Monday, April 21, 2008
Robert Spencer: Pussycat or Lion? Having his cake and eating his cake too?
This article pertains to old transcripts of lengthy back-and-forth comments from the comments fields of three different Jihad Watch articles going back to 2006.
I want to thank one of my readers, “nobody”, who recently gave me links to these old discussions. Although I myself had taken part in those old discussions, I had largely forgotten about them until now. Re-acquainting myself with them brought back old memories—the saltiest of them being the reinvigoration of my distaste for Robert Spencer's personality and analytical methodology.
For one thing, by his own words, he refuses to “be maneuvered” (whatever the goldarned heck that means) into affirming that he is anti-Islam—so strike one from the get-go for his qualifications of being a leader of the Anti-Islam Movement!
For another. . . well, I will let the transcripts speak for themselves.
Where Spencer excels is in his capacity as reporter of the facts about Islam—in its texts, history and in the news. In that capacity, he is in fact extraordinary; a cut above his peers. Where he errs is in his constant expectation that there could be, amid that mountain of filthy, noxious, eco-hazardous garbage, things to be salvaged and recycled—and that error is directly related to his unwarranted assumption of the role of analyst. In that capacity, he is found grievously wanting.
As I wrote in an exchange with Spencer in the comments field of a Jihad Watch article in February of this year on the problem of Edward Said’s undue influence on American universities (in which, as usual, I took Spencer to task for his delimited focus on Said as a bogeyman, directly related to his, Spencer’s, underestimation of the depth and breadth of Politically Correct Multi-Culturalism):
Focusing unduly on Said is like using metereology in dealing with problems of climate or plate tectonics, where climatology or geology would be more appropriate. There are contexts where the weather, and therefore weathermen, are important; then there are broader and deeper contexts—and problems arising from them—where weather reports are no longer sufficient.
So, as a plodding weatherman who tells us of cloudy skies today and possible precipitation and icy roads tomorrow, or as a dutifully efficient garbageman for the burgeoning mountain of filth that is Islam, Spencer is excellent—but for the deeper and broader analyses upon which we must build our proactive self-defense against an Islam Redivivus, he has some serious deficiencies, as the transcripts below bear out (which the reader should supplement with several other related essays on this blog).
The problem, of course, is that both he and his votaries (and most of his critics!) confuse these two roles in him. Indeed, he tries to have his cake of a strictly reportorial just-the-facts-ma’am diagnostician on the one hand, and pretensions to being a grander, more synthetic analyst on the other hand—and only succeeds in vaguely combining both by his adoption of an irresponsibly evasive suspension of judgement and position: his refusal to “be maneuvered” into actually taking a clear, unequivocal stand on Islam and on all Muslims who actively and/or passively continue to count themselves members of Islam and who thereby either actively support, or passively enable, the evil injustice and menace of Islam.
Today’s transcript consists of at least two Jihad Watch readers—i.e., nobodies whose time is obviously not worth as much as Spencer’s, but to whom Spencer nevertheless deigned, perhaps out of some legalistic anxiety, to lower himself from on high to deliver his thunderously vacuous answers; answers that, by being largely arrogantly unresponsive, did not accord those readers the respect they showed him when they presented detailed, intelligent and mature arguments for their points and for their questions to him.
The two Jihad Watch readers in question were named “neverpayretail” and “somethingaboutislam”—the former of particular interest here, the latter only contributing one or two apposite posts. This transcript is from the comments field of one particular Jihad Watch article from May of 2006, On assertions without evidence.
It is clear from this transcript that the two Jihad Watch readers had the upper hand at every moment, and Robert Spencer failed abysmally to answer responsively to their intelligent and mature questions.
Judge for yourself.
Robert Spencer, I make the following observation:
Esmay claimed that you think "Islam is a dangerous, violent religion". You responded that "nor have I ever said flatly that "Islam is a dangerous, violent religion." That would be simplistic and in many ways misleading."
This is from your post on JW entitled "Esmay's dismay, and his response". In that thread I posted two comments. The first comment asked you a question, "how much longer must this [the debate over the nature of Islam and its reformability] go on before YOU are convinced, how much more evidence is needed, how many more must be enslaved or killed, etc, before you realize that there comes a time for judgment to be made, make it, and state it without apology to anyone?" You never answered. My second comment in that thread stated specific rationale for making judgment NOW, not later. I now make another observation":
In this post, "On assertions without evidence", dated May 27, 2006, you state
"Accordingly, Ibn Warraq is correct when he says that there are moderate Muslims, but there is no moderate Islam.", and then you make a point of repeating this statement. This constitutes passing judgment on Islam, and I agree with both you and Ibn Warraq. So, if saying "Islam is a dangerous, violent religion" is "simplistic and in many ways misleading", what is it about Islam that makes it not moderate? Have you changed your mind to now say that Islam is a violent and deceptive threat to our freedom? That is my position, one for which I make no apology, and need nobody's approval for. I am looking for you to clarify your judgment. Thanks.
Posted by: neverpayretail
I have been saying that there are moderate Muslims, but no moderate Islam for years. This is no change. To say that Islam is a dangerous, violent religion is simplistic and misleading because Islam is many things. There are many practices it encourages that have nothing to do with violence, ranging from the use of the miswak to many practices involved in tasawwuf. However, it is likewise true that all the schools of Islamic jurisprudence teach violent jihad, which means that there is no "moderate Islam" as most people understand the term. But since violent jihad is not the focus of a great deal of Islamic practice, I do not like to characterize Islam as such as a dangerous, violent religion. For one thing, the focus of Islam is not violence as such, but the establishment of the Islamic social order. When it is established, the violence largely ceases, although it is not a social order that accords with Western human rights norms. And the fact that violence is not an end, but a means, within Islam does not mean that violent jihad is not there, or that there is some sect of Islam that teaches indefinite peaceful coexistence with unbelievers.
Hi neverpayretail, If I remember rightly, Robert's somewhat equivocal-sounding response to Esmay's charge was in the context of painting all Muslims as violent radicals, which Robert does not do. And that is the point of his affirmation of the (present) moderation of many Muslims and the immoderation of Islam itself. Islam is dangerous because in its pristine original form, it was and is violent and dangerous. But that is not what Islam is everywhere and in every heart today though it could become that in any heart, and it does seem to be trending in that direction in Muslim-majority nations that are not already thoroughly radicalized. One can affirm this without being an apologist for Islam. That how I interpret it, and I don't see a problem here.
Posted by: Dhimmisoftheworldunite
Islam may be many things, but so was Nazism. Nazism wasn't just about killing Jews and conquering the world. It was also about socialism, correcting economic inequities, building infrastructure, taming inflation, combating crime, the Volkswagen Beetle, exercise and public health awareness, etc. All of those things good. And the autobahn. Got to love the autobahn. Had the Nazis not started a world war they couldn't win, they'd still be in power today. Does this mean that is would be fair to say that "Nazism is not necessarily a violent, dangerous religion because Nazism is many things"? I can't speak for you, Robert, but I am willing to say that islam IS a violent, dangerous religion no matter how many "Things" it is. The Beetle notwithstanding. The only difference between Nazism and islam is that islam has a cover - the status as religion. And in our PC west, that gives it carte blanche to continue without coming under direct government, media, or general social attack. If only the Nazis had it so good.
Posted by: somethingaboutislam
I think the point the Neverpayretail is making is that when do you stop debating and when do you start "doing" something about a religion (or a cult such as the Nazis) whose overall purpose is to subjugate or annihilate the non believers of its dogma? Do I have to be a scholar of the Koran or Islamic law to realize where these monsters are coming from? A little reading of the Koran (that's all I can take), the speeches of its leaders and the actions of its zombies of death convinces me that something must be done. That's why I again implore the readers of JW to read Ali Sina's article "Defeating Islam." Is that not where we are at?
Posted by: Briars
Neverpayretail: I stand by my statements. It also may interest you to know that Hugh Fitzgerald and I don't have a substantive disagreement on this point.
Thank you for being so cordial. Exercise in logic -
Hugh Fitzgerald's statement describes two extremes.
First extreme: One has a right to make decisions about Islam based on evidence for the trampling of individual freedoms by Islam given the trampling of individual freedoms by Islam.
Second extreme: One has no right to make decisions about Islam based on soothing words and assurances of some nice Muslims given the trampling of individual freedoms by Islam.
It is a very tiny step to restate the second extreme as follows:
Restatement: One has no right to make decisions about Islam based on nice Muslim practices given the trampling of individual freedoms by Islam. The statement you stand by, a refusal to characterize Islam as a dangerous and violent religion because violence is not the focus of "a great deal of Islamic practice", such as dental hygiene, is exactly what the above restatement claims is invalid. This is substantive disagreement. I have done exactly what you challenge the likes of Kusanagi and Esmay do. I have developed a rational argument on actual statements by you and Fitzgerald (=evidence) to arrive at a specific conclusion. The conclusion is not exactly favorable to you. The purpose of debate in these comment threads is to Change Minds! The challenge is this; is your mind yet changed? Or are you so emotionally cordial to nice Muslim practices just as Kusanagi and Esmay seem so emotionally attached to nice Muslims that your mind will not be changed, no matter the logic, no matter the evidence? Do you suffer the same stubbornness they do? Now there's a fight for you. Debating Kusanagi and Esmay is cake, as well as Endless. And remember, it is not weakness, but strength to change one's mind when it is the logical thing to do, all the more so when done in public, and addressing some scruffy no-name like me.
Neverpayretail: Let me repeat myself: I have no substantive disagreements on this issue with Hugh Fitzgerald. Of this I am 100% certain. If you think you see one, you are misunderstanding either me or Hugh.
Retail and SomethingAboutIslam: Yeah, I'm a liberal. I have fangs too. I will not be maneuvered into making a statement that would be simplistic and misleading. Islam is more multifaceted than Nazism, and involves many beliefs, some good, some bad. You are comparing a huge 1400-year-old tradition over many nations with 12 years of Germany. If you met a Nazi in 1938, you would know what he thinks. But the fact is that when you meet a Muslim today you can have no certainty about what he thinks or knows. This does not mean that I think there is some sect of Islam that teaches indefinite peaceful coexistence as equals with non-Muslims; there isn't. But Islam has meant many things to many people at different times. There are Muslims that know nothing of what I am saying here. This is a fact that must be reckoned with. To condemn it outright as such would also be too easily misunderstood in many ways. It would drive away people who would otherwise be our allies -- and I am not in the business of doing that. In this fight we need all the help we can get. It would also be seen as genocidal, and would thus be counterproductive to the anti-jihad effort. So I will not be maneuvered into doing it. I have been quite specific about core elements of Islam that are evil and must be resisted by every decent human being. I have been quite specific about the circumstances under which Muslims should be allowed into Western countries in a sane society. If that is not enough for you, so be it.
Okay, so you refuse to label islam violent and dangerous because: 1. you don't want to alienate allies 2. you don't want to sound like a "genocidal" bigot 3. you think Islam has enough good in it, to make such a sweeping statement dishonest. Fair enough. However... 1. unnecessary but logical 2. unwarranted but logical 3. there's that inner conflict - sentimental Two out of three will get you a pass on jihadwatch. Maybe a nuke in NY might help you go three for three. Once that happens, 1 and 2 won't be a concern anymore.
Posted by: somethingaboutislam
Spencer sez: "... Islam has meant many things to many people at different times. There are Muslims that know nothing of what I am saying here. This is a fact that must be reckoned with..." What does that mean? Ignorance of the texts? Hardly. Or is it because 70 % of Mohammedans around the world are illiterate, indoctrinated-stupid, (because of Islam) and live in abject poverty? Doesn't comfort me: Even if they are illiterate and poor, they can be whipped into violent rages at the drop of a Koran, regardless of what their level of understanding of Islam is, they will eagerly run amok and cut your head off if their imams tells them that the time is right for jihad. No Sir: The large scale of Mohammedans in the lands of the infidels makes the life's of those infidels very unpleasant, dangerous expensive, etc. etc. You know the rest....
Posted by: sheik yer'mami
I'd like to touch on the Islam-Nazism comparison again, briefly. Robert writes: "Islam is more multifaceted than Nazism, and involves many beliefs, some good, some bad." Yes, but as you point out a few words later, Nazism was just getting started. Was Islam so multifaceted in its early years of banditry and assassination?
"You are comparing a huge 1400-year-old tradition over many nations with 12 years of Germany"
True, 1400 years of history makes for a more complicated study, but there's something terribly uncomplicated about Islam too; the fanaticism, the expansionism, the intolerance, the brutality. These are the main lines of analogy.
"If you met a Nazi in 1938, you would know what he thinks. But the fact is that when you meet a Muslim today you can have no certainty about what he thinks or knows."
I don't know, Nazis weren't all predictable cartoon figures. Cultured, aristocratic men like Albert Speer and Richard Strauss also fell under the spell to varying degrees and gave of their talent and prestige. Surely Nazism would have sprouted many branches and gained in complexity over time had it survived its violent birth like Islam did. Perhaps the real secret to the success of both Islam and Nazism is/was the price paid by those who attempt(ed) to oppose them. I have no interest in trying to push Robert to equate Islam and Nazism, or to at least acknowledge some eerie similarities. Nor to psychoanalyze him for why he won't do it. Robert has excellent reasons for what he thinks, and why he will or won't say or write something. I am in complete agreement on the importance of cultivating allies, even inside Islam if possible (though that's another big argument), and for erecting the biggest tent possible to gather under in order to resist the violent Jihad that is a black plague on the world today.
Posted by: alexon
Robert Spencer, Manuevered? Open, honest debate is not about maneuvering. This is not some game. In my view open, Honest debate is about changing minds with data and logic, exactly as I have brought to this exchange. What happened to miswak and tasawwuf? Now it is about the multiple facets of Islam, and all sorts of Muslims, here, there, and everywhere, over 1400 years? Why didn't you say that in the first place? It is not I doing the maneuvering. Perhaps you did not say this before because it makes you sound just like Esmay & Co. In this exchange, it appears that for You debate is all about maneuvering. Oh, and this phrase "simplistic and misleading" is just more Esmayitis creeping into your discourse when backed up against a wall. Your own research on Islam drives decent, thinking people to declare Islam violent and dangerous. Yet, you refuse that step. You have fangs? Some kind of threat?. Figuratively speaking, your refusal makes you a dog on a leash (with fangs), who is very, very good at barking endlessly (and I commend the excellent substance behind the bark) at the likes of Esmay, intellectually speaking, a mere chattery squirrel. People get used to the bark, and know they can walk safely past. You run out to the end of your self-imposed chain, and cannot reach them. They learn to Ignore You.
You reply that condemning Islam "would also be seen as genocidal". Huh? Condemning a system of belief is genocide? This is absolute nonsense. You argue endlessly that Islam supports violent jihad, and you are suddenly worried that rejecting Islam will be viewed as genocide by the very jihadists you already condemn? Ridiculous. They could not hate us any more, and so what if they do? Us rejecting Islam will not get them any more money or weapons or recruits than they already get anyway. You cannot possibly Know different. Regarding the fight, and allies, in each case Islam is the threat. Refusal to reject Islam only plays into the enemy's hands. Any democracy that does not reject Islam will come under Islamic pressure with the mere presence of Islam, especially absent rejection. The only sane society is the one that rejects Islam, so as to avoid the big waste of resources to fight it, and the risk of losing to Islam. Any other position is weakness. Your refusal to reject Islam, an act your own research supports, makes you Weak, which is exactly what the enemy seeks. As long as you are merely a barking dog on the end of a leash, the enemy know your limits, and so can easily strategize around you. And no, Weakness is not "good enough" for me.
Retail: In this as in any subject, there are multiple legitimate conclusions that may be drawn from the same evidence. I think your analysis of the question at hand is not only wrong, but manifests astoundingly poor judgment, which if followed would drastically weaken the anti-jihad resistance.
Robert Spencer, As in any subject, facts, disciplined logic, and the lessons of history rule out the legitimacy of many conclusions. I think your refusal to declare Islam dangerous and violent on the basis of your own research shows astoundingly poor judgment, which serves to strengthen the jihad movement. To give credit where due, much of what you do does damage that movement. I now know something of you that was before hidden - at least from me. Thank you for the exchange. I had no idea the exchange would play out as it has. Live and learn.