Update: After the receiving a letter from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) that Scottsdale Community College violated Professor Nicholas Damask’s First Amendment Rights, Arizona’s Maricopa County Community College District backed down and issued an apology to Damask.
In a statement, interim Chancellor Steven Gonzales apologized to the professor, acknowledged that the quiz questions were taken out of context and promised to create a “Committee on Academic Freedom” to ensure that the district’s “longstanding commitment to the value of inclusion” does not come at the expense of academic freedom.
Gonzales personally apologized for how the college handled the complaint. “I apologize, personally, and on behalf of the Maricopa Community Colleges, for the uneven manner in which this was handled and for our lack of full consideration for our professor’s right of academic freedom,” the statement read.
Gonzales also made clear that Damask was not in danger of losing his job. Meanwhile, after reading Clarion’s article below on the subject, a concerned reader and doctor tried to call the college’s president, Christine Haines. “Without even telling them why I am calling and they keep hanging up on me,” she reported.
Scottsdale Community College (SCC) failed to serve as scholars in an academic institution when the college buckled to local Muslim pressure surrounding three quiz questions.
Teaching a course on Islamic terrorism, Dr. Nicholas Damask, who wrote his doctoral thesis on the subject and has taught at Scottsdale Community College for 24 years, asked the following questions in a class quiz:
- Who do terrorists strive to emulate? (Answer: Mohammed)
- Where is terrorism encouraged in Islamic doctrine and law? (Answer: The Medina verses [i.e., the portion of the Qur’an traditionally understood as having been revealed later in Mohammad’s prophetic career])
- Terrorism is _______ in Islam. (Answer: Justified within the context of jihad.)
A Muslim student took offense with the professor over the questions and, after a couple of private emails back and forth, initiated a social media campaign against Damask.
Forty-eight hours later, the death threats against the professor got so bad that he professor and his wife, along with their eight-year-old grandson and 85-year-old parents went into hiding.
Instead of upholding the right to academic freedom, Scottsdale Community College threw the professor under the bus.
In an online statement (see below), the college’s president, Christina Haines, not only apologized for the quiz questions, she said the questions would be removed from future tests and the student would receive full credit for the quiz:
“SCC deeply apologizes to the student and to anyone in the broader community who was offended by the material. SCC Administration has addressed with the instructor the offensive nature of the quiz questions and their contradiction to the college’s values. The instructor will be apologizing to the student shortly, and the student will receive credit for the three questions. The questions will be permanently removed from any future tests.”
As he made clear to the college from even before the statement was issued, Damask has no intention of apologizing. In his own statement, Damask said, “All quiz questions on each of my quizzes, including the ones in question here, are carefully sourced to the reading material. On this quiz, questions were sourced to the Qur’an, the hadiths, and the sira (biography) of Mohammed, and other reputable source material.”
Commenting on the quiz questions and the case in general, Muslim reformer and Clarion’s National Correspondent Shireen Qudosi, writes:
“As I shared in my 2016 Congressional Testimony on Radical Islam, the answers to these questions depends on who you ask. It depends on which groups are in question, which version of Islam is being practiced, and how terrorism is defined by the group in question and whether they feel the practice is validated by faith.”
“And as my colleague Dr. Zuhdi Jasser and I discussed in a University of Minnesota Town Hall last year along with Asra Nomani, there are many difficult questions [about Islam] and they deserve an honest conversation.
“In an event themed “Honoring Islam by Asking ‘Appalling Questions,‘” we took on some of the toughest questions from the audience, and when necessary, we listened.
“These questions don’t deserve to be shut down. If the question is felt to be incorrectly stated or misleading, then it’s an opportunity for us as Muslims to reshape the question or ask more questions around it.
“Islam has a rich history of dialogue and debates that have shaped the evolution of faith. Only in the last few generations have those debates been shut down in part due to the growth of an Islamist influence and in part due to their unwittingly Western liberal accomplices.
“As a Muslim Reformer, I say it’s an act of faith to have the most difficult conversations possible. Those conversations are my heritage as a Muslim. They’re also what have kept me tethered to my faith, strengthening my resolve that the problem isn’t Islam — it’s Muslims, including those who like shutting down questions.
“Whether that kill switch is activated through exile or death (during the most violent periods in history) or it’s done through the psychological violence of censorship, the result is the same:
- Death of inquiry
- Death of free will
- Death of opportunity to grow closer to God by using the intellect commanded of us in scripture.
“Furthermore, as Dr. Jasser points out in a statement, Dr. Damask is a respected scholar who earned a PhD in political science and a master’s in international relations from American University. Dr. Damask’s dissertation was on terrorism and its funding in the mid-90s.
“Dr. Jasser’s statement also breaks down the timeline of this incident, which he describes as ‘social media instigated cultural terrorism.’
“That cultural terrorism was initiated by what I would called ignorant belligerence when the unnamed student responded to the quiz questions with an email saying,
“‘You have insulted my religion … I’m sick to my stomach.’
“Dr. Jasser’s statement describes the exchange between Dr. Damask as he attempts to engage the student with respect to no avail.
“As a Muslim who comes from a culture of violence against free speech ignited by toxic behavior — which results in everything from psychological abuse to violent murder over interpreted offense of religion — hearing a phrase like “you have insulted my religion,” absolutely terrifies me, because I know exactly the frame of mind of that person:
- They have shut down all rational faculties.
- They’re operating from the amygdala, the part of the brain associated with primitive animal instincts such as fear and anger (again confirming that they are no longer acting rationally).
- This is not someone who has studied Islam. This is someone with immense personal insecurities who has clutched onto religion as a protective identity marker. When that identity is threatened, they become threatening.
- This is someone who, based on behavior patterns of others that have said similar phrases before erupting in violence, would feel comfortable being a bystander to violence, or initiating and partaking in it to protect their world view and interpretation of reality.
- This is someone dangerous. This is not someone who needs college; they need a deradicalization program.
In his statement, Jasser not only pointed out the “unprofessional and incompetent conduct of the school’s top administration” in handling the complaint but how the school’s response only added “fuel to the fire,” especially in light of the fact that within 48 hours of the story going public, the professor and his family were forced to flee their home.
Jasser also noted the negative impact this case will have on future academic freedom at Scottsdale Community College and other institutions. Most tellingly, Jasser asked:
Should the Muslim community be treated like adults or infantilized and coddled after every one of their tantrums? What’s the impact of that bigotry of low expectations upon general radicalization?
Jasser interviewed Damask on his podcast “Reform This!” You can listen to the podcast titled “Snowflake College” by clicking here.