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Ralph Peters’ Fog of Confusion By: Robert Spencer
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Ralph Peters, retired military officer and author of several books on this present conflict, has published an op-ed in the New York Post entitled “Islam-Haters: An Enemy Within,” which is one of the most confused and irresponsible pieces I have ever seen in an American newspaper -- and with the state of the mainstream media these days, that’s saying a lot. Even worse, Peters’ column was praised by the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto and others, only contributing to the fog of misunderstanding and disinformation that envelopes the public discourse about jihad terrorism five years after 9/11.

Peters is exercised about “a rotten core of American extremists” -- right-wingers, of course, who are worse than Leftist appeasers because they insist that “Islam can never reform.” If you “read between the lines, that all Muslims are evil and subhuman.”


Zowie! Who are these awful, Hitlerian bigots? Peters never tells us. Nor does he give us even a shred of an example of how they imply (nudge nudge wink wink) in ways that are clear to discerning fellows like Ralph Peters, that “all Muslims are evil and subhuman.”


Of course, not naming his opponents gives Peters a free pass to flail away, throwing everything but Der Stuermer and the kitchen sink at his shadowy opponents, and allowing himself the coward’s retreat of being able to deny, if challenged by anyone, that he had him in mind. Well, I’m going to ask anyway. You talkin’ to me, Ralph? You talkin’ to me? I guess you must not be talking to me, since the people who have you so wrought up have sent you emails, and I have never sent you anything. But I nevertheless think it necessary to try to clear some of the fog of confusion you have billowed out here, since some -- only some -- of the points your villains make sound like some things I have said. Sort of. And more importantly, since some people will be taken in by your piece, as nutso as it is, and be thereby diverted from some important truths.


Peters says that “the world’s only hope for long-term peace is for moderate Muslims - by far the majority around the globe - to recapture their own faith.” Fair enough. But his underlying assumption here is that the Islam of moderate Muslims is the genuine Islam, and all they need to do is “recapture” their faith. In fact it is not for Peters or any other non-Muslim to say what genuine Islam consists of, and there is no Pope of Islam to rule on what is Islamic orthodoxy and what isn’t. What we can do is look at the teachings of the various sects and schools of law -- which I have done, and have found that all mainstream Sunni and Shi’ite sects and madhahib (schools of jurisprudence) teach that it is the responsibility of the umma to subjugate unbelievers under the rule of Sharia. Can Peters point to a sect or school that ever existed in any period of Islamic history that represents the Islam that moderates must “recapture”? Perhaps the Mutazilites? If so, can he explain how a modern revival of such a movement would escape the charges of Islamic heterodoxy that scuttled it in the first place?


In any case, Peters goes on to assert that “a rotten core of American extremists is out to make it harder” for these moderates. A “really ugly” group of “right-wing extremists” is “bent on discrediting honorable conservatism” by “insisting that Islam can never reform, that the violent conquest and subjugation of unbelievers is the faith’s primary agenda - and, when you read between the lines, that all Muslims are evil and subhuman.”


Here Peters is setting up straw men, blurring distinctions and drawing unnecessary conclusions. For my part, I have never said that “Islam can never reform or that violent conquest and subjugation of unbelievers is the faith’s primary agenda,” and I certainly have never stated or implied in any way that “all Muslims are evil and subhuman.” I have said, of course, that Islamic reform will be extraordinarily difficult, because of the closing of the gates of ijtihad, the understanding of the nature of the Qur’an, and other issues.


I have also pointed out, as I said above, that violent conquest and subjugation of unbelievers is an element of the teaching of all Islamic sects (except the Ahmadiyya, who are persecuted as heretics as a result). This is simply a question of fact. Its truth or falsehood can be established by anyone who examines the teachings of the sects and madhahib. I invite all to do so -- and if you do, you will see that I am stating this accurately. Does this constitute the “primary agenda” of Islam? No. At some times and among some groups it has been central, but at other times and among others it has been for certain periods of time deemphasized almost to non-existence.


Above all, does the existence of this doctrine mean that “all Muslims are evil and subhuman”? That’s just ridiculous. The existence of any religious doctrine, even if someone thinks it is false and wicked, doesn’t make all those who hold it evil and subhuman. Those who are killing the innocent, or helping those who are killing the innocent, are certainly evil, if not subhuman. But within Islam, as within every belief tradition, there is a spectrum of knowledge and fervor.


I have never said or implied that all Muslims are evil or subhuman because of the doctrines of Islam, and neither has anyone else with even the smallest amount of awareness of human nature. If Peters is referring to me or anyone else who has published on Islam and terror – Serge Trifkovic, Andrew Bostom, Ibn Warraq, Bat Ye’or, or anyone else -- he would be hard-pressed to substantiate this outlandish charge from anything any of us has actually said or written.


Peters continues: “Web sites list no end of extracts from historical documents and Islamic jurisprudence “proving” that holy war against Christians and Jews is the alpha and omega of the Muslim faith. The message between the lines: Muslims are Untermenschen.”


Web sites, eh? Yes, I have at Jihad Watch on many occasions provided extracts from “historical documents” like the Qur’an and the approved hadith collections, as well as from Islamic jurisprudence, “proving” that holy war against Christians and Jews is part of (not the “alpha and omega of”) the Islamic faith. But Peters should state clearly where I or any other responsible writer on Islam and jihad has ever implied that “Muslims are Untermenschen,” or he should specify that he is not referring to us. Or, alternatively, Peters could show me that I have misused these texts, since he appears to believe that Islam doesn’t really teach these things.


Peters later informs us that “as a believing Christian, I must acknowledge that there’s nothing in the Koran as merciless as God’s behavior in the Book of Joshua.” Sure, Ralph. That’s why there’s a global terrorist movement of Christians committing violent acts and justifying them by quoting the Book of Joshua.


Another false assumption Peters makes is that Christianity and Islam are equally violent in their core texts (or maybe Christianity is more violent) and equally capable of inspiring violent fanaticism. This, of course, is a deeply held belief among many, many people. And like Peters, many of those people apparently believe that it would be a species of bigotry to suggest that Islam is more likely to inspire violence than Christianity. But here again, this is simply a question of fact. The Bible contains no open-ended, universal command to make war against and subjugate unbelievers, a la Qur’an 9:29. Muhammad commanded his followers to wage war against unbelievers who refused to convert to Islam, and to subjugate them as dhimmis (Sahih Muslim 4294). When did Jesus ever say anything like that?


As I have said many times, I am all for encouraging and working with moderate Muslims. But for their moderation to be effective, they have to confront, repudiate, and help other Muslims to repudiate the elements of Islam that are giving rise to violent fanaticism. Most self-proclaimed moderates instead simply deny those elements exist, while the mujahedin continue to use those same elements to recruit new members. In the run-up to 9/11 there has been an avalanche of articles in the mainstream media bemoaning the “victimization” of Muslims and Islam – thus taking the focus off efforts Muslims need to make to clean house if they can and if they will. And now Ralph Peters, in his fog of confusion, has contributed to that destructive denial.


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Robert Spencer is a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. He is the author of eight books, eleven monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including the New York Times Bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book, Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam is Subverting America without Guns or Bombs, is available now from Regnery Publishing.

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