Human Rights Advocates Slam Georgetown Professor's Defense of Slavery, Non-Consensual Sex

Human Rights Advocates and Muslim Students

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Two women walk past a statue of John Carroll, first Archbishop of Baltimore and founder of Georgetown University, on the campus in Washington June 14, 2012. Controversy lingers at some Catholic institutions struggling to balance the rules requiring free access to prescription birth control for women with health insurance with their opposition to contraception. |
A displaced Iraqi child, who fled from Islamic State violence in Mosul, sits with her family outside their tent at Baherka refugee camp in Erbil, September 14, 2014. |
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Yazidi women targeted by ISIS in this undated photo. |
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A Georgetown University professor has outraged human rights advocates and Muslim students with his recent defense of slave labor and non-consensual sex.

In a 90-minute lecture at the International Institute of Islamic Thought in Herndon, Virginia, on Feb. 7, Georgetown University professor Jonathan Brown, who is the director of the Alaweed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at the school, attempted to make distinctions between the forms of slavery in Muslim-majority countries and other parts of the world.

According to one Muslim student who attended the lecture, Brown spent most of his time blasting the practices of slavery in the United States, England and China, while uttering high-minded sounding justifications of some of the most grotesque atrocities occurring throughout the Middle East.

Brown relativized freedom in order to defend the historic use of slaves in Turkey and Arab countries, which he claimed had a fairly decent life when compared to slaves in other regions of the world.

"We all think we are free. Almost no human being is free of dependence on others and on society as a whole — almost everyone is forced to work in order to earn wages to buy food," he said.

When speaking on consent as a central aspect of sexual relations, he said it was Western concept which came to be seen as necessary around the time when feminism began to gain ground and women decided they wanted bodily autonomy.

"For most of human history, human beings have not thought of consent as the essential feature of morally correct sexual activity. And second, we fetishize the idea of autonomy to the extent that we forget, who is really free?  What does autonomy mean?" Brown asked.

Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Washington D.C.-based Hudson Institute, said in a phone interview with The Christian Post on Thursday that "it's appalling there would be exceptions made out of an extreme multiculturalist ideology or political correctness."

"It's particularly shocking in an era when ISIS has revitalized the practice of Islamic slavery among the horribly brutalized Yazidi and Christian women and girls, thousands of whom remain enslaved by ISIS jihadis at this moment," Shea said.

What is more, she added, Georgetown has been taking steps within the last year to atone for past practices in light of documents that surfaced showing the university had profited from the sale of 272 slaves in 1838.

"That a professor from Georgetown, in any context anywhere, would be publicly justifying and seeming to excuse slavery is shocking," she said, adding that "[the school's] own shameful association with slavery 200 years ago is still a sensitive [subject] at the university and much atonement is being made in current time."

"So it's incumbent upon the university to dissociate itself from the professor's apparent defense of slavery in certain circumstances for certain people," Shea said.

Faith McDonnell, director of religious liberty programs at the Institute on Religion & Democracy in Washington, D.C. concurs, telling CP she found Brown's words "unspeakable."

"The Islamic and Arab world has always gotten a free pass on slavery when the actual early origin of slavery came out of the Arab world," McDonnell said. "For this professor to say that Islamic slavery is better and that slaves in the Muslim world lived a pretty good life, maybe he'd like to try it," McDonnell said.

"But actually, he wouldn't have to because he has white skin and a lot of slavery in the Muslim world is based on skin color and is because of racism," she added.

"In Arabic, the word for slave is the same word as the word for black people, 'abeed.'"

A lot of Muslims would be "horrified" by this, McDonnell added, "and shame on Georgetown University for keeping him and for many of the ways in which Georgetown has fallen from what it used to be as a great university."

One such horrified Muslim student was Umar Lee, who attended the talk and took to Student Voices to express his disgust the following day.

Lee asserted that Brown's lecture was rife with moral equivalencies and accused it of being "North Korea style" propaganda.

Also absent from his talk, until someone challenged him, "was any recognition of the rampant abuse of workers in the Gulf, the thousands of workers in the Gulf dying on construction sites, the South Asian child camel-jockeys imported into the United Arab Emirates to race camels under harsh conditions, or the horrific conditions of prisoners in the Muslim World (the latest news being 13,000 prisoners executed in Syria)," Lee wrote.

Lee further recalled that he left the talk knowing that had a Catholic Priest at Georgetown or a Jewish rabbi at Yeshiva University made similar remarks he would be promptly fired.

"So, why as Muslims should we tolerate and invite someone like Brown to speak and why is Brown hideously exploiting Georgetown's commitment to be inclusive?" he asked.

Follow Brandon Showalter on Twitter: @BrandonMShow Follow Brandon Showalter on Facebook: @BrandonMShow

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