judging your work!

    not at all. obviously they want from the arabic readers a sense of how good is TF’s arabic, but the idea that only arabic speakers can judge the historical analysis, is not only an intellectual fallacy, but a critical error at a time like this. academics judge colleagues in other specialties all the time, we have to. on the other hand, we ask the opinion of people who know better. but the actual topic, even the languages, are only part of the work. the handling of evidence, the quality of the reasoning, the assumed model of human behavior that underlies the imaginative reconstruction of the past — all of these are things that we all have a right to discuss and judge.

    As for that ‘violent strain in Islam and Islamic thought.’ Why is it that Islam was founded and developed at the same time as the Arab conquests, but almost no one admits this? It seems to me that there are only two ways to explain it: either it’s an astonishing coincidence, or Islam and imperial conquest have something to do with one another. I know only what a layman could know after reading a few popular books, and even I noticed this desire to ignore or downplay the fact that Islam and Empire went together like bread and butter from the start.

    read Ephraim Karsh’s Islamic Imperialism.

    i think what you were detecting was the impact of the KarenArmstrongJohnEsposito school of Islamic history that is big on apologetics, small on real history.

  16. Eliyahu says:

    Richard, I read your fascinating account linked to above of how your book was received in France. One would have thought that in France, of all places, the book would have been welcomed and praised, if only because its thesis about great progressive changes taking place in France after the Millenium and their influence in Western Europe should have pleased the French since it would seem to have contributed to their amour-propre. Ironically, the book displeased many there. I accept your argument that the reasons for the rejection may have much to do with 1968, just as the rejection of Michelet’s earlier espousal of the idea may derive from the attitude in the 1870s toward the Commune. As to being marxisant, I do think that, at least your explanation of the book’s rejection, could be seen as being a “class-based” explanation. That is, you explain the rejection of a theory held by the super eminent and venerated historians, Michelet and Duby, as well as yourself on the grounds of an upper class fear of the masses. But I would not be surprised if the self-styled “leftists” and Trotskyists or other Communist varieties in France [among the historians] also rejected your thesis, since the religious aspect probably bothers them more than any postive desire they may have to champion the workers/peasants.
    I’m am very bothered now by another French historian, one Henry Laurens, who wrote La Question de Palestine. This book does have a lot of info, I believe, but is also very slanted, omits or minimizes what does not fit his anti-Israel thesis, etc. He even seems to invent in one place on a very serious issue. Yet, this Laurens is at the highly prestigious College de France.

    Mention of Laurens brings me back to how the history of the Arabs is so often embellished by lies of commission and omission. Edward Said provided justifications for the approach that you rightly ascribe to Karen armstrong and john esposito. But in fact this tendency to embellish Arab history, and crucially the history of the Arab conquests, goes back long before edward Said. I try to show this on a recent post on my blog. Carl Brockelmann, whose History of the Islamic Peoples was published in the 1930s [in Nazi Germany to be sure] does this quite obviously. Yet, Brockelmann was long respected and I am sure that he still is. [see link:]

    I also have in hand a paperback called The Arabs: People and Power by the Editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica. This book came out in 1978, just a year or two before Edward said’s first big book, orientalism. As one might expect of the Britannica, the embellishment of Arab history is very blatant and crude in this volume. So if what the historians write reflects the desires of rulers and imperialists, as Said claimed, then the imperialists must be on the side of . . .

  17. Tim Furnish says:

    Gentlemen (especially Mr. Martel),
    I did not mean that folks who cannot read Arabic have no right to an opinion on my work; I simply meant that I know more about what jihad means, working from Arabic and Islamic sources, than does a professor whose specialty is another field and cannot work in those primary sources. Likewise, a scholar who can read Chinese would know more about Confucius than me. Isn’t that logical?

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