Jihad Watch reader James asked me this morning if I had seen my Wikipedia bio lately, so I went over there to take a look. Some time ago I called it “ridiculous,” but it is worse than that: it is relentlessly biased, and the negative spin is thoroughgoing. Hugh Fitzgerald and several other people have strongly advised me to set the record straight, at least with the bio as it stands now, since people continue to use Wikipedia as a research tool. So here goes.
Robert Bruce Spencer (born 1962) is a Catholic American writer specialized in Islam criticism.
Ungrammatical, but never mind. “Catholic.” It’s true, I am a Catholic. But am I a Catholic writer in the way that, say, George Weigel or Hans Urs von Balthasar or even Walker Percy are Catholic writers? Do I write about Catholic theology or Catholic issues? No. Is Jihad Watch a sectarian, Catholic site? No. Do I write about Islam and jihad from a Catholic perspective, from a vantage point that only a fellow Catholic could best understand or appreciate? Generally no — I cowrote Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics five years ago, but otherwise what I write, including my last book, could have been written by anyone, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Jew, Buddhist, atheist, who has read the Qur’an and other Islamic texts. And these books can be and have been appreciated by people of all creeds and outlooks.
So why is “Catholic” here so prominently, when John Esposito, who identifies himself as a Catholic, teaches at a Catholic University, and also writes books about Islam, is not so identified in his own Wikipedia bio? It can only be so as to suggest that I am writing out of religious chauvinism, with an agenda, and not approaching Islamic issues objectively. Can such a charge be substantiated from anything I have written? Well, you’ll notice that there’s a conspicuous lack of such quotes from my work, and if such quotes existed, I expect they’d be here.
And “specialized in Islam criticism”? No. As I have said many times, I specialize in trying to raise awareness of the jihad ideology and Islamic supremacism. This is not a sectarian effort or something that has to do with criticism of Islam per se, and as I have long stated here, any Muslim of good will who sincerely renounces these things is welcome to join our efforts.
He is a contributor to the neoconservative FrontPage magazine, directed by David Horowitz.
“Neoconservative” — the all-purpose scare word. What does it mean anymore? Jewish? Supporting the Iraq democracy project? In any case, it’s interesting that such adjectives are slipped in uncritically, when CAIR and the ADC, mentioned below, are presented without qualifiers of any kind.
Robert Spencer holds a Master’s degree in the department of Religious Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 1986. He began his career in 1979 at the University of North Carolina. His MA thesis is entitled The Monophysite in the Mirror and concerns the conversion of John Henry Newman to Catholicism in 1845 and Newman’s denunciation of the Church of England as monophysite.
I “began my career” in 1979? I started college in 1979. But aside from this silliness, why is this paragraph here at all? Why is the Master’s thesis subject listed? Could anyone but my mother possibly care about the subject of my Master’s thesis? Check around Wikipedia and see if the subject of John Esposito’s Masters in Theology is listed. No. Karen Armstrong’s? I’m not sure she has one, but there are no details in her bio. Look around Wikipedia and you’ll be hard pressed to find another writer on anything whose Master’s thesis subject is listed in his bio.
So why is it listed? Because it is about Christianity, not Islam — although I have never claimed otherwise myself. As I explain here about my writings on Islam, “I present the work on the basis of the evidence I bring forth, and invite readers to evaluate it for themselves.” In other words, I’ve never asked anyone to believe anything on my word, or because I have various degrees. I present my work on its merits. But never mind — if I wrote about Christianity in 1985, I must not have been studying Islam then, right?
(Also, by the way, the summary is inaccurate: Newman didn’t denounce the Church of England as Monophysite, and my thesis is only tangentially about Newman at all. It’s about the Christological controversies of the early Church, and their connection to various ecclesiological models. It led me to study the Eastern Churches in depth, which coalesced nicely with my study of Islam.)
Views on Spencer and his works
Daniel Pipes has said: “Robert Spencer and I have discussed the perceived differences in our view of Islam. He and I concluded that, although we have different emphases – he deals more with scriptures, I more with history – we have no disagreements.” He has also endorsed Spencer’s books The Truth About Muhammad, and Onward Muslim Soldiers. Bat Ye’or, and Ibn Warraq are also among those who have a positive view of Spencer’s works, while Khaleel Mohammed, Dinesh D’Souza, Karen Armstrong, Ralph Peters, Cathy Young, Stephen Schwartz (journalist), and organizations such as CAIR, and ADC hold negative views.
Now, this is a balance issue: three positives, eight negatives. No mention of praise of my work by such people as Walid Phares, Bruce S. Thornton, Steve Emerson, Habib C. Malik, Ann Coulter, Don Feder, Michelle Malkin, Rabbi David G. Dalin, Serge Trifkovic, Cal Thomas, Damian Thompson of the Telegraph, Andrew McCarthy of National Review, and others. No mention of Dennis Prager’s praise of me and Jihad Watch on CNN when Ibrahim Hooper was defaming me. No mention of the many questions about CAIR’s ties to Islamic supremacism or the terror convictions of CAIR officials.
Nor is that all:
Khaleel Mohammed, Louay M. Safi, and Carl Ernst assert that Spencer’s scholarship and interpretations of Islam are fundamentally flawed – that he supports preconceived notions through selection bias – that he lacks genuine understanding and; that ‘he has no academic training in Islamic studies whatsoever; his M.A. degree was in the field of early Christianity’.
It’s false that I have no academic training in Islamic studies. I just don’t have a degree in it. But here again, these are just vague accusations, unsupported with examples, and while my reply to Khaleel Mohammed is referenced, although not identified as such, my replies to Louay Safi and Carl Ernst are not referenced.
For example, critics have objected to what they describe as Spencer’s method of taking a position they deem to be radical (on apostasy, women, etc.) and then attribute that position to all of Islam, rather than situating it within ongoing discussions.
In reality, I’ve never said that “all of Islam” holds to anything, and I challenge any of these Wikipedia gremlins to prove otherwise. No evidence is given here, even within the cited articles. It seems that any broad, vague charge will do.
Khaleel Mohammed and Spencer have had detailed discussions on FrontPage Magazine. Carl Ernst and William Kenan have called him an “Islamophobe”.
What’s an “Islamophobe”? Is this a genuine academic term that professors should be using — or a manipulative political term that unmasks Ernst and Kenan as propagandists rather than educators? As I wrote here, “I vehemently reject the ‘Islamophobe’ label, which is only a tool used by Islamic apologists to silence criticism. My work is dedicated to identifying the causes of jihad terrorism, which of course lead straight back into the Islamic texts. I have therefore called for reform of those texts “” a necessity that should be obvious to anyone of good will, although I have no illusions that it is forthcoming soon or ever, or that it will be easy. I have dedicated Jihad Watch to defending equality of rights and freedom of conscience for all people. That’s Islamophobic? Then is the fault in the phobe, or in the Islam?”
Ernst notes that Spencer’s articles have never been published in peer-reviewed academic journals, nor are his publications similarly reviewed or edited by a qualified scholar and published by an academic or university publishers but by conservative presses such as Regnery Publishing.
Given the abysmal, politicized state of academic study of Islam these days, this is more something to celebrate than to be ashamed of, and given Ernst’s publishing history with Shambhala Press, more than a little hypocritical on his part.
Spencer’s responses to critics
It is good that this section is there, although given the above the bio as a whole is still highly imbalanced.
Controversial conference attendance
In October 2007, Robert Spencer attended a controversial conference in Brussels, Belgium entitled “Counterjihad Brussels 2007”. The conference was sponsored and attended by far-right European political parties, including the Vlaams Belang and Sverigedemokraterna. Vlaams Belang is the successor party to the Vlaams Blok, a political party that was completely banned by the highest court of Belgium for being racist. The Sverigedemokraterna has been considered a fringe party too close to neo-Nazi parties in Sweden.
After receiving criticism, Spencer said he disavowed all neo-Nazis and racists present at the conference, and claimed he was unaware of their presence, although sponsors and speakers at the conference were clearly identified.
This one is, of course, the worst of all. I speak all over the place all the time, and if I am responsible for the views on every issue of everyone else who has ever spoken at conferences where I have spoken, I will end up holding some highly contradictory views.
The citation leads here, to a piece about CAIR defaming me. If you read it, you’ll see that nowhere do I claim I “was unaware of [the] presence” of the Vlaams Belang and Sverigedemokraterna representatives, and I don’t believe it’s accurate that they were sponsors of the conference. Also, the use of the word “claimed” is always meant to cast aspersions on the one doing the claiming, and completely vitiates any objectivity this article might have claimed for itself.
The great controversy regarding that conference is actually over whether or not the Vlaams Belang and Sverigedemokraterna really are white supremacist parties — many who are involved with the parties hotly deny it. In any case, the conference itself touched at no point on white supremacism or neo-Nazism, and I have denounced and abhor white supremacism and neo-Nazism, as well as, specifically, any white supremacist and neo-Nazi elements of those two parties. See here for more on this.
Skeptics should try this: find any statement that I have made, in 20,000 posts at Jihad Watch, seven books, hundreds of articles, anywhere, that could remotely be construed as supporting white supremacism or neo-Nazism — unless resistance to the global jihad itself is characterized as such. You won’t find anything.
James also tells me that the person who added the material about this conference has also edited other Wikipedia entries to remove information about the Council on American Islamic Relations’ terror ties and an Islamic supremacist statement by CAIR’s Ibrahim Hooper. See for yourself here.
Anyway, I apologize for this long, tedious, self-referential post. It seemed necessary in light of Wikipedia’s influence, and now it will be here in the archives for reference. I hope anyone who supports our efforts here in defense of human rights will revise the Wikipedia bio to make it fairer and more accurate, so as not to let the jihad apologists and propagandists rule the day.