I was recently invited to speak about Islam and terrorism to a group in the Northeast. This afternoon, however, I received a call from a leader of the group; it seems that someone (he wouldn’t tell me who) had told the group that I was “anti-Muslim,” and therefore should not address his organization. He asked me what I would say if I did speak to the group. I told him that in my work I exposed how jihad terrorists used core Islamic texts to justify their actions and recruit more terrorists, and it was the great challenge for those who identified themselves as peaceful or moderate Muslims to confront the elements of these texts that give rise to violence and repudiate them, not to deny that these elements exist as so many do today. Both Muslims and non-Muslims, I told him, had to confront these elements of Islam and come up with constructive ways to deal with them, or jihad violence will only continue and increase.
I was disinvited to speak to the group.
This got me thinking, however, about the larger question: am I indeed, and is the entire Jihad Watch enterprise, “anti-Muslim”? Of course the jihadists and their allies would say yes: charges like these have become an oft-used tool in the arsenal of American Muslim advocacy groups (such as the one that has never explained the curious lacunae in its anti-terror condemnations, or why so many of its officials have been arrested on terrorist charges), who have fully grasped the principle that the worst thing one can be in American society and public discourse is a bigot. If they can tar their opponents with this brush, they can prevent many people of good will from considering what they have to say. They have used this effective little bit of mudslinging not only against me but against others such as Daniel Pipes and Steven Emerson. But that doesn’t make it true.
A key problem here is the fuzziness of the term itself. What does it mean, in the first place, to be “anti-Muslim”? Does it mean to hate all Muslims, and wish them ill? Then I am most emphatically not anti-Muslim. But for many in the American public sphere, some of whom I have tangled with publicly but most of whom are content with behind-the-scenes backbiting (I recently received a misdirected email from a somewhat prominent writer consigning me and another author on these topics to the “fringe,” and I have heard other dire stories), one can earn the “anti-Muslim” tag simply by daring to speak about the roots of Islam violence in the Qur’an, Sunnah, and Islamic jurisprudence.
But in reality, these are matters of fact. The facts are not really “pro-” or “anti-” anything; they are just the facts. If it is anti-Muslim to speak of them, so be it; but I don’t really think it is. If jihadists use the Qur’an, Sunnah, and Islamic law to justify their violence, and I explain how they do it, I do not become anti-Muslim, any more than a scholar of the Hitler period becomes a Nazi if he writes about how the Nazis appealed to ordinary Germans. Contrary to the belief of many analysts today, it does the genuine moderate Muslims whom they profess to support no favors to gloss over or ignore these facts — the Qur’an’s statements on making war on non-Muslims, or Muhammad’s words and actions confirming and expanding upon them. Instead, any sincere Muslim reformers must be encouraged to speak openly about those elements of Islam, and to reject them as having any applicability in the modern world. No reform can come when everyone is pretending that no reform is necessary. You cannot fix what you will not admit is broken.
Am I “anti-Muslim”? Some time ago here at Jihad Watch I had an exchange with an English convert to Islam, who signed his name “Yusuf Smith Indigo Jo).” I said: “I would like nothing better than a flowering, a renaissance, in the Muslim world, including full equality of rights for women and non-Muslims in Islamic societies: freedom of conscience, equality in laws regarding legal testimony, equal employment opportunities, etc.” Is all that “anti-Muslim”? Yusuf Smith thought so. He responded: “So, you would like to see us ditch much of our religion and, thereby, become non-Muslims.”
In other words, he saw a call for equality of rights for women and non-Muslims in Islamic societies, including freedom of conscience, equality in laws regarding legal testimony, and equal employment opportunities, as a challenge to his religion. To the extent that they are, these facts have to be confronted by both Muslims and non-Muslims. But I make no apologies: it is not “anti-Muslim” to wish freedom of conscience and equality of rights on the Islamic world — quite the contrary.
In any case, my disinvitation today is evidence of a deeper problem: a laziness of thought in American public discourse, and too much of a willingness to exchange sloganeering and button-pushing for fact. If the things I say cannot be said and must not be heard, so much the worse for all of us if they are in fact true.