Born in 1940, Hamid Algar has been a member of the University of California-Berkeley faculty since 1965. He is the biographer of Ayatollah Khomeini and ranks among the world’s leading historians of Islam. He teaches courses on Persian literature, the history of Islam, and Shi’ism and Sufism; he has written books and articles on each of these subjects, including more than 100 articles in the Encyclopaedia Iranica. He is also a ferocious critic of the United States and Israel.
Algar personally met with Khomeini during the latter’s exile in Paris, and again several times after the Iranian revolution of 1979. He translated many of Khomeini’s writings and speeches and wrote a book about those works, titled The Roots of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Algar considers the Iranian revolution “the most significant, hopeful, and profound event in the entirety of contemporary Islamic history.”
In an address honoring Khomeini in 1994, Algar advocated global jihad: “Let us remember the comprehensive Jihad that starts with our own persons and should also embrace our communal and political lives and if necessary go to the point of taking weapons in our hands to defeat the enemies of Islam.” Algar immediately defined those enemies: “Let us remember the clear analysis of the West that Imam (Khomeini) gave us … as a collection of international bandits … Let us also remember his insistence that the abominable genocide state of Israel completely disappear from the face of the globe.”
In Algar’s reading of history, Americans have long made Muslims the scapegoats for a host of international and intercultural conflicts. “In every generation,” he explains, “one person or state is seen to be the source of trouble, and everything must therefore be linked to that person or state. It used to be Abdul Nasser, in the heyday of Arab nationalism. … Then, after the revolution in Iran, it became Iran, Imam Khomeini, and more generally Shi’ism. Then … there arose Sunni fundamentalism and Wahhabism. Attempts are constantly made to interconnect everyone. It does make life easier because then you don’t have to analyze differences or overlapping divergences. You can just say: ‘It’s that big mass of troublesome Muslims out there.’”
According to Algar, there is no “clash of civilizations” between Middle Eastern Islam and the West. “That’s one of those meaningless slogans that people hold seminars and write books about,” he says, “which presumes an inherent and irreducible antagonism.” But what may be underway is the launching of World War IV [WW III having been the Cold War].” Professor Algar is skeptical about the U.S. government’s assurance that the current war on terror “isn’t a war against Islam.” “World War IV,” he says, “clearly focuses on Muslim Middle Eastern states.”
Professor Algar sees America’s war on terror largely as a product of America’s imperialistic and aggressive impulses, which he says are aimed at fulfilling the goals of an agenda that long predated 9/11. The modus operandi, in his view, is the calculated replacement of one perceived threat –Communism — with a new perceived threat, Islam. “There always has to be a focus for hostility,” he says, “to keep the juices pumped and the military machine well supplied. Now, somewhat improbably, Islam — or Muslims and Muslim countries — are fulfilling that role of a global long-term threat.”
In Professor Algar’s view, Americans identify their adversary as “militant” Islam because “it’s not politically correct to say you’re against a religion as such. Therefore, an adjective has to be supplied: militant Islam, extremist Islam, Islamic terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism, political Islam. I would say that the Muslim world, or specifically the Muslim Middle East, has been chosen not because it is strong, a menace, or a threat; but, on the contrary, because it is an extremely weak and impotent adversary.” He gives no credence to suggestions that militant Islam chose the West as its enemy through the attacks of 9/11 and many previous acts of anti-Western terrorism. According to Professor Algar, the aggression that led to the war on terror was instigated by the West.
In 1998, Algar verbally harassed and spat on members of UC Berkeley’s Armenian Student Association, who were commemorating the genocide of Armenians by the Turks. He is quoted as having said to them: “It was not a genocide, but I wish it were, you lying pigs. You are distorting the truth about history. You stupid Armenians; you deserve to be massacred!”
Regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, Algar refuses to condemn Palestinian suicide bombings targeted against Israeli civilians. He views Israel as an oppressive state that subjects Palestinians to constant brutality, discrimination, and humiliation. Says Algar, “That term [suicide bombings], an invention of the West, does not represent the perspective of those who engage in such action and is not very helpful. It seems to me that such actions are closer to the case of a soldier who, in battle against overwhelming odds and in the certain knowledge that he will not emerge alive from the encounter, rushes upon the enemy. … In other words, there is definitely a cause-and-effect relationship here, and to criticize or condemn an effect while overlooking the cause is not very helpful.”