Jonathan A. C. Brown is described in Wikipedia like this:
Jonathan A.C. Brown (born 1977) is an American scholar of Islamic studies. Since 2012, he has been associate professor at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. In 2014, he was appointed Chair of Islamic Civilization. He is the editor in chief of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Law.
He has authored several books including Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenges and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy, Hadith: Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World, and The Canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim. He has also published articles in the fields of Hadith, Islamic law, Salafism, Sufism, and Arabic language.
And his Georgetown site itself it says he’s “associate professor” and “Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Chair of Islamic Civilization.”
Within that school of Foreign Service is embedded Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, whose mission is described as “to improve relations between the Muslim world and the West and enhance understanding of Muslims in the West.”
Brown’s mission, at least as I can see on that site and in a new post at “Student Voices” by freelance writer Umar Lee, is to whitewash Islam as a way of “enhancing understanding”—as well he should do given who’s funding his chair. Lee’s post, called “Georgetown Professor Jonathan Brown defends slavery as moral and rape as normal in Virginia lecture,” recounts a lecture Brown gave a few days ago at at the International Institute of Islamic Thought in Herndon, Virginia.
Lee was appalled, reporting that Brown, while excoriating slavery in the West, basically excused it when it was practice by Muslims. He also downplayed the role of “consent” in sexual relationships between slave and “owner”, and implicitly between husband and wife (the concept of marital rape in the absence of consent is not clear-cut in Islam; apparently the husband usually has sexual “rights” to his wife but isn’t allowed to harm her). You can hear the whole lecture below, and though I haven’t listened to all of it, the relevant bits seem to be pretty much as Lee reported them (see time marks below). I’ve reproduced the quotes made by Brown, and the commentary given in Lee’s piece, below; you can verify some of this by starting to listen at 72 minutes in.
The indented bits are taken from Lee’s report:
Not knowing what to expect from Brown I was shocked when he basically went into a 90 minute defense of slavery which included an explicit endorsement of non-consensual sex.
While the lecture was supposed to be about slavery in Islam Brown spent the majority of the lecture talking about slavery in the United States, the United Kingdom and China. When discussing slavery in these societies Brown painted slavery as brutal and violent (which it certainly was). When the conversation would briefly flip to historic slavery in the Arab and Turkish World slavery was described by Brown in glowing terms. Indeed, according to Brown, slaves in the Muslim World lived a pretty good life.
I thought the Muslim community was done with this dishonest North Korean style of propaganda. Obviously not. Brown went on to discuss the injustices of prison labor in America and a myriad of other social-ills. Absent from his talk (until challenged) 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).
Brown constructs a world where the wrongs of the West excuse any wrongs (if he believes there are any) in the Muslim World.
“Slavery wasn’t racialized” in Muslim societies, Brown stated. That would be believable if it weren’t well-known black people in the Arab World and African-Americans in this country weren’t constantly referred to as abeed (slaves) simply because the color of the skin.
Brown described slavery in the Muslim World as kinder and gentler. The Arab poet who wrote “before you buy the slave buy the stick… for he is nejas (impure)” is perhaps a better description of Arab slavery than what Brown offered.
“Slaves were protected by shariah (Islamic Law)” Brown stated with no recognition of the idealized legal version of slavery and slavery as it was practiced. In this version of slavery there is an omission of kidnappings, harems, armies of eunuchs, and other atrocities.
. . . “It’s not immoral for one human to own another human” Brown stated in his clearest defense of slavery. Brown went onto state that being an employee is basically the same as being a slave and painting himself as a real romantic Brown told me his marriage was akin to slavery because his wife held rights over him. The fact that both of these arrangements can be terminated and are consensual seemed lost on the aloof academic.
“Consent isn’t necessary for lawful sex” said Professor Jonathan Brown of Georgetown University.
Shortly after I asked Brown my questions about his defense of slavery a woman seated in front of me asked about the permissibility of sex with slaves. Brown emphatically stated consent is a modern Western concept and only recently had come to be seen as necessary (perhaps around the time feminism began to take root and women decided they wanted autonomy over their bodies). Brown went on to elaborate consent wasn’t necessary to moral and ethical sex and that the morality of sex is dependent on the lawfulness of the sex-partner and not consent upholding the verdict that marital-rape is an invalid concept in Islam.
As Lee points out, if any academic had said this besides a scholar of Islam defending Islam, he’d be drummed out of his department. Now while I think Brown’s comments are reprehensible, and that’s he’s being an apologist for those paying his salary, he’s free to say this kind of stuff if he wants. And I don’t think he should be fired or punished for saying these things, for that constitutes academic freedom. But that doesn’t stop me from excoriating him as a smooth-talking, highly paid, and odious apologist for some of the worst excesses of Islam. He belongs with Reza Aslan, Karen Armstrong, and C. J. W*rl*m*n as one of the most active apologists of Islam writing today. To call Brown a toad is to do an injustice to toads.
Here’s the audio of Brown’s remarks, which you can hear in an archived Dropbox version if this YouTube audio disappears. As Wikipedia notes, the discussion of slavery is around 73 minutes in and rape around 79 minutes in.
Finally, if you’ve heard the bits above, go over to the Prince Alaweed Center’s site and see Brown’s tortuous apologetics for stoning and amputation under Islamic law. I couldn’t really find an explicit condemnation of these practices; instead, Brown says they’re “rare” and then castigates the West:
The Hudud [transgressions that can merit corporal punishment] are, in fact, the perfect storm of controversy and grievance. To the twentieth-century West, with its phobia of physical punishment, prison-centered approach to criminal justice and increased social permissiveness in matters sexual, the Hudud are barbarity embodied. In the Muslim world, reeling from colonialism and the globalization of Western norms, the Hudud have re-emerged for many as icons of a commitment to Islamic authenticity. To many Islamist movements around the world, the notion of re-establishing the Hudud became both the symbol and substance of a longed for restoration of an authentic past and an independent future.
There’s a lot more, but it all looks like apologetics to me.