Robert Spencer is one of the nation’s foremost experts on Islamic affairs. He is the editor of the website, Jihad Watch, and the author of two recent books, The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World's Most Intolerant Religion and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). The former holds the particular distinction of being banned by the government of Pakistan. His latest effort, Religion of Peace?: Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn't, analyses and contrasts the world’s most popular belief systems. Mr. Spencer’s articles can be regularly read on frontpagemag.com.
BC: Congratulations, Mr. Spencer, on your recently released, Religion of Peace?: Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn't. Tell us the main theme that you focused in on.
Spencer: Thank you. Religion of Peace? is a comparison and contrast of certain aspects of Islam and Christianity, an attempt to refute the common claim that each is equally likely to incite its adherents to violence, and a means to rally those who enjoy the fruits of Judeo-Christian civilization, whether or not they are Jews and Christians, to an awareness of how seriously that civilization is threatened by the global jihad and Islamic supremacism. I hope that awareness will lead to a stronger defense of that civilization.
BC: Over the course of the past two years you have also published The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World's Most Intolerant Religion and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). What are you saying in your new book that has not been said previously?
Spencer: The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) is a general overview of the elements of Islam that jihadists are using to recruit and motivate terrorists today. The Truth of Muhammad is a biography of the founder of Islam. Religion of Peace? is neither of those things. It is an evaluation of the Christian theocracy scare (as enunciated by bestselling books such as American Fascists by Chris Hedges) and a comparison of various aspects of Christian and Islamic Scripture and history in order to demonstrate what the real threat is, and to resist the moral equivalence that blankets the popular culture today.
BC: How virulent has been the reaction to your work in Islamic quarters? Have you had a fatwa declared against you? Any good stories to share?
Spencer: Well, I always hope that there will be a reasoned response to the points I raise, and a genuine dialogue between people who disagree, but I’m still waiting. Invariably reactions from Muslims feature denial of the points I make about Islam, despite the fact that I work exclusively from Islamic sources and the words of Islamic spokesmen, plus personal abuse. I haven’t received a formal fatwa, but many death threats, including one from a man who was determined to kill me because Islam is a religion of peace. One of his messages read in part: “I will be violent against anyone who hurts muslim feelings about Prophet. It is a religion of peace for everyone until some duckhead sprews out his damn saliva on a senstive topic as this. Spencer will be delivered.”
BC: If you had to estimate, across the world, what percentage of the Muslim population is radicalized?
Spencer: In the sense of actively pursuing jihad violence, only a tiny minority. In the sense of supporting those who perpetrate violence, a considerably higher percentage. Note, for example, that on September 11, 2006, Al-Jazeera asked Muslims, “Do you support Osama bin Laden?” 49.9% of respondents said that yes, they did.
BC: Considering your area of concentration, what positive impact do you think that your scholarship, along with your website Jihadwatch.org, has had upon western readers? Have you had any effect on our policy makers?
Spencer: I would like to think that I have made some people more aware of the nature and magnitude of the global jihad threat than they were previously. I’ve had positive meetings with several congressmen on jihad-related issues.
BC: I saw clips of a debate between yourself and Dinesh D’Souza which was held at the Conservative Political Action Conference. What do you have to say to critics who imply that pointing out the deficiencies of Islam actually serves to harm relations between Muslims and westerners?
Spencer: D’Souza claims that criticism of Islam breeds jihadists. But if peaceful Muslims really abhor jihadism, they should have no reason to object to critical presentations of the elements of Islam that foster jihadism. In fact, they should welcome them. You can’t reform what you won’t admit needs reforming. If identifying the elements of Islam that jihadists use to justify their actions will be enough to drive peaceful Muslims into the arms of the jihadists, then how committed could they really have been to peace and moderation in the first place? Pretending that the jihadists aren’t using Islamic teachings in this way will do nothing to stop them from doing so.
BC: What of the allegation that you have ignored many of the positive passages in the Koran as a means to present a distorted picture of the Muslim world?
Spencer: This is wholly false, as anyone who read my books will know. In Religion of Peace? I discuss at length the passages of the Qur’an that enjoin tolerance of unbelievers, and explain how mainstream Muslim exegetes understand those passages in light of passages that enjoin violence. Also, I am now Blogging the Qur’an weekly at HotAir.com (archive here), going through the text cover to cover – no one can say I am ignoring any passage at all in this endeavor.
BC: What do you make of the idea that it is possible for conservatives and Muslims to find common political ground in America? Do you think that D’Souza had some valid points in The Enemy at Home?
Spencer: I’m sorry to say that The Enemy At Home is one of the most poorly reasoned books I have ever read. Nowhere in it does D’Souza identify even one of the Muslims with whom he recommends conservatives ally. When I pressed him on this point, he named Ali Gomaa, the Mufti of Egypt. Yet Ali Gomaa has been identified by the New York Times as a supporter of the terrorist group Hizballah, and has reaffirmed that those who leave Islam should be punished. He has also declared statues un-Islamic – a point that D’Souza scorns as insignificant. But what if supporters of this view came to power in Europe, which is not a remote possibility, and destroyed the artistic and cultural heritage of Judeo-Christian civilization? I am not convinced that that prospect is something about which we should be sanguine; nor am I convinced that supporters of a terror group will make reliable allies for conservatives. Until D’Souza can come up with any more compelling examples of those with whom he recommends we ally, I suggest we approach his recommendations with extreme reserve.
BC: I’ve heard different estimates, ranging from 30 to 60 percent, of how many European Muslims wish to live in a country ruled by Sharia law, but how popular do you think the idea of Sharia is with Muslims in our country?
Spencer: CAIR’s Ibrahim Hooper has said that he would like to see the U.S. government become Islamic. Other Muslim leaders in the U.S. have expressed similar sentiments. Sharia law is integral to Islam. It would be extremely surprising to find a large population of Muslims that rejected and opposed it – although on the other hand, it was Muslim women who defeated the recent Sharia initiative in Canada.
BC: I suspect that I am not the only westerner completely dumbfounded by Sharia’s appeal within the Islamic community. What in this practice so appeals to them?
Spencer: It is regarded as the law of Allah, and encompasses every aspect of human behavior. Such a totalitarian comprehensiveness appeals to many, Muslim and non-Muslim.