Robert Spencer crawled out of the wood works and into the relative limelight circa 2003 when he started Jihad Watch. Ever since then it has been a long journey into the bizarre ranks of the pantheon of right wing blog stars with an occasional foray to bless the mere mainstream mortals with his personal knowledge of Islam. He receives stupendous applause and adulation from the cult following that has sprung up since his site was created — the little “counter-Jihadis” who in the late middle of their lives have found a new purpose to life; hate of Muslims as defense of the West.
His blog, JihadWatch, has served as a portal into the realm of propaganda against Islam and Muslims. It works at one and the same time to confuse and conflate issues and news related to Islam and Muslims. A man murders his wife and for Spencer it is not a question of domestic violence but honor killing that derives its roots from the Quran. Recently, a mass wedding in Gaza in which a picture was taken of the grooms holding hands with their nieces was egregiously misconstrued by Spencer as an instance of mass pedophilia. These are the type of Gobbelsesque tactics employed by Spencer that highlight the pre-set prejudiced conclusion he begins with; the maxim he seems to be working from is Muslims are guilty, before proven innocent.
His employing of this highly disingenuous maxim is starkly on display in his most recent crusade of attempted character assassination. It involves M. Cherif Bassiouni a distinguished Muslim scholar, lawyer, professor and human rights activist, titles which Spencer almost mocks derisively. Oddly enough it is almost fitting that Robert Spencer would mock Bassiouni’s qualifications because again who really needs to go through the hard work of scholarship, qualifications and peer reviewed work when you can do your own study without peer review and come up with your own conclusions?
Spencer proclaims that it was “false” for Bassiouni to write that “a Muslim’s conversion to Christianity is not a crime punishable by death under Islamic law.” Even when Bassiouni pointed out that the document was his (and a large number of other scholars’) opinion and that it was submitted to a court in Kabul dealing with a case in which the death penalty was being considered for apostasy he didn’t backtrack but continued to attempt to castigate the professor. Not a smart move it seems.
When he couldn’t get the professor on any of the facts he resorted to the tactic of guilt by association. In this case it was one of the most pathetic guilt by association arguments ever made in the annals of pathetic guilt by association arguments on Jihad Watch. Essentially, some random emailer to JihadWatch emailed Spencer threatening him and then that emailer “defended” Professor Bassiouni which led to Spencer blogging a post titled M. Cherif Bassiouni Gets an Ally. At least this is the story that Spencer wants us to believe, but let us take Spencer’s word for it and say that it happened the way he said it did. What does any of this have to do with Bassiouni? Is Spencer insinuating somehow that in some weird conspiratorial way Bassiouni put the emailer up to it? That somehow Bassiouni who his whole life has worked for nothing but peace, and in his correspondence with Spencer has been nothing but civil is now inciting violence? Is he insinuating that the emailer and Bassiouni are linked in anyway?
The answer to all these questions from the perspective of Spencer seem to unfortunately be yes, and it is sad because it just further proves that Spencer has fallen further down the rabbit hole then previously thought. Of course, Spencer can expect to be lauded, and proclaimed victorious in this encounter with Bassiouni — by members of his own website. The verbose Hugh Fitzgerald after the first exchange of emails was exultant, gesticulating in his wild praise of his bosom buddy Robert Spencer. It almost made you teary with disgust at reading the hyperbole bandied about by Fitzgerald in defense of his man. He proclaimed that Spencer is like the “Robber Baron of the Mauve Decade who proudly explained, ‘I sees my opportunities, and I took ‘em.’” Exaggeration anyone?
Fitzgerald went on to state, still in a state of intoxicated amazement and bedazzled wonderment by his hero, “Spencer’s reply to him is unanswerable. He has no answer. He must now remain silent. And if he still has some of his wits about him, he must at this point be truly mortified. For what can he say?” Well it seems there is more that Bassiouni can say and if anything, it seems now it remains for Spencer to be silent — or at least just let Fitzgerald do the talking.
Dear Mr. Spencer,
Thank you for your email of 8/13/09 in response to mine. You had asked for permission to print my letter, but you went ahead and did it without my permission so, obviously, you are no longer seeking my permission.
After looking at your website, I was quite surprised to see how much hate, venom and misunderstanding you are fostering. Through my 45-year career in International Criminal Law and Human Rights I have regrettably, all too often, seen the harmful consequences of what you manage to engender. Goebbels and others in Nazi Germany brought about anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, the war in the former Yugoslavia (1991-95) had many religious undertones between Serb-Orthodox and Catholic-Croats, whose religious animosity producing violence goes back to 1915, and then, we have Christian-Catholic Hutus killing between 500,000 and 800,000 of their co-religionist Tutsis in Rwanda. It all started the same way, and all too few people spoke up against it. Having investigated war crimes in the former Yugoslavia for the United Nations, monitored human rights in Afghanistan also for the U.N., and done work in Iraq, funded by the U.S. government, I can tell you in all three arenas of conflict how pernicious religious hatred and misunderstanding is. That is why I speak up against your hate-mongering.
I don’t know if this communication will have any moderating effects on your anti-Islam and Anti-Muslim stances. Usually persons who have extremist views are beyond the reach of reason, good sense, and good faith. They are too imbued with their own self-righteous views and are all too often blinded by their hatred or animosity towards others to act in ways that most people consider reasonable and decent.
Mr. Spencer, I am not a polemicist. If you find out about me through public sources, you will discover that I have spent my life fighting for what is right, even at the risk of my own life in many situations. Hate-mongering, incitation to hate, various forms of religious, ethnic, national intolerances have, in my experience, only produced violence and harmful results. I don’t know what you are up to, why you are doing it, and for whose benefit, but everything I read tells me there is something wrong in conducting such an extremist campaign against Islam and Muslims. What is that intended to accomplish other than radicalization and polarization? Is that in the best interests of relations between Americans who have different faith-belief systems? Is that intended to arouse anti-Islamicism in America for certain political purposes? If any of these are the case then whatever I or anyone else may have to say to you will not have much effect. By the grace of God, I continue to believe in the best in human beings, and I hope that the best in you, and those who follow you, will prevail over the worst that is reflected in the work that you are doing.
I firmly believe that there is one God who has created one humankind and that we are all members of the same human family. This God, who is the beginning and end of everything, the One described in the First Commandment contained in the Hebrew bible and the Old Testament is, in my opinion, the same God described in the Qur’ān. All three Abrahamic faiths, as well as other belief systems, conceive of a single humankind, making us all brothers and sisters in this humanity. There is no superior or inferior human being and certainly it is against any belief in God and moral/ethical values to dehumanize a person or demonize a person for his/her beliefs or otherwise. History has always demonstrated that when that occurs, it is the beginning of the rationalization for genocide and crimes against humanity.
To the best of my knowledge, I don’t know of any organization having a campaign similar to yours aimed at discrediting a major religion and its followers. Consequently there is something unique in what you are doing and in your mission, which not only sets it apart from established inter-religious practices, but which also calls into question the motives, purposes and goals of such an undertaking. Fortunately there is only you and your group in the world doing such a thing and, hopefully, you will not be able to do much harm to your fellow human beings, whether in this country or elsewhere.
As to your invitation to a debate, I have never engaged in oral debates, particularly when it clearly appears from both your website and your publications that the goal would not be to obtain a better understanding of whatever the issue may be.
Concerning the merits of the issue of apostasy, Islamic law has a long history and it is rather complex. In the course of 14 centuries there have been many differences among scholars as to almost every aspect of law, theology and religious practices. Similar differences exist in Judaism and Christianity as well as other faith-belief systems. Different cultures also see things in different ways. And, in time, many perspectives change.
My views on apostasy have been made public since 1983, in the U.S., and in the Muslim world. They include my understanding that apostasy in the days of the Prophet meant, essentially, high treason in the equivalent modern significance. There were different views on the matter between the late 7th and 12th centuries. Since then, Ijtihad, which means making the effort to think (much as the word jihad means making an effort) has been stopped by theological fiat. As a result, not much progressive thinking or corrective interpretation has been made to show that the interpretations which took place after the Prophet’s death were not the correct ones. The Qur’ān’s overarching principle enunciated in chapter 2 is that there can be “no compulsion in religion.” That doesn’t make me “deceptive” nor does it make me an “apologist.” These are two terms you have used to describe me, which are defamatory. (Whether you see fit to publish a retraction or apology will demonstrate your good faith.)
In any event, this concludes our written exchange, but I will be glad to meet with you personally whenever you are in Chicago or if our paths cross elsewhere. In order to avoid any further polemic, I will stop with this communication, though I still hope that this message may have a positive effect on you.
M. Cherif Bassiouni