After my recent exchange with M. Cherif Bassiouni, Distinguished Research Professor of Law Emeritus and President Emeritus, International Human Rights Law Institute, DePaul University (see here and here), Jihad Watch reader David initiated the following exchange with the august professor. Did he address David’s concerns and answer his questions honestly and adequately? You be the judge.
1. David to M. Cherif Bassiouni:
I read with interest Spencer’s report of your exchange on the Islamic penalty for apostasy and your characterization of his scholarship. I am sure I speak for many when I urge you to accept his challenge to debate. I yearn to be disabused of what I now understand to be the mindboggling basic premise of Islam, to wit, the imposition by physical force of a world wide calliphate governed by Sharia law.
I believe I also speak for many when I say I would love to believe that Islam does not prescribe this kind of supremacist theocracy. Please help me correct my thinking about the nature of Islam by engaging in debate with Spencer either in person or by published written communications.
2. David to M. Cherif Bassiouni:
You were probably inundated with email as a result of your now public exchange with Mr Spencer so even though I will to be brief I appreciate that a personal response is unlikely. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to follow up my earlier plea from a curious onlooker ( see below). Here is what struck me after reviewing your recent reply to Spencer.
1. You wrote: ” Usually persons who have extremist views are beyond the reach of reason, good sense, and good faith.”
Is that really grounds to abandon the effort to reason with any and all people who hold opposing points of view even if you think they are extremist? I hope you agree it isn’t. Even you must admit that Spencer is not a kook. Your refusal to debate on fundamental Islamic beliefs is disheartening to those like me who day in and day out read about the barbaric terrorism conducted in the name of Islam and desire to learn how this relates to the true nature of Islam.
2. You wrote: “I don’t know what you are up to, why you are doing it, and for whose benefit, but everything I read tells me there is something wrong in conducting such an extremist campaign against Islam and Muslims. What is that intended to accomplish other than radicalization and polarization? Is that in the best interests of relations between Americans who have different faith-belief systems? Is that intended to arouse anti-Islamicism in America for certain political purposes? If any of these are the case then whatever I or anyone else may have to say to you will not have much effect.”
Okay, you concede you are not a polemicist, so you are entitled to some leeway in a debate, but if everything you read at jihadwatch.org tells you there is something wrong in what Spencer has written, then why don’t you simply identify how it/he is wrong? That was the hope I expressed in my earlier note – that you would say something to disabuse me of my current negative view of Islam. The one and only area in which you did argue specific issues – your defense of his attack on you vis a vis the death penalty for apostasy – is altogether unconvincing (to put it charitably). Sadly, I am left to surmise that you would not be able to dispute Spencer’s general views on the true nature of Islam.
3. You wrote: “To the best of my knowledge, I don’t know of any organization having a campaign similar to yours aimed at discrediting a major religion and its followers.”
Holy cow! I find this statement incredible especially in view of your noble work with the UN and US State Dept as a special consultant on anti-terrorism. I am not a religious person, but I was born into an American Jewish family so notwithstanding my belief that the god of all three people of the book is nothing more than a make believe friend for grown ups, is it not a fact that Al Qaida prescribes it is the duty of every good Muslim to kill me wherever I am found, behind a rock or otherwise, certainly for as long as non-believers remain in Mecca and/or America supports the state of Israel? What about Hamas, Hezbollah and all the other bedfellows of Al Qaida located throughout the world who not only insist on the elimination of the state of Israel, but all Jews as well? Or does jihadi killing by such organizations not count as discrediting?
It saddens me that you can not help me overcome my current negative views of Islam and the people who practice that belief system. Is there a web site you can recommend where I might be able to educate myself. I sincerely want to learn that Spencer is intellectually dishonest in his description of Islam.
3. M. Cherif Bassiouni to David:
Thank you for your two emails. Because of their concerned tone, I extend to you the courtesy which you deserve, in the following reply.
For reasons which I described in my letter to Mr. Spencer, I do not wish to engage in a debate with him.
As to the question of apostasy, from my perspective, there is not much to debate with anyone other than Muslim scholars who take a different position. In such an event it would be my goal to try to convince them of the merits of my position and thus to make them change their views.
I take the position that a sound interpretation of the Shar”ia leads to the conclusion that apostasy is not a crime punishable on earth and certainly not punishable by the death penalty, unless apostasy is defined as high treason (and has the legal elements of that crime), in which case it would be punishable by death. Almost every country in the world has a law or statute to that effect. We do in the U.S in Title 18 United States Code and in the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
The mere fact that a person changes his or her religion is not, in my opinion and in the opinion of other contemporary scholars, a crime, let alone a crime punishable by death. Admittedly this was not an interpretation given to apostasy after the death of the Prophet. I and others believe it is incorrect. Just as an example, during the days of the Prophet, one of the Muslim converts who went to Abyssinia, by the name of Jahsh, converted to Christianity there and continued to live with the Abyssinian Christians as well as with the small community of Muslim immigrants. The Prophet never repudiated Jahsh nor declared him to be a criminal. In fact, there was never a case in the practice of the Prophet (the Sunnah) in which the concept of had for apostasy was applied to someone who simply changed his mind on being a Muslim, preferring instead another one of the two other Abrahamic faiths.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam all have their fundamentalists who interpret holy scriptures in a literal way and who, as a result, come up with interpretations that are either inconsistent with the higher values of their faith-belief systems and/or with contemporary secular human rights standards.
My concern with Mr. Spencer, jihadwatch, and his other writing and speakings, is that it has become a campaign against Islam and that, is my opinion, is reprehensible.
4. David to M. Cherif Bassiouni:
Thank you for your email concerning Islamic law on the penalty for apostasy. I have to confess I am more confused than ever, especially why you opine that Mr Spencer’s jihadwatch and his analyses of Islamic law constitute a reprehensible campaign against Islam since you seem to agree with him on the immorality of current Islamic law and you, yourself, wish to reform it.
In the process of setting forth your personal view of what the law should be you admit that, in fact, current Islamic authorities uniformly prescribe the death penalty for apostasy. Don’t you agree that any belief system that prescribes death for apostasy rightfully deserves to be condemned? In my unscholarly view, condemnation and derision seem entirely appropriate for a belief system so despicably unethical as to maintain this immoral anachronism as one of it core beliefs.
Your parenthetical qualification of the no death for apostasy rule is inapposite. However apostasy might have been defined in the 7th century no modern definition includes any element of treason as that word is ordinarily defined. Islam is not a nation state with geographical borders. We are talking about religious beliefs, not about betraying one’s country. To the extent you attempt to ameliorate the immorality of current Islamic law by drawing historical parallels between apostasy and treason you come across as an apologist for the unethical state of Islamic law, not as a would be reformer.
I agree with you that all religious fundamentalists are, more or less, nutcases who engage mostly in anachronistic thinking that is “inconsistent with the higher values of their faith-belief systems and/or with contemporary secular human rights standards.” Unfortunately, the inmates seem to be running all the Islamic institutions. They all appear to be fundamentalists in that (a) they believe their religion is the only correct religion, (b) all “non-believers” must either convert, pay jyzziah, or be slain so that (c) the entire world consists of a single supremacist theocracy governed by Sharia law. Now if you could get your coreligionists to change Islamic law on that score I could overlook some of the other issues like womens’ rights.
You have a steep road ahead of you, Mr Bassiouni. If you are sincere in your efforts to lead a reformation in Islamic Law, I suggest you might want to join forces with Mr Spencer rather than mischaracterize his scholarly analysis of the Koran, hadiths, and current schools of Islamic law as simply a reprehensible campaign against Islam. Good luck in your attempts at reformation.
5. M. Cherif Bassiouni to David:
I do not agree that current Islamic law is immoral. My position, and that of many others, is that certain interpretations of it are erroneous, and that is a big difference.
It is my position that the application of the death penalty for apostasy, meaning a conversion to another faith or a loss of faith, should under no circumstances be subject to criminal sanctions, let alone the death penalty. The key point of your position, Mr. Spencer’s, and others, is that because there is an erroneous interpretation of some aspect of the religion, you can then label the entire “belief system so despicably unethical as to maintain this immoral anachronism as one of it [sic] core beliefs.” You would be surprised as to how many similar anachronistic positions are held by believers of Judaism, Christianity, and other faith systems. One does not condemn an entire faith because of some positions which are, as you put it, “anachronistic,” and as I would put it, “incompatible” with fundamental values in Islam.
What I object to in the position of Mr. Spencer and others, including what I read in your email, is an effort to attack Islam as a whole and to denigrate it because of some either extreme or unacceptable views. If that were the case, then each religion and faith system would attract similar attacks and that, too, is not in the spirit of any religion.
Trusting that this answers your question. No reply is necessary, as I think we have run full circle on this issue.