A Bamiyan Buddha, destroyed by the Taliban
The title of this post is just a facetious take on the title of one of Mr. D’Souza’s earlier books, as well as of his next one. It is just a little bit of fun. For Dinesh D’Souza says at his blog, “my disagreements with Spencer remain, even though I hope we can have them in civil and respectful manner.” Of course, he entitles this piece “Robert Spencer Has a Fit (His Fourth This Week),” so I guess civility and respect only go so far, but I did think it worthwhile to respond to the substantive points he makes. Now, several people have asked me why I spend so much time replying to D’Souza, since he has demonstrated an ignorance of and apparent indifference to the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah and the history of Islam, as well as, as I showed here, an evident lack of concern for the facts.
There are several reasons why. One is that since he is actually saying that I hold positions that I do not hold, I believe I must respond as a matter of record. Second, he has been a respected figure for many years, and people listen to him. So I think it is important to set out certain facts that he is overlooking and downplaying, so that people of good will can perhaps come to a fuller understanding of contemporary realities.
I didn’t know Robert Spencer until recently, but I confess I like him. He’s an intelligent, passionate guy. He’s also very angry with me, because in my latest book I urged conservatives to stop attacking Islam.
Actually, I’m not angry at all. But if I were, I wouldn’t be angry about that. It’s a foolish position, as I show below, but it isn’t as if the world isn’t already full of people who hold foolish positions. Getting angry about them all would lead one to burst a vein fairly quickly. Anyway, in fact the only thing I could possibly be angry with Dinesh D’Souza about is that he has been spreading falsehoods about my positions. But I have corrected them. That’s all.
My point was that if you go around denouncing the Koran, the Prophet Muhammad and the Muslim religion, you will alienate traditional Muslims and push them toward the radical camp.
It’s interesting that like CAIR, the Pakistani government, and other luminaries, apparently Mr. D’Souza thinks that demonstrating what the Qur’an, Muhammad, and Islamic law actually say amounts to “denouncing the Koran, the Prophet Muhammad and the Muslim religion.”
D’Souza here is taking a peculiar position. In the first place, here again he sets up a straw man rather than deal with what I really say. For actually I have never denounced the Qur’an, Muhammad, or the Muslim religion. I have denounced, and will continue to denounce, things that Dinesh D’Souza should also denounce, and that every genuine Muslim reformer should denounce: the denial of freedom of conscience, the institutionalized discrimination against religious minorities, the commodification of women, polygamy, honor killing, female genital mutilation, and other practices that are routinely justified by Muslim authorities by reference to Islamic texts.
By characterizing my speaking about that as “denouncing the Koran, the Prophet Muhammad and the Muslim religion,” Mr. D’Souza puts himself in the position of saying that we should not criticize such things — indeed, we dare not, for in doing so, he says, we will create more jihadists. As I have said before, D’Souza’s position here is simply absurd. He is trying to convince us that Muslims who think that jihad violence is a twisting of Islam will decide to twist Islam themselves in reaction to non-Muslims’ negative characterizations of Islam.
In reality, no Muslim who genuinely abhors jihad violence will object to an exploration of the Islamic texts that the jihadists use to justify that violence. After all, you can’t reform what you won’t admit needs reforming.
Since I mentioned book titles like Islam Unveiled, The Myth of Islamic Tolerance and Sword of the Prophet as examples of Islam-bashing, Spencer (who happens to be the author of a couple of these books) took it as a personal attack. He sent me a public invitation to debate him, and began to inform his readers that I was trying to “silence” him. I emailed him to say I wasn’t trying to silence him but merely disagreed with him. It’s not a difference that Spencer can easily appreciate.
Mr. D’Souza is fond of this point, as he repeats it often. In reality, I am not too concerned about whether or not he called for me (and Serge Trifkovic, author of the other book he mentioned, the excellent Sword of the Prophet) to be silenced or not, since I am not going to be silent anyway. But let’s look at the facts. In his book, this is exactly what D’Souza says: “In order to build alliances with traditional Muslims, the right must take three critical steps. First, stop attacking Islam. Conservatives have to cease blaming Islam for the behavior of the radical Muslims. Recently the right has produced a spate of Islamophobic tracts with titles like Islam Unveiled, Sword of the Prophet, and The Myth of Islamic Tolerance. There is probably no better way to repel traditional Muslims, and push them into the radical camp, than to attack their religion and their prophet.”
You can see that he says, “Stop attacking Islam. Conservatives have to cease blaming Islam for the behavior of the radical Muslims.” And who, in his view, is attacking Islam and blaming Islam? Serge and I. So we should stop. That is not just a disagreement; it is a call for us to be silenced, or to be silent. D’Souza seems to want to have it both ways: he wants to make the point, and then deny making it when it is uncomfortable for him to have done so.
I’ve debated Spencer on a couple of radio shows now, and the first one was quite acrimonious, while the second–just a couple of days ago–was more civil. But now Spencer is on the warpath again. He accuses me of spreading falsehoods about him in my National Review Online answer to critics. You can read that here.
It’s interesting that Mr. D’Souza is attempting to claim the moral high ground in our exchanges, since after all I have disagreed with him, but I haven’t actually claimed that he holds positions that he doesn’t hold. Nor have I ever descended to the level of, for example, his saying at CPAC that he was about to “smack Spencer down,” or his contention that my work gave him “a full and repulsive dose of the anti-Muslim hatred masquerading as scholarship.” If the Lores Rizkalla Show mp3 is still available [UPDATE: Here it is, thanks to Bobby], I invite anyone to listen to our first debate, the one he characterizes as acrimonious, and tell me what they think. I have in all cases endeavored to stick to the facts. In fact, I would appreciate his dealing honestly with some of the facts that I have raised, rather than ignoring them and mischaracterizing my positions.
What falsehoods? Well, on the first radio show, as well as in our only face-to-face debate on March 1 at CPAC, Spencer disputed my distinction between radical Muslims and traditional Muslims. He scornfully challenged me to name a single traditional Muslim.
When I named Ali Gomaa, the grand mufti of Egypt, Spencer retorted that the man is actually opposed to sculpture. Gomaa apparently thinks sculpture is un-Islamic! A strange view, but it doesn’t bother me terribly, because I wasn’t thinking of hiring Gomaa to give my daughter art lessons. My suggestion was to recruit the help of traditional Muslims like Gomaa to fight the influence of Al Qaeda. Here Gomaa has been very good, and you can read a profile of him here. Spencer contends that Gomaa is a supporter of Hezbollah and should be shunned on that account.
“Spencer contends that Gomaa is a supporter of Hezbollah.” Spencer contends that, eh? As if I just made it up. In fact, the New York Times reported in August 2006 that during the Israeli incursion into Lebanon, “Egypt’s grand mufti, Sheik Ali Gomaa, the country’s highest religious authority, issued a statement supporting Hezbollah.” Do I contend on that account that Ali Gomaa should be “shunned”? Well, I’d shake his hand at a party, but I don’t think that a man who supports an organization whose head chants “Death to America” and that is sworn to destroy an American ally would make a reliable ally himself.
And that was the point of my question to Mr. D’Souza. When I, in D’Souza’s words, “scornfully challenged [him] to name a single traditional Muslim,” I was actually asking him — as anyone who heard the debate can attest — to name a traditional Muslim with whom he recommended we ally. He still hasn’t come up with anyone besides a Hizballah supporter, and has repeatedly claimed that my question revealed that I didn’t believe there were any peaceful Muslims. As I explained here, that isn’t true.
Anyway, D’Souza also says, “Gomaa apparently thinks sculpture is un-Islamic! A strange view, but it doesn’t bother me terribly, because I wasn’t thinking of hiring Gomaa to give my daughter art lessons.” That’s cute, but I put the Bamiyan Buddhas at the top of this post to show how dangerously naive it is. He is recommending that we ally with a man who believes that representational art is un-Islamic. Meanwhile, millions of this man’s coreligionists have settled in Europe, unhindered by any sane immigration policies, and no doubt many of them believe the same way Ali Gomaa does about this, since it is, after all, the traditional Islamic view. And now D’Souza is calling for a foreclosure on criticism of Islamic practices and beliefs, such that he would apparently not want us to challenge our new friend the Egyptian Mufti when he says this about sculpture. So what will become of Europe’s artistic patrimony? What if one of our new allies, one of Dinesh D’Souza’s new allies that is, decides that the Mufti is absolutely right, and that the Pieta, or the David, or the Last Supper, or the Mona Lisa, or the Girl with the Pearl Earring, or any number of other masterpieces of the human spirit, must go?
Should we not be concerned about this? Should we toss off concern about it with a quip about a little girl’s art lessons? Or should we take Ali Gomaa seriously enough to consider it as a possibility, and discuss what must be done about it? That the Bamiyan Buddhas remained in Muslim Afghanistan for centuries was only a matter of technology. When the Muslims who agreed with Ali Gomaa on this point were in power and able to amass sufficient explosives, that was the end of the Buddhas. Countless other Christian and Hindu artworks, in churches throughout the areas conquered by Islam in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, and in Hindu temples in India, have been destroyed throughout Islamic history by Muslims who agreed with Ali Gomaa. And now Dinesh D’Souza says we should have no qualms about allying with him? No thanks.
Spencer has assured me that he does not think all Muslims are radical, and I believe him.
This is generous of him, but I have done more than assure him of this. I have given evidence from my books going back five years.
He contrasts radical Muslims with what he calls “cultural Muslims.” (I noted this in my National Review Online piece but it seems to have been cut out by the editor for reasons of space.)
Reasons of space? Really? In a sprawling, multi-thousand word multipart series?
By the term Spencer seems to mean Muslims who have come to recognize the problems inherent in the Muslim religion. Muslims who reject the traditional tenets of the Koran, Muslims who repudiate what Muhammad taught, Muslims who don’t practice Islam the way it has been practiced for centuries–these seem to be Spencer’s preferred “cultural Muslims.”
Here again Mr. D’Souza says that I mean something that I don’t mean. I explained it to him in an email I sent him on March 6, which I reproduced here, and which, as you can see, says nothing about Muslims coming to “recognize the problems inherent in the Muslim religion”: “…for a variety of reasons the jihad ideology was deemphasized, particularly in Central & Southeast Asia, West Africa, and Eastern Europe for several centuries. Muslims lived devout lives with no emphasis on it. Were they not practicing Islam? Of course they were practicing Islam. But these teachings were not part of that practice at that time.”
But this comes perilously close to saying that the only good Muslim is a non-Muslim.
When he says things like this, I really start to wonder if, as far as he is concerned, it is worth bothering to explain all this — since my explanations are routinely ignored. In fact, I was responding to his claim that I thought the only good Muslim was a non-Muslim when I wrote to him the explanation immediately above.
Is this a winning strategy for America to pursue with the Muslim world? Is it even a sensible strategy for conservatives to adopt? Is there any realistic hope of non-Muslims like Spencer and Serge Trifkovic getting Muslims to abandon their religion? We keep hearing of the need for an Islamic Reformation, but even the Reformation was carried out by devout Christian believers, not reformers from other religions or no religion who urged Christians to abandon the central doctrines of their faith. I regard Spencer’s attempt to become the Martin Luther of Islam a quixotic escapade, and conservatives who follow along in this path as naive.
What silliness. I have repeatedly called for exactly that: for Muslims to work for Islamic reform. In fact, in that same March 6 email I quoted above, I said, “I call on peaceful Muslims to confront these aspects of Islam, and formulate new ways to understand these texts, so as to blunt the force of the jihadist recruitment.” I didn’t say, you see, that I had formulated ways to do that. I said that they should. Mr. D’Souza, do you even read these things?
So my disagreements with Spencer remain, even though I hope we can have them in civil and respectful manner.
I’m all for that. And I’m even more for telling the truth about what I have actually said. I hope Mr. D’Souza will someday try that.