Dean Esmay has sent me a couple of emails, full of more false charges and jeering (“You’re spitting in the faces of our muslim friends who are fighting side by side with U.S. troops in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Phillipines”), and repeating his “traitor” charge.
He also seemed to decline my challenge, responding to my “Prove me wrong” with “Nope. Don’t have to.” Then he posted a message on the thread of my original challenge, dismayed that I put up my original post here, although I never told him it would be a private exchange. His attacks were public; so will our debate be.
Anyway, now he has responded at his site with a series of questions. None of them deal directly with what I asked him to debate: the role of Qur’an, Sunnah and fiqh in inciting violence. I will keep coming back to that, but I will answer his questions. Clearly he has only the most glancing familiarity with what I actually write, and makes a lot of false assumptions and false statements, but at least, unlike many others who shy bricks and run, he is at least responding.
Before I answer him, one final note: several people now have written me to say that he is actually an insignificant ranter with a tiny readership, and not worth the time. Certainly his twice-repeated “traitor” charge, and scattershot multiplication of charges in subsequent emails without ever answering my counter points, supports the “ranter” view. Anyway, I don’t know the size of his readership, but I would never have heard of him at all if other people whom I respect hadn’t asked me to respond to him previously, so someone must be reading him. Anyway, I answer now (and henceforth) not so much to convince Esmay himself of anything but because there are no doubt many people who think like Esmay, and they may find this useful.
Now, until today I knew nothing at all of Robert Spencer. I had seen his site before, and noticed whenever I went to it that it always put the most negative possible spin on Islam, and to be rather callously dismissive of any moderate muslims–indeed, that whenever I looked it seemed to reject any possiblity that there could be any such people.
I am not and have never been “callously dismissive of any moderate muslims,” and have never rejected “any possiblity that there could be any such people.” If Mr. Esmay thinks I have, he should quote me. In fact, I have been bitterly attacked simply for observing that there are millions of Muslims who have no interest in the jihad, and I am just as eager as is the rest of the world to find Muslims who will renounce jihad and Sharia supremacism and stand with us to defend the equality of dignity of all people, freedom of conscience, and other principles denied by the mujahedin.
However, in my eagerness to find such people I am not going to allow myself to be fooled. I have read the Qur’an many, many times. I have read Bukhari, Muslim, and other Hadith collections. I have read the Sira of Ibn Ishaq. I have read treatises of Islamic law and first-hand accounts of Islamic history. All that brings me to certain inescapable conclusions about Islamic doctrine, Muhammad’s character and behavior, and more — conclusions which I have documented in my books. Then when I read various Muslim moderates, they state that the Qur’an teaches, and that Muhammad taught, and that Islam as a whole teaches, very different things from what I know to be the case.
What should I do then? Clap my hands and shout, “Yea, here’s a Muslim moderate”? Well, I haven’t done that. Their omissions, distortions, and misrepresentations make me suspicious. As I have said many times, it is easy to convince Westerners who know nothing of Islam that Islam is peaceful. It is harder to convince mujahedin. I am all for real moderate Muslims. I am not for getting deceived. If I can see that a moderate’s account of Islamic teaching is inaccurate, a mujahid will certainly be able to also. And if that moderate’s moderation won’t convince Muslims, what’s the point of it? To make non-Muslims feel better? I would rather have the truth than feel better on the basis of half-truths, thank you.
This was the case with Ali. What he said about Muhammad was demonstrably false. Should I have applauded him with everyone else and shouted, “Yea, a Muslim moderate”? Well, I’d certainly be a much more popular fellow if I joined in the fun on occasions like that, but I’m sorry, I just don’t like being played for a fool. What will Ali say when the mujahedin read his account of Muhammad and give him chapter and verse from the Hadith proving him wrong? He won’t be able to say anything. So of what value is his magnificent moderation?
Don’t tell me it’s an attempt at reform, Esmay. Reform isn’t accomplished by deception or self-deception. Reform is accomplished by acknowledging the problem and coming up with ways to deal with it. Let Ali or your Muslim friends confront the specific Qur’anic passages, Hadith passages, examples from the life of Muhammad, and rulings of the madhahib that the mujahedin use to recruit and motivate Muslims to commit violence and attempt to subvert Western societies, and find new ways to understand those passages that will be convincing to Muslims. Then I’ll applaud with the rest of you.
In investigating his site this morning, I found his writeup on himself and his background. I see his background is in religious studies, he’s apparently a practicing Roman Catholic, and has authored a tract on Islam to persuade Catholics of its dangers, as well as anti-Islam books for more general audiences. He is also a regular on right-wing talk radio. In general he seems to take the generic, well-known tactic that I’ve seeen from a lot of people, of claiming he’s not against Muslims, he just thinks Islam is a dangerous, violent religion. Would that be a fair summation, Robert? (Please, if I’ve gotten any of that wrong, especially the last part, let me know.)
In fact, I am not a practicing Roman Catholic, or a Roman Catholic at all, although I am a Catholic. I did write — coauthored, actually — a book (not a “tract”) about Islam for Catholics. I have written other books, and have appeared on many radio and TV shows. Esmay plays the label game — “right-wing” — which serves the double purpose of informing his readership that I am a bad guy and revealing that he is still playing Old Politics and has no clue that the global jihad would subjugate both “right wingers” and “left wingers.” As the great avant garde jazz musician Charles Gayle once responded to a similar charge made against him: “Man, I ain’t got no wings.”
I have said many times that I welcome anyone — right-wing, left-wing, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, atheist — who will fight against the jihadists who threaten us all. My books are not “anti-Islam”; nor have I ever said flatly that “Islam is a dangerous, violent religion.” That would be simplistic and in many ways misleading. What I have done is speak forthrightly about the elements of Islam that give rise to jihad violence and the supremacist impulse. To tell the truth about Islam is not “anti-Islam,” or pro- or anti- anything; it is just the truth. To say that it is raining today doesn’t mean that I am anti-Sun; if it’s raining, it’s raining. If what I have written is inaccurate, let Esmay or his Muslim friends refute it on substantive grounds. No one has yet.
1) If Robert is as knowledgeable as he says he is, he knows there are many muslim clerics and traditional rulings that do NOT refute my contentions about defensive wars being the only ones allowed. Would Robert deny that they exist?
Of course not. I have never denied this. If you think I have, quote me. However, please note that “defensive” in this context can become quite an elastic concept. Here is an example. What Mufti Ebrahim Desai is doing in that answer is justifying offensive action on putatively defensive grounds. I can give you many other such examples. So what? The point is that we need to go beyond an assurance that the Qur’an allows only for defensive war to an exploration of what the person who asserts this means. Osama, after all, also characterizes his actions as solely defensive.
Also, please provide specific examples of the “muslim clerics and traditional rulings” that you have in mind, so I can evaluate — as per what I wrote above — whether you are dealing with people who actually have a chance to counter the mujahedin on Islamic grounds, or something else.
But then we get this: “Please provide an Islamic refutation of them sufficient to convince violent jihadists today to lay down their arms.”
Robert, this is either shallow or disingenuous. I don’t think you believe that anyone can provide this, any more than you can provide sufficient Christian or biblical scriptural references to persuade the Lord’s Resistance Army or the Christian Identity movement to give up their hatreds or their radicalism.
It is neither shallow nor disingenuous. It is, instead, the sine qua non of Islamic moderation. The sole reason why Western non-Muslims so thirst to find moderate Muslims is because they hope a countercurrent can begin in the Islamic world to lessen the influence of the mujahedin. If a moderate’s version of Islam is powerless to do this, what’s the point?
The Lord’s Resistance Army and Christian Identity movement are fringe groups that teach things that no mainstream Christian sect teaches or has ever taught. Nor do they have global networks of violent Christians committing violence all over the world in the name of Christianity. In contrast, every Muslim sect (except the Ahmadiyya and some others who are considered heretical by maintream Sunnis and Shia for precisely this reason) and madhhab teaches jihad to establish the Islamic social order over the earth. What that amounts to is this: mainstream Christians around the world are not in danger of falling prey to the Christianity of the LRA or Christian Identity. For most of them, these groups’ version of Christianity is self-evidently absurd. But in Islamic communities, the mujahedin recruit by presenting their Islam as true, pure Islam — as I have documented many times at this site (do a search at JW for “pure Islam”). That is something the moderates must counter, if they can, or that recruitment will continue.
I do wonder though… if I ran a site that regularly watched the doings of radical Christian nutjobs who practice mass murder and terrorism, and called it “Christian Watch” and regularly quoted Biblical verses and statements from various Christians of the past to justify their behavior, how Robert would feel about that.
I’d feel fine about it. I’d think you were hysterical, since there are no “Christian nutjobs” who regularly commit acts of mass murder and terrorism, but I am not interested in what you choose to do with your time. Here again, as in your reference to “Jew Watch” before, your analogy is fuzzy: neither “Christian” nor “Jew” are cognate with “Jihad.” This is not “Muslim Watch.” As for the Scripture quotes, as I said above, any use of Scripture by those groups is already denied and refuted by the doctrines of all mainstream Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant bodies. This is what must be done within Islam, if it can be done. If you think it already has been done, prove it.
The Lord’s Resistance Army, the IRA, the KKK, the Christian Identity movement, and so on and so forth all can quote scripture to their purposes, Robert. What of it?
Nothing much. Quoting Scripture isn’t enough. None of those groups can point not only to Scripture, but to the example of Jesus, and the teachings of the Christian sects, and to the unbroken witness of Christian history, as supporting what they do. The mujahedin can and do point to the example of Muhammad, and the teachings of the Muslim sects, and to the unbroken witness of Islamic history, as supporting what they do. What of it? At very least, this must be addressed, not ignored or denied, by putative Muslim reformers.
2) Robert never wrote those exact words, and I never said he did. Rather, right here, and in other places, he has written that muslim moderates who defend their own faith and its interpretation are wrong or dishonest. Which, to me, is an endorsement of the violent extremists’ worldview.
I have never said or written, anywhere, that “muslim moderates who defend their own faith and its interpretation are wrong or dishonest.” I have simply objected, as I explained above, to being lied to about the Qur’an and Sunnah and Sira and Fiqh. What Ali said about Muhammad was false, and I explained why from Muslim sources. Does the inconvenience of something make it false? Esmay wishes that what Ali said were true; therefore he accuses me of endorsing “the violent extremists’ worldview” for showing it to be false. But actually truth or falsehood is not based on what we wish were true. Let Ali or Esmay prove wrong what I said about Muhammad and the rest of it. But they can’t.
I know what the Muslim sources say. If a Muslim moderate or ex-Muslim — such as Tashbih Sayyed, Ibn Warraq, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Nonie Darwish…and others — acknowledges what in Islam incites to violence and declares his opposition to those elements of Islam, I am 100% supportive.
To observe that the “extremists” are working from a broad tradition within Islam is not to endorse them. It is just a fact. Wishing it were false won’t make it go away.
It seems to me a child’s game to look at what the violent Jihadis find in their scriptures, say that they are reading it correctly, then say that any Muslims who shunt those views aside or have a different interpretation are lying or insincere. What it seems to come down to is that Robert expects someone who accepts all the religious views of the terrorist Jihadis, to then be able to turn around and persuade the terrorist Jihadis to change their ways. He’s formulated a Catch-22, in other words.
Nonsense. Let a Muslim renounce jihad to convert or subjugate non-Muslims, and the imperative to impose Sharia over the world. There is no Catch-22 in that at all — in fact, it is not difficult at all, although it requires courage. For what such Muslims must reject is not a matter of a few Qur’an verses, as Esmay evidently believes, but of a broad and mainstream Islamic tradition. I have provided examples of this many times here and in my books. I have asked here many times for people to send me examples of Islamic religious scholars rejecting, on Islamic grounds, jihad violence against non-Muslims; rejecting the idea that Sharia law should be instituted in the Muslim and non-Muslim world; and teaching the idea that non-Muslims and Muslims should live together indefinitely as equals. Send me rejections of the ideas that women should not enjoy full equality of rights with men. Send me information that shows that those who write such rejections are not lone voices crying in the wilderness, with the wolves of Islamic orthodoxy ready to pounce upon them, but that they represent broad traditions within Islam and have large followings.
Go ahead, Dean. Send me all that.
Meanwhile, I don’t believe the violent Jihadis are anything more than dangerous cultists.
On what grounds? Be specific.
I believe our real goal here in the West needs to be to persuade the wavering and/or fearful middle in the Muslim world that modernity is compatible with their religion. We aren’t going to do that by vindicating the theology of the radicals.
It is not up to me or any non-Muslim to vindicate any Islamic theological system. Nor have I done so. I have never said, and would never say, that the jihad ideology is true Islam; Islam has no central authority that can make such a ruling. But I know that it is, as I said, a broad tradition within Islam, and that the mujahedin present themselves as the exponents of true Islam. I am not vindicating their theology by pointing that out. It is just a fact.
We aren’t going to do anything to help ourselves or Muslims by giving in to wishful thinking, letting ourselves be fooled by deceivers, and accepting shallow, inaccurate and inadequate presentations of Islamic theology by self-proclaimed Muslim moderates.
Esmay follows all this with some political points that are shallow and silly, but about which I have nothing in particular to say, so I’ll skip down.
I think there’s only one thing that will get the violent Jihadis to put their weapons down: kill enough of them that the rest of them give up. Then we have to bring free speech, free press, and free elections to the people of the region, as much as possible, so they can join the rest of us in the modern world.
Yes, they have already shown how much they thirst for this, what with the Sharia provisions in both the Iraqi and Afghani Constitutions.
3) Robert has to know that the Muslim world is at least as fractured and complex as the Christian world, with so many different sects, nationalities, and languages they are dizzying in number. Indeed, Islam looks a lot like what Christianity would look like without the Catholic church: literally hundreds of sects, with no central ruling authority at all. Robert must therefore know that treating it as a monolith is stupid.
Please specify where I have done so. I have said that all eight madhahib, most notably the four principal Sunni madhahib — Shafi’i, Maliki, Hanafi, and Hanbali — all teach jihad and Sharia supremacism. They are not monolithic, but on that they are united. Prove me wrong.
What do the people of Senegal, Indonesia, or Algeria have in common besides religion–religion which will have some similarities and some vast differences between them?
I have made specific points about the religion. Please address them. Of course there are differences among Muslims of Senegal, Indonesia, and Algeria. In which of those countries do you believe that Muslims reject the jihad ideology?
For example, I have a friend who is Dawoodi Bohra, a sect not known for violence found primarily in India and Pakistan. This is just one of dozens of Shia sects. I’ve known Sufis, of which there are over a half-dozen sects that I’m aware of, most not known for violence. So my question for Robert is really, which Muslim scholars is he choosing to study, and why does he consider them the most important?
No doubt you know that the Bohras follow Fatimid jurisprudence, which teaches that there are seven, not five pillars of Islam. Taharah — or ritual purity — and jihad are added to the others. Does this mean that your friend or other Bohras aren’t peaceful? Of course not. But it does mean that they could be susceptible to an appeal to violence based on the teachings of their own sect. Nor do Sufis reject jihad violence in principle; al-Ghazali taught it, and Sufis have been at the vanguard of the Chechen jihad. Hasan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, which in turn gave birth to Hamas and Al-Qaeda, was strongly influenced by Sufism.
Why do I think the scholars I cite are important? Only because their teachings, and the teachings of their sects and schools, are used to justify violence against and the subjugation of the infidel. As long as these teachings remain unchallenged and unrejected by peaceful Muslims, they will continue to incite to violence and continue to threaten non-Muslims.
1) As I have noted in many many places, there are Muslims serving right now, honorably and well, in the United States armed forces. Does Robert acknowledge this? Yes or no please.
Yes. This proves nothing about the contents of Qur’an, Sunnah, and fiqh. The presence of Muslims in our armed forces doesn’t prove anything about what Islam teaches, any more than does the presence of Muslims in strip bars, or Roman Catholics in steakhouses on Friday. The question of what Islam teaches is not answered by what Muslims do or don’t do, especially without any reference to their commitment to the faith, or lack thereof. The question of what Islam teaches is answered only by a look at the Qur’an, Hadith, and schools of jurisprudence.
2) U.S. troops are fighting side by side with muslims in the fight against terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Phillipines, and other places. Does Robert acknowledge that? Yes or no please.
Of course. And so? See my answer to #1.
3) If Robert says yes to 1 and or 2, I ask: should we be telling them that their service in fighting terrorists in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, the Phillipines, etc. is incompatible with their religion? Yes or no please.
If Muslims are telling them that, and they are, I am not going to apologize for reporting on that fact. And I am going to continue to insist that Muslim moderates come up with an adequate response, rather than deal in shallow and easily refuted half-truths and distortions.
4) Are Dr. Ahmed Abaddi and the King of Morocco liars, or simply failing to understand the true nature of their faith?
Neither one. I applaud their efforts. I would like to see the content of their “theological training program for Imams to teach them how to promote moderation within Islam,” as such programs have proved hollow in the past. Are they deceivers themselves? I am not saying that at all. If their program is effective, I hope they disseminate it throughout the world.
But anyway, this is beside the point. I have never said that there were no such people. If they confront the incitements to violence in Qur’an and Sunnah, more power to them. But whenever I have seen the content of such programs, they don’t do this. Does this one not do it either? I haven’t seen it. If anyone can send me its contents, I’d be grateful.
5) How about the people at Free Muslims against terrorism? Liars? People who don’t understand their faith? What?
Neither one. They’re just a Tiny Minority of Extremists. Why did they only draw 25 Muslims to their March Against Terrorism after an avalanche of national publicity?
6) Late last year in Bangladesh half a million mosques started declaring that suicide bombers are the enemy of Islam, leading large scale rallies across that nation. So, what are they, liars, or people who don’t understand their faith, or what?
Neither one. They may be sincere reformers. I hope they win. In Bangladesh, as elsewhere, they face an uphill battle.
7) How about Abdurrahman and Yenny Wahid and the organization they run in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation: they don’t understand the faith, they’re lying about the faith, or what?
I can’t speak about their motives, but I have spoken about what Yenny Wahid has said here.
8) My final question for the folks at Jihadwatch: what, if anything, have you done to attempt to enlist anti-violent-jihadist Muslim forces to help you in your work? Can you give specific examples?
I have said here from the beginning of this site: “Any Muslim who renounces violent jihad and dhimmitude is welcome to join in our anti-jihadist efforts.” Have I attempted to enlist anyone? No. I don’t attempt to enlist anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim, into anything. I just write and speak.
But do I believe that fooling ourselves and falling prey to wishful thinking are valid anti-jihad efforts? No.
Esmay has made more reckless assertions and false charges in a series of emails, but I have to catch a plane. I will end with just this, which I wrote him in an email: I do oppose the democratization effort in Iraq, as I believe it is futile. Always have. The troops there know better than the high command. Our troops can and should be better deployed. I equally oppose Cindy Sheehan-style appeasement and defeatism. And I reject your apparent belief that dissent from the current policy of the Administration makes one a traitor.
Back to you, Deano.