In forums and debates all over the place John Esposito is to be found commenting on one or another aspect of the Islamic world. He is an outstanding example of an academic who exploits his supposedly informed position to turn himself into a spokesman and a public figure. Yet everything he says boils down to the proposition that Muslims are always in the right, and to suggest they might be in the wrong is Islamophobia. Conquered by Muslims, non-Muslims must choose between conversion, death and paying a tax that gives them an inferior status (dhimma). After 9/11, Esposito declared himself "pleasantly surprised" by the number of converts to Islam.
In the recent past, many who were not necessarily Communists idealised an imaginary, peace-loving Soviet Union; they were known as fellow-travellers or "useful idiots". Esposito, born a Catholic in Brooklyn in 1940, idealises a similarly imaginary, peace-loving Islamic world. The cause has changed, but obsessive belief remains constant.
For years Esposito taught at a Jesuit college in Massachusetts. There he might have stayed except that Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a member of the Saudi ruling family and the nearest equivalent to an Arab George Soros, gave an endowment of $20 million to found the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at the Catholic Georgetown University in Washington. Interfaith promotion is a deception in the context. Churches are forbidden in Saudi Arabia and Christians face persecution-even beheading-for holding a service or handing out prayerbooks. The Georgetown Center fits into the worldwide campaign which the Saudi rulers finance in order to place a mask of normality over their brutally retrograde country and harsh proselytising version of Islam. As director of this centre, Esposito has had a platform on which to appear as an expert on Islam rather than a Saudi propagandist.