Last Saturday I received an email from Aziz H. Poonawalla, a blogger at Dean Esmay's site, with the subject line "an olive branch." Mr. Poonawalla was alerting me to a post he had written at Esmay's site entitled "the jihadwatch," which he was characterizing as that olive branch.
When I received the email I was at the Objectivist Conference in Boston, where I spoke along with Daniel Pipes, Flemming Rose (the Danish newspaper editor who published the Muhammad cartoons last year), Professor John Lewis, and others. Then I took off for Norfolk, Virginia, where I gave a half-day introduction to Islamic jihad theology to the Tidewater Joint Terrorism Task Force. After that I went to Dallas, where I spoke to a Lumen Institute group Wednesday night. Only now am I getting a chance to respond -- which I am doing at this late date for two reasons: because I have had many other exchanges with Esmay (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here) and I believe it would be churlish not to respond to what is being characterized as an olive branch, and because it is certain that many people of good will believe the things that Esmay and Mr. Poonawalla apparently believe, and they may find this response helpful.
The funny thing about being a muslim in America is how you often feel like you're sidelined from the debate.
Mr. Poonawalla has no reason to feel sidelined as far as I am concerned. In fact, as I posted here last June, he and I had been enjoying a cordial and mutually respectful email exchange when I asked him politely to explain why he had apparently intended to mislead Dean Esmay's readers into thinking that my Arabic rendering of my own name was erroneous when it wasn't, taking advantage of their ignorance of Arabic to portray me as an ignorant buffoon. Then Mr. Poonawalla grew silent. Esmay, meanwhile, has gleefully referred to me as "Roobart Sbunsar" quite often since then, and apparently Mr. Poonawalla has never taken him aside and explained to him about p's and vowels in Arabic. Sidelined? Only by his own choosing. I would have been happy to continue our exchange, and to post his explanation of the transliteration deception, if he had cared to offer one.
In any case, in his "olive branch" Mr. Poonawalla goes on to praise Dean Esmay (whom he praises for his "jihad," while I am on a "crusade" -- loaded and significant word choices in Mr. Poonawalla's circles), and then comes to this:
Robert Spencer is on a crusade of a similarly noble intent. That is, to identify the rhetoric of the extremists within Islam and put it on naked display. In so doing he provides a benchmark against which other behavior and rhetoric can be compared. The purpose of this is to stand guard against the rise of such similar rhetoric here at home and thus prevent the ideology of bin Laden from gaining a toehold.
However the problem with both of these causes [that is, Esmay's and mine] is that they don't recognize or honor the other.
This reminds me of when Ibrahim Hooper called me a "hatemonger" on MSNBC, and Keith Olbermann told both of us, "Don't call each other hatemongers." Well, I hadn't actually called Hooper a hatemonger. Nor had I ever said one word about Dean Esmay, or even heard of him, very long before he started calling me a liar, an ignoramus, a traitor -- and since then, in carpet-chewing, eye-socket-popping rage, a man without conscience, destined to die unloved and unmourned, and to fry in hell. Among other things.
Now I am told that we don't "honor" each other, and that we should. Search for "Robert Spencer" and "Roobart Sbunsar" at Dean Esmay's site and you will find a rather steady torrent of abuse and assaults on my honesty, my intelligence, my integrity, my patriotism, my good will, and more. In his relentless attacks Esmay has never accorded me even a modicum of simple human courtesy or good will, as he did to Michelle Malkin and Rusty Shackleford when he attacked them (on false pretenses, I should add), and he has transgressed his own self-righteous exhortation never to assume that one knows the motives of one's opponents. Should Dean Esmay and I "honor" one another? That is not up to me.
Because Robert makes no effort to say to his audience of muslims, "they are more alike us than they are different. In fact, they ARE us", his site fills with the most egregious and xenophobic bile. Robert, like Charles Johnson of LGF, prefers to take no responsibility for the contents of his comment threads, but the problem is that his crusade cannot be separated from the miasma that lurkes beneath it. Simply put, the crusade of Jihadwatch becomes, because it has no emphasis on humanizing muslims, a witch hunt.
I don't accept this characterization on many levels. In the first place, Muslims don't need to be "humanized." They are human already. I am not sure what Mr. Poonawalla means when he faults Jihad Watch for having "no emphasis on humanizing muslims." Does he mean that we never post about Muslims doing good? But that is false. Do we decline to cover Muslims fighting against the global jihad? Of course not. As I pointed out to Mr. Poonawalla's fellow Esmay blogger Ali Eteraz here, we frequently cover Muslim activism against Muslim oppression. I noted two posts for Mr. Eteraz: this one from the early days of the site, recounting the travails of a member of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, a group that opposes the mullahocracy; and this one about Muslims opposing the Talibanization of Somalia. Search the archives and you'll find many more. Perhaps Mr. Poonawalla would be surprised to see posts like this one, or to learn that Tashbih Sayyed, editor of Muslim World Today, is a member of the Jihad Watch Board of Directors. As I have said from the beginning of Jihad Watch, "any Muslim who renounces the ideologies of jihad and dhimmitude is most welcome to join forces with us." But to my knowledge Dean Esmay has never troubled to tell his readers such things about Jihad Watch.
It also does not help that Robert routinely ascribes the CAUSE of Islamic extremist ideology to the faith of Islam. That the extremists use this or that Qur'an verse for their justification is not surprising; but were their holy text the phone directory would they act any differently? Throughout history every holy text - and even some non-holy ones - have been used to justify all manner of evil. Let us be frank about personal responsibility here: the CAUSE of the extremists' actions is their own souls and their own dark ambitions. Not their vision of Shari'a for its own sake, but rather the benefits that they imagine such to accrue to them in this life and the hereafter. THAT is what drives them and it is what has driven their predecesors of all faiths and none throughout history's bloody sweep.
All right. Here we come to the heart of the matter. I am wrong in ascribing "the CAUSE of Islamic extremist ideology to the faith of Islam," when in fact, according to Mr. Poonawalla, this ideology could have come from anywhere, even the phone book, and after all, the holy texts of every faith have been used to justify violence.
Yet there seems to be a bit of confusion here. In the first place, it is the "extremists" themselves, not I, who "routinely" ascribe "the CAUSE of Islamic extremist ideology to the faith of Islam." I have posted hundreds and hundreds of examples of this in the three years of Jihad Watch, and have many, many times asked moderate Muslims for some compelling Islamic refutation of the jihad theology. None has ever been forthcoming -- even from Mr. Poonawalla, who promised me in those cordial emails some anti-jihad material from Al-Azhar but never quite got around to getting it to me.
With jihadists daily recruiting for their ranks by appealing to the Qur'an and Sunnah, this is a grave and glaring omission. And it is not my doing. For it is not a matter of the jihadists using, in Mr. Poonawalla's words, "this or that Qur'an verse for their justification." Contrary to Esmay's repeated contention that finding justification for the jihad in the Qur'an is a matter of "cherry-picking" a few verses here and there that Muslims otherwise do not understand in a violent way, the jihad in order to establish the supremacy of Sharia is taught not only in the Qur'an, but in the Hadith, in the words and deeds of Muhammad, and by all the schools (madhahib) of Islamic jurisprudence.
Jihadists are well aware of this, and work hard to situate "the CAUSE of Islamic extremist ideology" within "the faith of Islam." See, to take just one of many examples, this article I wrote a couple of years ago about a theological exposition by Zarqawi. In it, I wrote this:
Zarqawi’s tape amounts to a direct frontal assault on the glib and still oft-repeated assertion that the 9/11 attacks are condemned by Islam because Islam forbids the killing of innocent civilians. It is urgently to be hoped that all those courageous groups that identify themselves as forces for Muslim moderation...construct responses to Zarqawi that reason from Islamic principles....With this audiotape, Zarqawi has seized the intellectual and theological initiative within the global Islamic community, and reinforced the jihadist claim to represent “pure Islam” — a claim that has proved to be a potent recruitment tool among Muslims worldwide, as well as here in the United States. If moderates do not or cannot take that initiative from him, the consequences could reverberate across the world for decades to come.
Did I write Zarqawi's exposition of Islamic theology? Or any of the other similar writings by jihadists? Did I ask Zarqawi to invoke Muhammad's example when justifying his beheadings in Iraq? With respect, Mr. Poonawalla's focus is misplaced. He is shooting the messenger instead of dealing with the real problem: the Muslims who justify violence by referring to Islamic teachings, not the one who reports on their doing so -- me. He is asking me either to look the other way when they quote the Qur'an and invoke Muhammad, or else to tell people that they are doing so incorrectly.
Well, it is not up to me to say whether they are doing so correctly or incorrectly. I just report that they are doing so, and show the deep roots of their perspective in Islamic theology and sacred texts. That's just reality. It is up to peaceful Muslims to challenge this perspective among Muslims if they do not wish it to prevail.
What's more, Mr. Poonawalla himself acknowledges that jihadists act in view of "the benefits that they imagine such to accrue to them in this life and the hereafter." Now, where did they get the idea that they would receive such benefits? From the Qur'an, of course, which promises Paradise to those who "kill and are killed" for Allah (9:111), and from Muslim preachers worldwide who invoke that verse and others to justify suicide bombing. Is that not a "CAUSE of Islamic extremist ideology" that is derived from and rooted within "the faith of Islam"? I believe it is. What does Mr. Poonawalla propose we do about this? Ignore it? Deny it is happening? I would rather he and other anti-jihadist Muslims confront and refute it, so as to try to discourage Muslims from having recourse to such actions in the future.
The result is that Robert's readers do indeed come to believe - fed upon a diet of one-sided interpretation as they are - that all muslims are the enemy, potentially.
Of course, I have never said that, in fact, but I have noted that the American Muslim community has made no effort to expel jihadist sympathizers from its ranks, and that some who were apparently moderates turned out to be deceivers. There has been no large-scale, organized effort of takfir by American Muslims: takfir is the process of declaring another group of Muslims to be unbelievers because of their heretical views. Why haven't American Muslims done this for Al-Qaeda, or Hamas, or Hizballah? And in the absence of such an effort, what are infidels to do? I look forward to Mr. Poonawalla's explanation of how non-Muslims in America can reliably distinguish between Muslims who sympathize with the jihad, and may someday act on those sympathies, and those who do not.
The only muslims that become non-threats are those that are externally non-muslim and secular.
That's false also. And I repeat: "any Muslim who renounces the ideologies of jihad and dhimmitude is most welcome to join forces with us."
Hence the popularity of the three Goddesses (Manji, Sultan, and Hirsi Ali) in their circles. Muslims such as myself have no margin for error - the slightest misstatement and we are damned, our motives and intentions pre-ordained. And the times we seek to reach out, we are dismissed as practicing taqqiya or decitful. Isn't it profoundly obvious how such alienation is counter to the self-interest of us all?
Esmay has denounced me repeatedly for taking issue with Ali Eteraz in this post. He has taken this as evidence that when Islamic reformers do appear, I condemn them as deceivers. In fact, you will find no such characterization of Ali Eteraz's motives in that post. But I do point out some rather glaring inaccuracies in his presentation. Why? Because if I can see them, knowledgeable Muslims can see even more -- and this attempt at "reform" will founder. I make no apologies for pointing out such things. Serious Muslims know what their religious texts say, and will not be moved by efforts at "reform" that pretend that large portions of those texts do not exist. Reformers should not ignore, but should refute, the jihad ideology. Why is that too much to ask?
The challenge I pose to Robert then is this: to simply acknowledge the fact that his work has attracted a community of hatred, and that is a problem. And not a harmless one, but rather one that genuinely hinders his very own cause.
Well, it's certainly true that CAIR and others have quoted unhinged comments from Jihad Watch -- which indicates that they can't find the "hatred" they're looking for in my own writings, so they have to resort to trying to hold me responsible for intemperate comments here. But as I have said many times, if you think I agree with the comment, provide evidence of that agreement from my own writings. If you can't, then the comment no more reflects on my own positions than do the comments of the many Islamic apologists and jihad apologists who also post comments at Jihad Watch.
But in any case, a "community of hatred"? No. There are angry people who come here, to be sure. But their anger is not without cause. I think that if Mr. Poonawalla and Dean Esmay had scolded Americans in 1943 for speaking in abusive terms about Germans and Japanese, they would not have found as sympathetic a hearing as Esmay does for his "Islamophobia" charges today. And this constant denial and shift of focus -- the blaming of me rather than the jihadists for using the teachings of Muhammad and Islam to justify their actions -- does nothing to assuage that anger. A "community of hatred"? No. A community of patriots, of lovers of Western civilization and human rights, of people who are passionately committed to defending those things.
In any case, comments are, when all is said and done, unmoderated. I don't have time to read most of them, especially these days, but when particularly abusive ones are brought to my attention, I do remove them. Unlike Esmay, who would not allow Jihad Watch commenters to comment in my defense at his site, I believe in freedom of speech, and that the antidote to bad speech is more speech. And I believe that if comments here offend Aziz H. Poonawalla, he should strive all the harder to eradicate the causes of that anger from the American Muslim community and from the umma worldwide.
Meanwhile, however, Esmay continues his attacks, with a screed against unmoderated comments at Little Green Footballs. Perhaps because I am not directly involved, his characteristic wall-climbing, straitjacket-worthy hysteria is not in evidence (if you like that sort of thing, check out his maniacal anti-Christian rantings in the comments field here), but he does make a number of simply false assertions:
The believer in the Taqqiya Libel against Muslims says that any Muslim can be assumed to be lying to you if you're not a Muslim. They further tell you that any Muslim who expresses hatred of terrorism, hatred of political violence, love for America, or love for Freedom is simply a liar. After all, the Koran "directs" them to lie about these things.
But of course the Koran contains no such direction. Taqqiya is only to be invoked in extreme circumstances, so as to avoid bloodshed and horror. Furthermore, Taqqiya is actually rejected by a majority of Muslims worldwide. Indeed, most conservative Muslim scholars say that "taqqiya" is just code-word for "liar" and that lying is never acceptable under Islam.
Of course, the idea that taqiyya means that "any Muslim can be assumed to be lying to you if you're not a Muslim" is absurd, but aside from that, his assertion that "the Koran contains no such direction" is false. For example: commenting on Qur'an 3:28, the great (and quite mainstream) Qur'an commentator Ibn Kathir says this: if believers "in some areas or times fear for their safety from the disbelievers," they "are allowed to show friendship outwardly, but never inwardly. For instance, Al-Bukhari recorded that Abu Ad-Darda said, 'We smile in the face of some people although our hearts curse them.' Al-Bukhari said that Al-Hasan said, 'The Tuqyah [or taqiyya, the shielding of what is in one's heart] is allowed until the Day of Resurrection.'"
Ibn Kathir, a pious Muslim and a renowned scholar whose work has been revered by Muslims for centuries, believes that the Qur'an allows believers to deceive unbelievers. Dean Esmay says that the Qur'an says no such thing, but gives no actual evidence beyond nameless authorities to support his view. And I'm an evil Islamophobe, repeating the equivalent of the blood libel against the Jews (Esmay makes the equation elsewhere in his post), for quoting an actual Muslim source (and I have many, many others that speak in the same vein) that says deception is acceptable, and pointing out that it is quite possible, and indeed probable, that some Muslims in the world today agree with Ibn Kathir. Get the picture?
Esmay also says that "Nowhere anywhere [sic] in the Koran is suicide bombing endorsed. This is yet another Libel against Muslims."
Call the Pentagon, Dean. You also might want to call in the authors of this detailed defense of suicide bombing on Islamic grounds for a little Islamic instruction.
Aziz H. Poonawalla wrote me again last Monday, saying: "Matoko clearly was mistaken, and I'll post ot that effect later. Also, Dean owes you an apology. Which I will make plain to him." "Matoko" is one of Esmay's favorite attack dogs, who doesn't seem to care how wild or inaccurate her charges are. See here and here, and so much for her. But so far no such post has appeared from Mr. Poonawalla. Instead, Esmay today links to a blogger who calls herself "Isis," who includes a gratuitous swipe at me in a post about how people should and should not talk about Islamic terrorism: "Reading Robert Spencer’s latest book or citing 'the Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam' does not make you an Islamic scholar." I do not know "Isis" and had never heard of her before this afternoon, but I repeat the request of her that I have always extended to reasonable people, and even to Dean Esmay: rather than simply sneering, please show me where I'm wrong, and let's discuss these issues in a rational manner. But I know: it is easier to throw stones and set up straw men to knock down than to defend one's own position. So I'm not expecting anything.
Esmay, finally, has been spending quite a bit of time today discussing a Muslim soldier who was killed in Iraq, as if his death proves everything he charges about "Islamophobia." I suggest on the contrary that that soldier's memory would be far better served by an honest discussion by both Muslims and non-Muslims of good will of the elements of Islam that give rise to violence and fanaticism, and positive strategies developed for how both groups can work to neutralize this threat. But good will, it seems, is in short supply these days.
UPDATE: A Jihad Watch reader has notified me that Esmay keeps hammering, saying here: "Ditto idiots like Brian Macker who ran around claiming that no Muslim could be trusted until he entirely repudiated Muhammed and repudiated entire swaths of the Koran, and accused any Muslims who disagreed with his interpretations as being liars. Which is also, interestingly enough, what Robert Spencer does for a living." (Brian Macker is or was a commenter at Esmay's site.) Of course, Esmay would never be able to produce any actual statements I have ever made to back up this characterization of my work, but who cares about accuracy when you can puff your chest out with self-righteous rage? For the record, I do not interpret the Qur'an or any other Islamic texts. Never have, never will. I report on their contents, and on how jihadists use them. I ask moderate Muslims to formulate a reponse to those jihadists. And I will not be intimidated by Esmay's rabid fulminations against me, and repeated attempts at character assassination, into stopping doing so.