M. Cherif Bassiouni, Distinguished Research Professor of Law Emeritus and President Emeritus, International Human Rights Law Institute, DePaul University, has responded to my email posted here with the 1,000-word email that follows. You will note that nowhere in it does he resolve the contradiction in his statements about Islamic apostasy law that I asked him about in my email to him. I’ll address that in more detail below.
Dear Mr. Spencer,
Thank you for your email of 8/13/09 in response to mine. You had asked for permission to print my letter, but you went ahead and did it without my permission so, obviously, you are no longer seeking my permission.
After looking at your website, I was quite surprised to see how much hate, venom and misunderstanding you are fostering. Through my 45-year career in International Criminal Law and Human Rights I have regrettably, all too often, seen the harmful consequences of what you manage to engender. Goebbels and others in Nazi Germany brought about anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, the war in the former Yugoslavia (1991-95) had many religious undertones between Serb-Orthodox and Catholic-Croats, whose religious animosity producing violence goes back to 1915, and then, we have Christian-Catholic Hutus killing between 500,000 and 800,000 of their co-religionist Tutsis in Rwanda. It all started the same way, and all too few people spoke up against it. Having investigated war crimes in the former Yugoslavia for the United Nations, monitored human rights in Afghanistan also for the U.N., and done work in Iraq, funded by the U.S. government, I can tell you in all three arenas of conflict how pernicious religious hatred and misunderstanding is. That is why I speak up against your hate-mongering.
I don’t know if this communication will have any moderating effects on your anti-Islam and Anti-Muslim stances. Usually persons who have extremist views are beyond the reach of reason, good sense, and good faith. They are too imbued with their own self-righteous views and are all too often blinded by their hatred or animosity towards others to act in ways that most people consider reasonable and decent.
Mr. Spencer, I am not a polemicist. If you find out about me through public sources, you will discover that I have spent my life fighting for what is right, even at the risk of my own life in many situations. Hate-mongering, incitation to hate, various forms of religious, ethnic, national intolerances have, in my experience, only produced violence and harmful results. 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. By the grace of God, I continue to believe in the best in human beings, and I hope that the best in you, and those who follow you, will prevail over the worst that is reflected in the work that you are doing.
I firmly believe that there is one God who has created one humankind and that we are all members of the same human family. This God, who is the beginning and end of everything, the One described in the First Commandment contained in the Hebrew bible and the Old Testament is, in my opinion, the same God described in the Qur”ān. All three Abrahamic faiths, as well as other belief systems, conceive of a single humankind, making us all brothers and sisters in this humanity. There is no superior or inferior human being and certainly it is against any belief in God and moral/ethical values to dehumanize a person or demonize a person for his/her beliefs or otherwise. History has always demonstrated that when that occurs, it is the beginning of the rationalization for genocide and crimes against humanity.
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. Consequently there is something unique in what you are doing and in your mission, which not only sets it apart from established inter-religious practices, but which also calls into question the motives, purposes and goals of such an undertaking. Fortunately there is only you and your group in the world doing such a thing and, hopefully, you will not be able to do much harm to your fellow human beings, whether in this country or elsewhere.
As to your invitation to a debate, I have never engaged in oral debates, particularly when it clearly appears from both your website and your publications that the goal would not be to obtain a better understanding of whatever the issue may be.
Concerning the merits of the issue of apostasy, Islamic law has a long history and it is rather complex. In the course of 14 centuries there have been many differences among scholars as to almost every aspect of law, theology and religious practices. Similar differences exist in Judaism and Christianity as well as other faith-belief systems. Different cultures also see things in different ways. And, in time, many perspectives change.
My views on apostasy have been made public since 1983, in the U.S., and in the Muslim world. They include my understanding that apostasy in the days of the Prophet meant, essentially, high treason in the equivalent modern significance. There were different views on the matter between the late 7th and 12th centuries. Since then, Ijtihad, which means making the effort to think (much as the word jihad means making an effort) has been stopped by theological fiat. As a result, not much progressive thinking or corrective interpretation has been made to show that the interpretations which took place after the Prophet’s death were not the correct ones. The Qur”ān’s overarching principle enunciated in chapter 2 is that there can be “no compulsion in religion.” That doesn’t make me “deceptive” nor does it make me an “apologist.” These are two terms you have used to describe me, which are defamatory. (Whether you see fit to publish a retraction or apology will demonstrate your good faith.)
In any event, this concludes our written exchange, but I will be glad to meet with you personally whenever you are in Chicago or if our paths cross elsewhere. In order to avoid any further polemic, I will stop with this communication, though I still hope that this message may have a positive effect on you.
M. Cherif Bassiouni
I responded in haste with this:
Dear Professor Bassiouni:
Your a priori assumption that I am engaged in a campaign of “hate,” when I am careful in every respect to be scrupulously accurate in what I write about Islam, forecloses any possibility of fruitful dialogue. It is not “hate” to report accurately on how Islamic jihadists use Islamic texts and teachings to justify violence against non-Muslims, and I think you well know that. If you want actual “hate,” go to those who kill unbelievers and oppress women in the name of Sharia. Your efforts would be much more fruitfully directed against them than against me, who am simply trying to defend the equality of rights of women with men, freedom of speech, and other rights denied by traditional Sharia.
But there are a few more observations that must be made about Professor Bassiouni’s extraordinarily abusive, defamatory and arrogant email.
1. “Thank you for your email of 8/13/09 in response to mine. You had asked for permission to print my letter, but you went ahead and did it without my permission so, obviously, you are no longer seeking my permission.” Quite so. My emails have been published all over the place — usually selectively, with key edits — while I published Professor Bassiouni’s in full. When I have protested against this, the email publishers have explained that I am a public figure, and hence my opinions and writings are a matter of public information, and that if I believe what I say in my emails, I should stand by it. Fair enough. No less should be expected of Professor Bassiouni.
2. All the business about my sowing “hate” — by reporting on how jihadists commit violence and justify violence by pointing to Islamic texts and teachings — is the same old tired game of defamation that CAIR and others play so often. It is a game of deflection. Imagine someone in 1942 saying that Churchill and Roosevelt were sowing “hate” by pointing out Nazi atrocities. Which side do you think such a person would have been on? It is not fostering “hate” to expose the terrible cost of Islamic law and to call for self-examination and self-criticism among Muslims. But Professor Bassiouni’s reaction shows why there is no such self-examination and self-criticism among them.
3. “All three Abrahamic faiths, as well as other belief systems, conceive of a single humankind, making us all brothers and sisters in this humanity. There is no superior or inferior human being and certainly it is against any belief in God and moral/ethical values to dehumanize a person or demonize a person for his/her beliefs or otherwise.” Professor Bassiouni is quite right, of course, that there is no superior or inferior human being. Yet Professor Bassioni’s own Qur’an teaches that the unbelievers are “the most vile of created beings” (98:6) — and Muslims around the world act upon that assumption in myriad ways every day. What is he doing to stop them? Anything? Or does he become concerned only when an unbeliever dares to point out that Qur’anic statement, and the manifest fact (just scan Jihad Watch on any given day) that Muslims act upon it?
4. “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.” Of course, I have no such campaign. If anyone is discrediting Islam, it is the Muslims who — all in the name of Islam and in accord with Islamic teachings, murder, maim, stone, burn, and threaten others. Once again we see an Islamic spokesman taking umbrage not with those Muslims, but with non-Muslims who dare to point out that it is happening. We have seen this before in the case of Geert Wilders, who was accused of “linking Islam with terrorism” in his film Fitna. The Organization of the Islamic Conference and his other detractors conveniently ignored, of course, that it was the Muslim hate preachers depicted in the film who had made that link, not Wilders.
5. “There were different views on the matter between the late 7th and 12th centuries. Since then, Ijtihad, which means making the effort to think (much as the word jihad means making an effort) has been stopped by theological fiat.” How very interesting! In 2007, in discussions with Islamic apologist Ali Eteraz, I was called an ignorant Islamophobe for pointing out that the gate of ijtihad was closed. Will Eteraz now call M. Cherif Bassiouni an ignorant Islamophobe? Time will tell!
6. In the email to Professor Bassiouni that I published here, I pointed out his contradiction in claiming that “a Muslim’s conversion to Christianity is not a crime punishable by death under Islamic law” and then saying: “I and a number of other distinguished Muslim scholars have long criticized the views of the four traditional Sunni schools.” Why does he oppose the views of the schools if Islamic law doesn’t mandate death for apostasy? In the letter above he clarifies this by saying that “the interpretations which took place after the Prophet’s death were not the correct ones.” Very well. That means that the four madhahib — schools of jurisprudence — misinterpreted the Qur’an and Muhammad when they codified the death penalty for apostates.
Thus if he had said that “a Muslim’s conversion to Christianity is not a crime punishable by death under Islamic law when that law is properly formulated,” or that “a Muslim’s conversion to Christianity is not a crime punishable by death according to the Qur’an,” or even “a Muslim’s conversion to Christianity is not a crime punishable by death under Islamic law rightly understood,” there would have been no contradiction. But to say that “a Muslim’s conversion to Christianity is not a crime punishable by death under Islamic law” is false and misleading, because Islamic law flows from the schools, and as Bassiouni himself acknowledges, the schools mandate death for apostates.
Thus it was completely reasonable of me to call his statement “deceptive,” as Professor Bassiouni has himself indirectly confirmed its deceptiveness in his latest email.
7. “That doesn’t make me ‘deceptive’ nor does it make me an ‘apologist.’ These are two terms you have used to describe me, which are defamatory. (Whether you see fit to publish a retraction or apology will demonstrate your good faith.)”
I just explained why his statement was deceptive. As for “apologist,” the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word as “one who speaks or writes in defense of someone or something.” It’s defamatory to say that he writes in defense of something? Also, for someone to liken me to Josef Goebbels and genocidal African tribesmen, essentially accuse me of inciting to genocide (while ignoring the murderous actions of his coreligionists, performed in the name of his religion), and then claim that it is I who am defaming him is…rich.
My invitation to debate still stands, but as you can see, M. Cherif Bassiouni, despite his immense learning and many honors, is, like his coreligionists at CAIR and elsewhere, unwilling to stand and defend his faith against my alleged attacks upon it. I suspect that that is because he, like Honest Ibe Hooper and Brave Ahmed Rehab at CAIR, knows full well that everything I say about Islam comes not from me but from the mouths of Islamic clerics and the words of Islamic texts, and they can’t stand the thought of Infidels discovering that fact.
(Many thanks to Pamela Geller for pointing out some of the elements of my reply here.)