Recently a man named Richard Potter, who describes himself as a “social worker and activist” and is a contributor to Your Middle East, began writing me rude messages on Twitter. We ended up having a long exchange about debating, and ultimately he sent me a long email explaining why he thought my work was “belittling” to Muslims.
Since I think Potter’s beliefs and assumptions about my work are commonly held, at least among Leftists and Islamic supremacists, and since views such as his are obviously mainstream given the British banning and other cancellations of my talks, I thought I’d present Potter’s letter here with my answers interspersed, by way of explaining why I do what I do. Note that this is not a back-and-forth, but my responses to his many particular points in one long email. (Potter’s spelling and grammar are unaltered from his original email.)
Potter: Your attacks on Islam are belittling and hurtful to Muslims in the same ways that attacks on the bible, Catholicism, and Christianity are belittling to their believers.
Spencer: So you think that Christopher Hitchens’ attacks on Christianity are just as bad as my writings? Do you think there is any place for criticism of a religion, or do you think that religions should be off-limits to criticism? I am a Christian myself and don’t think that attacks on the Bible or the faith are in the least belittling as such — in fact, I welcome them. If one’s faith can’t withstand critics and criticism, then I am not sure it is worth holding.
Potter: I could very easily point out the correlation between violence against Homosexuals in America and Christianity, especially because it is supported by scripture.
Spencer: Could you really? Could you point me to a case where someone attacked a homosexual and quoted scripture to justify it? I can give you 1000 cases (and more) where Muslims killed someone and quoted Qur’an to justify it. Is it wrong to point out that they do that? Is it belittling? And if you come back and say, “No, but you tar all Muslims with responsibility and guilt for such instances,” I would ask you to provide even one example where I’ve actually done that.
Potter: I could point out that the Catholic Churches belief in the limit to err within it’s own hierarchy and scriptural supported belief to handle matters internally has led to an epidemic of pedophilia and child abuse,
Spencer: You could make a case for that. Are you saying that it would be inherently wrong or belittling to do so? Or are you saying that because a case can be made against the Catholic Church, one should not make any case against Islam?
Potter: I could point out that the scriptural support that it is good and justifiable to own slaves lent itself all too easily to centuries of it in the United States, and it still continues in parts of the Global South today with similar justifications.
Spencer: Christians own slaves in the Global South? Where exactly? I know Muslims certainly do in North Africa and elsewhere, with Qur’anic justification. Anyway, you’re certainly right that slaveowners in the American South used Christian Scripture to justify slavery. Again: are you saying that it is belittling to point that out, or are you saying that because Christians justified slavery with Bible references in the 19th century, that it is wrong to criticize Qur’an-justified Islamic slavery today?
Potter: But the problem with doing this that even if i were to say “But there are some ok liberal Christians who have managed to successfully integrate into a secular society” I have taken it upon myself to know best what the bible says, how its believers should believe, and in what parameters they are acceptable to society based on a caricature of a complex narrative from within a fluid and autonomous society.
Spencer: Not necessarily. Observing that Christians used the Bible to justify slavery doesn’t mean that you’re saying you know best what the Bible says. One idea doesn’t even flow from the other. The observation is just an observation.
Potter: Let’s assume this conversation was about Christian minorities, like the Kachin Christians of Burma. When speech is given by the Buddhist majority against Christians based on the scriptural and historical arguments what do you think the effect is on the societal interactions between the religions will be like? Your arguments of the Islamization of the West so closely resembles the arguments against Catholics in the United States and Jews in Europe (taking over, integrating in society, forcing their values, etc) that i’m surprised you’re never alarmed with yourself.
Spencer: Just because some people were falsely accused in the past doesn’t mean that everyone accused of similar actions is ipso facto accused falsely. The Catholics and Jews were not committing acts of terror and justifying them by their Scripture. There is no analogy to 9/11, or Fort Hood, or Boston in the history of Catholics and Jews in the U.S. Catholics and Jews weren’t talking about taking over. There is no analogy to the Muslim Brotherhood document talking about “eliminating and destroying Western civilization from within” in the annals of Catholic and Jews in the U.S. Because Catholics and Jews were falsely accused, you believe it is wrong to resist that Muslim Brotherhood initiative?
Potter: Geller’s subways ads are hurtful in many ways. The most blatant of which are her “My Jihad” response ads, that very intentially try to discredit and undermine an attempt by Muslims who want to be part of society without being demonized. Her Savage ads also very intentionally attempts to dehumanize Palestinians and Glorify Israel, especially the IDF. If you really need me to explain why that is so objectionable i can go on far longer than either us might want to in an email exchange. The ultimate effect it has is that people’s anxiety about Muslims in America is reinforced, Where a positive “My Jihad Ad” would mean to demonstrate common humanity Gerller’s ads perpetuate an understanding of “Us and Them”.
Spencer: The “My Jihad” ads from CAIR were cynical and deceptive. If they were serious about reforming the concept of jihad they’d have run them in Cairo and Karachi, not Chicago and San Francisco. They were also simply off the point (and clearly intentionally so): the fact that some Muslims consider their jihad to be playing with the kids or taking an extra class doesn’t do a thing to mitigate the fact that other Muslims consider jihad to be killing infidels. Geller’s ads very skillfully pointed that out. The actual goal was to challenge Muslim groups in America to confront the reality of jihad violence not with intentionally misleading ad campaigns, but with genuine efforts at reform. And as for the “savage” ad, the referent was not all Muslims, as has been widely claimed, or even Palestinians, as you claim here. The ad said “Support Israel, Defeat jihad.” The savage is thus clearly the jihadi, i.e., those who murdered the Fogel family in their beds, those who celebrated those murders, those who blow up Israelis in pizza parlors, etc. The hysterical response to these ads showed that a nerve had been touched — there are all too many Americans, Muslim and non-Muslim, who do indeed support that jihad savagery against Israel, and their reaction to the ad — wild claims that it demonized all Muslims, etc. — shows that their consciences were pricked.
Potter: I’m not blaming you for dead school children [This was a reference to a remark he made in an earlier email. — RS]. I’m making a reflection on the priorities of policy, policy makers, and voters. The notion that you are filling the void in a discussion held back by political correctness is true only when taking things at face value. The notion that Islam is a Religion of peace is indeed false, insomuch as no Abrahamic religion is in fact a religion of peace. Chris himself said “I came not to bring peace, but a sword.” That aside your insistence that the Liberal Media and the Democrats, or whoever it is that’s being blamed currently, are somehow so soft on Muslims that there is a void to fill at all is madness. The words Islamist and Jihadist have never been so loosely used s they are now, Muslims have never been attacked by the west in as many countries simultaneously as they are now, and Muslims living in the west have never been spied on anywhere near the level that they are now.
Spencer: You dismiss as “madness” the idea that the Dems are “soft on Muslims” but offer no evidence or argument for this. I don’t see why it’s madness at all to say that they’re soft on jihad issues when the administration actively works with groups like CAIR and ISNA that have demonstrable ties to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. And actually, the Obama administration is so intent on NOT spying on Muslims that they’re spying on EVERYONE instead. The Republicans are also “soft” on the jihad issue. Neither one has the will or the knowledge to face it realistically.
Potter: It’s getting late and it’s a holiday. I can write further but I imagine you might prefer to save it for an actual debate. Which admittedly we’re likely not closer to a topic for. I did want to respond before it seemed as though i had blown this off.
Spencer: I hope we can find one. It would be a good debate.
Potter: So far as you getting abuse all the time: sure, there are implications. We’re all attacked on both sides. We’ve all gotten death threats, threats of violence, and the like.
Spencer: Really? You’ve gotten death threats? Pardon me but I am skeptical. For this reason: when I speak at universities, I have to go with armed guards unless I want to get slapped, punched, spat upon, and worse. And even then I am verbally abused by multitudes of self-righteous and ignorant haranguers. Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore, by contrast, go on campuses and are lauded as heroes. The fascist thugs are not on the right; the fascist thugs are groups like Antifa, United Against Fascism, who physically menace those whose ideas they hate. I’ve gotten so many death threats from Muslims I’ve stopped counting. Are you saying you get death threats from Christian fundamentalists? Anti-jihadists? Who?