The last time I replied to Cathy Young, several people asked me why I bothered, and advised me against replying to any and every attack from anyone with a weblog. And of course that is true. Recently someone sent me the URL of a weblog of someone who had fabricated an entire dialogue with me — with no indication, of course, that the exchange was fictional. And another site purports to catalog my enormities, but its operator has proven to be just a liar. That sort of thing is not worthy of any reply, but Cathy Young still writes for the Boston Globe, as well as Reason magazine, and while it is increasingly clear that she is impervious to logical argumentation on these matters, I reply again not only because of her ability to disseminate her views widely, but because no doubt people of good will who, like her, have not sufficiently informed themselves on these matters, think the way she does. If they see our exchange, perhaps some of them will come to perceive some realities they have hitherto not noticed.
Anyway, her latest, “JihadWatch.com and anti-Muslim bigotry,” is here.
In it, she again takes up the irrelevant question of comparative knowledge of Islam, stating, in contradiction to her earlier statement, that I know more about it than she does, which may or may not be true, and then concluding:
Just as clearly, a lot of people who have at least as much knowlege of the subject as Robert Spencer does, or more, radically disagree with his interpretations.
I wish she would be specific on who she means here. The only people she mentions in the rest of the piece are Bernard Lewis and Daniel Pipes. If she means them, she will run into difficulty. More on that later.
On the subject of Oriana Fallaci’s preoccupation with Somali street vendors in Italy, and her failure to distinguish between those vendors and Islamic terrorists, Spencer asks if I think it’s inconceivable that jihadist terrorists could be recruited among Somali street vendors. Of course I don’t think so. I do, however, think it’s absurd to excoriate those vendors, as Spencer does, for failing to “make any serious attempt to root jihad terrorists out of their ranks” (a task that the average immigrant surely doesn’t have the time, the resources, or for that matter the guts to undertake).
Here Cathy Young is adopting an extremely narrow and restrictive interpretation of what I said, in order to portray my statement in the worst possible light and simultaneously avoid dealing with the point I was actually trying to make. I was not actually calling upon Somali street vendors in Europe to begin engaging in energetic anti-jihad activities within Muslim communities there, although of course I and any sane person should welcome their doing so, if they found the time, the resources, and the guts. The actual point I was making was that the aggregate of moderate Muslims in Europe, among whom surely there must be a few who do have time, resources, and guts, there is no concerted or organized effort to combat the spread of the jihad ideology. This is a grave and telling omission. Cathy Young has ducked out of dealing with its implications by focusing on Somali street vendors.
Then Young jumps back to another red herring, public urination by Muslims. She ignores the point that was being made by Oriana Fallaci, and by Hugh Fitzgerald in the comments field to my last reply. The point was not that only Muslims urinate in public, but that they have targeted places of significance for European culture. As Hugh said during the last go-round:
Not Robert, but I, pointed out that the defecation and urination — deliberately done when other places were available — in churches (where Muslims have in the pastbeen given refuge as squatters by islamisant tiers-mondistes among Italian clergy, mocked by that old anti-clerical anti-fascist anti-Communist anti-everything Oriana Fallaci). And the particular incident that inflamed Fallaci were the streams of urine that flowed down the Baptistery in Florence, which the world-travelling Cathy Young may recall, and may also recall the effect of urine on the “Gates of Heaven,” that is the doors of the Battistero sculpted in metal by Ghiberti, who famously won the commission.
Let me try to think of an analogous situation. Imagine a group of Muslims encamped near, say, the Bridge in Concord (the rude bridge/that arched the flood – that one), or possibly near the Lincoln Monument. And imagine that everyday, though there were plenty of other places to urinate, they deliberately aimed their ruder streams not into the Concord River, but right on the bridge, or on the obelisk erected in 1836 that stands right before that bridge. Or imagine that they did so, and repeatedly, to the Lincoln Monument. I offered Cathy Young the testimony of an outraged Italian at the same site — she appears not to have paid any attention.
But to this Cathy Young replies only:
I’ll leave it to the reader to decide who is veering toward the ridiculous. Spencer’s “logic” seems to be that even if Muslims and non-Muslims are equally likely to pee in public places, when Muslims do it it’s different and hostile toward “infidel society.” And the evidence is …. ? (By the way, ranting is not quite the same thing as documenting.)
Well, the evidence was presented. If she may be excused for not reading Hugh’s comment (although she read, and tried to use for her purposes, comments on previous posts), she likewise ignores this statement in my main reply: “Does the existence of public urination among non-Muslims somehow mean that public urination by Muslims is not ever and cannot be an expression of contempt for infidel society? Even when that urination targets landmarks of that society, as Fallaci has documented?” Fallaci was ranting, and not documenting? But Fallaci likewise lists specific incidents of these acts of contempt. Yet Young is evidently sure, despite the widespread presence among Muslims in Europe of an ideology that justifies such contempt, and the ready presence of facilities that would make this targeting of monuments unnecessary, that these acts have no significance. Why? Because non-Muslims urinate in public also. For someone who writes for a magazine called Reason, this is a disheartening incidence of narrow dogmatism and unwillingness to consider evidence.
Spencer also disputes my claim that JihadWatch has labeled Bernard Lewis, the eminent historian of Islam who warned about the danger of Islamic radicalism all the way back in 1990, a “dhimmi.” He says that the article I linked does not support such a claim. Never mind that it appeared in the “Dhimmi Watch” section of the site.
We have never called Bernard Lewis a dhimmi. We have disagreed with certain elements of his analysis. The articles about him appeared at Dhimmi Watch because Dhimmi Watch, as the explanation on the left side of the page should make clear, deals not only with outright dhimmitude but also with academic distortions of the elements of Islam that give rise to fanaticism and violence. For Bernard Lewis to engage in some of these distortions, as in his dismissal of “dhimmi-tude” and of the Islamic grounds for suicide attacks, and for us to speak about it here does not make him a dhimmi. It had to be posted either here or on the Jihad Watch side; I suppose that if I had posted it there Young would be saying I called Lewis a mujahid. I don’t have a “Great and Renowned Professors of Middle East Studies With Whom I Largely Agree But With Whom I Have Some Disagreements Watch.” Perhaps I should register that domain. But until then, appearing in the New York Times does not make one a New Yorker; appearing in Time magazine doesn’t make one a wristwatch (and no, I am not comparing us to the NYT or Time mag). In employing this Argument By Masthead, Young is once again grasping at straws, apparently so intent on portraying us as wicked Islamophobes that she cannot even take my avowal of the importance of Bernard Lewis’ work and denial that we consider him a dhimmi at face value.
Finally, Spencer takes issue with this passage:
…honesty about the harsher and darker aspects of Islam and Islamic history is not the same as tarring all of Islam with the same brush and denying that the moderate strands even exist.
Spencer calls this a “little calumny,” and asserts that he does, in fact, acknowledge the existence of moderate Muslims and moderate strands of Islam.
Cathy Young has misread what I wrote. I said that “I have discussed (and Hugh Fitzgerald has as well) the issue of moderate Muslims and moderate Islam at great length, again and again.” I did not say that I “acknowledge the existence of moderate Muslims and moderate strands of Islam,” although of course I have said many times that the existence of moderate Muslims is an obvious fact, while moderate Islam remains elusive. There are moderate Muslims, but Islam itself is not moderate: all the schools of Islamic jurisprudence and all sects generally recognized as orthodox teach, with some variations, violent jihad and the necessity to impose Islamic law over the world.
What I took issue with as a calumny was Young’s assertion that I tar “all of Islam with the same brush and [deny] that the moderate strands even exist.” If I could not adduce evidence of the jihad ideology from all the madhahib, and were misrepresenting the teaching of some “strands” of Islam as the teaching of all of them, Young might have a case. But she is assuming I am doing that without evidence, and assuming that moderate Muslims represent an established tradition within Islamic theology and law — again without evidence.
As an example, he cites this item, about a Muslim named Souleiman Ghali who has been fighting a battle against more hardline Muslims in San Francisco (and has lost some court battles when a radical imam accused him of wrongful discharge). All right then, a few questions: Does Spencer believe, as his website argues, that a moderate Muslim like Ghali is still a danger to the West because he has not renounced Islam and because his children may yet revert to a more militant form of it?
I thought the story of Ghali, who lost battles again and again against jihadists in San Francisco, was extremely revealing of the sensibilities of American Muslims. I never said or suggested that Ghali himself is a danger to the West. I would like to know, however, how Cathy Young can guarantee that Ghali’s children will not “revert to a more militant form” of Islam. We recently saw that Nada Farooq, the wife of one of the suspected Canadian jihadists, is much more militant than her parents, who left Saudi Arabia to escape strict Islamic law. This is a phenomenon that needs to be acknowledged; no amount of scorn that Cathy Young can heap upon it will make it go away. Can she point to programs in mosques designed to keep this radicalization of youth from happening? Can she bring forth textbooks and seminars conducted by Muslims for Muslims, to counter the jihad ideology? She cannot. Yet she still attempts to suggest that even raising this question is somehow prima facie evidence of bigotry.
Had he pointed out the existence of Muslims like Ghali to his friend Oriana Fallaci, who is very vocal in her assertion that there is no such thing as moderate Islam, there is only one Islam?
Oriana Fallaci and I have talked extensively about these matters, in fact. But here Young is confusing the existence of moderate Muslims with the existence of moderate Islam. There is not only one Islam; there are many Islams, but none of those Islams that are generally considered orthodox reject jihad and Sharia supremacism. If Cathy Young thinks I am wrong in this, she should adduce some actual evidence to that effect.
Does he find it troubling that on his own site, the commenters on the item about Ghali put the word “moderate” in scare quotes and argue that Ghali needs to convert to another religion?
No more than that it troubles me that at my own site, Islamic apologists attempt to convert people to Islam and defend jihad violence. Unlike some vanity bloggers who allow only comments telling them how great they are, I allow virtually unrestricted commenting here. Comments are unmoderated, although if someone calls my attention to a post that is abusive or genocidal or obscene, I will remove it. As I said before, and as Cathy Young seems to have some difficulty grasping, if she thinks I agree with any given comment, let her establish that I believe what that comment said from my own writings. But of course, that she cannot do.
Spencer links to several other items in which he discusses moderate Muslims. The first two are attacks on moderate Muslims. The third asserts that while there are some moderate Muslims, they are not true Muslims at all because the essence of Islam is militant, and all attempts to reform Islam are quixotic. Indeed, Spencer specifically states:
Some analysts have maintained that to note the existence of moderate Muslims is to assume the existence also of moderate Islam, but there is no reason why this must be the case, and the analysis itself betrays an awareness of the contents of the texts without a concomitant awareness of the realities of Islamic history and culture.
Yet, in response to my assertion that he does not recognize the existence of moderate Islam, he points to an item in which he mentions a moderate Muslim.
Sleight of hand, anyone?
No. Her assertion, as I explained above, was actually that I tar “all of Islam with the same brush and [deny] that the moderate strands even exist.” I was responding to that, and showing her that I had discussed the problem of Islamic moderation in some detail and on many occasions. If she thinks my conclusions are wrong, let her bring evidence. But that she cannot do.
In fact, I have never said that Islam is “uniquely impervious to reformation,” although I have pointed out that such reformation will be extremely difficult — precisely because mainstream Islamic thought on those “classical Muslim Koranic commentators” is that their interpretations cannot be challenged. Cathy Young has evidently never heard of the gates of ijtihad — that is, open interpretation of Islamic texts in order to formulate laws — or of the fact that they were closed a thousand years ago, and that mainstream Islamic sects and schools teach that all major questions have long been settled.
She then adduces Daniel Pipes, who points out that the Qur’an can be interpreted. Of course it can. The question is to what extent, and to what end. Young repeats Pipes’ discussion of the thought of Mahmud Muhammad Taha, without pointing out that Taha was executed in 1985 for heresy, and his followers compelled to renounce his teachings. So this sterling example of a Muslim reformer is actually an example of the difficulties reformers face. But we don’t hear that from Cathy Young.
Anyway, before she goes too far in putting a white hat on Pipes and a black one on me, Cathy Young also may be interested in what Pipes said about my book Onward Muslim Soldiers:
To understand the ideological sources of the terrorist enemy, read Robert Spencer’s succinct, knowledgeable, and important book, Onward Muslim Soldiers. His systematic survey of such vital topics as radical Islam’s aspirations, its unlikely alliance with the far left, and the need to encourage a moderate Islamic alternative are all valuable. But Spencer’s signal contribution is his focus on the ‘global threat to the West’ that so many Western analysts and policymakers persistently refuse to see: jihad, or sacred war for Islam. There is no more important topic for citizens to comprehend.
Back to you, Cathy:
Spencer argues that Islam, unlike Christianity, has a specific theological mandate to expand by force and to convert, kill or subjugate nonbelievers. To this I can only say that, mandate or no, historically Christianity (until relatively recently) does not seem to have been far behind Islam when it comes to forcible conversion, slaughter or subjugation. Christianity has modernized; Islam, by and large, has not. The theological and cultural causes of this can be debated ad infinitum. Islamic reformation may well be more difficult than Christian reformation. It does not follow that it’s impossible.
Right. But why will it be more difficult? Why has Christianity modernized and Islam has not? I am not going to be cowed by Cathy Young or anyone else into not daring to investigate these questions, and I am not going to shrink from pointing out that Islam has a doctrine of violence and subjugation while Christianity does not. The existence of such a doctrine is a matter of fact, not bigotry. Let Cathy Young prove me wrong if she can. Anyway, this question is distinct from that of what evil has been committed by Muslims or Christians or anyone else. No group has a monopoly on evil. But if Islam has a doctrine of violent jihad and subjugation, peaceful Muslims must confront and repudiate it. Accusing those who point this out of “Islamophobia” is not quite the same thing as genuine reform.
Theological debates aside, the incontrovertible fact is that many so-called “anti-Jihadists” use well-founded concerns about Islamic radicalism to promote bigotry and paranoia. The false alarm about the alleged “Jihadist connection” in the suicide of a University of Oklahoma student last fall was one such example.
Lots of strange questions about that one. Perhaps Cathy Young would be so kind as to provide answers to them — answers free from “bigotry and paranoia.”
The blog rumors about a “Jihadist connection” in the murder of a Coptic Christian family in Jersey City, were another. (JihadWatch continued to stoke these suspicions even after the alleged murderers were arrested and the case turned out to be a “simple” robbery.)
In that case, I was approached by a Copt who said he was a close friend of the murdered family. He gave me names and addresses, as well as a motive, of the people he said committed the murder. His story was confirmed by other Copts in New Jersey. I turned this information over to police. When others were arrested in the case, the Copts who had contacted me and some others had some lingering questions. Those questions have never yet been answered. If Cathy Young or the Jersey City police would care to answer them, I would appreciate hearing the answers. I don’t know what motive the Copts with whom I spoke could have had in passing on false information to me, and I think there is much more to this case than meets the eye — which is not to say that I think at this point that it was a jihad slaying. In any case, I never presented the material I had been given as certainly true; in fact, I never published here or anywhere most of what I had been told. For Cathy Young to present all this as continuing to stoke suspicions simply ignores a good deal of what happened. But it doesn’t seem from her whole reply that sticking to the facts is very high on her list.
And here, again courtesy of JihadWatch.com, is the latest example: a news story about a Safeway clerk in Denver, Colorado, Michael Julius Ford, who went on a shooting spree at work and was shot dead by a SWAT team. Ford’s mother and sister said that he had been teased at work about being a Muslim — a fact that is duly highlighted by JihadWatch.com…
All right, Ms. Young. It was reported that his mother and sister said that. Did they not say it? Should I have ignored that they said it, despite the fact that it was the only actual clue presented as to the shooter’s motive? They denied saying it later, in fact, and I reported that too. In any case, Young’s coup de grace follows that:
Because, as we all know, non-Muslims never snap and go on shooting sprees at work or at school.
But, of course, when Muslims do it, it’s different. Just like public urination.
Were there no jihad ideology or impulse toward Sharia supremacism, were there no deeply inculcated contempt for unbelievers, Young’s point would hold: human nature, after all, is everywhere the same, and people of all kinds snap. It would be absurd to assert that evil is the province of only one group, and of course I never have, despite Young’s attempt at a reductio ad absurdum here. The problem is that she seems adamantine in her unwillingness to acknowledge the possibility that something is known as a religion could teach anything but general benevolence, and to point out otherwise could be anything but bigotry.
It is this kind of willful ignorance that leaves us so vulnerable to continuing jihad activity in the West.