Saturday, April 12, 2008
Robert Spencer: Soft on Islam? Part 4
Basically, Spencer’s softness boils down to two overall positions:
1) A refusal to condemn Islam itself—Islam, the whole Islam, and nothing but Islam—concomitant with a refusal to regard as irrelevant whatever good or neutral component parts may be contained in Islam (since any such good or neutral parts, seen in the properly wider perspective, necessarily support the systemic evil of the organic whole of which they are consituents).
2) A refusal to regard all Muslims as our enemy, regardless of the apparent harmlessness of a certain number of them.
With these two points in mind, we shall present some rather disparate material on Spencer that more or less revolves pertinently around them, which shall hopefully wrap up all the threads of our series.
I. As part of his editorial remarks introducing a piece on Geert Wilders last month, Spencer objects to the Washington Times labelling the then upcoming film, Fitna, by Wilders as “anti-Muslim”:
"anti-Muslim"? If Muslims commit violence and justify it by reference to the Qur'an, as they do on a more or less daily basis, why is it "anti-Muslim" to call attention to this? . . . But in fact, reality is not pro- or anti- anything. It just is what it is.
To which I rejoined with a scintillatingly apposite remark, if I don’t say so myself:
From the American Heritage dictionary: "anti-" means "opposing, against".
I’m against beheading. Aren’t you?
Once again, as we saw in Part 3, this triggered Spencer’s quibblingly contrarian pique, and we were off on a roll again:
I know from experience that you are a relentless and indefatigable fault-finder, but does even basic reading comprehension ever enter in? Let's try again. Read slowly, now. This is what I said: "But in fact, reality is not pro- or anti- anything. It just is what it is." To which you responded:
"From the American Heritage dictionary: "anti-" means "opposing, against". I'm against beheading. Aren't you?"
Now, any fair-minded person would understand that my statement above is not, as you took it, an abdication of all moral judgments. Here again, you seem to think, as you have in the past, that I would lightly and casually contradict the import of all my work for years now. It might be more likely, and more charitable, for you to consider that maybe what I meant was that reality has a certain character, that A is A, that existence exists. If the Qur'an teaches violence against unbelievers, it is not an act of hatred for Muslims [sic: Spencer must have meant "non-Muslims"] to point that out. It is simply a matter of fact. Now once that is established, one may evaluate that fact in different ways. One may think that fact is a good thing, like Osama bin Laden. Or one may think that fact is a bad thing, like me. But these judgments do not inhere in the fact itself.
Spencer here is completely ignoring the context of his own previous statement—the context being his objection to the term “anti-Muslim”, which was, of course the main point of my remark which, apparently, was too trenchantly terse for his basic comprehension skills. He is here unduly isolating and extremely restricting his argument to bare semantics devoid of the context in which he was originally editorializing. In that context, he was using his “reality is not 'anti' anything” statement to buttress his opinion that the term “anti-Muslim” is not a term he wants to embrace, and similarly not a term that fairly describes critics of Islam like Wilders. That is the wider, more pertinent point that Spencer in his quibble to me is completely ignoring.
The point is, what’s wrong with being “anti-Muslim”? The reader will know, from reading my previous Parts 1, 2 and 3, that for Spencer, apparently what militates against the term “anti-Muslim” is his conviction that the vast majority of Muslims are “cultural Muslims” who have “no interest in pursuing the jihad agenda and even no awareness of it”.
Why does Spencer keep an arm’s length away from such a term as “anti-Muslim”? What is he afraid of? Would it be that he essentially agrees with the PC MC paradigm? Namely, that to profess an “anti-Muslim” sentiment (let alone a concrete plan to act upon that sentiment in the interest of our proactive self-defense) would entail tarring all those millions of harmless Muslims (whose inner minds he knows, apparently, for he knows what “interests” them and what they are “aware” of) with a bigoted brush and worse still, the all too easily realizable potential for sweeping most or all of Muslims up in a terribly unjust (and of course un-Constitutional) dragnet that would then precipitously lead us Westerners to the edge of that abyss our Politically Correct Multi-Culturalism has been dreading for the past 50 years: racism, lynch-mobs, deportation and/or (shudder!) internment of masses of innocent Brown People (i.e., the most fashionable Brown People today, Muslims)—all, of course, inexorably linked to the inevitable genocide of them that would soon follow?
This would be the only logical basis for such a gingerly squeamishness to boldly use the term “anti-Muslim”—logical, that is, but not rational.
Spencer concluded his pointless response with this prickly omen:
You are an irritant, a poor thinker, and an unfair judge. I have banned you several times, and probably will soon do it again.
Intrepidly ignoring his petulant threat, I then forged ahead with my unvarnished though still intelligent and mature response, first quoting him, then commenting:
"If the Qur'an teaches violence against unbelievers, it is not an act of hatred for Muslims [I neglected to correct what must have been a typo in Spencer's comment for "non-Muslims"] to point that out. It is simply a matter of fact."
How many Muslims follow the Qur'an? A minority or a majority? Is it not rational to hate them for doing so? Rather than tilting against an abstraction, Islam, it is more concrete to condemn those human agents who actually concretize that abstraction—the hundreds of millions of Muslims who are either implementing the evil proscriptions and prescriptions of the Koran (not to mention the Sunnah), or those others who are either actively or passively enabling that evil.
I think Geert Wilders is "anti-" the Muslims who follow Islam—for he is "anti-" Islam. How could he not be against the Muslims who follow Islam then? [Actually, I was incorrect about a certain detail here: Wilders has gone on record assuring interviewers that he is not "against Muslims"—but nevertheless, that is peripheral to my main point, which stands] And how can we tell which Muslims among the 1.2 billion do not follow Islam? Should we even try to discern the difference? Is it our problem? What does your distinction mean, if it is not trivial?
After two or three Jihad Watch readers weighed in with criticisms of my position (pretty much agreeing with Spencer’s basic position), Spencer responded again:
That's not what I asked. You are shifting the argument. You took issue with my statement about the character of facts, and suggested that I have no moral problem with the evils of Sharia. I called you out on it, and instead of answering, you brought up a separate question: whether the distinction between Muslims and Islam is legitimate. Worth asking, and worth discussing. But are you really interested in truth here, or just in playing prosecutor? If the former, then answer my other questions first. If the latter, then go away, which, if you keep this up, you will be doing soon (again) anyway. You have consistently portrayed me as saying things I don't say and then pilloried me for saying them, and I am not of a mind to continue allowing you to do it on my nickel.
Unfortunately, I never bothered to check that thread again, and so never read this last response of Spencer’s—honestly, because his prickly hypersensitivity and kneejerk tendency to issue veiled threats to ban me made me exceedingly uncomfortable.
At any rate, for what it’s worth, Spencer begins by accusing me of primarily “suggesting” that he has “no moral problem with the evils of Sharia”. This, to put it bluntly, is a staggeringly sophomoric reading of my obviously sarcastic initial comment. Obviously, when I wrote initially—I'm against beheading. Aren't you?—I was not suggesting that Spencer might support beheadings, for Crissakes! God, that guy is dense sometimes! I was in fact, through elliptical irony, putting the spotlight on the exact opposite: Knowing that Spencer obviously condemns beheadings, I then suggest he put his money where his mouth is and condemn Muslims for either overtly or tacitly, actively or passively, supporting beheadings and the Sharia Law that enables beheadings (along with other similarly barbaric and unjust rulings), by the very fact that they, as mature and responsible human beings, continue to remain members of Islam.
My statement—apparently not simplistically and legalistically literal enough for Spencer’s rigidly square box of a mind—was meant as a challenge: What is wrong with being “anti-Muslim”, if to be “Muslim” necessarily entails a support—either overt or tacit, active or passive—for beheadings which are part of the classical tradition of the Islam which all Muslims, through at the very least their mere fact of being Muslim, are ethically responsible for supporting?
As I read further down that thread now, I see that it basically petered out from that point, with more Jihad Watch readers contributing their asymptotic approach—i.e., let’s fight Islam, and let’s condemn and fight lots of Muslims, by Gum, but Heaven forbid we go all the way and say that all Muslims are our enemy! In addition, there were hints that I cease and desist, as though Spencer enjoys a distinction other humans don’t—that hallowed distinction, that is, of being above criticism.
To sum up this section, I could not put it more eloquently than a certain Jihad Watch reader (“Jaynie59”) put it in this comment:
I should be banned now, then, if saying that all Muslims are a threat is not allowed on this site. I believe all of them are a threat. You cannot call yourself a Muslim and not believe in basic Islam and what Islam is on a basic level. The analogy of Germans vs Nazi's is not valid because not all Germans were Nazi's. A Muslim is not a member of any race, nationality, or political persuasion. A Muslim is a believer in Islam. And if they are a believer in Islam, they are a threat not only to unbelievers, but to other Muslims who don't believe and act as they do.
There is ample proof of this and I am sick and tired of it being denied. Islam will win in the end because even people like Mr. Spenser care too much what others say about them than what is the truth that needs to be spoken. But I guess that's how politics works. And that is very depressing.
I would only modify one word of the above quote, to reduce the hyperbolic pressure that at a certain point had understandably built up in the writer’s emotions: I would substitute “may” for “will” in the third to last sentence. And I would append that even if an Islamic victory “in the end” never comes to pass, untold numbers of our innocents will still likely be slaughtered and maimed because, in no small part, of the brakes on our rational ruthlessness which Spencer’s needlessly gingerly yet highly influential rhetoric is helping to apply.
II. I would like now to quote other Jihad Watch readers who basically come down on my side of the equation (even if they never specifically supported me):
One of them, “Infidel Pride”, posted the following comment on the same thread discussed above, wisely apropos, even if it does repeat themes we have already established in our series:
. . . ideologies do not slaughter 200m people, inflict horrific abuses and espouse any supremacy. Their subscribers do! One could come out with the most vile ideology in the history of the world, but if such a following does not gather any support, its potential is worthless. Which is why this business of loving a sinner but hating the sin has always rung hollow: sins do not exist in a vacuum, and don't happen unless and until a sinner commits them.
Yep, there are any number of Muslims who have no idea about what Islam is all about, or who may be driven by either filial piety or by denial towards not distancing themselves from Islam. Fair enough. However, fact remains that all the excesses of Islam perpetrated over the millenia . . . would not have happened had there not been Muslims to perpetrate those excesses in the first place. One doesn't have people and governments worldwide sweat over the antics of various cults simply because they don't have the following they do. If Islam didn't have all its members from 632AD until this day, it could not have (let alone would not have) mass-murdered over 200 million people, or inflicted horrific abuses—no matter how much it would have wanted. Let's say for the sake of argument that the Hutus of Rwanda came out with a blueprint for world supremacy. Anybody out there thinks that such a threat would deserve to be taken seriously, given the number of Hutus worldwide?
On the question of choice of words, don't like the term 'hate'? Fine, replace it with abhor, dispise, loathe—any of these terms which don't hit one so directly in a negative way.
Bottom line: it's fine to cast the blame on Islam, but remember: Islam, no matter what it advocates, would be powerless to execute on any of that—without Muslims!
Another Jihad Watch reader, “FLLegal”, after quoting one of Spencer’s characteristically gingerly and fastidiously careful editorial pronouncements—
"Anti-Islam folks" like me. Now, this is simply false. I am not "anti-Islam." I am against supremacism and subjugation, I am against the denial of human rights to women and religious minorities. As I say here, any Muslim who renounces violent jihad and dhimmitude is welcome to join in our anti-jihadist efforts.
—then contributed this lancinatingly accurate observation:
Well I AM "anti-Islam" for the very nature of Islam is supremiscist [sic] and preaches subjugation. I've read the Quran and excerpts from the Hadith. If you are to believe the text of the very foundation of Islam, i.e. Islamic writings, then you have to be "anti-Islam". . .
Islam by its VERY NATURE and to its core is evil. Any Muslim who renounces violent jihad and dhimmitude does so contrary to Islamic writings, i.e. the Quran & Hadith, and is not a "good Muslim". They are in fact apostates of the sword weilding prophet Mohammad and take a position contrary to the vile & violent Quran/Hadith writings. The BIG LIE is that "Islam is a Religion of Peace" for it is not.
Notice two things about Spencer’s editorial statement quoted above:
1) He reiterates his challenge to Muslims, as though a sufficient number of Muslims would be capable of turning the ghastly ship of Islam around. (We have already examined in the preceding parts of this series the question of whether this incessantly repeated challenge by Spencer to moderate Muslims is a rhetorical ploy or is sincere, and we concluded in Part 3 that it is likely not merely a disingenuously clever rhetorical ploy, but is sincere. We also, however, concluded that it does not matter which it is, since either maneuver will have roughly the same effect of unduly softening our ruthlessness in the face of this unprecedented enemy.)
2) More interestingly, we see Spencer on record objecting not only to the term “anti-Muslim”—but also expressing his explicit aversion to the term “anti-Islam” as well! My, my. Just what, one wonders, is Spencer decidedly anti—without having to pad his antipathy with weaselly semantics that so blunt the force of his objections? Oh yes, he’s anti those detachable parts of Islam called “the jihad agenda” and “sharia”—as though there would be anything viable left over after those parts have been detached. Right.
Yet another Jihad Watch reader—“shiekyermami”—added his two cents that cut like a refreshingly lucid knife through Spencer’s needlessly diplomatic bullshit:
Are we anti-Islam? Of course we are. We cannot coexist. To deny it is mere wordplay. Mr. Spencer's disclaimer above is wordplay, I can't see it any other way. The Muhammedans certainly see it my way because 'resisting Islam' is a heinous crime and since the Koran is the 'immutable word of Allah' the Muslim is our mortal enemy.
Sorry, but I have no illusions. There cannot and will not be 'reform' or a major overhaul of this mad cult, the only choice we have is to dig our heels in, to oppose and ridicule it and finally destroy it before it destroys us.
Following on the heels of this was a nicely put zinger to Spencer by “Infidel Pride” (whom we quoted above as well). Again, he begins by quoting Spencer:
"Anti-Islam folks" like me. Now, this is simply false. I am not "anti-Islam." I am against supremacism and subjugation, I am against the denial of human rights to women and religious minorities."
And comments superbly:
You may not be 'anti-Islam'. You may be against supremacy and subjugation of Infidels, and against denigration of women. I honestly am at a loss to see how you or anyone else can simultaneously be both.
It's like claiming 'I'm not anti-Nazi, but I oppose the holocaust' or 'I'm not anti-Communist, but I oppose the gulag and the purges'. Anybody who supports equality before the law in an Islamic setting is in fact anti-Islam. Without necessarily knowing it!
III. Continuing in this vein, we again examine Spencer’s refusal to condemn Islam itself: Spencer has stated the following in multiply thematic ways:
As I have said many times, there is no "true Islam." But jihadists make recruits by presenting their Islam as the true Islam, and by pointing out chapter and verse of the Qur'an, as well as the example of Muhammad and the rulings of the schools of Islamic jurisprudence. For peaceful Muslims to stop this from being a successful appeal, they have to confront it.
No “true Islam”? What has been massacring over 250 million people and cruelly subjugating millions more over the past 1400 years while brutally conquering lands from the south Philippines to Spain in the name of a pathological, deranged, supremacist eschatology? A “false Islam”? A “second Islam”? Are there multiple “Islams”? Let us stop the diplomatically oily and needlessly complicating semantics and instead concentrate on the Enemy as it has concretely attacked us for the past 1400 years, and as it reawakens from its relatively quiescent recent slumber to resume its attacks on us again, shall we?
As Spencer’s own Vice-President, Hugh Fitzgerald, recently in a comments field on Jihad Watch put the problem most eloquently, finally showing a sign of abandoning the security blanket of his Asymptotic Cigar in order to edge his toes perilously close to the inevitable Whole Enchilada:
“Islam, Islam, Islam.”
Later, in an interview about Oriana Fallaci whom Spencer has praised many times and whom he highlights on his site with a permanent tribute, he answered this question from the interviewer:
Interviewer: Do you agree with her that the Islam is indeed a problem (in the US and Europe)?
Spencer: Elements of Islam are the problem. Muslims who reject them sincerely and work against those elements are not the problem. But the imperative to subjugate non-Muslims under the rule of Islamic law, and many elements of that law itself, are indeed the problem, as they are directly incompatible with the dignity of the human person and the equality of rights of all people.
Notice that Spencer did not contradict the interviewer’s characterization of Fallaci’s position, that Islam is indeed a problem. Instead, he answered that “elements of Islam are the problem”. How mealy-mouthed can one get? He sounds like a smarmy defense attorney here trying to weasel out of a direct assertion. I don’t know about you, reader, but in 2008, after all the grotesque atrocities committed in Islam’s name by Muslims and nothing substantial from Muslims protesting against this, we need a far meatier, robuster formula. We need straight talk from our Anti-Islam representatives.
Ummm. . . how about “Islam is the problem”. . .? Would that do? Why can’t Spencer simply say “Islam is the problem” and “Muslims are the problem”? His slapdash, parenthetical and intermittent answers on these most pressing questions are found grievously wanting. And frankly, they are getting tiresome. For Christ’s sake, it’s bad enough that our entire culture all around us refuses to name the problem and name the enemy—but to have the Director of Jihad Watch himself squirrel around on this most pivotal point of the whole issue is just too much!
Let us read on with the interview about Oriana Fallaci—that lady who knew better than Careful Mr. Spencer how to condemn Islam and Muslims:
Interviewer: Is the Quran the “most stupid and dangerous book in the world” (The Force of Reason, p. 63)?
Spencer: I haven’t read all the books in the world. But certainly the Qur’an’s program for violence and Islamic supremacism is dangerous for non-Muslims, and should be rejected by all free people, including Muslims themselves, who if they continue to hold to the uniqueness of the book should at least reject literalism in those particulars and some others.
Notice that Spencer studiously side-steps answering the question directly. The interviewer is asking him if he agrees with Fallaci, whose quote he cites with source and specific page number. The reader must conclude by Spencer’s tap-dancing answer that Spencer disagrees with Fallaci, or finds her salty Mediterranean hyperbole unpalatable to his gingerly taste. A far better answer from Spencer would have been something like: “I love that quote from Fallaci. While there are many highly stupid and dangerous books that have been written in the world, it would be difficult to argue that the Qur’an does not qualify as the prize-winner par excellence.” Even that, on second thought, would not have been quite up to snuff. For, if we consider the inspirational effects—both amorphously psycho-cultural and specifically textual—of the Qur’an throughout history and the mountain of misery and mayhem it has caused, it is clear that Spencer should have simply answered “Yes, Fallaci is correct.” But no. Spencer had to finesse his answer like a weaselly lawyer and by implication make Fallaci seem like a flake. Shame on him.
Yet another Jihad Watch reader wrote in a comments field what needs to be written:
God bless Robert Spencer, but I think he is too generous in not stating that Islamic is inherently violent. On this point, I disagree with him.
And another Jihad Watch reader quotes Spencer’s thematic challenge to Muslims to clean up their act—
So I post this as it may be instructive, and to call upon all self-proclaimed moderates like A. M. to stop their denial and to work for positive change within Islam, first by acknowledging that change is needed. For the culture that produced Najib Bellari will produce many more like him, unless the assumptions that led to his act are confronted and combatted within the Islamic community.
—and he makes this screamingly obvious retort that Spencer has no excuse for obtusely and repeatedly ignoring:
I don't think this can really be done. If you acknowledge that Islam is inherently violent and so forth, how can [Muslims] continue to believe in it? If [they] don't make this acknowledgement, then reform is not really possible.
IV. Finally, I offer the following observation. First, I quote Spencer yet again in one of his editorial remarks on a news story:
This [Muslim] guy is upset about the film Fitna because it shows Muslims committing acts of violence in the name of Islam. And no doubt he believes, or wants us to believe, that Islam is a religion of peace. So in service of that he goes to protest the film at the Dutch embassy, carrying a flag from Hizballah. Isn't it ironic that someone would protest against linking Islam with violence by carrying a Hizballah flag?
And here is my reply:
No, it’s not ironic. Spencer persists in framing the posture of such Muslims in terms of cognitive dissonance—which implies a potential for such Muslims to mollify their inimically bellicose posture. After the 1,000th time of reading Spencer framing the posture of such Muslims this way, it starts to wear thin. To the extent that people of the Anti-Islamic Movement think according to this Spencerian model, we have to modify it radically: We have to wrap our heads around the grimly brute fact that there is no potential for such Muslims to mollify their inimically bellicose posture.
In plain English: There is no hope for reform by Muslims of Islam.
Closely related to this, we have to wrap our heads around the equally sobering fact that we cannot reasonably distinguish putatively harmless Muslims from the dangerous Muslims to the degree that would be sufficient to adjust our need to be ruthlessly pro-active in our self-defense.
In plain English: We must consider all Muslims to be our enemy.
The Spencerian model by analogy would be as though one would observe a wave of conquering barbarians pillaging and massacring, and continue to pose the question—“If the Barbarians might sincerely desire peace, why are they not protesting against their waves of marauding armies who are pillaging and massacring people?”
Of course, translating the Spencerian model to the framework of this analogy exposes an absurdity, and the reader might object and say, “Well, it’s not the same situation; in the case of the Barbarians, there is simply the conquering army pillaging and massacring in its invasion, but in the case of Muslims, we have many Muslims not doing any harm and we also have quite a few Muslims protesting and arguing that Islam does not mean us harm.”
Well, this objection vividly highlights the whole problem with the softness of the Spencerian model: he persists in framing the issue as though our predicament in the face of an Islam Redivivus might be different from that of the invading Barbarians of the analogy.
My point is that we must stop thinking as though there is a difference.
We must, rather, put the whole issue in starkly no-nonsense terms:
1) Islam is evil, cruel, unjust, and exceedingly dangerous.
2) Islam is, through the agency of multitudes of Muslims, trying to conquer the world.
3) While there likely exist many Muslims who, for various complex socio-psychological reasons, are harmless, our inability to identify them and distinguish them from dangerous Muslims is sufficiently infirm to lead us to the pragmatic conclusion, in the interest of our own proactive self-defense against the likelihood of horrific attacks on us, that we must treat all Muslims en bloc as the Enemy.
This is the stark expression of the Problem of Islam that Spencer seems to resist.
It is becoming increasingly clear from the ever-growing mountain of evidence—both now and through the history of Islam as we learn it more and more—that any arguments Spencer might supply to justify a significant attenuation of this stark expression are faulty and, in their faultiness, would hinder our ability to proactively defend ourselves.