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.
RUBIN: In what ways do academics respond to your works?
SPENCER: People of a particular political and academic perspective that is opposed to mine dominate the study of Islam and related issues in academia today. People who hold to my views generally can’t get jobs in colleges and universities today. That said, however, I am confident of my ground and ready to defend my views in any forum. While politically correct and compromised academics such as Carl Ernst, John Esposito, Juan Cole, Omid Safi, and Caner K. Dagli heap scorn upon my work, they do not and cannot show where it is incorrect, and have declined my invitations to debate. I have no doubt that if any of them ever accepted the invitation we would see immediately the real reason why they were reluctant to debate in the first place.
RUBIN: How do you analyze the concept of “Islamophobia”?
SPENCER: “Islamophobia” is a word coined by the Muslim Brotherhood designed to intimidate people into fearing to oppose the jihad and Islamic supremacism and to shift attention away from acts of violence by Muslims and onto Muslims as victims. Victim status is highly coveted, extremely lucrative, and politically advantageous these days.
RUBIN: How have the policies of Western governments actually pushed Muslim immigrants and their children into the arms of the radicals?
I don’t believe this to be true. Muslim immigrants and their children do not hold to a sect or version of Islam that is significantly different from that which is preached elsewhere in the world. If they are informed and devoted to their religion, they generally view the actions of Western governments from the same perspective as do Muslims elsewhere. This perspective manifests itself in lists of grievances and expressions of anger, but Western governments are foolish in the extreme when they think they can redress these grievances and then all will be well; in fact, this grievance-mongering is intended to lay the groundwork for defensive jihad, which in Islamic law is incumbent upon all Muslims to undertake when a Muslim land is under attack. If one grievance is redressed, another one will take its place, because the point is not the grievances at all, but the jihad.
RUBIN: Have you detected some improvement in how Islamic religion and political movements are interpreted in the West during the last five years?
SPENCER: No. In fact, just the opposite. The fog of disinformation and misinformation is thicker than ever. Fantasy-based policymaking rules in Washington with more force than ever, and the stealth jihad is not only advancing unopposed, but is being actively abetted by the Obama administration. Those who tell the truth about the threat are increasingly stigmatized, demonized, and marginalized.
RUBIN: How do you deal with those who read your work somewhat carelessly and end up thinking that all of Islam is innately and completely radical or evil?
SPENCER: My work is routinely caricatured and misrepresented by those who would like to diminish its influence. I frequently see written that I claim that all Muslims are terrorists, or that all Muslims everywhere want to impose Sharia and subjugate Westerners. Such claims are ridiculous, and I challenge anyone to substantiate them with a quote from me. I have pointed out in my work that Islam itself contains teachings that jihadis use to justify violence and supremacism, and maintain that that must be faced honestly by all parties concerned. I likewise challenge anyone to disprove those contentions.
RUBIN: You’ve discussed what you think Muslims should do to reform, moderate, and be effective in winning a more favorable image in the West. Could you discuss these recommendations?
SPENCER: Sure. If Muslims really want to reform, moderate, and win a more favorable image in the West, here are some steps they can take to do so:
1. Focus their indignation on those Muslims who commit violent acts in the name of Islam, not on non-Muslims reporting on those acts.
2. Renounce definitively, sincerely, honestly, and in deeds, not just in comforting words, not just "terrorism" but any intention to replace the U.S. Constitution (or the constitutions of any non-Muslim state) with Sharia, even by peaceful means. In line with this, clarify what is meant by their condemnations of the killing of innocent people by stating unequivocally that American and Israeli civilians are innocent people, teaching accordingly in mosques and Islamic schools, and behaving in accord with these new teachings.
3. Teach, again sincerely and honestly, in transparent and verifiable ways in mosques and Islamic schools, the imperative of Muslims coexisting peacefully as equals with non-Muslims on an indefinite basis, and act accordingly.
4. Begin comprehensive programs in mosques all over the world to teach sincerely against the ideas of violent jihad and Islamic supremacism.
5. Actively and honestly work with Western law enforcement officials to identify and apprehend jihadists within Western Muslim communities.
RUBIN: What policies do you believe the United States should follow toward the Muslim Brotherhood and other revolutionary Islamist movements in the Middle East?
SPENCER: The best policy is resolute and determined opposition to their taking power. That is not to say invasions or quixotic attempts at “nation-building.” At the very least, we should not be encouraging them or giving them money, which is tantamount to giving them the rope they will use to hang us.