Robert Spencer and the Stealth Jihad
by David L Johnston,, November 1, 2011

A reader of my previous blog, “McCarthyism Returns in the 2010s,” asked a very reasonable question [when it was first posted on the Peace Catalyst website]. He or she had wondered how accurate my placing Robert Spencer among the “purveyors of hate and misinformation” actually was. I like this. I want feedback and the opportunity to promote an honest and transparent conversation. What is more, I write this answer trying to emulate the Apostle Paul by “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

I used “purveyor of . . . disinformation” as a blanket statement on the heels of Fear, Inc.’s Chapter 2 title, “The Islamophobia Disinformation Experts.” In that sense, this covered Spencer and several others, including Frank Gaffney and Daniel Pipes.

Yet Spencer is the most prolific – at least 11 monographs on Islam, including the 2005 title, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), with hundreds of newspaper articles and blog entries to his name. He’s written nonstop on Islam since his Masters Degree in 1980 (Religious Studies, University of North Carolina), and though he’s accumulated a good deal of knowledge, his sources are either secondary or translated into English.

For this blog I have carefully combed through two of his more recent books, as I discovered that his works do overlap a fair amount. I also glanced at a large volume he edited in 2005, The Myth of Islamic Tolerance: How Islamic Law Treats Non-Muslims. None of the authors of that volume are scholars with academic posts, and they are generally considered too biased to be taken seriously by Islamicists in the academy.

Nevertheless, two of these writers have international reputations. Bat Ye’or, who has specialized in the historic treatment of the dhimmis (“protected minorities”) under Muslim rule, authored seventeen chapters in The Myth of Islamic Tolerance; and Ibn Warraq, the pen name for a former Muslim from Pakistan who writes scathing critiques of Islam, contributed the Foreword and a chapter on apostasy. As the other contributors to this volume, they clearly have an axe to grind.

Spencer’s mostly accurate research

In his two books, Religion of peace?: why Christianity is and Islam isn’t (2007) and Stealth jihad: how radical Islam is subverting America without guns or bombs (2008), Spencer accurately quotes dozens of Islamic sources and cites many historical events – and all of this carefully footnoted. The second book, in particular, references dozens of current events that at least seem to be based on credible media sources.

Let’s start with Religion of Peace? In his Chapter 5, “Cherry-Picking in the Fields of the Lord,” he admits that on the subject of violence, “the evidence of the Qur’anic text itself goes both ways” (p. 71). From the Meccan period, when Muhammad was leading a small, battered and often persecuted fringe group, we find many conciliatory verses – don’t argue, goes the text, God will judge on the Last Day (but he fails to mention that the famous “freedom” verse, “no compulsion in religion,” comes from the early Medinan period).

Then there are texts that command defensive war when under attack. Here he is careful to emphasize all the most unsavory texts, like the injunction to make no prisoners until the land has been “thoroughly subdued”; permission to take the wives of the slain as one’s concubines (Q. 33:50); and the statement that “the highest rank” of believers “in the sight of Allah” are those who “strive with might and main in Allah’s cause, with their goods and their persons,” a clear reference to military jihad (Q. 9:19-20). And finally, he mentions the famous “sword verses” (Q. 9:5, 29), adding some rather dark commentary over the centuries gleaned from Ibn Warraq (75-81).

As I wrote in my two blogs on jihad, the Islamic legal understanding of these verses in the classical period (10th-14th centuries) was indeed that the later verses abrogated the earlier more peaceful verses, and that the world was divided between the Abode of Islam and the Abode of War. I then added that mainstream Islamic scholarship and leadership had moved on in the modern period to a strictly defensive view of jihad. Spencer won’t acknowledge this.

Also correct are the data he presents on Islamic anti-Semitism over the centuries. It is true that there are harsh passages in the Qur’an about Jews – though he fails to mention that this was in the context of the three Jewish tribes in Medina either in sympathy or in outright collaboration with the Meccan enemy during the war years (624 to 628). Still, there is no shortage of hateful literature aimed at the Jews in the course of Islamic history, including today.

Then in his second book, Stealth Jihad, Spencer quotes all manner of media publications about incidents related to Muslims in the US – some people being tried for terrorism, and others allegedly linked to terrorist organizations. But here is where I want to draw a line: the outline of what you “recount” might have a factual basis, but your “spin” might weave a story line that gravely distorts the actual facts.

For the rest of this commentary, click here.