Here is Mustafa Akyol’s latest reply to my piece here, and my reply to his reply:
A Reply To Robert Spencer – And A Search For Creative Tension
After my article on Frontpage, titled Still Standing For Islam – And Against Terrorism, Robert Spencer, the editor of the Jihad Watch website posted a rebuttal. He argued that Islam is indeed the legitimate source of terrorists such as al-Qaeda, and my arguments can’t persuade those militants to stop their violence.
I wonder how the arguments of Mr. Spencer can help the same cause, but that is trivial for now. Let me explain what I really say and what I really want to do.
In a nutshell, what I am trying to do is to show that the current terrorism under the name of Islam is not legitimate from an Islamic point of view. By doing so, I want to refute two diametrically opposing camps: Islamist terrorists and some of the harsh critics of Islam. Interestingly, both camps agree that Islam is a cult of violence, whereas for me, and for hundreds of millions of Muslims around the globe, Islam is a path to God. We just wish to cleanse that path from the distortions of the politically oriented radicals and intolerant bigots.
When I say terrorism (or authoritarianism) is not legitimate from an Islamic point of view, I mean the Islamic ideal that I believe in, and which is based on the Koran, besides everything else. Of course, there are Muslims who think that evils such as attacks against American or Israeli civilians, kidnappings, bombings, repressive regimes or anti-Semitism are legitimate. They are obviously out there, as we all know. I am trying to de-legitimize their doctrine. I am not trying to ‘cover up’ militant Islamists, as I have been accused for on the Jihad Watch.
Mr. Spencer also quoted the “Muslim Q&A” website, which promotes compulsion in religion. Well, I am horrified by such views, which I believe to be totally contradictory to the spirit of the Koran and I am ready to stand against them.
Yet Mr. Spencer insists that such efforts won’t persuade the militants to have a farewell to arms or the fanatics to accept freedom of worship. He is right. I don’t expect al-Qaeda militants to weep and repent when they read what I, or what many other moderate Muslims — most of them much more qualified then myself — write. But we can, Lord willing, persuade the Muslim masses that are confused about what to believe; confused whether al-Qaeda and its ilk are brave heroes of Islam or a bunch of bigoted zealots.
Moreover, while we moderates can’t probably convert militants into peaceniks, it is very probable that portraying Islam as a cult of violence will help converting non-violent Muslims into militants. The majority of the world’s Muslims, who believe that their religion demands peace, will be horrified to see what they will perceive as anti-Islamic propaganda and will be prone anti-Western sentiments. Please let’s be careful about this.
Mr. Spencer also criticizes me for defining an Islamic case of just war. He writes,
Likewise, Akyol’s contention that “the war verses describe only an abnormal state of affairs — in which the Muslim community faced an enemy that sought its annihilation — and verses that promote peace and tolerance describe the Islamic ideal” will do nothing to pacify radical Muslims, since they have argued again and again that today the Muslim community faces an enemy that seeks its annihilation.
Well, defining a concept of just war cannot prevent fanatics to distort the current reality and raise a false justification. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, for example, the justification was that they undertook military intervention in response to an official request for help by the Afghanistan government, and also fulfilling treaty obligations under the terms of the Soviet-Afghan Friendship Treaty. On paper, that could sound legitimate. In reality, it was an obvious distortion of facts. The problem was not the theory on paper, rather the Orwellian method of misinterpreting real events.
What al-Qaeda and its ilk do is to distort both the Islamic doctrine of war (on paper), and the current events. In a forthcoming article of mine, I explain why it is a big distortion to present the U.S. as the enemy of Islam while it saved Muslims from slaughter or starvation in many recent conflicts, such as Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia and Afghanistan (during the Soviet Invasion.)
In other words, it is not my fault if militants distort the doctrine of just war, but I am determined to stand against that, too.
Mr. Spencer also questions my opposition to the doctrine of abrogation (naskh), which holds that some Koranic verses are abrogated by the later ones. He says that doctrine is rooted in the Koran. That is a common view, but I and other critics of abrogation don’t think so. As also explained in the article that I linked to in my recent Frontpage piece, that abrogation in question should be better understood as the abrogation of previous revelations by the Koran.
Mr. Spencer also criticized me for quoting hadiths and sira, while I “rejected” them at the same time. But I did not say I reject these secondary sources of Islam; I said I “question” them. This means I believe that we can refer to these sources to learn about the works of Prophet Muhammad, but since they are very late collections, they might well include untrue stories and we can be critical and selective on them. And this is not a completely unorthodox view. As I pointed out in my recent Frontpage article, even the very conservative Al-Azhar is reconsidering to purify the sources of hadith from “the strange, the false and from forgery.”
Mr. Spencer also argued that I “dismissed the Armenian genocide… in order to avoid ten years in prison as mandated by law in [my] native Turkey.” I don’t know how Mr. Spencer can figure out my motives. In fact, I don’t care about any penal law while building my arguments. If I had believed that the tragedy in 1915 was “Armenian Genocide”, I would have said that. (Well, some people say that in Turkey, such as my university professor Halil Berktay, and they are obviously not in jail.) Mr. Spencer even used the horrific term “Holocaust denial” to describe my position on the Armenian issue. I am confident that in this “Holocaust denial,” my references are not notorious pro-Nazis like Ernst ZÃ¼ndel or Arthur Butz, but esteemed historians such Bernard Lewis and Daniel Pipes.
However, despite all these, I should say that I appreciate Mr. Spencer’s commentary on my writing. He has pointed out some points that I should have stressed more or clarified. Thus, I believe that all these rebuttals and counter-rebuttals I have with Mr. Spencer…and all the comments about me at Frontpage and Jihad Watch stirs a “creative tension”, which is indeed fruitful, as long as it does not turn into to a blind exchange of accusations and counter-accusations.
I believe that Mr. Spencer’s Jihad Watch will never decline to such a one-sided, bigoted point of view. After all, if you watch something, you have to look through a fair lens in order to see it right.
As far as it goes that way, I am glad to be “watched” — since my “jihad” (struggle) is focused on saving Islam from militancy and bigotry.
* Mustafa Akyol is a political scientist, columnist and writer from Turkey. He is also a director at the Intercultural Dialogue Platform, based in Istanbul. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
And my response:
Jihadists 4, Akyol 0
By Robert Spencer
Mustafa Akyol, in his fourth essay and latest reply to me, says that I “argued that Islam is indeed the legitimate source of terrorists such as al-Qaeda, and [his] arguments can’t persuade those militants to stop their violence.” Akyol adds: “I wonder how the arguments of Mr. Spencer can help the same cause, but that is trivial for now.”
Actually, it is not trivial at all. It is the core of Akyol’s objections to my arguments, and central to our differing perspectives. Akyol says: “In a nutshell, what I am trying to do is to show that the current terrorism under the name of Islam is not legitimate from an Islamic point of view.” I applaud any such efforts whenever they are genuine and effective; my objections to Mr. Akyol have nothing to do with the fact that he is trying to delegitimize the radicals. But for such attempts, whether by Mr. Akyol or anyone else, to be worthwhile, they have actually to refute the arguments from the Qur’an and Islamic tradition used by Islamic radicals. If they don’t do this, then they don’t show that terrorism is illegitimate from an Islamic perspective, and fail at Mr. Akyol’s stated purpose.
How, then, can my arguments help Akyol’s cause? By compelling him to make them stronger. If I can see holes in them from the standpoint of Islamic theology and tradition, Islamic radicals can see them too, and many more. If Islamic moderates wish to succeed, they simply must not leave these holes open.
Akyol adds: “I want to refute two diametrically opposing camps: Islamist terrorists and some of the harsh critics of Islam. Interestingly, both camps agree that Islam is a cult of violence, whereas for me, and for hundreds of millions of Muslims around the globe, Islam is a path to God. We just wish to cleanse that path from the distortions of the politically oriented radicals and intolerant bigots.” And later in his piece he says, “The majority of the world’s Muslims, who believe that their religion demands peace, will be horrified to see what they will perceive as anti-Islamic propaganda and will be prone [to] anti-Western sentiments. Please let’s be careful about this.”
So evidently Western non-Muslims must not point out the elements of Islam that give rise to violence, lest non-committed Muslims will perceive us as anti-Muslim and become violent themselves. This is, of course, self-contradictory (for if they are against the violence in Islam, they should not oppose someone who opposes it with them) and palpably absurd (for if they are really non-violent, how can nothing more than a perceived insult make them violent?).
Akyol acknowledges that his efforts “won’t persuade the militants to have a farewell to arms or the fanatics to accept freedom of worship,” but he says he is going after the silent majority of Muslims who are confused. Once again, I applaud his efforts — but he surely knows that Osama and other radicals use carefully constructed arguments from the Qur’an and Islamic tradition to buttress their views. The “Muslim masses” can read those as well as I can; if Akyol’s counter-arguments can be easily refuted by the radicals, how will they convince the masses?
Later, Akyol notes that I criticized him for quoting hadiths and sira right after rejecting them. He says: “I did not say I reject these secondary sources of Islam; I said I ‘question’ them. This means I believe that we can refer to these sources to learn about the works of Prophet Muhammad, but since they are very late collections, they might well include untrue stories and we can be critical and selective on them. And this is not a completely unorthodox view. As I pointed out in my recent Frontpage article, even the very conservative Al-Azhar is reconsidering to purify the sources of hadith from ‘the strange, the false and from forgery.'” That’s fine, but what Al-Azhar is doing is nothing new. The sifting of true ahadith from false ones has gone on ever since there have been ahadith. There are many ahadith among the Sahih Sittah, the collections generally accepted as most reliable by Muslims, that contain exhortations to jihad warfare against Jews, Christians, and others. Does Mr. Akyol think that these are all weak ahadith? If so, how will he convince Muslims to reject material from the revered collections of Bukhari, Muslim, and other respected sources? This is not a rhetorical question; I hope he has an answer, and am looking forward to seeing it.
As for the Armenian genocide, I believe that Bernard Lewis was justly prosecuted in France for his denial (although I abhor such speech laws), and I do not think he is an unimpeachable source, given his marked and uncritical affection for Ataturkism. I refer objective readers to The History of the Armenian Genocide by Vahakn N. Dadrian.
In sum, I appreciate Mr. Akyol’s efforts to oppose radical Muslims. But if he really hopes to delegitimize violence in Islam, he has to construct an Islamic argument strong enough to refute radicals — something he says he has no hope of doing. If he cannot do this, how can he expect Muslim moderates to follow him? I devoutly hope for fundamental and global reform in Islam, but it can only come from a definitive repudiation of everything Islamic that gives rise to terrorism. Mr. Akyol is not there yet; I do hope he arrives someday.