Letter to the Editor: Hoffman’s “Islamophobia”

Glenn Starkman

On Oct. 14, the Observer filled its front page with an article about a public conversation held almost two years ago on the CWRU campus between Dan Moulthrop, CEO of Cleveland City Club, and Stephen Hoffman, President of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. The headline criticized Hoffman for “speculative comments against Muslim (sic)”, and the article emphasized that criticism through quotes from, among others, Professor Pete Moore, who called Hoffman’s comments “despicable” and “emblematic of [Islamophobia] (sic).”

I challenge The Observer’s editorial staff’s judgment that a nearly two-year old conversation is front-page news. I also challenge the editorial staff’s alarmist headline that irresponsibly skews Hoffman’s nuanced and balanced comments.

I struggle to understand how Hoffman’s reported remarks can be characterized as Islamophobic. Responsibility for the recent Paris terrorist attacks was claimed by ISIS and it appears quite likely that the attacks were perpetrated by self-identifying Muslims. Hoffman’s statement “that the radicalized group [perpetrating the attacks] is small, but the next circle that tolerates attacks on Jews is larger, significantly larger” is consonant with arguments put forward publicly by scholars, such as Farhad Khosrokhavar of Paris’ noted School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences. He asserted in a recent conference presentation at Stanford University : “In the recent years, most of the anti-Semitic misdeeds in France have been committed by a new type of individual …the male French citizens of North African descent who mostly live in the poor suburbs.” Khosrokhavar goes on to analyze “the hatred towards the Jew by some French people of North African origin”.

Hoffman’s view that the Quran contains “passages that are anti-semitic … as well as passages that say ‘don’t hurt the Jews’”— an assessment shared by many mainstream scholars —is not itself Islamophobia. Hoffman specifically states that he “does not believe this [anti-semitism] is because of the teachings of Islam.” We are never told what specifically Professor Moore finds “grossly ignorant” about Hoffman’s moderate views.

Finally, by including only quotes from Professor Moore and the Vice-President of the Muslim Student Association, The Observer has failed in its obligations to present any sort of journalistic balance. They would have had no difficulty finding contrary opinions. I call on The Observer to consistently practice balanced reporting and headline writing in its news articles.

Glenn Starkman