A FrontPageMagazine.com Symposium with Steve Schippert, Nancy Kobrin and me gets a little heated, as for the umpteenth time someone assumes I am saying something that I am not saying.
The Mullahs” moral crackdown continues in Iran. The Iranian police have now unveiled a list of “vices,” which include “decadent” movies, makeup and un-Islamic dress. The Mullahs have also illegalized rap music.
What is this moral crackdown about? What impulses engender it? What does it say about the regime in particular and Islamo-fascism in general?
To discuss this issue with us today, we have:
Dr. Nancy Kobrin, a psycho-analyst, Arabist, and counter-terrorism expert.
Steve Schippert, co-founder of the Center for Threat Awareness and managing editor for ThreatsWatch.org.
Robert Spencer, a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. He is the author of seven books, eight monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including the New York Times Bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is Religion of Peace?.
FP: Steve Schippert, Robert Spencer and Dr. Nancy Kobrin, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.
Steve Schippert, what is this moral crackdown about?
Schippert: I see the crackdown as having two purposes. One reason is a true intent on preserving Islamic purity as seen by true believers – or restoring it since the moderates’ political influence resulted in the younger generations’ embrace of Western dress, music, etc. The other reason is the imposition of domestic political and social dominance through domestic force intent on preserving the mullah regime’s power and stature over a public that is largely unsupportive or in open opposition. For the younger Iranian generation either not alive or of age during the 1979 Islamic revolution, this dissent is expressed through the exact behaviors that are targeted by the crackdown rather than a show of arms.
The list of ‘vices’ includes:
 Terrorizing people by quarrelling and feuding in public.
 Women failing to cover up in a suitable way, such as wearing short trousers revealing the leg, hats instead of scarves, small and skinny scarves that do not cover up the head, and make-up that is unconventional and violates public morality.
 Wearing decadent Western clothes and displaying signs and insignia of deviant groups
 Procuring decadent films
 Procuring drugs and alcohol
I would imagine that there are those within the regime at various levels and station who support the crackdown for both the reasons above. The degree to which one supports the crackdown either primarily for the former reason (religious) or for the latter (political assertion) likely largely depends on that individual’s devoutness and personal station. After all, the regime came to power draped in religious piety and promoted as such while today they are the wealthiest of the wealthy, having absorbed the businesses and industries in a revolutionary manner that would have made Vladimir Lenin proud.
It is not an accident that those most at risk in this crackdown are those who oppose and resist the regime the most. So the question remains, why now?
In support of the domestic political dynamic of the crackdown vice the purely religious purpose, consider what Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani are doing and saying at the same time as the crackdown announcement. After doing so, it becomes clear that there is a larger new push to intimidate and eliminate any domestic opposition.
Ayatollah Rafsanjani recently took part in what is called by the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency “a one-day seminar entitled ‘National Unity, Strategies and Policies.'” Speaking to unity – which the crackdown intends to force – Rafsanjani said, “Establishment of unity would be difficult in the absence of a united ideology.” Smashing the visibility of dissent through this crackdown would go a long way toward the appearance of a “united ideology.” And this would serve the regime’s aim of the “establishment of unity.” But it would be less the presence of an “establishment of unity” than it would be the silencing and disappearance of any forms of dissent. This targets the younger generation.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, spoke of and at a different group of those opposing the regime’s will. At Tehran’s Iran University of Science and Technology, Ahmadinejad took aim at those within Iran who are calling for an end to the nuclear program in order to end sanctions and the threat of more. Referring to them as “traitors” and “domestic agents,” Ahmadinejad threatened that they “do not abandon their pressures regarding nuclear issues, they will be introduced to the Iranian nation.” Simply eliminating them now, however, would be very problematic for the regime, both internally and internationally. So this is a warning shot across the bow as the crackdown on the dissenting youth begins in earnest. Ahmadinejad added, “The Iranian nation will not let offenders be saved from the nation’s revenge by certain individuals wielding political and economic influence.”
But it is precisely that political and economic influence that gives the regime pause, resorting to threat rather than overt immediate action. The last line of the regime-run IRNA story should send a chill down the spine of those who criticize US and European efforts to derail the Iranian nuclear program, as it reads: “Due to some sensitivities, no measure will be taken, but after settlement of the nuclear issue, the nation will be briefed about everything in a student gathering, the Iranian president vowed.”
Translation of the IRNA closing statement attributed to Ahmadinejad: For now, no measure will be taken as we are still affected by international condemnation and subject to domestic disturbance (some sensitivities). But, after we acquire nuclear weapons (settlement of the nuclear issue), all bets and gloves are off, as we won’t feel the need to worry much about international reactions. And once we have then rounded them all up and liquidated or imprisoned them, we’ll tell you all about their crimes (the nation will be briefed about everything in a student gathering).
As Iran races toward nuclear weapons, we once again are reminded about the price of our failure to properly support domestic Iranian opposition.
FP: Dr. Kobrin?
Kobrin: Terrorists always tell you what they are going to do and they do it. Ahmadinejad and his cronies should be taken seriously. Yet, they are also tone deaf. The list of vices is extremely revealing. They lack psychological insight and are clueless about reverse psychology.
They are purity obsessed, which means that they seek control of the “other,” whom they experience as female, even if the enemy is male. They seek to strip the “other” of all senses — throwing them back into a kind of autistic state of utter terror.
But the list shows that cracks are appearing in the Shia Islamist code. The mass, the Iranian domestic opposition, is huge and the Islamists won’t be able to maintain control. Mr. Schippert is right in that we should have done more, but better late than never.
The potential for political violence arising out of the nuclear agenda of the Shia repeats the pattern of getting away with murder literally. Rarely have limits been set. They have no boundaries. Such grandiosity and omnipotence is a lethal mix with their perpetual victimhood that they did not get the inheritance from the Prophet Muhammad, their deprivation in southern Lebanon and a peculiar recalcitrant anti-Semitism.
Seeking the annihilation of the Jew as Ultimate Other embodies the obsession for purity. The belief is that if a Jew goes out in the rain, the Jew contaminates the water. Coupled with Shia apocalyptic thinking, it is a horrific hysteria.
I used to joke in the clinic about how to diagnose hysteria in a Latin culture and now I add Shia culture. No wonder why they have been in Latin America for so long. . .
Ahmadinejad’s political paranoia is classic paranoia dressed up in Iranian Revolutionary rhetoric. Paranoia is about being obsessed with the female body while seeking a fictional purity of the prenatal mother. They can not reconcile that they are born from their mother’s contaminated/devalued female body. Unity and purity mean pre-birth, the antithesis to the apocalyptic. In the code of the maternal, “nuclear” means unity and purity with the mother through fusion. When dealing with the reality of nuclear weapons, such an unconscious seeks annihilation.
Alas we are left with not only the list of vices but a growing list of Sunni Jihadi proxies, expressed by the troubling Iran-Hamas Alliance (Meyrav Wurmser, in Focus: Gaza, Fall 2007, p. 24-26). While Israel is the stepping stone for going global, they will ultimately turn on their proxies. In my crystal ball I don’t see an effective truth and reconciliation conference occurring between Shias and Sunnis in the near future — precisely because Muslim women are not able to participate on an equal footing and they are at the eye of this unspoken Shia Islamist storm.
FP: Thank you Dr. Kobrin, very fascinating.
Mr. Spencer, there does seem to be quite a link in Islamo-Fascism: the more the entity hates the non-Islamic “enemy” and wages war on him, the more it hates the female and wages war on her as well, externally and internally. We nee this in Iran today. Hate of the infidel is always proportional to the hate of female.
Spencer: This is no accident at all, Jamie. Traditional Islamic law mandates and institutionalizes second-class status for both non-Muslims and women. Consequently, when Islamic societies began to Westernize during the colonial period, the practical situation and legal status of these two groups both improved. During the modern reassertion of Islamic law in all its strictness as part of the Islamic supremacist agenda — the agenda being pursued by the Iranian mullahcracy as well as by other Islamic supremacist groups around the world — the status of both has been threatened.
The effects of this can be seen everywhere in the Islamic world. A generation ago women with heads uncovered were a much more common sight on the streets of cities like Cairo than they are now. During the heyday of Arab nationalism, Christians in Iraq, Syria and Egypt enjoyed relative equality of rights — as epitomized, perhaps, by the career of Tariq Aziz. Indeed, one of the founding fathers of the Ba”athist movement, Michel Aflaq, was himself a Christian, although upon his death in 1989 the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq announced that he had converted to Islam and gave him an Islamic funeral.
The Arab nationalist movement was in one sense an attempt to forge an ethnic unity in a culture and region where previously one’s religious identity was the linchpin of all social and political groupings. Although Aflaq as far back as the World War II years spoke openly about Islam as being essential and central to one’s Arab identity — even for Christians — the Arab nationalist project nonetheless necessarily involved a certain retreat from Islamic law in its full strictness, since the cornerstone of Ba”athist society was to be the Arab identity that some Christians shared. This also coalesced nicely with the lingering cultural influence of the colonial period, which made the articulation and defense of Western values common in the Islamic world.
But the Khomeini revolution in Iran, and the corresponding rise of jihadism among the Sunnis, has heralded a direct frontal assault upon any non-Islamic governmental structure among both Sunnis and Shi”ites. However, in Iran, after the rule of the Shah, the eradication of Western influences has not been a simple affair. This present campaign is one indication of that. As Mr. Schippert says, the intent is to preserve “Islamic purity as seen by true believers,” as well as to impose “domestic political and social dominance through domestic force intent on preserving the mullah regime’s power and stature over a public that is largely unsupportive or in open opposition.” These two impulses, of course, go hand in hand.
Schippert: First, I feel compelled to highlight what may be simply careless wording but nonetheless represents why discourse between peoples can get so strained as to seem impossible.
Dr. Kobrin said, “The potential for political violence arising out of the nuclear agenda of the Shia repeats the pattern of getting away with murder literally.”
Agenda of the Shi’a? This reads to the average Shi’a believer, especially when excerpted, as a bigoted blanket statement and such phrases can be and are exploited as such by those who wish to ensure a bitter wedge between peoples.
Now, Dr. Kobrin distinguished between the Iranian theocratic regime and the Iranian public it dominates – Shi’a or otherwise. And it is probably safe to say that she did not intend the statement in the manner it can be perceived when excerpted out of context.
But the fact remains that such wording can be received in a hurtful manner by the many Shi’a who do not share the Iranian regime’s death wish and serves as counter-productive in efforts to create dialogue, understanding and tolerance with those who would otherwise be inclined to want the same. We don’t need to measure our words and embrace the disingenuous nature that passes for ‘nuance’ in modern diplo-speak. But we must be careful to ensure our words say what we mean and mean what we say.
After all, unless one’s goal is to convert or annihilate the Muslim ummah (just as al-Qaeda’s ideology seeks for us), we have to be mindful of embracing those who would be receptive to our ideas and coexistence rather than driving them away with loose phrasing.
And this brings us to Mr. Spencer. There are many ‘traditional’ Muslim families who would argue that women are neither relegated to or treated as second-class citizens in the ‘traditional’ Muslim home. Should we be in the practice of broadly ascribing our judgments to those who for religious, cultural or other reasons see things differently? In the case of the Iranian regime, or al-Qaeda and their aligned movements for that matter, we are right to address their active and tacit support for and engagement in terrorism as a wrong. But in the end, so long as the people of a state are given the liberties that they value, what more are we to do? Think of Pakistan here. The fundamental issue in this discussion is one of an authoritarian Iranian regime taking steps, whether framed in piety or not, to further re-assert its role and authority over its subjects.
While the West and other Middle Eastern states have significant hurdles to overcome to build or encourage confidence and good-will among Iran’s population, Iran’s citizens remain more open to the West and our ideas and values than toward our enemies. Dr. Michael Ledeen has said that they are in fact more ripe for internal revolution than were the people of the Soviet Union at the end of its dark days. So, should we blanket the Shi’a or Muslims in general in such a manner as to make them less likely to see the opportunities and principles we advocate? Or would we not be better served to practice the tolerance we seem to expect from them?
In no way do I support the regime’s latest moves. I am reviled by them. That said, I believe our support for the common man and woman of Iran is best shown by focusing our efforts on ending the regime as-is and giving the people of Iran a real voice in their governance. Should they choose to remain an Islamic state, with norms of behavior and clothing that are reflective of their general faith, so be it. I do not believe that men and women given the choice will institutionalize those norms through mandated law if they come to understand the greater value in the personal decision to live according to one’s faith.
Likewise I do not believe they would continue the state support for terrorism, the pursuit of nuclear weapons or the bigotry and hatred of others that are represented by Ahmadinejad and the rest of the mullahcracy.
We have to be mindful of our words and not conflate the average citizen in our criticism of a totalitarian and theocratic regime. Our best means to combat such regimes is to gain (and provide) support to those they subjugate. This, after all, would represent the principles our nation was founded upon. Poorly chosen words often serve to drive away those who would otherwise embrace our ideas.
FP: Mr. Schippert, you make the point:
There are many ‘traditional’ Muslim families who would argue that women are neither relegated to or treated as second-class citizens in the ‘traditional’ Muslim home. Should we be in the practice of broadly ascribing our judgments to those who for religious, cultural or other reasons see things differently?
Ah, well, yes, we should. Those who see things “differently” and believe that a female’s genitals should be cut off before she reaches puberty, yes we should ascribe our judgements to them. And we should ascribe our judgements to those who believe in the justification of forced marriages, and of honor killings, and of putting women out of sight and mind. And we should ascribe our judgements on any practise or culture that denies a woman’s individual liberty and freedom and self-determination, including sexual self-determination.
So this whole thing about “seeing things differently” is based on flawed assumptions.
There is a universal standard of human rights. And a culture that comes to us and says: “well your women can do what they want but we see things differently and prefer to segregate our women to spheres of powerlessness and punish them if they try to escape those spheres” is not a culture, it is a tyranny.
I find it incredible that if it comes to racial apartheid, no one in their right mind would make arguments about how some cultures that practise it are legitimate because they see “things differently.” But if women are brutalized and disempowered under the system of gender apartheid, we somehow need to consider that other cultures have their own way of doing things and seeing things.
I encourage this panel and our readers to watch our video on the oppression of women in Islam. Must we not judge the realities discussed in this video because others have a different way of seeing things?
Kobrin: I have chosen my words carefully. Here are some more:
I do believe that the Shia ummah needs to be held accountable for being passive aggressive and letting the mullacracy be the carrier of their unspoken rage.
It is too easy to let Ahmadinejad get away with speaking the way he does. Silence is complicity. This is a culture and a people that gave the world modern suicide bombing but worse than that millions bought into letting others and/or even themselves put plastic keys around their children’s necks and sent them to their deaths as human mine sweepers. When people start sacrificing their children under the guise of religion, I have a big problem with that. It is very bad behavior. I don’t want children in the West to imitate such bad behavior.
Now I come to the issue of how they treat their women. As for the allegedly “˜traditional” Muslim families who would argue that women are neither relegated to or treated as second class citizens in the “˜traditional” Muslim home, I don’t buy it. These women are so traumatized and terrified that many don’t even know it. They demonstrate the classic identification with the aggressor. They have internalized male hatred of the female as self-hatred. Furthermore they would never wash their dirty linen in public. Why? Because they “know” that they are at risk of being murdered. After all, if you send children with plastic keys around their necks as human mine sweepers, what is it to murder a female?
Spencer: I noted above that “Traditional Islamic law mandates and institutionalizes second-class status for both non-Muslims and women.” Mr. Schippert in response asserts that “there are many ‘traditional’ Muslim families who would argue that women are neither relegated to or treated as second-class citizens in the ‘traditional’ Muslim home.” Mr. Schippert has scolded Ms. Kobrin and me for, in his view, not choosing our words carefully, but in reality he is here glossing over a crucial distinction: I spoke about “traditional Islamic law,” and he in response brings up –˜traditional” Muslim families.” What he says about these families may be true, but I was talking about Islamic law, not Muslim families. What Muslim families do doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about what Islamic law says or does not say, unless Mr. Schippert is assuming that all people who bear the name of Muslim behave at all times, in places and in all ways in accord with the teachings of Islam — a hazardous assumption for many reasons. Some Muslim families may take that law very seriously and follow it to the letter; others may not. But the fact that “traditional” Muslim families exist in which women are not regarded as second-class tells us exactly nothing about Islamic law, unless those families come forward with some alternative and benign interpretations of such Qur’anic passages as these:
Rather than regarding women as human beings equal to men, the Qur’an likens a woman to a field (tilth), to be used by a man as he wills: “Your women are a tilth for you (to cultivate) so go to your tilth as ye will” (2:223).
The Qur’an also declares that a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man: “Get two witnesses, out of your own men, and if there are not two men, then a man and two women, such as ye choose, for witnesses, so that if one of them errs, the other can remind her” (2:282).
It allows men to marry up to four wives, and have sex with slave girls also: “If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice” (4:3).
It rules that a son’s inheritance should be twice the size of that of a daughter: “Allah (thus) directs you as regards your children’s (inheritance): to the male, a portion equal to that of two females” (4:11).
The Qur’an tells husbands to beat their disobedient wives: “Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them” (4:34).
It allows for marriage to pre-pubescent girls, stipulating that Islamic divorce procedures “shall apply to those who have not yet menstruated” (65:4).
It mandates four witnesses for sexual crimes (24:13), making rape virtually impossible to prove under strict Sharia law.
That’s just the Qur’an, of course, but none of these texts are mitigated by Islamic tradition and jurisprudence. In fact, they”re reinforced, such that whenever a regime determines to enforce Islamic law in all its rigor, they reappear.
Child marriage: one of Khomeini’s first acts once he took power in Iran was to lower the legal marriageable age of girls to nine, in imitation of Muhammad’s marriage to Aisha when she was that age, and in accordance with traditional legal provisions. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports that over half of the girls in Afghanistan and Bangladesh are married before they reach the age of eighteen. In early 2002, researchers in refugee camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan found half the girls married by age thirteen. In an Afghan refugee camp, more than two out of three second-grade girls were either married or engaged, and virtually all the girls who were beyond second grade were already married. One ten-year-old was engaged to a man of sixty. In early 2005 a Saudi man in his sixties drew international attention for marrying fifty-eight times; his most recent bride was a 14-year-old he married in the spring of 2004.
Four witnesses required in sexual cases: Islamic law restricts the validity of a woman’s testimony, particularly in cases involving sexual immorality. And Islamic legal theorists have restricted women’s testimony even farther, limiting it to, in the words of one Muslim legal manual, “cases involving property, or transactions dealing with property, such as sales.” Otherwise only men can testify.
Consequently, it is virtually impossible to prove rape in lands that follow these Sharia provisions. If the required male witnesses can’t be found to exonerate her (four who testify to seeing the actual crime, according to the Qur’an), the victim’s charge of rape can become an admission of adultery. That accounts for the grim fact that, according to the reformist group Sisters in Islam, as many as seventy-five percent of the women in prison in Pakistan are, in fact, behind bars for the crime of being a victim of rape. When the Musharraf regime last year tried to institute laws that would take rape out of the area of Sharia judgment and judge it according to modern canons of forensic evidence, Islamic clerics led the fight against the new measure.
Wife-beating: In 1984, Sheikh Yousef Qaradhawi, who is one of the most respected and influential Islamic clerics in the world, wrote: “If the husband senses that feelings of disobedience and rebelliousness are rising against him in his wife, he should try his best to rectify her attitude by kind words, gentle persuasion, and reasoning with her. If this is not helpful, he should sleep apart from her, trying to awaken her agreeable feminine nature so that serenity may be restored, and she may respond to him in a harmonious fashion. If this approach fails, it is permissible for him to beat her lightly with his hands, avoiding her face and other sensitive parts.” The Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences has determined that over ninety percent of Pakistani wives have been struck, beaten, or abused sexually “” for offenses on the order of cooking an unsatisfactory meal. Others were punished for failing to give birth to a male child. In Spring 2005, when the East African nation of Chad tried to institute a new family law that would outlaw wife beating, Muslim clerics led resistance to the measure as un-Islamic.
In marshaling all this evidence — and there is much, much more — am I saying that all Muslims believe these things, or behave this way? Of course not. But when Mr. Schippert asks, “Should we be in the practice of broadly ascribing our judgments to those who for religious, cultural or other reasons see things differently?,” he is the one who has done that, not I. And when he asks, “so long as the people of a state are given the liberties that they value, what more are we to do?,” I would answer: stand up for basic human rights, and against this oppression. He also asks if we should “blanket”¦Muslims in general in such a manner as to make them less likely to see the opportunities and principles we advocate?” But of course, as I explained above, I have not done that. I do not believe, however, that we should paper over human rights abuses or dismiss them in the name of multicultural understanding. Mr. Schippert should understand that when he says that if Iran chooses to remain an Islamic state, “so be it,” that while his statement is admirable in terms of popular sovereignty, he is consigning millions to lives of misery with no one to speak for them.
Iran is a sovereign state, and is free to maintain an Islamic regime if it chooses to do so, but we in the West should also be free to speak out, in the name of the equality of dignity of all human beings, against the injustices that such a regime institutionalizes. Mr. Shippert’s statement, “I do not believe that men and women given the choice will institutionalize those norms through mandated law if they come to understand the greater value in the personal decision to live according to one’s faith,” manifests a large misapprehension about the nature of Islamic law. When it is in place, such norms are indeed institutionalized. Americans did not hesitate to speak out against the human rights abuses of the Communist regimes during the Cold War, and we should not hesitate to speak out about the human rights abuses of Sharia regimes, and stateless Sharia supremacists, today. To take such speaking out as conflation of “the average citizen” with “a totalitarian and theocratic regime” manifests, once again, a grave misapprehension of the nature of Islamic law, and of its relationship to the life and behavior of any individual Muslim.
Schippert: I asked if we should be in the practice of broadly ascribing our judgments to those who for religious, cultural or other reasons see things differently. And when I asked, my emphasis was on the term ‘broadly.’ Much of the response here has been focused on “seeing things differently,” and challenging my question with examples of female genital mutilation and the abuse of women.
The mutilation of female genitalia is abhorrent and something we should oppose. Likewise, we should oppose the use of children as mine-sweepers. And we do on both accounts. The question is whether or not it is Islam and the practice of Islam that institutionalizes the behavior in question.
As such, my emphasis remains on ‘broadly ascribing our judgments,’ not narrowing in on practices we all find abhorrent yet leaving it dangle as to be perceived by others that such behaviors are believed in and supported by all Muslims.
I understand that traditional Islam and traditional Islamic law are not represented by the current “Islamic” states any more so than it is represented by the enemies of the West found in al-Qaeda and its affiliates and the powerful ‘elite’ few in the Iranian theocratic rulers, among others. Many Muslims would argue that the cultural legacies of Africa, the Middle East and of Central Asia are at the core of these abhorrent behaviors and are now being spread by many within the Salafi movement as a means to gain power and authority within the home and over the weaker of the believers. This, in my view, is no more Islam itself than the IRA is Catholicism.
The teachings and practices of highly regarded modern leaders within the Islamic ulema (such as Qaradhawi) are reflective of the general rise and pervasiveness of the Saudi-funded views of Islam and its teachings rather than the broader historical traditions, laws and interpretations.
It is not a question of whether or not we oppose their view and the consequence of its implementation. Of course we do. The question is how do we ensure that those who are subject to their teachings and rule are given greater opportunity to find, both within and outside Islam, a path which is more conducive to living within the principles we all support.
Do our efforts here lead to Muslim’s believing that we are advocating liberty and self-determination for all, or rather that we are simply opposed to Islam?
I would argue that the Muslim men and women who are going to help us to win the war of ideas are not aided by the sweeping criticism of Islam by Western experts. We should be able to advocate women’s rights without tearing at the fabric of the religion. Shouldn’t we? Even though those who practice genital mutilation upon girls and women say they do so out of religious conviction? There are members of the ulema who are more enlightened. We should be championing their views, advocating their advancement and reinforcing their arguments against the abuse of women and children rather than distancing them as well by attacking the center of their faith – the Qur’an.
Self-determination and liberty, once understood by the people of the Middle East, is much more likely than criticisms of Islam to put an end to the horrible practices we’ve discussed.
If FrontPage, Dr. Kobrin and Mr. Spencer, truly believe that it is the Shi’a ummah (all Shi’a) and the core of Islamic teaching that is at fault – then your solution should be to oppose the ummah and Islam.
I cannot in good faith do that. Doing that is to cede Islam to the interpretations of bin Laden and Ahmadinejad.
FP: I find it a bit disappointing that Robert Spencer in this symposium outlines what Islamic law is and how it is followed by its practitioners and then the response that follows is based on the assumption that somehow Robert Spencer never said anything and that all the evidence he presented does not exist.
It is crucial to stress that there is a difference between Muslims and Islam. And often when critics try to point out the problems in Islam, there are those who think that it is Muslims that are being targeted with one critical brush. This is not true. In fact, the criticism of Islam in this symposium today is motivated by a concern and care for the Muslims who are being persecuted by the Mullahs in Iran — and for the Muslims who are victims all over the world of Islamic fundamentalism. So we are operating out of a concern for and love of Muslims in the effort to find the sources that cause Islamic extremism and to help stunt its roots. And many Muslim reformers are working hard on this issue and we must and do support them.
Now, there are Muslims who are not aware of — or simply not interested in — many of the misogynist teachings in their religious texts. Robert Spencer has outlined these teachings earlier. But because Muslims exist who practise a relaxed form of Islam does not make what Islam teaches disappear. When women abusers in the Islamic world point to these Islamic teachings as their inspiration and guide, their abuse does have something to do with Islam.
Thus, the Mullahs” vice-list, and all the other misogynist pathologies in the Islamic world (i.e. FGM, forced marriages, child marriage, forced segregation, forced veiling, honor killings etc.) are engendered and spawned by the inferiorization of the female gender and the demonization of female sexuality that is rooted in Islamic theology.
Are the teachings and actions of Mohammed himself in regards to female equality, rape and sexual slavery, not a part of this issue? Is his life, what he taught, and how he led by example really irrelevant to Muslims who seek to follow their religion in terms of how women are treated? I invite those who excuse Islam for Islamic gender apartheid to read this track of evidence in terms of Mohammed (click here) and to explain how and why it is completely irrelevant when it comes to Islamic gender apartheid. Robert Spencer has documented Mohammed’s life in his new book, and it is all based on Islamic sources. Are Spencer’s findings about the Muslims” prophet really irrelevant, especially in the context of all pious Muslims vehemently arguing that is completely relevant?
There are those individuals who argue that the vicious gender apartheid that is practised in the Islamic world has nothing to do with Islam, when the enforcers of that system vehemently attest that they practise it because of Islam. Islamic law institutionalizes second-class status for women, yet the Muslims who enforce this second-hand status are, we are told, apparently acting for reasons they themselves are not aware of. What a condescending and bigoted attitude toward Muslims themselves, the assumption being that these Muslims are not aware of why they do what they do — and that their excusers in the West know better.
My thoughts come to the Egyptian clerics who used all the Islamic theological teachings on the demonization of female sexuality, and on specific teachings on FGM, to keep FGM in place. They defeated the effort to stop it. So today tens of thousands of little girls in Egypt alone continue to be the victims of this Holocaust, as do millions of women around the world. And then we have certain people who say “this is not Islam.” Really? And how does this help the victims of this butchery? How does it help the future victims of this butchery when their victimization is caused by those who point to certain teachings and yet the excusers argue that those teachings are not the issue?
The way to save human beings from this violence and soul-destruction is to isolate those teachings and to have them nullified — and this involves confronting certain Islamic teachings. Otherwise, the vicious practise of FGM continues and millions of girls are barbarized so that Islam-excusers can feel better about themselves.
I have had this argument with apologists for Islamic FGM many times. They tell me: this has nothing to do with Islam. Many times I have asked those of them that have young daughters: “let us suppose you were strapped to a chair and an Islamic cleric came into your house with certain people and they stripped your daughter down, tied her down and began the process of FGM. Would you try to talk them out of it?” They tell me: “yes of course. ”
And then I ask them: “And what if they were not listening and began explaining to you the verses and teachings in their theology that serve as the rationale and necessity of what they are about to do, would you try to argue in such a way as to de-emphasize the importance and legitimacy of those teachings? Would you try to make these individuals see the teachings in new ways so as to basically nullify these teachings and to stop these individuals from maiming your daughter?” Those who I argue with always become uncomfortable at this point, because they realize that these are Islamic teachings and that they are directly involved with what will happen to their daughter. And it is tragic that with many of these people the argument stops here. They end up refusing to answer my question and to continue logically with the scenario. They cannot have their ideology discredited and it means more to them than saving human life — even a related human life.
The tragedy here is that in real life, it frightens me to consider how many of these people would sacrifice their own daughters for the sake of keeping their ideologies intact. They are left off the hook of course because at this stage it is only a hypothetical scenario. But one thing is for sure, these people are ready to sacrifice millions of girls they do not know to keep their beliefs intact. But this is no surprise of course: the history of the Left is the horrid story of sacrificing humanity at the altar of ideals. And we know of the communist experiments, a history of humans dedicated to socialist ideals who squealed on their own flesh and blood and watched their fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, and even children, sent off to the Gulag Archipelago.
Something will finally be done when the Islamic reformers we work with will be able to do what they want to do: have the verses and teaching in Islam that demonize female sexuality isolated and rejected — abrogated and nullified — and then the Muslim Mullahs and clerics who rule internationally and are able to wield power in utilizing these religious teachings can be defeated. Those who argue that “this is not Islam” are preventing this from happening and are handicapping the Muslim reformers (i.e. Thomas Haidon, Khalim Massoud, Hasan Mahmud etc.) who are courageously trying to confront various Islamic teachings in their religion that are causing violence and extremism and to have them nullified/understood in new ways etc).
The individuals who ignore the theological foundations of Islamic gender apartheid, rather than be honest about them and call for reform and reinterpretation of them, do great damage to the suffering women under Islam that they pretend they care and speak for.
The Muslim men and women who are going to help us to win the war against Islamic extremism are aided by the criticism of Islam by Western experts in the context of what needs to be reformed. You cannot advocate women’s rights within Islam without crystallizing what it is within the religion that gives fertile soil to gender apartheid.
And it is people like Robert Spencer and Nancy Kobrin who are heroically helping to arm courageous Muslim reformers today with the necessary equipment they need to confront the ingredients in their religion that spawn misogyny, gender apartheid, extremism, authoritarianism and war on unbelievers.
Before I end I would just like to say that I have a lot of respect for Steve Schippert and we may be slightly talking past each other here today. One thing that Schippert is saying — and it a crucial thing to say — is that in our efforts to save, for instance, the victims of the Vice-List, we must be careful not to operate in such a way as it seems that we are demonizing all Muslims. And there are many critics today who do lump all Muslims together in their negative criticisms. This is a very foolish and destructive thing to do, and it is important that we have individuals such as Schippert to argue these themes and to emphasize that there are many Muslims who are our allies and who do not represent extremism of any kind.
But having said that, there is no one here today on this panel that represents this position, since individuals such as Kobrin and Spencer and myself (if I may speak for the two) are operating out of desire to pinpoint the teachings of a religion that do harm to Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and it is a given here today that we are discussing Islam and not Muslims, for many of whom we are actually fighting. In any case, there might be a slight misunderstanding here today and the conflict in this symposium might be a matter of emphasis — as some of Mr. Schippert’s themes about not painting all Muslims with the same brush are very important to heed as well. It’s just that the members of this panel do not disagree with that, there is a different point being made.
Go ahead Dr. Kobrin.
Kobrin: I need not reiterate what Bob Spencer and Jamie Glazov have so eloquently said concerning Islam, Muslims and the abuse, most especially of women and children.
I want to focus for only a moment on the psychological function of scolding, which Bob Spencer named. It is a strategy to deflect away from one’s self, feelings of inadequacy masking — believe it or not — terrors. The “scolding”, being told that I have to chose my words carefully as if I hadn’t, was particularly revealing.
It is most curious too when you are told that you can not criticize someone or something. First off — says who? But more importantly what gives that person who says that you can’t criticize, the right to make out the object or person of potential criticism to be so fragile that they can not tolerate criticism?
Besides the fact that it is very patronizing as Jamie has noted, the terror tactic of scolding is equally grandiose and controlling. All of this is emblematic of the insidious effects of denial, a clever attempt to manipulate but done out of terror. The scolding dovetails with the obsession for purity –, that is, wanting to keep Islam, Muslims and their practices — pure/perfect beyond reproach. What good will that do?
But one of my biggest concerns is that we are underestimating the cumulative, chronic effect of dealing with such ideological nuclear toxic material which gets translated on the ground in real time as violence and aggression be it — behind closed doors and/or out on the streets. There is a contagious imitative effect. The task at hand is to contain it. The only way it can be contained is through interventions concerning unlawful practices, which breach human rights.
It is important for moderate Muslims to hear from us, to know how Islam looks and feels from these vantage points. The change has to come from within, but it will not come if the behaviors are not confronted and if they remain so thin skinned that they can’t take criticism.
I believe the majority of moderate Muslims already can, even though it may be very painful and even hard to acknowledge. The violence and aggression are extremely basic, nonverbal and terrorizing. Words of scolding mere serve to pave over and silence awareness of not so much a different way of seeing things but rather end up colluding with a very skewed nay impaired sense of reality, which as I have already argued, is destroying the very fabric of human life globally.
Spencer: Patronizing, grandiose, and controlling is right. I find it rather astounding that immediately after I have said that “some Muslim families may take [Islamic] law very seriously and follow it to the letter; others may not,” Mr. Schippert responds by suggesting that what I have written is “that such behaviors are believed in and supported by all Muslims,” and that I “truly believe” that “all Shi’a” are “at fault.” It seems as if he has understood me to mean exactly the opposite of what I said, if he actually read what I wrote at all. Like many critics I have encountered, he seems more interested in criticizing his own conception of what I”m saying rather than dealing with what I”m actually saying; consequently I appreciate Jamie Glazov’s observation that the response from Mr. Schippert “is based on the assumption that somehow Robert Spencer never said anything and that all the evidence he presented does not exist.”
That said, I must also take issue with Mr. Schippert’s assertion that “the Muslim men and women who are going to help us to win the war of ideas are not aided by the sweeping criticism of Islam by Western experts.” While this is a familiar and common claim, whenever it’s made I feel compelled to respond, “Why not?” If a behavior is founded on Islamic teaching, and perpetuated by the reassertion of that Islamic teaching, why would the phenomenon of “Western experts” calling attention to this be considered offensive by any genuine Muslim reformer who really wanted to see an end to the behavior in question? Mr. Schippert goes on to say rather plaintively: “We should be able to advocate women’s rights without tearing at the fabric of the religion. Shouldn’t we?” Yes, we should — but sometimes we can’t. When Islamic clerics justify wife-beating by referring to Qur’an 4:34 — and there is abundant documentation of their doing so — then we must speak about Qur’an 4:34 and the interpretation of the Qur’an in general if we are going to try to act against wife-beating in the Islamic world. Sincere Islamic reformers will never succeed in mitigating the destructive force of 4:34 and its common interpretation by ignoring them and pretending they don’t exist. Nancy Kobrin is absolutely right: “The change has to come from within, but it will not come if the behaviors are not confronted and if they remain so thin skinned that they can’t take criticism.”
Similarly, Mr. Schippert informs us that “self-determination and liberty, once understood by the people of the Middle East, is much more likely than criticisms of Islam to put an end to the horrible practices we’ve discussed.” But “self-determination and liberty” will never be “understood by the people of the Middle East” unless and until the Islamic critique of them, as based on an illusion of human freedom and independence from Allah that can only lead to destruction, is confronted and rejected. But it will never be confronted and rejected as long as policymakers continue to follow Mr. Schippert’s advice and pretend that Islam has nothing to do with the resistance among Muslims to Western notions of self-determination and liberty.
Schippert: My advice is not to “pretend that Islam has nothing to do with the resistance among Muslims to Western notions of self-determination and liberty.” My advice is not to pretend anything. My advice is that we have to find another tone in addressing such things if our goal is to see the al-Qaeda-espoused and mullahcracy-championed face of Islam defeated. That necessarily must come from within Islam not from four non-Muslims arguing the vice and virtue of their faith. Your tone, Mr. Spencer, regardless of your points, routinely drives away those who would affect such change from within Islam. This, long term, is my concern. Because neither you, nor me, nor Dr. Glazov nor Dr. Kobrin can bring about the change necessary to avoid ceding Islam to the likes of bin Laden or Ahmadinejad and thus fostering a true and complete Islam vs. The World as bin Laden and Ahmadinejad see it.
To each of you, I appreciate the opportunity to respond. The vice-list, for which this symposium was to have been focused, remains a construct of an elite few attempting to maintain influence and control over a population that grows increasingly distant from the revolution that brought the elites to power.
The reality of the situation is that the theocrats behind the regime will use Islamic history, the sirah and sunnah of the Prophet, and the words of the Qur’an to support the positions they favor. Those positions invariably are of the sort which increases and ensures the influence of the few over the many, and of the strong over the weak. We are right to oppose that oppression.
Should I respond to your various criticisms of my prior responses? I’m inclined to think not. However, a few elements do require some clarification.
Dr. Kobrin has offered a psychological explanation for my criticism of her initial response to Jamie’s question. This would be laughable if it weren’t so obvious that each of Dr. Kobrin’s responses come from the same mold. Dr. Kobrin stated that the Shi’a ummah “needs to be held accountable for being passive aggressive and letting the mullacracy be the carrier of their unspoken rage.” This is ridiculous and exemplifies my concern that many Western “experts” who focus on criticizing Islam are simply incapable of offering constructive means to address the war of ideas and the differences between the West and the Muslim world.
The Shi’a ummah aren’t responsible for Ahmadinejad. He is a product of his own perverted view of personal piety, theocratic authority and the machinations of those seeking to maintain their hold over the Iranian people. He is a dangerous apocalyptic nihilist, but he is not the whole of the Shi’a ummah, and I am quite certain he and the rest of the mullacracy are not looked to as the leaders of all Shi’a by all Shi’a.
If anyone is so inclined as to think this somehow equates to me giving a pass to the Shi’a – have at it. The reality is I’ve advocated the view that the Shi’a will have to free themselves from the constraints to liberty found in the Iranian regimes predominant take on the faith. I also advocate working with them to find the means – economically, militarily, religiously and intellectually – to combat the bastardization of their faith that is now so readily termed a fundamentalist movement.
Dr. Glazov, a good friend whom I agree with on many things though we profoundly disagree on this issue, notes that I didn’t respond to the ‘evidence’ presented by Mr. Spencer. Mr. Spencer offered Qur’anic statements as evidence of traditional Islamic law. Given that my concern was the use of Islam’s sacred texts by non-Muslim critics of the faith, and the likelihood that we do not gain Muslim allies through such efforts – what could I achieve as a non-Muslim by defending the same text? Muslims, whether reformers, traditionalist, liberal or conservative, hold the keys of understanding that are required to eradicate the injustices, hatred and bigotry advanced by the jihadist and totalitarian voices dominating our perceptions of Islam and Muslims today.
As to being patronizing or insulting – I called none of you names, offered no criticism other than my words of caution about the potential for your efforts to be misconstrued and my belief that other approaches to the study of Islam offer more potential for reaching Muslims and gaining allies in the war. Patronizing, grandiose and controlling, you called me. The most patronizing thing I’ve seen here is three non-Muslims thinking that they understand Islam and can somehow guide Muslims, with the benefit of “reformers”, to an Islam free of Muhammad’s mistakes and the Qur’an’s evils – as you perceive them. As the fourth non-Muslim here, I would suggest that reform must come from within. To prod it from without is to drive those who might otherwise take up the effort to instead then shun it in instinctive defense.
This is not to say that we non-Muslims should stop criticizing Islam and take a vow of silence. That is folly in the opposite direction.
The whole point here is that a Westerner can easily come in here and read this text and walk away thinking “Those damn Muslims!” and blanket them all while a reasonable Muslim is likely to read the same text and be completely turned off and driven away, feeling a finger poked in his or her chest. That reasonable Muslim is precisely who needs to be communicated with and empowered within Islam. The words above can read as if there really are none.
So Mr. Spencer can continue to quote Qu’ranic text. The fact of the matter remains that we are four who gathered to discuss the Iranian regime’s Vice List, which uses religious pretext for little more than suppressing internal political opposition. What it became was an everything that’s wrong with Islam argument counterproductive to understanding the political tool of the Vice List.
Want allies within the Muslim community to reject the Iranian mullahcracy’s false assumption of authority over the Shi’a ummah? Why don’t we try instead supporting the Iranain people in eliminating those who, among other things, have taken it upon themselves to speak for all Shi’a? I am quite sure the Iranian people loathe the regime more than anyone in here and, last I checked, they were part of the Shi’a ummah.
And we might start to see some of the general changes we all hope for. But the difference is that it would necessarily be from them, within their faith, and with shared ideals. Decidedly not from us, four pointy-headed smart people limited to nothing more than declaring all that’s wrong with their faith instead of primarily promoting common values.
FP: What reaction people have, Muslim and non-Muslim, to the truth does not negate the truth, nor does it mean it shouldn’t be spoken.
Kobrin: Scolding — the reprimand to change one’s “tone” of voice — I hear as grasping at straws and desperation.
I never said that one shouldn’t be diplomatic and respectful. In fact I have been respectful. In the early 80s I did a two volume 500 page dissertation on Ahadith Musa, looking at the image of Moses in Islam, especially Morisco culture and biblical typology across cultures in medieval Spain. There isn’t anyone who desires more la convivencia/coexistence to happen in modern times than I.
To seek such convivencia entails honesty. This is not embracing Islamic taqiya and/or kitman. Non-confrontational behavior is basic to any culture, which feels it must go underground for self-preservation. Indeed an honest non-confrontational approach may be invaluable but not when you are dealing with the violence of suicide bombers, especially female and child, child mine sweepers, wife beating and female genital mutilation. These are telling signs of a culture out of control.
When human rights are being violated and humanity is being terrorized and traumatized daily by such aggression and violence to the point that school shootings in the West have become jihadi inspired events, such “mirroring” of the other, placating and soft-pedaling will only fuel its flames, hence the copy-cat effect. It is imperative to set firm boundaries and to call it like it is.
As for Ahmadinejad, I do not believe for a moment that he himself raised himself out of the clear blue and that that is how he came to hold his particularly peculiar views. He was shaped and molded by the culture, childhood rearing practices and beliefs taught in the home very early on. The need to hate and the need to have an enemy is in place by age 3. The dye was cast long ago within the family, which is set within and reinforced by the ummah.
The problem that we are facing globally will take hundreds of years to solve. Many, many more debates and symposia will take place but words alone will not rectify the “Situation” (here I borrow the term from the Israelis as that is how they call the chronic bloody conflict they are immersed in). It will be through deeds and action, which demonstrate appropriate behavior that will ultimately promote change among those who sacrifice their own children and beat and mutilate their women and little girls.
Spencer: I”m sorry Mr. Schippert doesn’t like my “tone.” I am sorry that his sensibilities are so fragile, or that he perceives Muslim sensibilities to be so fragile, that they cannot deal with substantive criticism if they do not deem it of the proper tone. Yet most of my tonal problem comes from Mr. Schippert himself, as he continues in his last response, despite my repeated clarifications, to insist that I am somehow issuing a blanket condemnation of all Muslims, and to urge a different approach on that basis. You”re right, Mr. Schippert: that isn’t patronizing at all. It’s worse. It’s either inexcusably careless or wilfully disingenuous. So here it is one more time: in reality, when I point out that there are elements of Islamic theology and law that are used to justify this oppression, that isn’t saying anything at all about what “all Muslims” believe or do. It is simply stating a fact.
And that fact is one that sincere Muslim reformers are going to have to face up to sooner or later, or these texts and teachings will continue to be used to justify oppression and violence. Does this mean I don’t believe there are such Muslim reformers? No, it does not. But unfortunately for Mr. Schippert, I am not speaking about “the Qur’an’s evils” merely as I perceive them — as he puts it. Rather, I report on how Muslims on a daily basis have recourse to the Qur’an and Muhammad’s example to justify oppression, supremacism and violence. It may comfort him to pretend that I am the source of this use of the Qur’an, but unfortunately I could provide for him a proliferation of Islamic authorities making the arguments I made above. Mr. Schippert is correct that reform must come from within, but it cannot and will not come when what needs reforming is ignored and downplayed.
Then he says, “This is not to say that we non-Muslims should stop criticizing Islam and take a vow of silence.” But in effect, that is the import of his argument. The “reasonable Muslim” will be alienated? Really? And why is that? Because he doesn’t believe these human rights abuses are happening? Or that they are being justified by Qur’anic texts and other core Islamic texts? But both of those are simple matters of fact — should not the “reasonable Muslim” then be able to recognize them, as uncomfortable as they are?
I thank Mr. Schippert for his permission to me to “continue to quote Qu’ranic [sic] text.” I will do so, as long as such text continues to be used as an engine of oppression. I am not going to apologize for speaking out as a non-Muslim about the human rights abuses that are perpetuated in Islamic culture by being justified by divine writ. Oppression is oppression and injustice is injustice, and I do not believe that one must be a believing Muslim to speak out against the commodification of women and discrimination against religious minorities in Islamic law, any more than one had to be a Bolshevik to speak out against Stalin’s atrocities.
Ms. Kobrin is right: one should be diplomatic and respectful. But that — and on this I agree with her also — does not mean we should be pollyanish and unrealistic.
FP: Steve Schippert, Robert Spencer and Dr. Nancy Kobrin, thank you for joining Frontpage Symposium.