Sunday, July 02, 2006 and anti-Muslim bigotry

Robert Spencer of replies to my reply.

First of all, a small matter of elucidating something in my Reason column. Spencer writes:

Actually, it doesn't make the slightest difference to anything whether Young or I know more about Islamic teachings and history. She asserted in Reason magazine that I don't know anything more about Islam than she does; I don't know where she got that idea, but ultimately it's irrelevant.

I assume he is referring to this passage:

I’m not an expert on Islamic teachings. Then again, neither are the people convinced that Islam is a violent death cult.

This is where I need to perform a mea culpa. I should have, of course, said "most of the people." Rober Spencer, author of a book called The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam, undoubtedly has more knowledge of the subject than I do. Just as clearly, a lot of people who have at least as much knowlege of the subject as Robert Spencer does, or more, radically disagree with his interpretations.

On the subject of Oriana Fallaci's preoccupation with Somali street vendors in Italy, and her failure to distinguish between those vendors and Islamic terrorists, Spencer asks if I think it's inconceivable that jihadist terrorists could be recruited among Somali street vendors. Of course I don't think so. I do, however, think it's absurd to excoriate those vendors, as Spencer does, for failing to "make any serious attempt to root jihad terrorists out of their ranks" (a task that the average immigrant surely doesn't have the time, the resources, or for that matter the guts to undertake).

I will also reiterate what I said before, and what no less an anti-Jihadist than Christopher Hitchens has said: the tone of Fallaci's writings often makes one suspect that she is using concerns about terrorism as an excuse for classic prejudice against filthy, smelly, bug-infested, disease-ridden, uncontrollably breeding aliens. Her obsession with public urination by Muslim immigrants is a case in point. It's an obsession, by the way, that Spencer continues to defend.

Noting my comment that such behavior is by no means limited to Muslims, Spencer writes:

Here Young veers sharply toward the ridiculous. Does the existence of public urination among non-Muslims somehow mean that public urination by Muslims is not ever and cannot be an expression of contempt for infidel society? Even when that urination targets landmarks of that society, as Fallaci has documented?

I'll leave it to the reader to decide who is veering toward the ridiculous. Spencer's "logic" seems to be that even if Muslims and non-Muslims are equally likely to pee in public places, when Muslims do it it's different and hostile toward "infidel society." And the evidence is .... ? (By the way, ranting is not quite the same thing as documenting.) I could just as "logically" argue that Robert Spencer is attacking me because I am a woman, and just because he is equally likely to criticize male writers who express views similar to mine does not mean that his criticism of female writers is not and cannot be an expression of misogyny. (Just to make myself perfectly clear, I am making no such argument, only offering it as a parallel to Spencer's peculiar logic.)

Spencer also disputes my claim that JihadWatch has labeled Bernard Lewis, the eminent historian of Islam who warned about the danger of Islamic radicalism all the way back in 1990, a "dhimmi." He says that the article I linked does not support such a claim. Never mind that it appeared in the "Dhimmi Watch" section of the site.

Finally, Spencer takes issue with this passage:

...honesty about the harsher and darker aspects of Islam and Islamic history is not the same as tarring all of Islam with the same brush and denying that the moderate strands even exist.

Spencer calls this a "little calumny," and asserts that he does, in fact, acknowledge the existence of moderate Muslims and moderate strands of Islam. As an example, he cites this item, about a Muslim named Souleiman Ghali who has been fighting a battle against more hardline Muslims in San Francisco (and has lost some court battles when a radical imam accused him of wrongful discharge). All right then, a few questions: Does Spencer believe, as his website argues, that a moderate Muslim like Ghali is still a danger to the West because he has not renounced Islam and because his children may yet revert to a more militant form of it? Had he pointed out the existence of Muslims like Ghali to his friend Oriana Fallaci, who is very vocal in her assertion that there is no such thing as moderate Islam, there is only one Islam? Does he find it troubling that on his own site, the commenters on the item about Ghali put the word "moderate" in scare quotes and argue that Ghali needs to convert to another religion?

Spencer links to several other items in which he discusses moderate Muslims. The first two are attacks on moderate Muslims. The third asserts that while there are some moderate Muslims, they are not true Muslims at all because the essence of Islam is militant, and all attempts to reform Islam are quixotic. Indeed, Spencer specifically states:

Some analysts have maintained that to note the existence of moderate Muslims is to assume the existence also of moderate Islam, but there is no reason why this must be the case, and the analysis itself betrays an awareness of the contents of the texts without a concomitant awareness of the realities of Islamic history and culture.

Yet, in response to my assertion that he does not recognize the existence of moderate Islam, he points to an item in which he mentions a moderate Muslim.

Sleight of hand, anyone?

A recent JihadWatch item castigates Judea Pearl, father of slain journalist Daniel Pearl, for his public objection to depictions of Islam as uniformly violent. Writes Spencer, citing a newspaper account by Rabbi Julius Stein of a public speech by Islam critic Wafa Sultan:

In it, I was sorry to see, Stein notes that Judea Pearl, with whom I have had several discussions about the Qur'an and Islam, said that he understood that the Qur'an "also included 'verses of peace' that proponents of Islam uphold as the religion's true intent. The Koran's verses on war and brutality, Pearl contended, were 'cultural baggage,' as are similar verses in the Torah."

In response, Spencer points to an article by Andrew Bostom on

The comparison was naïve, if not absurd.

Naïve because the Koran’s “verses of peace”, frequently cited by both Muslim and non-Muslim apologists, most notably verse 2:256, “There is no compulsion in religion”, were all abrogated by the so-called verses of the sword. These abrogating verses of the sword recommend beheading or otherwise murdering and mutilating non-Muslims, and Muslim apostates. According to classical Muslim Koranic commentators verse 9:5 (perhaps the most infamous verse of the sword), “Slay the idolators wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush…”, for example, cancels 124 verses that promote patience and toleration.

But here's the curious thing. The "Jihad Watchers" claim that Islam is uniquely impervious to reformation because its adherents regard all of its dictates as the absolute word of God, beyond human interpretation or reinterpretation. Yet here, Bostom is, in fact, talking about human interpretation by "classical Muslim Koranic commentators." What man can interpret, man can reinterpret. In fact, from this fascinating article by Daniel Pipes (no one's idea of an apologist for Islam), we learn:

The Koran indeed can be interpreted. Indeed, Muslims interpret the Koran no less than Jews and Christians interpret the Bible, and those interpretations have changed no less over time. The Koran, like the Bible, has a history.

For one indication of this, note the original thinking of the Sudanese theologian Mahmud Muhammad Taha (1909-85). Taha built his interpretation on the conventional division of the Koran into two. The initial verses came down when Muhammad was a powerless prophet living in Mecca, and tend to be cosmological. Later verses came down when Muhammad was the ruler of Medina, and include many specific rulings. These commands eventually served as the basis for the Shari'a, or Islamic law.

Taha argued that specific Koranic rulings applied only to Medina, not to other times and places. He hoped modern-day Muslims would set these aside and live by the general principles delivered at Mecca. Were Taha's ideas accepted, most of the Shari'a would disappear, including outdated provisions concerning warfare, theft, and women. Muslims could then more readily modernize.

See also this article by Pipes on modernization in Islam.

Spencer argues that Islam, unlike Christianity, has a specific theological mandate to expand by force and to convert, kill or subjugate nonbelievers. To this I can only say that, mandate or no, historically Christianity (until relatively recently) does not seem to have been far behind Islam when it comes to forcible conversion, slaughter or subjugation. Christianity has modernized; Islam, by and large, has not. The theological and cultural causes of this can be debated ad infinitum. Islamic reformation may well be more difficult than Christian reformation. It does not follow that it's impossible.

Theological debates aside, the incontrovertible fact is that many so-called "anti-Jihadists" use well-founded concerns about Islamic radicalism to promote bigotry and paranoia. The false alarm about the alleged "Jihadist connection" in the suicide of a University of Oklahoma student last fall was one such example. The blog rumors about a "Jihadist connection" in the murder of a Coptic Christian family in Jersey City, were another. (JihadWatch continued to stoke these suspicions even after the alleged murderers were arrested and the case turned out to be a "simple" robbery.) And here, again courtesy of, is the latest example: a news story about a Safeway clerk in Denver, Colorado, Michael Julius Ford, who went on a shooting spree at work and was shot dead by a SWAT team. Ford's mother and sister said that he had been teased at work about being a Muslim -- a fact that is duly highlighted by

Denver Safeway shooter was "being teased at work because he's a Muslim and he couldn't take it anymore"

So of course his response was to start randomly shooting his coworkers.

Because, as we all know, non-Muslims never snap and go on shooting sprees at work or at school.

But, of course, when Muslims do it, it's different. Just like public urination.