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Nathan Lean and the Muslin Tree: A Modern 'Islamophobia' Parable

Islamophobia's take on rational thought and lose.

“This smart one has a PhD!” was one of the more complimentary things Nathan Lean, author of "The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims," recently tweeted to me. Lean’s tweet was part of a mercifully brief, yet revealing Twitter relationship with me giving insight into the superficial, arrogant mind of a leading “Islamophobia” opponent.

As previously reported by me, my personal contact with Lean began at the controversial (see here, here, and here) 20th anniversary conference of Georgetown University’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU).

Spotting Lean in the audience, I questioned him during a coffee break about Robert Spencer of the website "Jihadwatch," one of Lean’s frequent “Islamophobe” targets. Spencer has termed Lean an “obsessive stalker” for, among other behaviors, his repeated tweeting of Spencer’s supposed address and wife’s picture, called by a Spencer a “clear attempt to intimidate me into silence.” Addressed on this matter, Lean curtly ended conversation by saying that the Spencer topic is “not appropriate” at the conference with its stated Christian-Muslim understanding theme.

Yet Lean was not done with me. My scan of the audience from my front row seat revealed Lean impishly smiling at me from behind. A subsequent glance at my email on my smartphone showed that Lean had begun following me on Twitter, with one tweet from Lean expressing how “amused” he was by my online articles.

No further tweets came from Lean for over a month until he responded to one of my online articles, whose publication I tweeted.

My Christmas Day article “CAIR’s Christ:  Muslim-Christian Common Denominator or (Deadly) Divider” drew the unexplained Twitter criticism from Lean of “being untrue and divisive.” Lean also found the article “tarred by a typo,” namely a headline reference to a “shared Christian – Muslin Jesus.”  “‘Muslin,’” Lean tweeted, “is a tree.  ‘Muslim’ is a person.”

Lean’s restriction of the adjective “Muslim” to persons prompted me to dash off the Twitter shorthand response that “Muslim is not necessarily a person, but can be a belief or behavior or object.”

This observation, retweeted by Lean with the snide “smart one” comment, is particularly pertinent in the case of Lean’s support for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).  This international grouping of 57 majority-Muslim states (including “Palestine”) has pursued a longstanding “Islamophobia” campaign for global de facto blasphemy laws. Drawing upon my previous writing, I tweeted that Lean in the case of Islam “conflates individuals with ideas, thereby saying that to attack the latter is to attack the former.”

One troubled Lean follower entered the fray.

Raoof Ibn Yusuf's Twitter page featured the statements “Supreme Authority Belongs to ALLAH SWT.  If you don’t agree with Sheikh Osama [bin Laden] Rahimullah.  Don’t Follow Me.” An image of the black jihadist flag used by Al Qaeda and others underscores Yusuf’s sentiments.

Screenshot of Raoof Ibn Yusuf's Twitter account.

Raoof ibn Yusuf, responded to Lean’s retweet with the sarcastic query “PhD in what Looney Tunes.!!!!” Lean answered Yusuf and others with the tweet about me that “all he does is troll conferences in DC and write 1200 word hit pieces for pennies.”

Such “pennies” made me think of the common charge at the Georgetown conference and elsewhere that “Islamophobes” are “well-funded,” in contrast to the supposedly impoverished ACMCU with its $20 million grant from a Saudi Arabian prince. My tweet to one Lean Twitter follower who joined our conversation that any “belief system” like Islam “is subject to intellectual inquiry,” meanwhile, elicited Lean’s reaction as well. Lean rejected “1000 word op-eds for neocon blogs funded by anti-Muslim activists” (at least Lean did not say “Jewish” neocons) as “intellectual inquiry.”

Somewhere amidst this Twitter conversation, I decided that if Lean was going to follow me, I would reciprocate, and things got even more interesting.

Lean’s personal fatigue with atrocities such as Al Qaeda’s Sept. 11, 2001, attacks prompted another illuminating interchange with Lean.

Screenshot of Nathan Lean and Andrew Harrod's Twitter conversation.

Lean’s tweeted doubting of the uniqueness of the Third Reich’s genocidal crimes was also intriguing. This older tweet referenced Ebrahim Rasool, South Africa’s ambassador to the United States, a panelist at the Georgetown conference. Rasool had troublingly compared Jewish memories of Nazi genocide immediately preceding Israel’s establishment and Palestinian refugee memories from Israel’s 1948 independence war. “We all carry the burdens of victimhood,” Rasool had stated.

My response was not lacking, considering that Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe were fortunate in comparison to their exterminated fellow Jews, and that some of these refugees had to fight all over again in Israel against Arabs for a free existence.

Lean’s dubious response that the magnitude of a crime is irrelevant called into question why someone like Rasool would compare Palestinian and Jewish suffering in the first place (Competition for world sympathy?)  Unconsidered by Lean and Rasool as well, 820,000 Jews fled Arab lands between 1948 and 1972, with 586,000 going to Israel.

When it comes to all things Islamic such as the recent deeply troubling nuclear agreement with Iran, Lean has a Neville Chamberlain–softness. [“Israel, Saudi Arabia, and every neocon imbecile from here to kingdom come watch as peace speeds by them, refusing to brake.”  “Peace in our time?”]  Criticism of Islam such as from noted atheist Richard Dawkins, by contrast, meets with Lean’s well-known harsh response.

Already by Dec. 28, 2013, Lean stopped following me on Twitter, prompting me to question him whether he “Had enough?”  Lean responded that my “creepy fascination with me (as evidenced by your obsessive tweets) made me uncomfortable.” Apparently Lean thought that his comments brought to light in an encounter initiated by him were not worth any response.  Lean subsequently blocked me from his Twitter account.

Completely forgotten amidst my discussions with Lean was the Muslin tree initially cited by him.  Emailed Lean tweets, though, brought from a friend the response that she “always thought muslin was a fabric weave.” Indeed, an internet search revealed that muslin is from cotton .

A further internet search for a Muslin tree, by contrast, came upon the song “It’s Only a Paper Moon.”  Therein a Coney Island barker sings of decorations at the amusement park such as a “paper moon,” a “canvas sky,” and a “muslin tree.” What a perfect symbol for Lean, who like the song’s refrain hopes that his false views “wouldn’t be make-believe/If you believed in me.”

Behind their bluster of “Islamophobia” accusations, people like Lean have hollow arguments, unable to withstand penetrating, incisive analysis. As my Twitter encounter with him showed, individuals like Lean try to compensate ignorance with insult, responding to evidence and arguments with distortion and snide ad hominem mockery. Hence Lean, while supposedly dismissing me as inconsequential, initiated Twitter contacts for purposes of pure derision. Faced in public with reasoned resistance, though, Lean withdraws from intellectual contention, leaving his empty claims behind.

Serious discussion about Islam, by contrast, can continue among individuals like "World" editor Marvin Olasky, who approvingly cited my Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy doctorate and linked to my “full-of-links” Christmas Day article.  The Middle East Forum’s Daniel Pipes also approvingly linked my article.  Unlike Lean, the Harvard-educated Pipes and the Yale-educated Olasky are both “smart ones” with PhDs.  In this case a typo, a bane of all writers, has produced a positive result.

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