A controversy has broken out over the web series “Islamicize Me,” and I feel partially responsible. That’s not because I had anything to do with the conception of the series — I didn’t, although I am in it (stay tuned) — but because it was inspired by a real incident with which I was involved. David Wood tweeted:
FUN FACT: “Islamicize Me” was inspired by the true story of Elton Simpson, Nadir Soofi, & Decarus Thomas, two of whom were converts to Islam. Simpson & Soofi were killed after launching an attack on @jihadwatchRS & @PamelaGeller. Wrong to mock?
Simpson and Soofi tried to murder Pamela Geller and me, of course, because we mocked Islam by staging the AFDI/Jihad Watch Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest in Garland, Texas on May 3, 2015. After that event I heard from a great many Christians, some of whom had been close friends, who remonstrated with me for daring to mock Muhammad and Islam, and saying that to do so was against the Christian requirement to charitable and respectful to all people. In that instance my responses centered around the fact that jihadis had previously murdered the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, and that to submit to bullying only encourages more bullying, which would be bad for Christians and for society in general; “Islamicize Me” is different, however, in that it is not a direct response to violent intimidation.
This is a controversy among evangelical Christians, but it has a wider significance as well. And so enter the Christian apologist James White, whom I debated last year on the topic “Is True Islam Always Violent Islam?” — you can listen to that debate here. Dr. White and I have also had some unpleasant encounters revolving around his close friendship with Muslim Brotherhood imam Yasir Qadhi, whom he calls a “kindred spirit.”
White is exercised over “Islamicize Me” because he thinks it is both uncharitable and ineffective. He wrote this to David on Facebook:
…With that in mind, then, please make sure your response is focused upon the real issue, which can be seen by simply reviewing a few texts (there are many more):
“but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.”
(1 Peter 3:15–16)
“But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”
“Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them;for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret.”
“The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.”
(2 Timothy 2:24–26)
Please explain how you can present in visual form what you did regarding, for example, breast-feeding, in light of these texts and their meanings.
Finally, please explain to us the functional disjunction you have made between attacking Islam and presenting the gospel. That is, there is nothing at all of the gospel in these videos. They are meant to mock and offend and shock, but they are not meant to provide the truth so that upon abandoning error the Muslim might know where to go and what to do. Possibly you believe people will then go and watch other videos and that should be enough. I have been very committed over the years to making sure the focus of my ministry to all groups, and to Islam as well, is gospel-focused and centered….
So here we have essentially two arguments:
1) Christians shouldn’t engage in “filthiness and silly talk,” but instead “be kind to all,” which White believes rules out mocking the ridiculous statements that are attributed to Muhammad in the Hadith; and
2) Christians shouldn’t try to persuade Muslims of the falsity of Islam without presenting Christianity to them as well.
As for the first, I don’t accept White’s claim that the “Islamicize Me” series is the kind of “filthiness and silly talk” that St. Paul had in mind, or that it is actually uncharitable. Although it is full of slapstick, broad (some would say tasteless) comedy and satire, the intention of the series is absolutely serious: to show to Muslims and to all people of good will that the canonical texts of Islam contain a great deal of material that is absurd and inhumane. Since some Muslims are harming people on a daily basis because of those inhumane teachings, this is an effort that is charitable at its core — not all Christian charity can be equated with niceness, although many people today assume they are identical. The series could result in some people not acting upon those Islamic teachings and thus not harming others, and that is a good thing, and something that Christians should want.
And as for the second, in view of the fact that some Muslims do indeed harm other people every day on the basis of Islamic teachings, for anyone to decide to live in a manner other than by those teachings is a result that is for the greater benefit of all human beings.
In a video, White adds a third complaint:
The prophets used mockery, but they were speaking from God, and when you become a prophet, let me know….But the other thing is, and this is a real problem in my perspective, and that is, this could be used in reverse. One of the things that keeps me from addressing, at least, certainly in that type of fashion, so much of what’s found in the Hadith is the fact that I know that we have to be able to consistently provide an answer for materials, for example, that are found in the Old Testament that many people find to be extremely troubling….
The idea that one should not imitate the prophets unless one is himself a prophet is novel, but the prophets weren’t perfect or infallible, so very well. His other argument is that if Christians use mockery, mockery will be used against them, although in a later video he vehemently denies this in a rambling, circular, logorrheic outpouring:
The way it ended up getting twisted, and for twenty minutes, this straw man…Here is what it was twisted into: “James White says that we shouldn’t mock Muhammad because the Muslims might mock the Bible. Or the Old Testament.” Of course, I never said anything even remotely similar to that. Now what he was talking about, because he brought it up later on and gave a lot of examples, is something that both David and Vocab should know really, really well. At least Vocab should….What it was, of course, is consistency. Equal scales. Unlike any of those gentlemen, I have stood in mosques around the world and exhorted the Muslims in those audiences to use equal scales. Use the same standard of argumentation. Use the same standard. Or we can’t get anywhere. We can’t discuss truth, if you will use one standard to attack the New Testament and another standard to defend the Qur’an. As long as you’re willing to use double standards, there can be no meaningful discussion of truth, because you can’t discuss truth without discussing consistency. They are intimately related concepts. And so what I had said, and what Jon didn’t understand, but Vocab had to have understood and David didn’t listen to, was if we support utilization of a contextual mockery, a mockumentary as David describes it, then we have no basis for complaint when a mockumentary, and the Muslims do present something similar to that, is utilized against us, because we’ve ceded the moral ground. We’ve said, “We’ll go ahead,” and we will not, for example, I’ve yet to see in the series a recognition of the answers and contextualizations that have been offered by Muslim scholars regarding the particular issues that are brought up, some stronger than others. But you’re not doing that. You’re not representing those things. You’re going for the extreme immediately, and ignoring any of the things you’d find at Islamic Awareness or other places like that where these topics are addressed. Addressed consistently? I don’t think so. But if you don’t even acknowledge those things, then we’re putting ourselves in the position, they can do the same thing to us. And we’ve ceded the ground. There has to be consistency. I have to, in looking at the Qur’an, seek to allow it to speak for itself. I have to allow it to, I can’t just assume the worst possible understanding and then read it in. And so, unfortunately, that’s what’s going on here. And so what I was talking about was, even scales. Even scales. We have to have even scales in this conversation. There has to be consistency. There’s no other way to talk about truth. It had nothing to do with, Well, if we mock Muhammad, they might mock the Bible. It had everything to do with the standards of truth, with meaningful interaction.
That is a roundabout way of saying “if Christians mock the Qur’an, Muslims will mock the Bible,” but he denies that he means that, so we’ll give him his due. His complaint against “Islamicize Me” here is that it takes the worst possible interpretations of Islamic texts without examining the explanations Muslims have made for them — explanations that White himself grants are weak — and that this supposedly opens the door to Muslims putting the worst possible spin on Bible passages without acknowledging the explanations that are made for them.
White misses the mark here for several reasons: the first and most obvious is that numerous Muslim preachers and Islamic apologists already take Bible passages and put the worst possible spin on them. They have been doing this for years. It isn’t as if they’ve been holding off on doing so up to now, and are going to start because of “Islamicize Me.” In fact, it’s a staple of Islamic apologetics to dredge up long-forgotten passages of the Old Testament that neither Jews nor Christians apply literally and play tu-quoque games with them. But that is no excuse for Christians or anyone else to stoop to the same tactics, and what White misses about “Islamicize Me” is that it isn’t dealing in abstractions and hypotheticals, as a Muslim series would be if it criticized Christianity for Bible passages condoning slavery and saying things such as “Blessed is he who takes your babies and smashes them against a rock.” No Jews or Christians are pointing to those and other problematic Bible passages to justify bad behavior today; by contrast, what “Islamicize Me” depicts, albeit in a broadly satirical fashion, is all too real. There are Muslims today who are doing and teaching all the things that are depicted in the series. Absurd? Yes. Inconceivable? No. White is very unhappy about the breastfeeding episode, but there was an imam at Cairo’s venerable al-Azhar who was recommending this practice just a few years ago.
Finally, White is extremely annoyed because David Wood apparently didn’t watch his entire video criticizing the series, or read his book about the Qur’an. What is amusing about that complaint is that White said this:
But what I was absolutely stunned about was that David Wood, who, in this very video, said that I can run circles around him in New Testament, in textual criticism, this type of stuff, went into this video and admitted twice that he had never listened to what I’d said about Islamicize Me. He didn’t either listen to Dividing Line, watch Dividing Line, he just didn’t do it, and yet thinks that he is going to be able to provide a meaningful, exegetically-based refutation of the exegesis I offered of these texts, and do so accurately? How does that work? He shows more respect for Shabir Ally than me.
Yet in this video (starting at 7:27), White sits next to his friend Yasir Qadhi and shakes his head sympathetically as Qadhi says that “the far right targeted” him, “you know, Spencer and Pamela Geller.” Qadhi falsely claims that Pamela Geller and I produced a “fabricated audio clip,” referring to this one; he claims that we selectively edited his remarks to take him “out of context” and make it appear as if he was endorsing jihad against non-Muslims. Qadhi then adds yet another lie, falsely claiming that Pamela Geller and I sicced lawyers on him when he tried to get the clip taken down. In reality, neither Pamela Geller nor I had anything to do with the production of that audio clip, and never had any litigious interaction with Qadhi, but when I told White this in several private emails as well as in a public postings at Jihad Watch, he responded with arrogant contempt and refused to correct the record.
White clearly has far more respect for Yasir Qadhi, a Muslim Brotherhood, pro-jihad, pro-Sharia imam, than he does for me. But now he is enraged because David Wood supposedly showed more respect for the Islamic apologist Shabir Ally than for him. Well, wouldn’t you?