Way back when I was in college my friend Jeff proposed “Not as bad as you might think” as the state motto and license-plate slogan for one of the great states of this Union, and I was reminded of it last night as I spoke at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Before the talk began I had a delightful dinner with the small and valiant College Republicans group that invited me there, and they told me about the abuse they put up with for representing a voice that dissents from the stifling Leftist campus orthodoxy. One member had a cup of urine poured on his head at a Michael Moore event; thugs and louts have tried to shout down speakers including David Horowitz and Daniel Pipes; and as for last night’s event, the campus paper yesterday contained a sneering editorial entitled “Republican guest will distort Islam,” by one James Sonneman, a “a senior majoring in political science and history,” who affects cigarette-smoking cool in his column photo but has little actual knowledge behind the smoke.
With the smug assurance of the semi-educated, Sonneman asserted in his piece that I confuse “the term Islam with radical-Islamism,” and that I claim that “moderate Muslims simply do not understand what their Holy Book means, even to themselves, so we should not draw a distinction between their religion and radical-Islamism.” He goes on to say that “the claim is as preposterous as the conclusion,” and it’s true: to say such a thing would be preposterous, but what is actually preposterous is this young man’s claim that this is my position. What Sonneman is mangling here is my pointing out the fact that all the schools of Islamic jurisprudence and all the sects of Islam that Muslims generally accept as orthodox teach that warfare against and subjugation of unbelievers is part of the religious duty of the Islamic community. That claim is open to objective verification or debunking, as is my further rather commonplace observation that significant numbers of Muslims are not on board with this agenda. This is not because they do not understand their religion, as Sonneman claims is my entire explanation for the fact, but because they have not been taught that this is an important religious obligation for them to fulfill, or because they are simply not that fervent, or any number of other reasons, including but not limited to the very real possibility that some who identify themselves as believers may not be well instructed in the tenets of their faith — particularly because prayers and Qur’an recitation must be in 7th-century classical Arabic, and most Muslims today are not Arabs, and most Arabs themselves are not fluent in 7th-century classical Arabic.
Anyway, the point of all this, of course, is that I am a “racist” who is trying to stir up “fear,” and many on campus got the message: outside the talk the MSA was distributing a pamphlet entitled “Who Is Robert Spencer? What He’s Not Telling Us,” which says it was “funded in part by the Associated Students of Madison,” although the “ASM does not necessarily endorse the beliefs and actions of this organization.” Not necessarily! It also has a section headed “A Special Thanks to All Our Friends,” and there lists the Muslim Students Association, the Multicultural Student Coalition, the Lutheran Campus Center, the College Democrats, the Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions, Americans for Informed Democracy, and MadPAC: Madison Israel Public Affairs Committee. (“MadPAC” sounds apt.)
Anyway, the pamphlet contains the Fatihah, the first sura of the Qur’an and the most common prayer in Islam, along with the ridiculous FAIR “Smearcasters” report on me that I discussed here. The welcoming atmosphere was reinforced by several students who came into the talk carrying large signs with the predictable slogans, “Stop the Hate,” “Students Against Hatred,” etc. I told the young woman carrying the latter sign that I was against hatred too, and thanked her for bringing it in.
Everyone was expecting disruptions. A campus policeman told me beforehand that they believed in the students’ freedom of speech, and would not remove hecklers or people trying to shout me down. “So they have freedom of speech, but I don’t?” I asked. “That’s right,” said the cop. Surprisingly enough, however, no one disrupted my talk. I thanked the crowd of about 300 for its courtesy; even the question period, although there were the usual hostile questions, was marked by little of the shouting and the self-righteous grandstanding that marred the event at Penn State.
The questions ran in the usual vein. Several students tried to give self-righteous and hectoring counter-lectures of their own, as is quite common when I speak at universities, but Sara Mikolajczak and the rest of the College Republicans had an excellent handle on the situation, and made sure that the students actually asked questions and kept it brief. Still, one fellow began by trotting out the tired canard that I had to know Arabic to be able to speak about the global jihad and Islamic supremacism. I know far more Arabic than he assumes, although I am not fluent, and in any case the issue itself is a red herring: I asked him why, if one has to know Arabic well in order to understand Islam, Muslim publishing houses turn out so many translations of the Qur’an, Hadith, and other material, and whether he was ready to declare that the Muslims worldwide who do not know Arabic (who constitute the majority now) do not understand Islam and are not capable of doing so. I also asked him whether or not Arabic was a human language like any other, capable of being translated, and why it was that all of the translations of Qur’an 4:34 into English render the verse as mandating the beating of a disobedient woman, with the exception of one non-traditional and highly apologetic translation? And was there some secret decoder ring that would reveal that when 4:34 says “beat her” in Arabic it actually means “give her a hug”? But the arrogant and self-righteous lout, who turns out to be (according to the Badger Herald) Rashid Dar, MSA public relations chair, would not deal with any of this, and instead tried to shout me down — lest the crowd hear some inconvenient facts. (Oh, and speaking of the Badger Herald, I never used the silly term “Muslim extremisms,” with which reporter Kevin Bargnes leads his article. But when it comes to college newspapers I have even less expectation of accuracy or journalistic integrity than I do from the mainstream media.)
Another questioner tried to read a self-righteous lecture about all the poor victimized American Muslims. He claimed that Muslims are increasingly facing persecution in the U.S., blaming this (spurious) increase on the nationwide distribution of Obsession and citing as an example the “hate crime” at a mosque in Dayton, Ohio — an event that turned out to be a complete hoax. He tried to beard the monster in his lair, asking me about my real motives and warned me not to talk about peace and justice in my answer — but I refused to oblige, telling him that that was what I was all about, peace and justice and human rights for all, and I wasn’t going to be intimidated by his manipulative and contemptuous question or by the MSA allegation that to speak up in defense of the U.S. Constitution, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and equality of rights for all constituted “hate.”
Then there was the inevitable question about why I wasn’t concerned about wicked Christian fundamentalists scheming to take over the government. I explained the difference between working within the political process, which any group should have a right to do, and trying to eliminate and destroy Western civilization from within in order to establish the hegemony of one’s religious law, which the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups are in their own words trying to do in the United States.
But mixed in with all the arrogant and self-righteous posturing were a few genuine questions, and one Muslim questioner (my hat is off to you, Ammar), while maintaining that he disagreed with me on many points, actually asked a serious question about my presentation of Islamic apostasy law, and we had a good discussion about it. Another asked me if I would come to an MSA event the following week. I will be at another college, but if the MSA in Madison wants to organize a debate or discussion including me, I will be happy to participate.
So all in all, it was…not as bad as you might think, which I hereby suggest as the new motto for the University of Wisconsin-Madison.