Professor John Esposito


 By Ece Koc

Professor John Esposito, the outspoken inter-faith promoter was recently on A9 TV’s Building Bridges show. Esposito, offered his views on many subjects including US media’s way handling news about Islam, the ways to cope radicalism and the notorious Regensburg Speech of Pope. 

Esposito is a figure known for his strong views in favor of building ties with the Islamic world, especially after 9/11, when many people thought otherwise. From time to time, he became such a controversial figure, many people accused him of downplaying the threat of terrorism. He, however, seems unabated by all this criticism, and is gaining more and more popularity now. Esposito most recently appeared on A9 TV of Istanbul, a television channel known for its efforts to promote peace in the world.  So when the hosts asked him about how Islam is covered in the mainstream US media, Esposito had lots to say:

“…two-thirds of that will be about mainstream Judaism and Christianity, practices, relations, good news and then maybe one-third will deal with problems and issues, okay? The reverse is true in covering Islam and Muslims in general; that is a disproportionate amount deals with what I would call the explosive headline events, the conflict events. What you see is this kind of Islamophobic, or bias to Islam in regard to a religion, has become part of our mainstream politics; in other words, its mainstream politicians. And then there are your militant Christian Zionist preachers, many of which have megachurches or are televangelists who have large TV followings, or are talking heads in the media and again, politicians and others, so that not only impacts and affects, if you will, not only Muslims domestically, but it falso impacts American foreign policy.”

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He feels that the way most of the time Islam is portrayed is unfair, and anyone could have applied the same approach to Judaism and Christianity, too, if they wanted: “The way you feel about Muslims, the way you think about Muslims, if you don’t make the kind of distinctions that I’m talking about the vast majority of Muslims and Islamists, and Islam as a religion of peace, then you have a problem. It would be the same, analogously, if you say, “Look, if you look at the early history and down through the centuries, Christianity was not a religion of saints but a religion of warriors” and was often used to spread the religion, from the conquistadors to European imperialism, and even the logic of a good deal of American neo-colonialism in terms of Christians see as opening up the Muslim world to greater conversions, and if you take into consideration pedophilia and see Christianity or Roman Catholicism and see it through that, you would be seeing it through a very distorted lens.”

Esposito also feels very strongly against Islamophobia and indeed he has been very frequently targeted himself by Islamophobists as well: “And I think the thing that you want to keep in mind too is that the situation gets ratcheted up exponentially because we have so many mean-spirited, right-wing Islamophobic websites; so for example, if an article appears criticizing me, in a matter of days that will be picked up and appear in a dozen different versions and appear in all these other websites, and your average American, many of them wind up looking at these websites. Many of them have titles, it’s not just the websites like “JihadWatch”, it’s the websites that have titles that seem nice and innocuous, websites like “American Thinker” “Family Security”, and so I think that’s what ratchets that up exponentially.

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We are swimming against the tide

Esposito also mentioned that especially after 9/11, the Islamophobists had the opportunity to cash in the fears of people:           

On those websites, it is simply said in general that Muslims are a problem, that Muslims are a threat to security, that Islam is a problem. Therefore, if there’s an attack made, other websites pick this up because they all cross-fertilize themselves and over a ten-year period, over forty million dollars was given by acceptable foundations to these kind of websites and their creators and many of these folks are quoted as the terrorists affect them; the Norwegian terrorist, Breivik, quoted these folks extensively, and on the other hand, on page 66, there’s a page attacking me and my center for our work. So that’s where we’re at. The whole point is that you’re doing, what so many of us do, is very important because we are swimming against the tide, as it were, in terms of popular culture and a distorted conventional wisdom.”

When asked about his views on how to combat radicalism, he had one answer: ‘education’. Esposito elaborates: “I think the first thing, the most important thing frankly is education. And also it becomes very important to get religious leaders on board. You know, one of the difficult thing, and here I have to be quite frank, I admire the way that religion and religious education and Islamic reform is being done by a number of Turks, both in government and non-government. The thing is, yes we can get to a point where we get very senior religious leaders, the real impact comes when those senior religious leaders make sure that the priests, rabbis and imams are trained in their religious schools to have that pluralistic, tolerant outlook because they are the people who impact the local communities. They impact the families of the people who are going to be parents, they impact the kids who are going to the mosques, synagogues and churches. All of this is very important.