What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.


What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Robert Spencer's Excellent answer to fact-free criticism

I am a huge fan of Robert Spencer. One of the reasons I am such a huge fan is that Spencer deals in details and facts. I could not possibly begin to summarize all the information he presents about Islam and what is going on in the world with Islam these days. One of the best things about Spencer is that he gives information both from the scholarly point of view of Islamic jurisprudence and holy texts and from the current events point of view of what Muslims are right now taking these texts to mean and how they are acting on them.

This is a double-whammy, and to my mind it should render speechless all the "religion of peace" promoters. I ask my readers' indulgence, as I certainly intend no blasphemy, but it seems to me that the liberals' (and some "conservatives'") view of Islam is a sort of unholy, secular version of the Catholic view of the Blessed Sacrament: Even if all the visible accidents of Islam are violent, by faith the liberal believes in an underlying substance or essence that is peaceful.

Today Spencer takes on another of his fact-free critics, one Svend White, who says that Spencer is wrong, wrong, wrong about Islam but cannot descend to give any evidence for the assertion. So Spencer calls his bluff:

What I want to ask you is this: I have heard innumerable times that I offer 'selective surveys of facts.' Very well. Please supply what I’m leaving out. This is a serious request. Please supply, specifically, rulings by jurists from any of the recognized Sunni or Shi’ite madhahib, declaring that jihad is not to be waged against unbelievers in order to bring them under the authority of Sharia, but rather that non-Muslims and Muslims are to coexist peacefully as equals under the law on an indefinite basis, even when the law of the land is not Sharia. Please show evidence of any orthodox sect or school of jurisprudence that teaches this.

The answer Spencer gets from White is an exercise in pointless bloviation. One of my favorite lines is, "Islamic law is besides [sic] the point in a way, though. In my view, the flaws in your writings on Islam transcend simple factual points and speak to far more fundamental conceptual problems." Very convenient, that "transcending simple factual points" stuff. It means one doesn't have to answer Spencer in terms of, you know, facts. Or this:

There is a critical dearth of social scientific awareness in the writings I have seen by you, this manifesting itself most strikingly in an acute overemphasize of jurisprudence, as if Islamic civilization and Muslims were simply the sum of their laws.

Yes, well, we all know how very different Muslim practice is from Muslim jurisprudence. And frequent readers of Jihad Watch will no doubt have noticed the dearth of references to contemporary Islamic civilization and practice. It's just dusty law after dusty law, which no one ever reads or follows and which can therefore be safely ignored. Well, perhaps not. Spencer says it best:

The fact that is constantly ignored by the likes of White and CAIR is that Muslims around the world are acting upon those laws on a daily basis. Thus when they cry foul when I quote those laws, and say that I'm misrepresenting them, quoting out of context, etc., their protestations ring hollow.

Comments (15)

Quite so, Lydia. I just want to add two things.

In the Dearborn thread, you convinced me that Muslim immigration needs to be sharply limited. There is simply no way to keep importing substantial number of Muslims into this country without the sharia issue coming eventually to a violent head. Western European experience makes that painfully evident.

Second, you and our readers might be interested in ministry of the Coptic priest Zakaria Boutros. His website is in Arabic, and often deletes his best stuff out of concern for his safety. Why such concern? See for yourself what Jihad Watch has to say.

Thanks, Michael. It always warms my heart when someone says I've convinced him of something. Seriously, it does. Fr. Botros is one incredibly brave man. We, his fellow Christians, should remember to pray for him.

I would agree that Spencer's interlocutor in this instance seems particularly inept, but I do think there is some truth to White's assertion that Spencer is overly obsessed with pedantically displaying his factual knowledge while lacking a certain amount of judgment in how to deploy that knowledge.

An example to illustrate my point (this is not taken directly from Spencer, but I believe it accurately illustrate the flaws in his mode of analysis--in addition to the analyses of Daniel Pipes, Raymond Ibrahim, et al.): Whenever someone brings up the point that Hamas has indicated a willingness to declare a 10-year truce with Israel, it is noted that Hamas uses the word "hudna" in Arabic, which is an Islamic term that denotes a period of peace while the armies of God replenish themselves for further attacks. This is then used to demonstrate that Hamas is an insane and implacable foe that is not really serious about peace. I would agree that they are insane and seemingly implacable, but are those reasons to turn down an offer of a 10-year peace? If those 10 years of peace occurred, would we really expect to be in a stronger position than it is now (particularly in regards to its support among the Palestinians)? Similarly, should the fact that the Islamic concept indicates that the period of peace should be used by Muslims to gird themselves for the resumption of war really matter? Isn't that just kind of what people normally do during a temporary peace who's outcome is indeterminate? The upshot: the fact that Hamas uses Islamic jurisprudential terms is used to tarnish the very idea of a truce, without any further analysis. Should we be ignorant of the concept of hudna? No, of course not. Should we doubt Hamas' sincerity in their employment of these terms? No, probably not. But we have to use judgment in employing this factual knowledge in our analysis, and, in general, this is Spencer's weakness.

Well, GRG, since you say that your example isn't actually drawn from anything Spencer has said, it's hard for me to analyze its relevance to what Spencer has said. Speaking for myself, I would say that if you think Hamas is to be trusted to keep a promise of a 10-year period of peace, and if you think it would be a great idea to make some sort of deal with them on the basis of some such assumption, I would love to introduce you to some lovely Florida swamp property I have for you at a low, low price. And that on the basis of evidence regarding Hamas's trustworthiness and intentions, including the only _relatively_ lower level of rockets falling on Sderot during the _present_ hudna/cease-fire with Gaza, the resumed smuggling of weapons, and on and on. And, no, truces usually mean something rather different to Western nations than to a group like Hamas. You are welcome to draw a different conclusion, as indeed you are welcome to draw a different conclusion from any of the factual data Spencer himself provides. But when terms are being used deceptively, as is often the case in an Islamic context, you yourself acknowledge that it is a good idea to make sure that people, including policy makers, know that! At that point, what they choose to do with the information is their own decision. I have yet to see any "weakness" in Spencer's work along the lines you indicate, but perhaps this is simply because I don't agree with your policy recommendations.

"...(and some "conservatives'")..."???

Some conservatives???

Correction: The vast majority of conservatives out there.

The main reason that the West remains beholden to PC MC and thus continues to be stubbornly irrational about the evil and injustice of Islam is because so many conservatives and centrists have been corrupted by PC MC. If that large bloc of the Western population were not so corrupted, the PC MC paradigm about Islam would not enjoy the amount of extraordinary mainstream dominance it in fact enjoys.

Why do I even have to point this out?

Lydia re:facts, what do you think Spencer's take would be on the newly amended Irish Defamation Law? Does it not serve the God of factless Islam's understanding of blasphemy better (offense as rooted in psychology rather than reason, see (55) in CV) than the Christian God of fact, the Logos? Consider the case of Marwa al-Sherbini stabbed to death asserting her anti-defamation rights in a German courtroom, and her critically injured husband who was shot at by "Christian" law enforcement jumping to conclusions that he must have been the assailant!!!!
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8141130.stm "Germany 'not silent' on stabbing"
There's lots of facts to be debated but irrational fear needs to be one of them if we are to keep the emotional cauldron from boiling over...

The abiding irony is if the young lady had inculcated the Christian adage of "turn the other cheek" [Matthew 5:39 "autem dico vobis non resistere malo sed si quis te percusserit in dextera maxilla tua praebe illi et alteram"] and resisted the urge to prosecute her detractor, she would have defended her own dignity and that of her wee unborn baby, and of her surviving husband and son, from his vile hatred driven by insanity to act with full depravity.

I'm not familiar with the new amendments to the Irish Defamation Law. But I do know that in England and Europe generally there are serious problems with freedom of speech, because speech and writing can be punished based upon the feelings it engenders regarding a person or group, *even if the statements made are true*. Truth is no defense against punishment for "harming" someone by publishing detrimental facts under the laws in some of these countries. Naturally, Spencer et. al. would be opposed to this, as these are exactly the sorts of laws that (among many other problems) usually morph instantly into Islamic anti-blasphemy laws under which telling the truth about Islam is not permitted.

It is no surprise to me that Islam is not a religion of peace. But then, I look to its roots. What kink of roots did Islam have?

(a) Either Mohamed was telling the truth so far as he saw it about his visions and his 'revelation', or (b) not. If not, he invented out of whole cloth excuses to attack neighbors and force them to accept utter nonsense.

But if he was telling the truth about his visions, then (c) either he really did have supernatural visions, or (d) he experienced something like visions without there being any real supernatural cause of the visions - and we call this insanity. If they were not supernatural, then a madmen led his followers into insane wars with their neighbors forcing them to believe nonsense.

But if they really were supernatural visions, then (e) either they were from God or (f) from Satan. If (f), then he allowed and assisted Satan to establish a Satanic religion to make war on others.

If (e), they were from God, then they were the first Divine revelations of that magnitude that ended up being personally beneficial - indeed highly beneficial - to the recipient in the most worldly sense. Let me emphasize that: in the MOST WORLDLY sense, including, let's see, 15 wives, (underage?), etc. Since one of the persistent themes in the old and new testaments (and Muslims accept the Old as scripture) is that the prophet proves his truth BOTH by manifestations of wonders AND by a life full of humility and service, that pretty much discounts Mohamed.

In any case, any good Christian does not accept that Mohamed's religion came from God, since it contradicts God's Revelation in His Son. The only remaining options then are that he was
A fraudulent liar, or
a madman, or
or led by Satan.

A religion of peace?

"highly beneficial - to the recipient in the most worldly sense. Let me emphasize that: in the MOST WORLDLY sense, including, let's see, 15 wives, (underage?), etc."

Don't forget making sex with slave girls divinely licit -- cf. Koran 4:24:

"And all married women (are forbidden unto you [i.e., forbidden to have sex with]) save those (captives) whom your right hands possess. It is a decree of Allah for you. Lawful unto you are all beyond those mentioned, so that ye seek them with your wealth in honest wedlock, not debauchery. And those of whom ye seek content (by marrying them), give unto them their portions as a duty. And there is no sin for you in what ye do by mutual agreement after the duty (hath been done). Lo! Allah is ever Knower, Wise."

The answer Spencer gets from White is an exercise in pointless bloviation. One of my favorite lines is, "Islamic law is besides [sic] the point in a way, though. In my view, the flaws in your writings on Islam transcend simple factual points and speak to far more fundamental conceptual problems." Very convenient, that "transcending simple factual points" stuff. It means one doesn't have to answer Spencer in terms of, you know, facts.

Reminds me of when a commentor responds by saying that a subject is more nuanced than the author allows and skips off on his merry way without ever elaborating or even sketching what nuance there could be that would overthrow the author's point. Always ask to see the math just like your Algebra teacher did. :)

Or perhaps Mr. Spencer is undeserving of the dignity of a response. Perhaps there's a reason he's ignored by scholars. And perhaps there is indeed a persistent conceptual failing that makes many of his specific points misleading.

I imagine you don't feel obligated to respond to every atheist crank who denigrates Christianity with long lists of decontextualized facts or distortions of the Bible. There's little point in debating bigots or propagandists in most cases.

And then there's a difference between data and information. A thousand footnoted facts don't shed any new light if the person presenting them hasn't a clue where they fit into the bigger picture, much less if he or she is committed to casting them in the worst possible light.

I don't deny that there are grave problems in the Muslim world and that there are aspects of Islamic tradition that need to change with the times. But good luck understanding them (much less figuring out what to do about them) with somebody like Spencer as your guide.

Spencer as the analogue of an atheist crank. Hmmm. Actually, most atheist cranks have been answered already. But I would also note that most of them, you know, make false claims. That's usually part of being an atheist crank, is getting your facts wrong or deliberately misleading your audience. No need for woolly talk about "missing context" and the like.

An interesting point, but I think your definition needs to be updated with the times. In Information Age propaganda, only rank amateurs lie outright. While I may not find them compelling there certainly are critiques of the Bible and organized religion in general that many would find intellectually credible, factually grounded and still awaiting adequate response. And I see nothing "woolly" about expecting that context be explored. To the contrary, it seems to me a sine qua non of scholarship, especially in the humanities and social sciences. Thanks.

many would find intellectually credible, factually grounded

What "many would find" and what is in fact the case are two different things. And I was, definitely, talking about information age propaganda.

No good apologist would simply say that, say, Richard Carrier is a poor advocate of atheism because he is missing the "whole context of Christianity" or something vague like that. There are so many better and more eviscerating points to make about someone like Carrier, so many more ways to fisk him.

Any critic of Robert Spencer, on the other hand, who just goes on talking about "the context of Islam" without deigning to get more specific and tell us how Spencer is _wrong_ is inevitably going to look like he's waving his hands. I'm sorry if that's suggesting, Mr. White, that you need to do more work than you think you should have to do to convince us poor, misled readers of Spencer that he's all wet, but that's the way it is. You give very much the impression of the people selling the emperor a set of new clothes.

I understand your objection and frankly consider it understandable under the circumstances. However, that fact doesn't free me up from the responsibilities of daily life to go through his work with a fine-tooth comb, nor does it make it any less dreary and unrewarding a task for me.

I'm reminded of the laments of astronomers who debunk conspiracy theories about the moon landings of the 1960s. Effective propaganda or pseudo-scholarship--or, to put it another way, any large set of complex, interrelated misconceptions--is devilishly time-consuming to refute, and those who take the time to do so usually aren't guaranteed enough attention from those under its spell for it to be worth the effort.

So I don't expect you to take my word for it. You don't know me from Adam, and I'm not some famous writer. My hope is simply that you will keep in mind the possibility that Spencer's presentation could be distorted in important respects and try to get a second opinion on the things that matter. Even if Islamic tradition and Muslim history are indeed as dismal as Spencer makes them out to be, in conflict-ridden times such as these any thoughtful observer committed to the truth should be on the lookout for bias in discussions of Islam (even if it's only to more effectively understand your "enemy").

If you’re interested in sources that I think could offer useful correctives to what I consider to be Spencer’s oversights, for starters I’d recommend Richard Bulliet’s THE CASE FOR ISLAMO-CHRISTIAN CIVILIZATION and John Kelsay’s ARGUING THE JUST WAR IN ISLAM. (Few reviews that give you useful overview of either work are available online, but here are two: http://www.presence.tv/cms/article_562.php , http://law.hamline.edu/files/Carnahan.Kelsay.Rev_.pdf )

Post a comment

Bold Italic Underline Quote

Note: In order to limit duplicate comments, please submit a comment only once. A comment may take a few minutes to appear beneath the article.

Although this site does not actively hold comments for moderation, some comments are automatically held by the blog system. For best results, limit the number of links (including links in your signature line to your own website) to under 3 per comment as all comments with a large number of links will be automatically held. If your comment is held for any reason, please be patient and an author or administrator will approve it. Do not resubmit the same comment as subsequent submissions of the same comment will be held as well.