Imagine my surprise several days ago when a reporter asked me for comment on the late Benazir Bhutto’s attack on me in her book Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West. I hadn’t read the book, and hadn’t heard of any such attack, but I picked one up last night, and sure enough, there it is on page 245:
Robert Spencer is the author of the well-known Web site Jihad Watch. He uses the Internet to spread misinformation and hatred of Islam, while claiming he is merely putting forward the truth. But as in much extremist advocacy, he presents a skewed, one-sided, and inflammatory story that only helps sow the seeds of civilizational conflict. For example, he takes apparently violent verses of the Quran out of context and then does not provide any peaceful verses as a balance.
Unlike many of the more mainstream authors presented, Spencer does not understand the true Muslim faith or differentiate between moderate Muslims and violent Islamists, and so lumps them all in one boat:
"Islam is a totalitarian ideology that aims to control the religious, social and political life of mankind in all its aspects, the life of its followers without qualification, and the life of those who follow the so-called tolerated religions to a degree that prevents their activities from getting in the way of Islam in any way. And I mean Islam: I do not accept some spurious distinction between Islam and 'Islamic Fundamentalism' or 'Islamic terrorism.' The terrorists who planted the bombs in Madrid, and those responsible for the death of more than 2,000 people on September 11, 2001 in New York and the Ayatollahs of Iran were and are all acting canonically; their actions reflect the teachings of Islam, whether found in the Koran, in the acts and sayings of the Prophet, or Islamic law based on them."
That long quote from me sounded funny to me -- it just didn’t sound to me like the way I write. But Bhutto’s endnote said it was from page 11 of The Myth of Islamic Tolerance, an essay collection by many different authors that I edited, and so when I was laboriously typing out the passage from her book for this article, I went into the Word document of the material I wrote for that book, hoping I could just paste the paragraph in here. But...it wasn’t there! It turns out that that quote is from the book’s Foreword, “The Genesis of a Myth” by Ibn Warraq. Page 13, not 11.
So while excoriating me for allegedly quoting the Qur’an out of context, Benazir Bhutto attributed to me words written by someone else. And that someone is, like Bhutto, a Pakistani who was raised a Muslim. Ibn Warraq has spent years doing research on the historical Muhammad and the origins of the Qur’an -- and yet apparently he somehow now misunderstands the Islamic faith.
But leave that aside. When someone as illustrious as Benazir Bhutto sees me as an obstacle to the reconciliation she wanted to bring to the world before the jihadists assassinated her, it is incumbent upon me to explain myself.
He uses the Internet to spread misinformation and hatred of Islam, while claiming he is merely putting forward the truth.
Reporting on jihadist activity is spreading “misinformation and hatred of Islam”? Perhaps Mark A. Siegel of American University, former Deputy Assistant to President Jimmy Carter and a former Bhutto lobbyist who says that he “helped Benazir research and write this book,” would be so kind as to provide an example or two of each, from anything I have written here or elsewhere -- that is, any misinformation or incitement to hatred. In the book, she fails to do so:
But as in much extremist advocacy, he presents a skewed, one-sided, and inflammatory story that only helps sow the seeds of civilizational conflict. For example, he takes apparently violent verses of the Quran out of context and then does not provide any peaceful verses as a balance.
This is wholly false, for in my books, notably Onward Muslim Soldiers, I discuss the peaceful verses at length, and describe how Muslim exegetes of the Qur’an have explained the relationship of the peaceful verses to the violent ones. And The Truth About Muhammad is in effect an extended study of the contexts of various Qur’anic passages. I have also discussed the contexts of the violent verses in relation to the peaceful ones, as explained by Muslim exegetes, at the Jihad Watch site.
And finally, the quote from Ibn Warraq that Bhutto misattributes to me does not establish her claim that I do not “differentiate between moderate Muslims and violent Islamists.” It’s about Islam, not Muslims. What people continually fail to grasp is the distinction between the texts and teachings of a faith, which are matters of record, and the many different ways in which people understand those texts and teachings. To say that all the schools of Islamic law teach violent jihad and the subjugation of unbelievers under the rule of Islamic law is simply a statement of fact. It can be proven or disproven with reference to the actual teachings of the schools. But if they do all teach this, and they do, that doesn’t mean that every Muslim follows those teachings, any more than the fact that the Catholic Church teaches against contraception means that every Catholic opposes contraception. There is a spectrum of belief, knowledge, and fervor among Muslims as there is among believers in every belief system, religious or not.
And if one genuinely wishes to oppose those Muslims who are attempting to implement this deeply traditional supremacist program, one cannot do so by pretending that the teachings that those Muslims rely on don’t exist, or that someone like me is responsible for exaggerating the impact of “apparently violent verses of the Quran.” No, it is Muslims themselves all around the world who are daily invoking those passages of the Qur’an to justify acts of violence, and Benazir Bhutto, of all people, should have been willing to acknowledge that, and deal with its implications.