So many times I have encountered people saying — always with a negative spin — that Robert Spencer says this, or Robert Spencer says that, and it is nothing like what I actually say. For awhile I was concerned that this was evidence that I am a very poor writer, not making my points clearly, but while that may indeed be the case I came to realize that these misrepresentations were not evidence of it — for the speakers demonstrated that they simply hadn’t read what I had written.
Now why would someone want to denounce a writer whose writings he hadn’t actually read? Well, it appears that in some minds I have become a symbol for a certain perspective, and if the facts of what I actually say don’t fit the symbol, then so much worse for the facts.
So it is with “Spengler,” the pretentiously pseudonymed columnist for the Asia Times (from now on, please address me as “Ortega y Gasset”), who in a new column, “The Koranic quotations trap,” repeats and expands upon all the false statements he made about me a few days ago, noting that I said he was misrepresenting me but not bothering to correct any of his misrepresentations. He even picks up some new ones from the highly truth-challenged Karen Armstrong.
People always ask me, “Why bother to answer?” — even when I tried to explain why I was answering last time. This kind of thing falls into the category of what Daniel Pipes has termed the “Department of Corrections.” There is so much misinformation out there about the jihad ideology, and so much attendant misinformation about those who, like me, are trying to get the truth out about it, that I do this for the record. Perhaps it will help someone get beyond the recklessness and carelessness of this nameless Asia Times columnist and toward the truth.
Armstrong opined in the April 27 Financial Times:
The traditions of any religion are multifarious. It is easy, therefore, to quote so selectively that the main thrust of the faith is distorted. But Spencer is not interested in balance. He picks out only those aspects of Islamic tradition that support his thesis. For example, he cites only passages from the Koran that are hostile to Jews and Christians and does not mention the numerous verses that insist on the continuity of Islam with the People of the Book: “Say to them: We believe what you believe; your God and our God is one.”
It irks me no end when people with whom I would like to agree, such as Spencer, are wrong, and people whom I despise unconditionally, such as the odious Ms Armstrong, are right. Fiat justitia, ruat coelum: judge fairly even if the heavens fall in consequence.
In fact, I mention the verse Armstrong says I don’t mention, Qur’an 29:46, twice in The Truth About Muhammad, on page 17 and again on page 51. Do I discuss only those aspects of Islamic tradition that support my thesis? Let me give some very specific examples. I discuss the passages of the Qur’an that teach tolerance and counsel peace on pp. 117-122 of Onward Muslim Soldiers. On pp. 185-192 of the same book, I discuss Maria Rosa Menocal’s thesis about a tolerant, pluralistic Muslim Spain, which has entered popular myth. I do show it to be a myth, but that is not the point, for Armstrong says, and “Spengler” affirms, that I pick out “only those aspects of Islamic tradition that support [my] thesis,” when in reality I confront head-on the material that is most often cited as disconfirming of my thesis — which is something Armstrong has never done.
Islam-bashing, whether justified or not, is a waste of time. Armstrong is quite correct that the statements of the Koran are multifarious, ranging from direct instruction to kill unbelievers to the peaceable sound-bite quoted above. Spencer has missed his adversary’s mortal weakness: by insisting that the Koran is clear, consistent and unambiguous in preaching violence, Spencer has conceded the most important weapon in the arsenal of Islam’s critics, namely the integrity of the Koran.
In opposing Armstrong’s assertion that “the statements of the Koran are multifarious” to my alleged insistence that the “the Koran is clear, consistent and unambiguous in preaching violence,” “Spengler” shows that he hasn’t read my work at all. In reality, as I noted above I discuss the peaceful verses of the Qur’an on pp. 117-122 of Onward Muslim Soldiers, and discuss how Muslim exegetes relate the peaceful verses to the violent ones on pp. 124-138 of the same book, and from a different angle on pp. 76-78 of The Truth About Muhammad. Have I ever said that the Qur’an is “clear, consistent and unambiguous in preaching violence”? Absolutely not.
As far as conceding the integrity of the Qur’an, “Spengler” might be interested in pp. 47-71 of The Truth About Muhammad, which are predicated on the assumption that the Qur’an is anything but an integrated unit, but is rather a hodgepodge of material from different sources.
As I wrote on Spencer’s website, there are any number of factual problems in his approach, of which two stand out:
1) Mohammed may never have existed, and
2) If he existed, he may have had nothing to do with the Koran, which well might be an 8th- or 9th-century compilation.
Here is the apex of “Spengler’s” carelessness. This is such a big factual problem with my approach that I wrote this on pages 31 and 32 of The Truth About Muhammad:
From a strictly historical standpoint, it is impossible to state with certainty even that a man named Muhammad actually existed, or if he did, that he did much or any of what is ascribed to him….some historians believe that the Muhammad who comes to us in the Qur’an, Hadith, and sira is a composite figure, constructed later to give Arab imperialism a foundational mythos. Others have questioned also whether the Muhammad of history was really connected with Mecca and Medina, or if the story was given this setting in order to situate it in Arabia’s most important centers….For our purposes it is less important to know what really happened in Muhammad’s life than what Muslims have generally accepted as having happened, for the latter still forms the foundation of Muslim belief, practice, and law. It is important to know the Muhammad of history, but perhaps even more important to know the Muhammad who has shaped and continues to shape the lives of so many Muslims worldwide.
“Spengler,” old man, a parting word: when you’re going at someone in the future, it might be wise to find out what he actually says first. Fiat justitia, ruat coelum, and all that. Just a friendly word of advice from Ortega y Gasset.