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A Schwartz-Spencer Exchange By: FrontPage Magazine
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, October 28, 2004

(In An Islamic Renewal?, published in our October 27th issue, Robert Spencer questioned  Stephen Schwartz's argument regarding Islam's potential for self-correction. Below is Schwartz's response, followed by Spencer's rejoinder. -- The Editors)

Spencer's Continuing Attacks on Me

By Stephen Schwartz


Mr. Spencer states: "In The "Islamic Reformation" Revisited, Stephen Schwartz has published a reflection on the need for a reformation of Islam. Not long ago I took issue with one of his pieces claiming that Wahhabis were essentially revising the Qur'an to make it more anti-Jewish and anti-Christian; I pointed out that the Wahhabis were working from traditional interpretations within Islam, and that what they were "adding" to the Qur'an was already there in abundance. Unfortunately, he made no answer -- unfortunately because it would be illuminating to see what a self-professed moderate Muslim thinks of the points I raised. Nor did The Weekly Standard print it. The best way, after all, to silence a critic who raises uncomfortable questions is not to answer him, but to ignore him."


First, it is absurd to suggest that there is any effort underway by me to "silence" Robert Spencer, who has a very wide audience in the U.S. for his books and commentaries.  Indeed, it may be argued that he has a wider audience than I do.


Second, the argument that in failing to answer his attack on me I was attempting to silence him is either the kind of politically-correct argument typically adopted by Stalinists, who say that if you don't pay attention to them you are censoring them, or is simply paranoia.


Third, I do not feel compelled to reply to Mr. Spencer's disquisitions on my religion because I not not consider him in the slightest manner competent to comment on my religion.  He has a magpie knowledge of what he imagines Islam to be based on fairy tales and armchair reading.  His obvious aim is to instil fear of Islam in Western readers who know even less than he knows about the faith of Muhammad.   I do not in general respond to comments on Islam by non-Muslims, except when they are made by apologists for Wahhabism.  I am more interested in convincing Muslims of the need for moderation, than in wasting my time trying to persuade biased non-Muslims that moderate Islam exists. 


Fourth, I consider that Robert Spencer has disqualified himself from serious consideration on any matters having to do with interfaith relations by publishing the writings of Srdja Trifkovic, the well-known apologist for Serbian war crimes in Bosnia-Hercegovina, whose testimony at the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, in the Stakic case, was discredited.  


Fifth, I have the right to decide who I reply to in any event, since this is the United States, not Serbia under the rule of Mr. Trifkovic's friends, or Spain under the kind of inquisition the attitude of which Mr. Spencer exemplifies.




Silencing Non-Muslim Voices 

By Robert Spencer


I was saddened to read Mr. Schwartz's letter, particularly its heading, since I have never attacked him in any way. I have merely asked questions about his recommendations for a reconfiguration of Islam so as to make it no longer a refuge and motivating force for international terrorists. Had Mr. Schwartz answered these questions honestly, fully, and civilly, we might have been on the way to a fruitful dialogue that could have helped accomplish what he professes to work for: "convincing Muslims of the need for moderation.”


But instead, we learn that he does not “in general respond to comments on Islam by non-Muslims.” In this I suppose Schwartz demonstrates his bona fides as a moderate Muslim, for while his radical coreligionists want to kill, convert, or subjugate us (cf. Qur’an 9:29), Schwartz merely won’t speak to us. Thank heaven for small favors. But I can’t help but wonder: this Islamic Ozymandias may demand that I tremble silently before his mighty works, but what of other non-Muslims? Does he really mean to dismiss out of hand the great scholarly works on Islam of John Wansbrough? Patricia Crone? A. S. Trittan? Arthur Jeffrey? Joseph Schacht? Bat Ye’or?


Are ex-Muslims acceptable? Would Schwartz deign to respond to Ibn Warraq? Ali Sina? Or does leaving Islam disqualify one from understanding it? What about, then, the heroic Iranian dissident Ali Dashti, author of a revealing study of Muhammad’s career, 23 Years, who as far as anyone knows never explicitly renounced Islam? Would Schwartz have responded to Ali Dashti before he was tortured and killed by Khomeini’s thugs? Yet many of the questions I have raised about Islam and the Qur’an are raised also by Ali Dashti. Are they valid questions coming from him, but not from me?


Unfortunately for Schwartz, his stance is self-defeating. I have asked him a number of questions about the Qur’an and Islam. He has chosen not to answer them, but to characterize them as personal attacks and to content himself with impugning my knowledge of the subject. The result is that for every person of good will, the questions remain. Islamic texts are widely and easily available today. Do they mean one thing when non-Muslims read them and another when Muslims read them? If only Muslims possess the secret key to understanding them, and will not share that key with anyone else, non-Muslims will continue to read these texts, and to see the easy use to which Muslim radicals put them in recruiting and motivating terrorists. But Schwartz will not share his secret decoder ring with us, and so instead of demonstrating true Islamic moderation, he leaves the field to the radicals.


As for Schwartz’s guilt-by-association attacks on Srdja Trifkovic, they are all the more beneath contempt for the fact that Trifkovic himself over a year ago supplied in this very publication a string of quotations from his own work going back to 1990 showing that he was an early and consistent opponent of the Milosevic regime. Trifkovic, of course, does not need me to defend him.


It is true that in Sharia courts, the testimony of non-Muslims need not be considered; but Stephen, we are now in a different court: the court of public opinion.




Stephen Schwartz, an author and journalist, is author of The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa'ud from Tradition to Terror. A vociferous critic of Wahhabism, Schwartz is a frequent contributor to National Review, The Weekly Standard, and other publications.

Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and the author of Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West (Regnery Publishing), and Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith (Encounter Books).

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