An Interview with Robert Spencer

Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch, a program of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and the author of twelve books, including two New York Times bestsellers, The Truth About Muhammad and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) (both Regnery). His latest book is Did Muhammad Exist? An Inquiry Into Islam's Obscure Origins (ISI). He is interviewed by Barry Rubin, PJ Media's Middle East editor.

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RUBIN: What is the basic aim of the Jihad Watch site and of your books?

SPENCER: The aim of all my work is to alert the public in the United States and around the world about the nature and magnitude of the jihad threat, with particular attention to the aspect of the threat that has been most obfuscated and obscured: its motives, goals, and root causes, as explained by the jihadis themselves. At Jihad Watch I post on a daily basis news stories showing jihad activity, both violent and stealthy, in the U.S. and worldwide. In my books I explore aspects of the issue in detail, most notably the chief motivating factors named by jihadis themselves: the Qur’an and the example of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam.

RUBIN: How have your books fit together to portray the broad picture of the issues you are engaging with?

SPENCER: In eleven books now I’ve covered the nature of the jihadist challenge to the Free World from a variety of angles. The principal books explore the life of Muhammad, showing why jihadis see him as a model and guide (The Truth About Muhammad); the texts of the Qur’an that incite Muslims to violence and hatred (The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran); the comparative capacity of Christianity and Islam to incite believers to violence (Religion of Peace?); the non-violent initiatives to assert elements of Islamic law in the West (Stealth Jihad); the jihad doctrine and how it is being put into practice in the modern world (Onward Muslim Soldiers). I’ve also written an introduction to the elements of Islam that make it problematic in the West, and a survey of the most celebrated episode of the “clash of civilizations” (The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades)), as well as my new book, an examination of the historical value of the writings I explored in The Truth About Muhammmad: Did Muhammad Exist? An Inquiry Into Islam’s Obscure Origins.

The person who reads all these books would have, I believe, a comprehensive understanding of the motives and goals of jihadists and Islamic supremacists, as well as of the aspects of Islam that give rise to violence, terror, and supremacism, and the uniqueness of those aspects to Islam itself as compared to other religions.

RUBIN: What are the main reasons you think it is so hard for Western policymakers, journalists, and academics to understand and deal accurately with Islam and political Islamic movements?

SPENCER: I think the main reason is that Islam is a religion. If it were a secular political ideology, many non-Muslims who support it now would have no problem opposing its authoritarian and supremacist aspects, its denial of the freedom of speech and freedom of conscience, its oppression of women and non-Muslims, and more. But Islamic advocacy groups in the U.S. have been canny in obscuring Islam’s political aspects, and in portraying efforts to resist political and supremacist Islam as infringements upon Muslims’ religious freedom. They have also deftly appropriated the language of the civil rights movement and portrayed Muslims as victims, despite the ever-mounting number of jihad attacks and plots -- and victim language always causes the American Left to swoon and fall at one’s feet.

RUBIN: How would you analyze the connection between political Islamism and Islam as a religion? Are there also contradictions between the two?

SPENCER: I don’t see any contradiction. There has never been any historically. Islam as a religion has never been separate from or distinct from Islam as a political program until 1924 when the secular Turkish regime abolished the caliphate, and that event is seen by those who claim the mantle of Islamic orthodoxy and authenticity worldwide as a grave insult, an error that must be corrected, a drastic weakening of and outrage to Islam that they are working to eradicate. Moreover, Islamic apologists, even reputed “moderates,” frequently point to the fact that Islam traditionally has no distinction between the sacred and the secular, i.e., between religion and politics, as evidence of its comprehensiveness and hence superiority over the Western Judeo-Christian societal model that limits the influence of religion in the political sphere. The idea that there is an “Islamism” that is some sort of variant of or deviation from or corruption of Islam proper, which in this view is a religion solely, enjoining peace and universal brotherhood and having no political or supremacist agenda, is a fiction born of Western wishful thinking and ignorance.