The attempt to get me barred from polite society continues. Leftists and Islamic supremacists are intent on ruling what I say out of acceptable public discourse. And they may well succeed — after all, their spiritual kin, the Soviets and the German National Socialists, had great success for extended periods in restricting the circle of acceptable public discourse solely to what they deemed acceptable. And like the Soviets and the Nazis, their campaign is a war against the truth, and so it cannot proceed by means of rational discussion or debate, or by refuting its opponents’ claims; instead, it must rely on pejorative labels, tendentious labels, and demonization of the foe. Michael Sean Winters offers a prime example in the National Catholic Reporter, a far-left organ that has long determined to force the Catholic Church to discard positions it has held for two millennia in order to bow to the spirit of this age.
“Who Should Be Barred From Catholic Forums?,” by Michael Sean Winters in the National Catholic Reporter, August 8:
Controversial anti-Muslim speaker and blogger Robert Spencer is slated to participate in a debate at Eastern Michigan University. The debate is being conducted by Al Kresta, the Catholic radio host of “Kresta in the Afternoon,” which is distributed on Ave Maria Radio and EWTN. Earlier this year, two bishops, Robert McManus of Worcester, Mass., and Jaime Soto of Sacramento, Calif., canceled appearances by Spencer on Catholic premises because of his anti-Muslim bigotry.
“Anti-Muslim” is the ultimate smear term. Oppose jihad violence and Islamic supremacism and you’re “anti-Muslim.” But again: calling me “anti-Muslim” is like calling an opponent of the Nazis “anti-German.” Standing for the freedom of speech, the freedom of conscience, and the equality of rights of all people before the law gets you this kind of defamation these days.
Neither McManus nor Soto canceled my appearances because of my supposed “anti-Muslim bigotry.” McManus issued a lengthy statement about the cancellation. In it, he never accuses me of bigotry. He says: “Mr. Spencer”s talk about extreme, militant Islamists and the atrocities that they have perpetrated globally might undercut the positive achievements that we Catholics have attained in our inter-religious dialogue with devout Muslims and possibly generate suspicion and even fear of people who practice piously the religion of Islam.” It is hard for me to understand the value of engaging in “inter-religious dialogue” while avoiding the unpleasant issues that made that dialogue necessary in the first place. Moreover, it seems odd that people say that we should not discuss the problem of spousal abuse because it may generate suspicion and fear of good-hearted and gentle husbands. But in any case, McManus never said that what I say is false, or hateful, or anti-Muslim, or bigoted. He just said that if we discuss these things, Muslims might be offended, and some people might become afraid of peaceful Muslims. I disagree, but those aren’t charges of “anti-Muslim bigotry.”
As for Soto, he never said anything publicly at all. He just wanted to avoid controversy, and the editor-in-chief of Reza Aslan’s Aslan Media, who is so desperate to silence the truth about Islam and jihad that he has dedicated himself to getting me canceled from every possible appearance, promised him controversy if I spoke. I spoke, and there was no controversy, and Soto was so un-offended by my presence there that he actually sent a representative from the diocese of Sacramento to man a booth at the conference. That’s some condemnation of my supposed “anti-Muslim bigotry.”
These episodes raise the question — and it is not an easy question — as to who should be barred from being given a platform at a Catholic institution. In defending his decision to host the debate, Mr. Kresta said: “If having a debate like this is considered incendiary, then that’s evidence that we need debates like this. People think you can only live together peacefully if you agree on everything, and that’s not true.” There is something to that sentiment, to be sure, especially at a university setting where, presumably, encouraging debate is one of the institution’s primary goals.
There are limits. Holocaust deniers come to mind, and not only in the abstract. You may recall the controversy surrounding Columbia University’s invitation to now-former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak on campus. In what meaningful sense can a debate be considered an intellectual endeavor when it includes a madman?
Mr. Spencer’s vile anti-Muslim pronouncements certainly approach the level of bigotry we associate with Holocaust denial. He has made a career of cherry-picking especially violent passages out of the Quran and tarring the rest of Islam as violent on account of those passages.
Note that in Michael Sean Winters’s vicious little libel here, he doesn’t quote even one of my “vile anti-Muslim pronouncements” that “approach the level of bigotry we associate with Holocaust denial.” He doesn’t, because he can’t, because what I actually say is nothing like his caricature.
And as for the “cherry-picking” charge, it doesn’t become any more true for being endlessly repeated. In reality, I’ve written a commentary, available online, on the entire Qur’an — including the passages counseling peace and tolerance. I explained at length how Muslim scholars and jurists understood those passages and their relationship to the violent passages both in that commentary and in my book The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran. But I doubt that Michael Sean Winters has read either the online commentary or the book; I doubt he knows that either one exists. He is just repeating talking points he was fed.
Of course, the same methodology could be used to indict Christians and Jews for whom Psalm 137 is considered the very Word of God: After its poignant opening line — “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion” — the psalm concludes, “Happy shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!” Slaughtering children by dashing them against rocks does not, in fact, make me happy. This passage — and there are others — brings to mind the sage observation of Origen, the early third-century Christian exegete, regarding biblical literalism. Looking at Genesis and the account(s) of Creation therein, he asked, “who is so silly as to believe that God, after the manner of a farmer, planted a paradise eastward in Eden, and set in it a visible and palpable tree of life, of such a sort that anyone who tasted its fruit with his bodily teeth would gain life?” Well, it turns out, many fundamentalists believe precisely that all these centuries later. The point is that texts drawn from earlier centuries can almost always be cited to indict a given tradition.
Fine. As soon as “Christian extremists” start dashing babies against rocks and citing Psalm 137, the way Islamic jihadists all over the world routinely cite the Qur’an to justify their violent actions, and as soon as the various sects and schools of Christianity start teaching that Christians must dash the babies of their enemies against rocks, I will grant that Michael Sean Winters is right, and that what I do to the Qur’an is the same thing that he does with the Psalm here.
In America today, there are only too many people willing to believe the worst about Muslims, which is why Spencer’s writings and speeches are not merely mad: They are, as Kresta admitted, “incendiary.” A madman can be written off, but a madman with consequence must be rebutted, and I am not sure a debate forum is the proper method of rebuttal. There are people, and I would put Spencer in that group, whose views are so hateful and so tendentious that they should not, in fact, be given a forum at either a Catholic institution on moral grounds or an academic institution on intellectual grounds. Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing, Mich., would be well advised to follow the example of his brother bishops and say that the Catholic church simply cannot be associated with this vile anti-Muslim bigotry.
My views should be rebutted — fine. Go ahead. I don’t know why a debate isn’t the proper forum for that. If Shadid Lewis or Mustafa Akyol show what I say about Islam to false when we debate this Saturday, surely they will have gone a long way toward discrediting me, as Michael Sean Winters wants someone to do, right? But no Muslim debater has succeeded yet — and in the last couple of years I’ve debated several imams, including Moustafa Zayed; the Islamic apologist Nadir Ahmed; the counterterror analyst Mubin Shaikh; and others. None of them managed to show that anything I say about Islam and jihad is false. If Michael Sean Winters wants to refute my work himself, let him have at it — in fact, I’d be happy to have a dialogue or discussion with him (I’d offer to debate him but I see he doesn’t like debates). Somehow I think he will ignore this invitation.
And in any case, he wants the Church to follow the lead of two bishops who were manipulated and lied to, and who fell for the lies. Yet there is no consensus, no agreement, among Catholics that resistance to jihad terror and Islamic supremacism is wrong and unacceptable. Just recently the National Catholic Register, the Reporter’s saner competitor, called me “perhaps the foremost Catholic expert on Islam in our country.” But a foe of genuine debate and free thought like Michael Sean Winters probably wants to shut them down, too.
Winters goes on to attack the Thomas More Law Center and anti-Sharia laws, and then discusses a priest with whom I am not familiar and Barack Obama, and then concludes:
The problem with Mr. Spencer is both moral and doctrinal. His views are morally repugnant and his hatefulness challenges our core doctrinal beliefs about the dignity of all human persons. That he is out of step with the Holy Father, who took the unprecedented step of sending a personal statement to Muslims to commemorate the end of Ramadan, is obvious. That he is out of step with the USCCB, which is concerned about the religious liberty of all people, including Muslims, is obvious, too. Being out of step would not, in my estimation, disqualify him from access to a microphone at a Catholic forum. Engaging in hateful bigotry disqualifies him.
How ironic. My work is in defense of the dignity of all human persons, against an ideology that would strip that dignity to a great degree from women, non-Muslims, apostates from Islam, gays, etc. It is not hateful bigotry to stand for human rights, and it should be remembered that Michael Sean Winters is, by writing this attack, running interference for the proponents of this repressive ideology. That is not tolerance. That is not open-mindedness. That is not charity. That is not love. That is aiding and abetting the victimization of human beings, and history will judge Michael Sean Winters and his ilk quite harshly for it.