Saturday, August 14, 2004

AN INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT SPENCER--Fear and political correctness in the age of terrorism

Robert Spencer, the director of Jihad Watch, is a writer and researcher who has studied Islam for more than twenty years. He is the author of Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West (Regnery) and Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World's Fastest Growing Faith (Encounter). He is co-author, with Daniel Ali, of Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics (Ascension), and editor of the essay collection The Myth of Islamic Tolerance, forthcoming from Prometheus Books. Mr. Spencer is here interviewed by Executive Editor Michael S. Rose. One of the popular phrases going round the globe these days is "clash of civilizations," indicating an ongoing conflict between the cultures of Islam and the West. Incredibly, nearly every time we see this term used in the media, the whole idea of such a culture war is dismissed as rather ridiculous. American politicians, for example, insist that our current ongoing conflict with terrorism hasn't a thing to do with religion or a clash of civilizations. Well then, is there a clash of civilizations going on?

Spencer: According to the radical Muslims, there certainly is. They see this as a war of Islamic values against Western values. Is it up only to one side to determine the nature of a conflict? Why can't the mainstream media or Western politicians face up to this reality? Why can't we seem to acknowledge this as a society?

Spencer: The answer to that is simple: Fear and political correctness. Political correctness again? You wrote at length about the problems of political correctness in your book Onward Muslim Soldiers. It seems that political correctness in at least some of the European countries has led to tolerant laws for Islamic immigrants. Countries like France, Britain, and the Netherlands now have a significant population of Muslims. What are some of the ill effects of these nations' tolerant laws?

Spencer: The ill effects are many. Muslims in Norway are pushing to make it a crime to blaspheme the Prophet Muhammad. Britain is instituting religious hatred laws that would be aimed at muzzling criticism of Islam; a Protestant minister has been questioned by police recently after he noted that parts of the Qur’an teach aggression against unbelievers. Such laws are supposed to keep the peace between Muslims and non-Muslims, but they have the unintended effect of muzzling genuine questions that ought to be considered by the Islamic communities in Europe if they really want to live in peace in the existing secular societies. Cardinal Ratzinger recently made bold by suggesting that Turkey seek an association with Muslim-rooted countries rather than with Europe. President Bush, however, has lobbied the EU to admit Turkey into the European Union. In your opinion, is this a good idea, considering that Turkey is not rooted in Judeo-Christian Western culture as is the rest of Europe.

Spencer: No, it's not a good idea. Turkey is a secular state, but it continues to exist in an uneasy tension with jihadists in Turkey who want to roll back secularism and reinstitute the Sharia. In recent years the secular government has made a large number of concessions to the radicals. If Turkey were to become a Sharia state as an EU member, it could seriously disrupt all the societies of Europe. We hear the word 'jihad' quite a lot, but I'm not sure the majority of Europeans or Americans have an accurate understanding of what is jihad? How do you explain the concept?

Spencer: I'll give you the definition I offer on my website: Jihad is a central duty of every Muslim. Modern Muslim theologians have spoken of many things as jihads: defending the faith from critics, supporting its growth and defense financially, even migrating to non-Muslim lands for the purpose of spreading Islam. But it's important to note that violent jihad is a constant of Islamic history. Many passages of the Qur'an and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad are used by radical Muslims today to justify their actions and gain new recruits. No major Muslim group has ever repudiated the doctrines of armed jihad. The theology of jihad, which denies unbelievers equality of human rights and dignity, is available today for anyone with the will and means to bring it to life. If jihad is justified by the Qur'an, does Islam also sanction the beheading of non-combatants in war zones?

Spencer: Contrary to popular belief, yes. The Qur’an says: "when ye meet the Unbelievers (in fight), smite at their necks…" (47:4). Islamic law stipulates that prisoners of war may be killed, enslaved, ransomed, or freed, at the discretion of the Islamic leader — who is to make the decision based on what is best for the Islamic community. The leads to another controversial question. Does Islam really motivate the terrorists or are these terrorists simply perverting the Islamic faith, 'hi-jacking' and abusing religion to promote their own personal agenda?

Spencer: Islam most certainly does motivate the terrorists. Their stated motivation has consistently been to establish the rule of the Sharia, Islamic law, within the Islamic world, and to reestablish the caliphate. The caliph was the successor of Muhammad as the spiritual and political leader of the Islamic community; the caliphate was abolished by secular Turkey in 1924. Many commentators have suggested that if the United States were to adjust its policies in Israel and Iraq, terrorism would cease, and the 'war' would come to an end. Is this an accurate appraisal?

Spencer: No, not at all. In his exhaustive, 30-volume exposition of the Muslim holy book, Fi Zilal al-Quran (In the Shade of the Quran), Sayyid Qutb, a leading radical Muslim theorist, wrote: "As the only religion of truth that exists on earth today, Islam takes appropriate action to remove all physical and material obstacles that try to impede its efforts to liberate mankind from submission to anyone other than God. … The practical way to ensure the removal of those physical obstacles while not forcing anyone to adopt Islam is to smash the power of those authorities based on false beliefs until they declare their submission and demonstrate this by paying the submission tax."

Likewise, a contemporary high-school textbook entitled Islamic Culture, produced by the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Education, states: "Islam is Allah’s religion for all human beings. It should be proclaimed and invite [people] to join it wisely and through appropriate preaching and friendly discussions. However, such methods may encounter resistance and the preachers may be prevented from accomplishing their duty … then, jihad and the use of physical force against the enemies become inevitable.…"

These and many similar statements from Islamic radicals make it clear that they are pursuing an expansionist program that is based on Islamic theology. They will not be mollified by the removal of some or all of their grievances regarding Iraq and Israel; the globalist vision articulated by Qutb is not focused simply on the redressing of grievances. Doesn't the Church teach that Muslims and Christians worship the same God? After all the Pope kissed the Qur'an on at least one occassion.

Spencer: No. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that "the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place among whom are the Muslims. These profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us adore one Merciful God, mankind’s judge in the last day" (Article 841). This is a carefully worded statement that warrants close examination.

"The first place among whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham." This statement is not saying that Muslims actually believe in Abraham’s faith, but only that they profess to hold the faith of Abraham. Professing and possessing are two different things: certainly there are many more Christians who profess Christ than there are people who actually live for Him.

"Together with us [they] adore one Merciful God, mankind’s judge in the last day." Again, the statement is very careful: it doesn’t say that they adore the same merciful God, but only that, like us, they adore one merciful God. The Council simply doesn’t address the question of whether Allah is the same God Who is written about in the Old and New Testaments. Muslims would also reject this idea: many of them believe that Christians are polytheists for professing faith in the Sacred Trinity.

As for the Pope kissing the Qu'ran, he did so no doubt out of his overflowing sense of irenicism and desire to make the first move in charity. But this one was perhaps ill-judged and will never meet with reciprocation. I can't help but ask about the comments that are always made about the Crusades. Many commentators are fond of claiming that every religion be twisted to justify violence in the same way, and they invariably point to the Crusades.

Spencer: Obviously any religion can be used to justify violence, but that doesn’t mean that they all have an equal capacity to inspire violence. However well or poorly Christians have lived up to his words, Jesus in the New Testament teaches: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (St. Matthew 5:44); the Qur’an, on the other hand, teaches: "Muhammad is the apostle of Allah. Those who follow him are merciful to one another, but ruthless to unbelievers" (48:39). That doesn't exactly sound like the 'religion of peace' I keep hearing about. If Islam is really a 'religion of peace,' why don't more Muslims fight against terrorism?

Spencer: Islam is the only major religion with a developed doctrine, theology, and law that mandates violence against unbelievers. One classic manual of Islamic sacred law, which bears an endorsement from Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the highest authority in Sunni Islam, stipulates that "the caliph makes war upon Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians . . . until they become Muslim or pay the non-Muslim poll tax." It adds a comment by Sheikh Nuh ‘Ali Salman, a Jordanian expert on Islamic jurisprudence: the caliph wages this war only "provided that he has first invited [Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians] to enter Islam in faith and practice, and if they will not, then invited them to enter the social order of Islam by paying the non-Muslim poll tax (jizya) . . . while remaining in their ancestral religions." But the manual also states that in the absence of a caliph, Muslims must still wage jihad. But how can the terrorists use Islam to justify what they're doing, when Islam forbids offensive warfare and the killing of the innocent?

Spencer: Traditional Islamic law allows for the killing of non-combatants when they are perceived to be aiding somehow in the war effort. This is used to justify suicide attacks on buses and in restaurants in Israel, and is also used by radical Muslims to justify the September 11 attacks in the U.S. What can be done to stop Islam-inspired terrorism?

Spencer: First, we must acknowledge its sources and roots. As long as we continue to delude ourselves that socioeconomic or political fixes will solve the problem, and ignore the fact that jihadists are being recruited in mosques around the world every day, we will continue to be faced with this threat. We must recognize that the roots are in Islamic theology, and call on the Islamic world to reform. But that would require the nations of the Western World to rid themselves of their high penchant for abiding by the strict laws of political correctness. How has political correctness in Europe and/or in the US hamstrung abilities to deal with Islamic terrorism?

Spencer: Because authorities refuse to acknowledge that Islam plays any significant role in global terrorism, they have declined to investigate mosques and other places where Islamic terrorists have recruited and planned. Luckily, this is changing. What is the final solution? Or isn't there one?

Spencer: There isn’t one. We must call on Islam to reform, but it is wildly unlikely that this will happen. We must keep up our defenses, recognize where the problem is coming from, and develop reasonable law enforcement and immigration policies. Above all, we must recover our own spiritual resources, for ultimately this is a spiritual conflict.

Robert Spencer can be contacted through his website at

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