No, no, not this guy
Here I go again, answering a critic. And every time I do this, some of you mugs write in below, saying, “Who is this cheesehead, anyway? Why are you wasting our valuable time making us read you arguing with him?” Well, I’ll have you know that the critic in question this time is none other than Bob Crane himself, star of the beloved 1960s sitcom Hogan’s Heroes, and — what’s that? It’s not that Bob Crane? He’s…dead? Foul play? Scandal? Oh…dear.
In reality, the author of “The Mission of Imams in America: Marginalizing Extremists by Revealing the Real Truth About Muhammad” in The American Muslim is Robert D. Crane, former Nixon aide, former Deputy Director (for Planning) of the U.S. National Security Council, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.A.E., former Principal Economic and Budget Adviser to the Finance Minister of Bahrain, and present-day Islamic activist. Well, all that sounds important enough, doesn’t it? I mean, a Nixon aide. Who knows? Maybe it was old Bob Crane who whispered into his ear, “Now tell them, ‘I am not a crook!’” — or maybe it was Bob behind the deathless classic “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore!” We could be on the threshhold of history here!
Okay. Seriously, now, I am having a bit of fun with Bob, but in reality, I am answering this for the same reason why I answer everyone, even raving, spitting, blinkered, self-deluded types and their cleverer, slyly disingenuous friends. The point in all such cases has nothing to do either with me or with the identity or importance of the critic. The counterjihad, the resistance to Islamic supremacism, is much larger than any personality. I post these things as a pedagogical exercise. There is every possibility that you may find yourself confronted by the same arguments I deal with in this or that reply to this or that individual, be he a frothing-at-the-mouth repo man or a friend and advisor to Presidents and Emirs. Perhaps you will find my responses helpful. Forget about the people involved and concentrate on the issues, will ya?
All right. Now that that is out of the way, let me say that in reality Bob Crane has done me a great service, for which I offer him a hearty “Ho-gaaaannnn!!” (Okay, okay, I know it’s not that one, already.) Lots of people have dismissed my book The Truth About Muhammad, but almost no one has even attempted to deal substantively with what it says — and one of the few who did was the severely truth-challenged Karen Armstrong. But here ol’ Bob dives right in — to be sure, with somewhat Nixonian candor, and in the same spirit that led his old boss to devise his Enemies List — but nonetheless, dive in he does.
My talk today, a first draft of which is available on the tables at the entrance and will be available edited post-conference on line at http://www.theamericanmuslim.org, addresses the professional hatemongering best illustrated by the New York Times bestselling polemicist, Robert Spencer, in his popular book, The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion.
This book is significant partly because it bases all its perversions of the Qur’an on statements by Muslims. This is designed to show that Muslims themselves properly interpret Islam as inherently terroristic and as a threat to America and to all traditional American values….
Bob veers close to the truth here — my book is indeed made up of “statements by Muslims.” How this amounts to “professional hatemongering” is unclear. I have never figured out how it can be hatemongering just to quote someone, but Bob seems to have it all figured out. Maybe it’s something he picked up over in Bahrain:
The favorite tool of political movements is to adopt an enemy to demonize. The favorite enemy today is Islam, because it is potentially the most powerful force in the world capable of resisting any new international law that would legitimize global oppression by secular fundamentalism. Islam is demonized by interpreting the Qur’an and ahadith as the source of Muslim extremism and therefore as the ultimate cause of terrorism throughout the world.
Wait a minute, Bob. If I quote Muslims using the Qur’an and ahadith to justify violence, how does it qualify as hatemongering and demonizing? I’m just reporting on what’s in the Islamic texts and how Muslims use them. If I were inventing quotations, or inventing interpretations of them, you might have a case. But you already acknowledged that I based everything on “statements by Muslims.” So…shouldn’t you be directing your energies toward disabusing your fellow Muslims of these ideas, rather than demonizing me for drawing attention to the use Muslims make of certain Islamic texts? (And I do mean demonizing — read on.)
Of course, what Bob means is that I take the jihadists’ “hijacked” Islam for the real thing:
There have always been extremists among Muslims who pervert the Qur’an in their efforts to hi-jack their own religion, just as extremists among Christians and members of other faiths have often done so in the past and continue to do so even today.
This, however, is false. As I have said many times, there is no “true Islam.” But jihadists make recruits by presenting their Islam as the true Islam, and by pointing out chapter and verse of the Qur’an, as well as the example of Muhammad and the rulings of the schools of Islamic jurisprudence. For peaceful Muslims to stop this from being a successful appeal, they have to confront it. Bob thinks so too, but he contends (in the face of quite a bit of evidence) that the original Islam and the example of Muhammad do not actually contain anything the jihadists can use:
This attack on Islam from within can be countered only when the imams assert their right and responsibility to bring their knowledge of classical Islam to bear in countering and marginalizing Muslim extremists. As I have been preaching for decades, Muslims must revive the classical teachings of the great Islamic scholars, almost all of whom have been imprisoned by one tyrant or another for trying to maintain the purity of Islam as revealed by Allah and taught by the words and actions of his prophet, Muhammad, salla Allahu “˜alayhi wa salam. Only Muslims can do this. Among Muslims only the most courageous can do so, because the extremists have tried to terrorize all Muslims who disagree with them. And among the courageous we must begin to rely on the imams among us, whose calling is to preserve the purity of the traditionalist teachings of all the world religions….
Crane attempts to establish this in discussing my alleged “lies”:
For short-run impact, however, it would be useful to expose Spencer’s demonic lies directly and in detail. For this purpose, I have been asked to write a book for this express purpose. Exposing Spencer’s bias is very simple, because one needs merely show that in every case he quotes only Muslim extremists and ignores untold centuries of mainline scholars who taught the exact opposite of what he contrives to be the message of Islam. His bias is embarrassingly evident throughout the book. For example, he questions whether the Medina constitution calling for protection of the Jews ever existed, but he has little doubt that the story about the massacre of the treasonous Jewish Qurayzah tribe is true. He dismisses the scholarly investigation by W. N. Arafat reported in a lengthy article in 1976 in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, which concludes that the alleged massacre never happened. Spencer attacks Arafat by ridiculing one of his arguments, namely, that such a massacre would violate Islamic law. Since Spencer’s whole purpose is to brand Islam as terroristic, he dismisses every scholarly analysis that would undermine his diabolical strategy.
“Diabolical strategy”! (Hey Bob: Boo!) I stand by my points here. No reference to the Medina constitution is made in any of Muhammad’s subsequent dealings with the Jewish tribes with whom it was supposed to have been made. That’s rather like there being no mention of the U.S. Constitution in American history after 1789. The Qurayzah massacre has a much greater attestation in the early Islamic sources, and I stand by my view that W. N. Arafat’s saying it couldn’t have happened because it would have violated Islamic law is both silly and anachronistic. Islamic law was in its earliest stages at that time, and in any case human beings don’t always act reliably according to how the laws on the books say they should act. Anyone with a basic understanding of human nature realizes this. Crane might have discussed the merits of that argument, but with Nixonian Enemies List gusto, he instead dismisses me as “diabolical.” And he has more in that line coming, too.
Today, I have time only to touch on one example of Spencer’s apparently deliberate distortion both of the Qur’an and of the character of the Prophet Muhammad, salah Allahu “˜alayhi wa salam. This is Spencer’s treatment of the Battle of Badr and the several revelations from Allah that came immediately afterwards. These set forth the guidelines for all subsequent scholarship on human rights in Islam. Spencer distorts all these revelations in an effort not merely to counter them but to reverse their meaning. According to the ahadith on the Messiah al Dajjal, known in Christianity as the Anti-Christ, such reversal of truth and falsehood is the definition of evil….
Good words to keep in mind as we read more of what Bob has to say, and see how much truth and how much falsehood is in what he says. He continues with a long disquisition on defensive jihad, which is generally accurate as far as it goes, and then:
Spencer starts his commentary on the Battle of Badr by asserting, “Allah told Muhammad’s followers to fight fiercely and behead their enemies.” Spencer, incidentally, uses the term Allah rather than God in order to show that Allah is a false god who incites all manner of crimes.
What I actually wrote was this: “I have in all cases referred to the deity of Islam as ‘Allah,’ while the English translation of the earliest Muslim biography of Muhammad refers to the same deity as ‘God’ — as I’ll illustrate in my quotations from that biography in this book. Of course, the word ‘Allah’ does not belong exclusively to Islam; it predates Islam, and Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews use the word Allah for God. The Qur’an, of course, claims that the deity of Jews and Christians is the same as that of the Muslims (29:46). However, since traditional Islam rejects such Christian doctrines as the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and others, and classifies Judaism along with Christianity as a renegade perversion of Islam, it seems prudent to me, as well as to many English-speaking Muslims, to continue to use the Arabic word ‘Allah’ to refer to the Islamic deity in English. I hope that this will not cause further confusion.” (Page 17)
Do you think Crane’s is a fair and accurate summation of that? Neither do I.
The issue here concerns Surah al Anfal 8:12-13, which uses the phrase “smite above their necks.” Spencer says that this provides the basis for the practice of beheading hostages and prisoners, when in fact this phrase in classical Arabic calls merely for unconditional surrender.
Classical Arabic, English, French, Swahili, you name it, and I expect that “smite above their necks” means something a trifle closer to beheading than just “unconditional surrender.” I don’t recall there being any “smiting above the necks” of the Confederate forces of Robert E. Lee after he surrendered unconditionally to General Grant. Also, Bob has to deal with the fact that the late Zarqawi himself, as I point out on pages 108 and 109 of the Muhammad book, invoked Muhammad’s behavior after the Battle of Badr, when he ordered some prisoners beheaded, to justify his beheading of Nick Berg. So here again, this isn’t the demonic Spencer misinterpreting the Qur’an, this is a jihad terrorist misinterpreting the Qur’an, and me reporting on it all. Crane’s quarrel should properly be with those Muslims who agree with Zarqawi. If he can convince them all that 8:12 refers only to unconditional surrender, not beheading, I for one would be delighted.
Spencer then uses Surah al Anfal 8:1 and 8:41 to claim that the early Muslims were greedy bandits interested only in booty. In fact, these two ayat were revealed to command that booty captured from the enemy should not be an object of individual greed, as was common at the time in Arabia (Surah al Anfal 8:41). For this reason the sole authority on disposing of the booty was to be the Prophet Muhammad, who was directed to distribute a fifth for the common good as determined by the government, “for the near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer.”
Stonewall ’em, stonewall ’em all, eh, Bob? In fact I never say that “the early Muslims were greedy bandits interested only in booty.” I do record disputes over booty that arose after Badr, which are recorded by Muhammad’s earliest biographer, Ibn Ishaq — a pious Muslim. Is Crane saying that those disputes didn’t happen? Then he needs to take issue with every Islamic historian who has ever relied on Ibn Ishaq as a source, not just with me. But I won’t be holding my breath.
The third revelation, in 8:67, is interpreted by Spencer, on pages 110-111 of his book, to call for the killing of prisoners of war in order to promote the religion of Islam. In fact, 8:67 merely forbids the taking of captives in peacetime, that is, except after a legitimate defensive jihad on behalf of justice and freedom. This was designed to forbid the taking of slaves as an object of warfare and, in effect, at the time was designed eventually to eliminate slavery altogether. And even those POWs taken in legitimate warfare, according to the previous surah (47:4), must be freed after the war is over.
Crane’s interpretation may be true, but I didn’t invent mine. Here again, I just record Ibn Ishaq’s interpretation of 8:67. You can find it on pages 326 and 327 of the Oxford edition of the Sirat Rasul Allah, The Life of Muhammad. But about the fact that Muslims have viewed the Qur’an this way, Crane is stonewalling again, as any good Nixonian would.
Spencer discusses the ahadith that describe a dispute between the men who became the first two political successors of the Prophet Muhammad, Abu Bakr and Umar, over what to do with the prisoners taken at the Battle of Badr. “˜Umar ibn al Khattab argued that they should all be killed in revenge. Abu Bakr, on the other hand, argued that they should be released in return for ransom, because such an act of mercy might induce them to appreciate the truth of Islam. This dispute was settled by another revelation, Surah al Anfal 8:68, which has been interpreted by most of the classical scholars as a warning that the taking of booty is legitimate but the proposed execution of the prisoners would have constituted an awesome sin and warranted a “tremendous chastisement.” Spencer uses these ahadith to show the opposite.
I do, eh? I made it all up, I suppose? Here’s what Ibn Ishaq says about this incident, quoting and interpreting Qur’an 8:67: “God said, ‘It is not for any prophet,’ i.e. before thee [Muhammad], ‘to take prisoners’ from his enemies ‘until he has made slaughter in the earth,’ i.e. slaughtered his enemies until he drives them from the land. ‘You desire the lure of this world,’ i.e. its goods, the ransom of the captives. ‘But God desires the next world,’ i.e., their killing them to manifest the religion which He wishes to manifest…” (Pages 326-327).
“Killing them to manifest the religion which He wishes to manifest.” Does that sound like “the proposed execution of the prisoners would have constituted an awesome sin” to you? “I am not a crook,” hey, Bob?
Another revelation cited in connection with Badr is Surah al Nisa”a 4:91, which reads, “But if they do not stay their hands, seize them and slay them whenever you come upon them, for it is against these that We have clearly empowered you [to make war]”
This command follows a series of revelations that urge Muslims to seek peace in every way and to make war only after exhausting all means to peace. Spencer perverts every one of these revelations. In his chapter, entitled “War is Deceit,” he argues that they call for the exact opposite of what they clearly mean. In Surah al Anfal 8:58, the Muslims are warned against treachery, whether committed by themselves or by others: “If you have reason to fear treachery from people [with whom you have a covenant], cast it back at them in an equitable manner (sawaa”wink”. The classical scholars interpret this to mean that one should not attack without warning, but announce beforehand that the treaty is no longer binding….
In other words, tell those with whom you are breaking a treaty that you’re breaking it. Gee, I feel so bad for making this sound as if it’s something negative!
Anyway, Bob goes on to purvey some great steaming piles of careful Islamic analysis on the order of what has gone before, but I think you get the idea. And here’s the conclusion:
The major challenge to Muslims today does not come from people like Robert Spencer, who come from the fringes of society, but from all those Muslims who are afraid to speak out against Muslim extremists….
of course, Bob. I’m just a fringe element. Sure. Unfortunately for you, the elements of Islamic tradition about which I have reported in my books aren’t going to go away no matter how much you vilify me and call me demonic. And you’re doing less than nothing about this — in fact, you’re abetting it by purveying your inaccuracies about the Qur’an and Muhammad instead of confronting what’s there and formulating some positive way to deal with it.
But of course, I’m hopeless:
We must do this not only to educate people like Robert Spencer, who no doubt are hopeless. Much more importantly, we must speak out in order to inspire the youth, both Muslims and non-Muslims, to recognize the power of Islam to change persons and to focus attention on the possibilities and responsibilities to promote compassionate justice as the only road to peace and indeed for the survival of civilization.
I don’t think you’re hopeless, Bob. Dum spiro spero. I don’t think you’ve been quite as forthcoming as you might have been, but if you’re willing to deal honestly with the points I’ve raised here, so am I — unless, of course, you’re afraid to discuss matters with a demonic, funny looking Jewish Jesuit. And I expect that you are.