On August 19, David Wood and I debated Shia scholars Shaykh Sakhawat Hussain and Sayyid Atiq Ebady in Philadelphia on the question, “Does the Quran promote peace?”
I received this email from Sayyid Atiq the day after the debate:
Hello Mr. Spencer,
Thank you for accepting our invitation and attending the debate. I genuinely appreciate your participation, and I wish you would have stayed to explain why you didn’t shake my hand.
If you were upset because you wanted to respond to my closing remarks, you were our guest and the mic was available to you, even though both panels had equal time to make their points. If you were upset because I mentioned that Anders Breivik quoted you extensively, I explained that you publicly disavowed his actions, and I never said or implied that you agreed with him.
I made a point about the real-world consequences of the anti-Islam movement. You and your colleagues spread false information about Islam, that Islam is violent, and that Muslims are secretly planning a hostile takeover of the world. This causes the general public to have fear and paranoia about Muslims, and some people will inevitably act on it violently.
I was honestly disappointed because I didn’t expect a professional debater to become upset from a criticism of his work.
I sent this response to Sayyid Atiq:
No need to redebate the debate in email now. We abundantly demonstrated that there is a tremendous amount of exhortation to violence in the Qur’an and Sunnah. Your claim that we fabricate this and that Muslims suffer as a result is a propaganda fiction with no basis in reality. What you are doing by stooping to such defamation is painting a large target on our backs. I was the one there with bodyguards; you didn’t have them, and the Sheikh didn’t have them. This is because you and I and the Sheikh all recognize the reality behind the rhetoric, and who is genuinely threatened and who isn’t.
There is so much more dishonesty in your email. I didn’t become upset from a criticism of my work. I became upset because you made a false claim about my responsibility for murders committed by a psychopath at a point when no rebuttal from me was possible. This was pure defamation, and belied the false kindness you displayed earlier. That is why (as I explained to you at that moment) I did not shake your hand. I was happy to shake the hand of the Sheikh, who did not indulge in such vicious rhetoric.
Moreover, you misrepresent for propaganda purposes the nature of Breivik’s quotes. He actually seems to quote me extensively because he included in his manifesto the text of a documentary film in which I appear. Every time I speak, my name is given in the text, to make it clear who is speaking. That is not really quoting me extensively. Aside from the documentary script, Breivik actually referred to me only a few times. You did not mention that one of those references upbraids me for not calling for violence. Of course, if you had told the crowd that, they would have realized that your whole claim that my work incites violence, was false. You also omitted mention of the fact that Breivik says in his manifesto that he was inspired to commit violence not by me, but by al-Qaeda and Hamas – that is, by two Muslim entities, one of which is funded by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Nor did you mention that Breivik says that he decided to commit a massive act of violence in 1999. I published my first book about Islam in 2002.
Your last false statement is that the mic was available to me to offer a rebuttal. You make that claim now, but by the structure of the debate, there was no opportunity for me to speak after you. Nor did you offer one at the time.
I am very familiar with the Shi’ite doctrine of taqiyya, so I won’t bother to exhort you to be honest and stop lying so indefatigably and persistently. I know that the Sixth Imam said: “Conceal our doctrine and do not divulge it….Taqiyya is our religion and the religion of our fathers; he who has no taqiyya has no religion.” But I also recall that Jesus said of Satan: “When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” And Jesus also said: “Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”
I hope you will consider that carefully, and one day turn from lies to the truth, and from darkness and concealment to the light.
Also, I hope you will receive this email in the spirit in which it is intended. I am sorry that you chose to end the debate that way, but I would have been remiss if I had acted as if your false display of kindness was genuine and left on a superficially cordial note. And now, I know it is unpleasant to be called out on one’s dishonesty, but I do it nonetheless because I doubt anyone else in your life will, and I firmly believe that a word of truth that may seem harsh is preferable to a dishonest word spoken in dulcet tones. Nonetheless, I apologize if this email is brusque or unkind in any way. I hope that both you and I will be able to avail ourselves of the divine mercy of which we both are in such great need.