Robert Spencer and the Melkite Greek Catholic Church

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Robert Spencer and the Melkite Greek Catholic Church

by Richard Bartholomew (barthsnotes.com)

News that Robert Spencer has been dis-invited from speaking at a Roman Catholic Men’s Conference in the US Diocese of Worcester has prompted renewed interest in Spencer’s own Catholicism; a comment posted to a short account of the cancellation derived from a Boston Globe article includes the following:

Posted by: Archpriest – Jan. 31, 2013 10:36 PM ET USA
Appalling! Robert Spencer is a Catholic deacon in good standing with [a] Melkite Diocese… To call Father Deacon Robert a “hate-monger” is unjust and adds further injury to the situation of Eastern Catholics – daily persecuted and even martyred in the Middle East. I am a retired military chaplain. Deacon Robert has addressed military staff symposia. Is the Diocese of Worcester so politically-correct that it would ignore the suffering of fellow Christians in the lands of Christ’s birth?

Spencer’s identification as a Melkite Greek Catholic is well-known, but the detail that he is a deacon is new, and can be confirmed via reference to other sites noted by Loonwatch. Spencer here follows the example of the late Paul Weyrich, whom he regarded as a mentor-figure, although Spencer’s Melkite affiliation also reflects his personal circumstances: he is of Greek Orthodox heritage (family displaced from Turkey) and married to a Catholic, and so a form of Catholicism that follows an Orthodox style has obvious attractions.

Some of Spencer’s books include the name of the priest of his church among the acknowledgements, although the church itself does not appear to promote the kind of anti-Islam polemicising for which Spencer is notorious. In 2006 Spencer promoted a report about a speech given by then-US Melkite leader Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros, in which Bustros made criticisms of Islam; however, Bustros did not resort to the kind of rabble-rousing rhetoric and sloppiness that are Spencer’s hallmarks.

Spencer was less pleased with Bustros in 2010, when it was reported that Bustros had opined at a Vatican Synod that

We want to say that the promise of God in the Old Testament, relating to the ‘promised land’ … as Christians, we’re saying that this promise was essentially nullified [in French, "abolished"] by the presence of Jesus Christ, who then brought about the Kingdom of God. As Christians, we cannot talk about a ‘promised land’ for the Jews. We talk about a ‘promised land’ which is the Kingdom of God… Sacred scripture should not be used to justify the occupation of Palestinian land on the part of the Israelis.

The ADL described this as “the worst kind of anti-Judaism, bordering on anti-Semitism”, and argued that ”Archbishop Bustros contradicts decades of official Vatican and papal teachings which affirm God’s ongoing Covenant with the Jewish people at Sinai, and calls on Christians to appreciate the Jewish people’s religious self-understanding, including its spiritual attachment to the land of Israel.”

Spencer, while declining to disclose that Bustros was his clerical superior, explained that 

…he is strongly in the running to become the next Archbishop of Beirut, and could be trying to reassure Muslim leaders in Lebanon that his stint in the United States has not tainted him with Zionism, and he is still as anti-Israel as he was as Archbishop of Baalbek, before he came to America. It is a pity that a Christian leader would have to behave this way, and I am not saying he is not doing it out of conviction also, but in any case it is a reflection of the situation on the ground in Islamic countries: Christians who don’t echo the Islamic political line face hard going…

Accordingly, we cannot judge… Archbishop Cyril harshly.

Those anti-Israel comments formed the basis of a follow-up guest post by David Littman; Bustros had spoken to the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Rabat in 2002, and his words had been ugly and crude:

…Today, the Jews allege that Al-Quds belongs to them only. They have made it the capital of their Zionist state, arguing that it is the land of their ancestors since Ibrahim. If only they followed the example of this ancestor, who accepted to sacrifice his own son for the love of God. Instead, they have no qualms about killing the children of the others for the sake of their racist ambitions. John the Baptist, the great prophet who prepared for the advent of Jesus and called people to repent their sins to God, told the Jews: “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance, and think not to say within yourselves. We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham”[Matthew 3: 7-8]…

Littman, like Spencer, puts this down to the “dhimmitude mindset”, but the reference to “Al-Quds” for Jerusalem notwithstanding, in both 2002 and 2010 the Bustros appears to be drawing on long-standing independent Christian traditions of anti-Judaism.

However, Spencer then posted the following:

I owe the Melkite Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros an apology: when I wrote about his remarks at the recent Vatican Synod, I was relying on incomplete and inaccurate press reports, and did not fully understand his position. Now, in a Jihad Watch exclusive, Archbishop Cyril clarifies his remarks and explains his position.

Spencer does not explain how the press reports were “inaccurate”, although the statement that follows his introduction takes a more moderate line and calls for a two-state solution (this is also – surprisingly – Spencer’s own position). One wonders why the Archbishop thought it would be sensible to put things right through a exclusive statement to an opportunistic anti-Islam blog, rather than to issue a statement through more reputable channels; perhaps Spencer’s position as a “deacon in good standing” is the reason.

According to the Boston Globe, Spencer had been due to speak at the Men’s Conference in Worcester on the subject of Islam, and the paper quotes the Diocese on why the invitation was recinded:

…”Although the intention of the conference organizers was to have a presenter on Islam from a Catholic’s perspective, we are asking Robert Spencer to not come to the Worcester Catholic Men’s Conference, given that his presence is being seen as harmful to Catholic–Islamic relations both locally and nationally,” Raymond ­Delisle, a spokesman for the ­diocese, said in a statement ­issued to the Globe.

The report adds that the Islamic Council of New England had urged the Diocese to cancel “after the Globe sought comment on his scheduled appearance from the diocese and from Muslim organizations”; Spencer now alleges, citing “sources”, that the article’s author, Lisa Wangsness, had asked Islamic groups to contact the Diocese (she denies it).

Of course, the problem with Spencer goes beyond “Catholic–Islamic relations”; the man is not a sensible speaker for any organisation that wants to be taken seriously. His blog frequently carries inaccurate and inflammatory items; sometimes, he quietly deletes material without making corrections if he knows that he can’t defend a claim (see here and here), but he also sometimes lashes out, accusing those who challenge an inaccuracy of supporting Islamic extremism. Spencer also identifies completely with the lurid claims and activism of the birther Pamela Geller. In 2009, Spencer cried “libel” when it was suggested he may have met leaders of the English Defence League; yet now, following Geller, he is an enthusiast for the organisation, appearing alongside Stephen Lennon (“Tommy Robinson”) and Kevin Carroll and opining that Lennon’s current imprisonment for passport fraud means that he is a “political prisoner”.

Anti-Muslim Blogoshpere Runs Amuck: Forced to Eat Crow

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Islamophobes purposefully mistook these girls as child brides

The Loon world was whipped into a frenzy based on, as usual, the reinforcing winds of ignorance and hate. In what was meant to be an unremarkable story, Tim Marshall a reporter for Sky News blogged on a mass wedding celebration in the Gaza Strip officiated by  Hamas. Marshall reports in his excellent blog Islamophobia. Ignorance or Propaganda?,

The party is for 450 grooms, the brides are elsewhere, some among the 5,000 or so guests. It’s the way things are done here, Personally I’m for the mixing of the sexes, but I’m not about to argue, I’m outnumbered.

Up on the stage there’s music and dancing. Everyone’s having a good time, even me, although the Hamas robocops are making me a little nervous. Sure Hamas have cold blooded killers among them, sure they support the murder of children in Israel, sure they are cracking down on women’s rights, but many of their supporters are just ordinary people. And they need a break…Then the fireworks explode, the cheering begins, and in march the Hamas scouts, bashing drums, looking every inch the future Hamas fighters many will be. Then the grooms, aged about 18 to about 28. They are holding hands with their young nieces and cousins, little girls aged from about 3 to 8, made up to the nines, wearing white wedding dresses.

So what has gotten the Loon world completely riled up? Well it seems that many of the anti-Muslims misconstrued the occasion and thought the grooms were actually marrying the little girls who were their nieces or cousins! Tim Marshall explains,

Our report on this put it into context saying that it took place just a mile from the Israeli border and was a message from Hamas about its strength confidence and future fighters. Oh and that the brides were elsewhere. Pretty straightforward.

It never struck me for a moment that the little girls might later be described in the bloggersphere as the brides! How naive I am.

Dozens, and I mean dozens, of websites took the video of the event and wrote lurid stories about Hamas mass paedophilia with headlines about ‘450 child brides’, and endless copy about how disgusting this was, how it showed how depraved Islam is, et al, ad infinitum. Site after site jumped on the story, linking from one totally wrong load of rubbish to the next. I’ll give credit to Tundra Tabloids who at least took down the video, but most sites just ploughed on regardless.

So which sites are these, and what have the various reactions been? Bartholomew gives us a hint,

The many websites that picked this up have responded in various ways: some issuing corrections, some quickly deleting their postings, and some insisting that it’s all true and that Marshall is trying to cover up the fact: “Why”, demands one site “would Tim Marshall defend the Gaza pedophiles?” One of the sites that decided to scrub was Robert Spencer’s Jihad Watch, which is worth noting as Spencer claims some sort of academic expertise on Islam.

Where does this collective hallucination and fixation on fiction originate from? The simple, straight forward answer is that it comes from the collective hysterical hatred shared by those who despise Islam and Muslims. It is a manifestation of Islamophobia, “ie. an irrational fear of Islam.” It springs from the idea that Islam is evil, inherently backwards, oppressive to women. The talking point goes, “Muhammad was a pedophile who married 9 year old A’isha and these vile Mooslims must be doing it now on this massive scale!” George Readings puts this into some context in a recent post on The Spitoons (via Bartholemew),

The “argument” goes that Muslims believe Muhammad to be a perfect model for behaviour and therefore the fact of Muhammad’s marriage to A’isha somehow proves Islam to be a depraved religion…This attempt to aggressively apply a modern British definition of paedophilia to seventh century Arabia strikes me as a sign of severe anthropological illiteracy…

…Marriage to a pre-pubescant child with whom consummation occurs upon reaching puberty is not a model most people would be happy with in the modern world (although Bolivia sets the age of consent at puberty).

Which is probably why nearly all Muslim countries have reformed these rules beyond recognition. The age of consent in Algeria and Malaysia is 16, in Indonesia it is 19 for males and 16 for females. In Egypt it’s 18 for both and Tunisia 20. Reform has not, however, come to Saudi Arabia. Back in April the world followed the case of a mother trying to obtain a divorce for her eight-year-old daughter who had been married off by her father to a friend he owed a debt. In the end she succeeded and now there is even talk of Saudi Arabia preventing marriage before the age of 18.

Poor Tim Marshall scoured the net in an attempt to let the Islamophobes know that they had gotten it wrong but what was the result?

I spent a few hours visiting websites and leaving comments where I could. To little avail. Instead I received a steady stream of vitriol. The best response was on a site run by a Debbie Schlussel . The guy who posted it said he wasn’t interested in the detail. The detail being the fact that the girls weren’t the brides.

It showed how much some people want to believe nonsense like this, as it re-inforces their prejudices, always a comfortably fun thing to do. But Hamas, and the jihadists do enough terrible things without having to make things up about them. Most of the stuff I read was outright, unthinking, gleeful, Islamophobia from people who clearly knew nothing about Arab popular culture. It’s as is they really beleive that because there are examples of child brides, it means all weddings are with child brides.

Debbie Schlussel is not new to LoonWatch readers, her doozy looniness is par for the course, so Tim shouldn’t worry, but he hit the nail on the head when he wrote, “It showed how much some people want to believe nonsense like this, as it re-inforces their prejudices, always a comfortably fun thing to do.” This is exactly the case — loaded with a bagful of prejudice and preconceived notions the Islamophobes took the wedding to be an affirmation of their pre-set conjectures.

When they were presented with the fact that they had stupendously erred some corrected themselves  while others went into denial. It almost reminds you of some Biblical literalists who believe the world is 6,000 years old, you can present them with all the overwhelming evidence that point to the fact that the world is many millions of times older but they will stubbornly hold on to their literal interepretation of the Bible. This is not much different, and serves as a sweeping manifestation of the kind of irrationality that ignorance coupled with hate can produce.