The Hamas Smear: How Islamophobes Use Six Degrees of Separation to Smear Muslims

The Hamas Smear: How Islamophobes Use Six Degrees of Separation to Smear Muslims

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Even President Obama is not safe from the Hamas smear

Lauren Green’s interview of Reza Aslan backfired on Fox News.  Green’s obvious bias generated sympathy for Aslan.  Many Americans were horrified at her blatant display of Islamophobia.  Yet, Lauren Green’s statements were actually very mild compared to the anti-Muslim smears that Reza Aslan and other prominent Muslims are routinely subjected to–which few Americans speak out against.

Perhaps the crudest attack–used almost invariably against a Muslim who reaches any form of prominence whatsoever–is the Hamas smear.  Its ubiquity is such that we ought to name a law after it.  We’ve all heard of Godwin’s Law:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.

The Hamas smear deserves its own law.  For vanity’s sake, let’s call it Danios’s Law.  And, it goes something like this:

As a Muslim person becomes more prominent, the probability of anti-Muslim bigots linking that Muslim to Hamas* approaches 1.

*Or some other extremist group

It may not sound as elegant as Godwin’s Law, but it’s equally true.

How commonly the Hamas smear is used against Muslims became painfully obvious when I read Salon essayist Wajahat Ali’s guest article he wrote for LoonWatch.  Ali masterfully used comedy to make impotent the very ugly “stealth jihadist” accusations levied against Muslims.  Then, I realized that Muslims in general tend to have a running joke about this, since the Hamas smear is so prevalent against them.  They have re-appropriated the smear, much as black Americans have re-appropriated the n-word.  That’s how common (and hurtful) the bigoted slur has become.

Front Page Magazine and other right-wing media outlets tied Wajahat Ali to Hamas by pointing out that Ali was a member of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) during college.  This, even though his joining the MSA during college is as intuitive as a black, Mexican, or Jewish person joining the black student union, the Mexican-American Student Association, or the Jewish Student Union respectively.

Islamophobes often use the MSA or CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, to play a connect-the-dots game back to Hamas.  CAIR is the largest and most respected American Muslim civil rights organization.  Once again using dubious connections, CAIR is connected to the Muslim Brotherhood, and in turn, to Hamas.  With both the MSA (the largest American Muslim college organization) and CAIR (the largest American Muslim civil rights organization) connected to the Muslim Brotherhood and from there to Hamas, it is only a matter of connecting an American Muslim to the MSA or CAIR in order to link that individual to Hamas itself.

Sooner or later, any prominent Muslim is bound to be smeared in this way and linked to Hamas or some other radical organization.  Even Rima Fakih, the Arab-American beauty pageant contestant who won Miss USA, was not safe from the smear.  She stood accused of being tied to Hezbollah.  The Hezbollah smear is a modified version of the Hamas smear, often employed against Shi’ite Muslims.  (Hamas is a Sunni organization, whereas Hezbollah is a Shi’ite one.)  In other words, being a bikini-clad beauty pageant winner is not enough to insulate oneself from being called a radical “Islamist.”

After the now notorious Fox News interview, the Daily Caller published an article claiming that Reza Aslan has “ties to extreme Islamists” and “is a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood.”  Elsewhere Aslan was called a “Khomeinist” and tied to the Iranian regime (yet another Shi’ite-centric version of the Hamas smear).  These six degrees of separation sort of accusations are far more pernicious than anything Lauren Green said to Reza Aslan.  They reek of McCarthyism, with “Islamism” being substituted for communism.

The list of American Muslims libeled with the Hamas smear is endless.  But, what’s interesting is that not even non-Muslims are safe from this smear.  President Barack Obama, who has a Muslim-ish enough sounding name, has been tied to both the Muslim Brotherhood and, in turn, Hamas.

I write for LoonWatch.com, arguably the internet’s most popular Islamophobia watchdog website.  And, lo and behold, it did not take long for the Hamas smear to come along my way.  The Islamophobes don’t even know my faith but they are certain that I am an “Islamist” and Hamas supporter.  Whether a Muslim or simply a “Muslim sympathizer”, one can automatically be linked to Hamas using the Islamophobic approach.

Eric Allen Bell, a former diarist for The Daily Kos (he was banned by the unanimous consensus of the Daily Kos community for being an unrestrained bigot), accused LoonWatch of being tied to Hamas.  Bell’s “connecting-the-dots” mentality and “math” prove how loosely the Hamas smear is used; Bell opined:

Loonwatch works with CAIR by broadcasting CAIR’s point of view. They are very consistent on this. Loonwatch is never in disagreement with CAIR. CAIR thanks Loonwatch in their “Hate Report”.

Connecting all of these dots is deeply, deeply concerning. Here is the math: Out of the Muslim Brotherhood come a number of terrorist organizations including Al Queda and Hamas. Out of Hamas comes C.A.I.R. and Loonwatch becomes a mirror for anything that C.A.I.R. wants to convey to Americans about how harmless Islam is.

All the evidence Eric Allen Bell needs is that “LoonWatch is never in disagreement with CAIR”, ergo LoonWatch must be working with CAIR.  Does it take a mathematician to figure out the flaw in his “math” and the logical fallacy here?

Alright, so LoonWatch is linked to CAIR because we are, according to him, “never in disagreement”–and because CAIR supposedly thanks us in their “Hate Report” (I wonder why an American Muslim civil rights group would thank a website that monitors Islamophobia?).  Ergo, LoonWatch = CAIR.  Since Hamas = CAIR, therefore LoonWatch = Hamas.  Oh yeah, let’s throw in Al-Qaeda into the mix as well.  You see, it’s so plain to see, LoonWatch = CAIR = Hamas = Al-Qaeda.

Searching “LoonWatch” on YouTube reveals a video entitled “Loonwatch and Hamas”, created by a regular commentator on JihadWatch.  The video is a painful ten minutes long, with a rambling “connect-the-dots” approach to smear me.  What’s interesting is that the Islamophobic narrator mentions that I specifically condemned and denounced Hamas (which is what right-wingers always demand of Muslims and their sympathizers: “Do you, sir, condemn Hamas?”), but then goes on to explain why my condemnation and denouncement of Hamas aren’t genuine.

Hamas and LoonWatch Video:

So, what’s his argument to make this claim?  The narrator intones: “A look at the numerous LoonWatch pages that come up from the term ‘Hamas’, we see that Danios and Hamas are quite compatible politically.”  Really?  I’m a strong supporter of pluralistic, secular, liberal democracy, whereas Hamas supports an ultra-conservative Islamic “Sharia state.”  How’s that for compatibility?

The narrator then points to an article I wrote about Debbie Schlussel.  In that article, I criticized Schlussel for insulting the victims of the Oslo terrorist attack in which seventy-seven innocent people were killed by a far-right wing extremist.  Schlussel called the child victims of this heinous attack “bitches.”  Interestingly, in the article I also pointed out that Schlussel linked the victims to Hamas, calling them “HAMASniks.”  (Here again we see the Hamas smear in action, this time against murdered children.)

I passingly mention the Freedom Flotilla in the article, because Debbie Schlussel accused the child victims of having sympathized with it.  (The Freedom Flotilla had attempted to provide humanitarian aid to the starving people of Gaza.)  There is the narrator’s hook!  He says that we should “place the Flotilla at the center of our discussion.”

The connect-the-dots is about to begin.  It’s confusing, but it goes something like this:

Danios writes an article where the Freedom Flotilla is mentioned –> The Freedom Flotilla was organized by the Turkish NGO IHH and the Free Gaza movement –> the Free Gaza Movement is made up of forty different groups and individuals –> Huwaida Arraf (an Arab-American Christianby the way) is one of these people –>  Arraf is the co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement –> The International Solidarity Movement’s website linked to the Free Marwan Barghouti campaign –>  Huwaida Arraf is dedicated to her beliefs so much so that she would die for them –> Martyrdom is a hallmark of Hamas, therefore –> Huwaida Arraf = Hamas.  Therefore, as you can clearly see, Danios = Hamas.  Don’t you see?

The rest of the video goes on to find more threads between the Freedom Flotilla movement and Hamas, then linking all of that somehow to me.  (I have nothing to do with the Freedom Flotilla, by the way.)

Oh yes, and we are told that our website LoonWatch.com also links to the “Hamas apologist Glenn Greenwald.”  (Yet another “Muslim sympathizer” tarnished with the Hamas smear.)

The Hamas smear is an empty and meaningless line of attack, devoid of any intellectual substance.  Unfortunately, however, it is all too often an effective means of tarnishing a person’s character.  The only silver lining is that the Hamas smear is used so often and so flippantly by the Islamophobes that they might actually just wear it out.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.

Did you like this article?  If so, make sure to contribute to LoonWatch’s IndieGoGo campaign and we’ll send you Danios’s upcoming book.

Robert Spencer to Debate Achmed the Dead Terrorist and The Dictator

Sheila Musaji of The American Muslim (TAM) has been keeping a close eye on the loons who write for Jihad Watch.  The chief loon of JW, Robert Spencer, had initially been slated to debate David Wood, another Christian loon like himself.  Realizing no doubt that they are on the same side of the loony equation, the debate has been scrapped.  Instead, both Spencer and Wood have agreed to face off against Anjem Choudary and Omar Bakri.

As Musaji presciently noted, “[b]oth Choudary and Bakri are part of the Muslim lunatic fringe.”  The nefarious duo are very familiar to the Muslim community of the U.K., not because they have a large following (they don’t), but because they are routinely trotted out by anti-Muslim right-wingers.  The set-up is always the same: a right-winger pundit will invite one of these two clowns onto their show for a “debate.” By making the hated Choudary and Bakri the representative for the Muslim side, the debate is of course already won.  Muslims are left thinking, “with friends like these, who needs enemies…”

Anjem Choudary and Omar Bakri are absolutely despised by the vast majority of the Muslim community, even by the ultra-conservative and radical Muslims they pretend to represent.   They are caricatures, just one step away from being Achmed the Dead Terrorist or a character thought up by Sacha Baron Cohen (like Ali G or Admiral General Aladeen, A.K.A. The Dictator).  Choudary and Bakri play the part of terrorists and radical Islamists, which is why hateful Islamophobes love giving them ample air time: look at how crazy those Moozlums are!

It’s absolutely no surprise then that Robert Spencer and David Wood, two loons in their own right, would debate two even loonier loons.  Spencer wastes his time engaging such unserious clowns, because–just as Sheila Musaji noted long time ago–he has a pattern of seeking out complete fools to debate with so that he can then crow in victory afterward.  Meanwhile, Spencer will doggedly avoid debating anyone (1) with a serious grasp of knowledge of the topic at hand and (2) the debating skill to back it up.  And of course, (3) anyone named Danios.  What’s interesting is that even Robert Spencer’s debating partner, David Wood, seemed to imply on his website that Anjem Choudary and Omar Bakri are weak debaters.  Wood agrees with Choudary and Bakri’s view that Muhammad existed, but he doesn’t think that they will be able to make the convincing argument.  Why not just debate Achmed the Dead Terrorist or The Dictator?  It would certainly be just as enlightening and perhaps a bit more entertaining.

Robert Spencer’s homepage boldly declares that he is “the acclaimed scholar of Islam”, and yet he has no educational qualifications to validate that lofty claim.  In fact, all he has is an M.A. in Christian studies…If I get an M.A. in Buddhist studies, does that mean I get to be “the acclaimed scholar of Judaism”?  Spencer has never had his work submitted for peer review in the academic world, and so his arguments–while they certainly might pass off in the non-scholarly world–have never been tested by the real experts in the field.  Spencer’s version of peer-review is debating the equivalent of Achmed the Dead Terrorist and The Dictator.

In any case, let’s not beat around the bush.  It’s me in particular who Robert Spencer fears. One would think that he would want to debate me now that I’ve won the Brass Crescent Award for Best Writer last year (and was runner-up the year before), in no small part due to my writings against Spencer.  I have been refuting his book for a long time now, decimating his arguments one by one.  Spencer can’t respond intelligently, so of course, he naturally fears facing off in debate.  It has now officially been 684 days–that’s 1 year, 10 months, and 14 days–since I agreed to have a radio debate with Robert Spencer.  In that time, Spencer has furiously been generating excuse after excuse to avoid the debate.

Spencer continues to use my anonymity as an excuse to cover up his cowardice.  I’m an anonymous blogger and I have expressed my intent in preserving that anonymity for now.  Yet, Spencer repeatedly insists on a public venue–so that I “show my face”–knowing full well that I won’t accept such a condition.  In this way, Spencer gets out of the debate and can then disingenuously claim that I was the cause of the impasse.

Robert Spencer engages in typical right-winger projection: look how cowardly Danios is that he doesn’t show his face.  But, it is Spencer who is the coward, at least when it comes to defending his views.  What difference does it make who I am or what I look like?  The obvious answer is that Spencer wants to engage in ad hominem attacks against me, instead of focusing on the substantive value of his arguments, which my writings have shown to be severely lacking.  It’s now quite evident to all who want to see it: my refutations of his book are irrefutable.  I know it, you know it, he knows it.

And that’s why Robert Spencer will keep running away from me.  Instead, he’ll debate fools and loons.  Yawn, what’s new?

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.

*  *  *  *  *

Here is Sheila Musaji’s article from TAM:

David Wood and Robert Spencer “Debate”?

by Sheila Musaji

David Wood is not as well known as Robert Spencer, so a little background is in order.  Wood is an Evangelical pastor and has a series of polemical articles on Answering Islam.  His focus seems to be on anti-Muslim polemics.

Kiera Feldman reported on an incident in 2010:

Organized by Stop the Islamization of America, the first rally against the “Ground Zero mosque” was held in a plaza near the site of the Twin Towers on June 6th—D-Day. “We are not hatemongerers!” Pamela Hall proclaimed from the podium. “We just want our families and our future to be safe from the racist, bigoted ideology that murdered 3,000 people.” In the crowd, signs ranged from “Everything I need to know about Islam, I learned on 9/11” to crude drawings of Mohammed with the label “beast.”

Toward the end of the rally, two dark-skinned men were overheard speaking Arabic. The crowd transformed into an angry mob, surrounded the men, and shouted, “go home” and “get out.” The Bergen Record reported that the two scared men, Joseph Nasralla and Karam El Masry, had to be extricated by police. It turned out they weren’t even Muslim. They were Egyptian Coptic Christians who’d trekked cross-country from California to join the cause against the “Ground Zero mosque.” Nasralla later told John Hawkins of Right Wing News that the Record coverage was indeed accurate, adding that he’d been shoved and his camera knocked to the ground. “He said he was worried that things might have really gotten out of hand if the police hadn’t escorted him and Karam El Masry away,” Hawkins wrote.

“I actually caused that by accident,” an evangelical pastor named David Wood told me with a chuckle. He meant the near race riot. Wood is a PhD student in philosophy at a respectable New York institution whose name he didn’t want me to use. Passionate about proselytizing to Muslims, Wood’s expertise is Christian apologetics, the practice of arguing unbelievers into faith. He is best known as the creator of a viral video “Of Mosques and Men,” which argues all Muslims—even those who seem “peaceful,” like “good citizens in public”—had an urge to “smile when there were terrorist attacks.” But Wood allows himself a little laugh about violence when Muslims are on the receiving end.

As he tells the story of that day, “[The Copts] were complaining about not having anything to hand out. And I said, ‘I’ve got some pamphlets on Islam, specifically on whether Islam is a religion of peace.” The pamphlets contained passages of the Qur’an selected to suggest the answer is no. “People thought they were there to defend the mosque and promote Islam,” Wood explained. “Lots of people were fired up about that.” But it was a goofy case of mistaken identity, a funny little mix-up. “The guys who were doing it were actually Christians,” Wood told me as if clearing up the whole matter. “They weren’t Muslims.” In other words: the mob’s anger and actions were justified, but misdirected. Aim better next time?

Garibaldi of Loonwatch has written exposes about Wood in two articles here and here

Wood and Robert Spencer will have a “debate” this coming Sunday on the thesis of Spencer’s new book Did Muhammad Exist?  This “debate” will be moderated by Pamela Geller.  That may be the only time that you will see the combination of Pamela Geller and moderation in the same sentence.

Wood made the “challenge to a debate” by video and Spencer accepted the “challenge”.

Spencer is still falsely claiming that Muslims are afraid to debate him, and says in his acceptance: So David Wood will do their work for them.  Read my article Danios vs Spencer:  18 months and Spencer still avoiding a debate for the Saga of Spencer’s avoidance of a debate with Danios.  See The Muslim Communities Useful Idiots for information on some of Spencer’s past debates with Muslims, and why I believe that engaging with bigots is not productive.

These are not individuals who hold respectable, if controversial opinions.  These are bigots, and engaging them in such a forum only provides them with some veneer of respectability.

Hosts like Hannity, or Bolling can claim that they have been “fair and balanced” because they included a Muslim.  And, full time, paid mercenaries in a “holy war” against Islam like Spencer, will claim “victory” no matter what the outcome.  If they have no “facts” that will stand up to scrutiny, they will stoop to ridiculous slurs, as they did with Christina Abraham.  And, when all else fails, if any Muslim says anything reasonable, they will say that it is taqiyya.

This sort of devious, unethical, and downright childish behavior, is not surprising from individuals who consistently “get it wrong” when it comes to Islam and Muslims, and who see no ethical problem with simply removing articles from a site when they are proven to be inaccurate.  Not too surprising for individuals who are co-founders (Spencer & Geller) of a group, Stop the Islamization of America (SIOA), which has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  The group is also described by the ADL in the following terms: “Stop the Islamization of America (SIOA), created in 2009, promotes a conspiratorial anti-Muslim agenda under the guise of fighting radical Islam. The group seeks to rouse public fears by consistently vilifying the Islamic faith and asserting the existence of an Islamic conspiracy to destroy “American” values. The organization warns of the encroachment of shari’a, or Islamic law, and encourages Muslims to leave what it describes as the “falsity of Islam.”

I believe that it is not “cowardly” to leave these folks alone, just sensible.   It is not that their claims cannot be, and have not been answered, but rather that they have proven themselves time and time again to be untrustworthy and dishonorable in both their tactics and their responses to reasoned argument.

Spencer and Wood seem to have a mutual admiration society.  Spencer posted a notice about the “debate” with a note to watch Wood’s video, and Wood posted a notice with a note to read Spencer’s book.

The notice points out that this “debate” will be right after Geller and Spencer’s “Jessica Mokdad Human Rights Conference” (their most recent anti-Muslim hate fest) ends.  It is worth noting that David Wood will be a speaker at Spencer and Geller’s conference.  I’m sure their promotional video will be more exciting than the actual “debate”.

It seems pretty obvious that rather than a debate, this is a calculated publicity stunt to gain a little more notoriety for their conference, and to publicize Spencer’s book.  I’m sure that they will both have an opportunity to get in a few anti-Muslim zingers in the course of this “debate”.  Let the bigots talk among themselves.

UPDATE 4/30/2012

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any more strange.  Robert Spencer just posted a new notice about tonights “debate”.  The debate is now to be between Spencer and Wood (on the same side) versus Anjem Choudary and Omar Bakri.

Both Choudary and Bakri are part of the Muslim lunatic fringe.  Just type their names or the term lunatic fringe into our TAM search engine for more information on these disreputable folks.

I’m curious as to how Spencer is going to talk to Omar Bakri since the last I heard he had been denied re-entry to England, and arrested in Lebanon.

http://www.loonwatch.com/2012/04/why-do-they-hate-us-they-dont/

Mona Eltahawy, an Arab-American journalist, created a firestorm when Foreign Policy Magazine published her article “Why Do They Hate Us?”.  If you thought the they and us refers to Muslims and Americans, you’d be wrong.  In fact, they is Arab men, and us is women.  Her article is a stabbing critique of Arab culture, which she finds to be heavily misogynistic.

If that wasn’t provocative enough, she goes further: according to her, these Arab men hate women.  ”Yes: They hate us. It must be said.”  To prove her argument, she issues a challenge: “Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses [against women] fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion.”  The rest of the article is a recitation of that litany, interspersed with jazzy catchphrases such as “[w]e are more than our headscarves and our hymens” and “poke the hatred in its eye.”

There is no way to deny the basic premise that the status of women’s rights in the Arab world is abysmal.  Why then did Mona Eltahawy evoke such a hostile reaction from even the Arab women whose rights she seeks to protect?  The easy answer, one that Eltahawy and her supporters might argue, is that these women are simply brainwashed.  Too much “Islamism” in their little brains.  The problem with this argument is that it’s sexist.  It’s basically saying Arab women are too stupid to think for themselves.

The real reason that Arab women recoil after reading Eltahawy’s article is that, while she tries to connect to them based on their gender, she attacks other aspects of their core identity: their race, nationality, religion, and culture.  In fact, her racist (and somewhat babbling) screed is nothing short of a vicious attack on their entire civilization.

Eltahawy cites “a toxic mix of culture and religion” as the source of the abuses against women.  Oddly, she later says, “You — the outside world — will be told that it’s our ‘culture’ and ‘religion’ to do X, Y, or Z to women.”  Yet, it is Mona Eltahawy herself who is arguing precisely that.

By attacking their core identity, Eltahawy has succeeded in alienating her own audience.  Imagine, for instance, an American feminist arguing for greater rights for African women, while at the same time assailing the black race, African culture, and traditional tribal religion.  How receptive or thankful do you think these African women would be?  How pleased would the black or African community be if someone was writing articles about how backwards their culture is?

Mona Eltahawy’s article engages in trite, racial stereotypes.  Legitimate problems in the Arab world are sensationalized.  They hate women.  What an absurd exaggeration!  They have mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters–and it is reasonable to assume that, like other human beings on earth, they love them.

A man can love his wife and still abuse her.  He can have undying affection for his daughter but still wrong her in horrible ways.  But, by going so far as to say they hate women, Eltahawy has dehumanized them.  One recalls similar invective against Palestinian parents: they don’t love their children.  The message being sent is: they are worse than animals.

Women’s rights is an area of concern in many parts of the developing world, not just the Arab world.  Why single out Arabs?  Women face major obstacles in India.  Should we demonize the Hindu religion and the great Indian civilization?

Eltahawy lists off “a litany of abuses”, bringing up extreme cases to make her point.  By citing isolated cases and stacking them all up together, she ends up portraying an imbalanced and biased picture of the Arab world.

Racists don’t see nuance.  They lump all people of a certain group altogether.  That’s exactly what Mona Eltahawy does in her article.  She paints the entire people of that region–or at least its men–with one broad bush.  They hate women.  All 170 million of them.

In fact, not all Arabs are alike.  During my travels in the Muslim world, I saw all sorts of people, with a broad diversity of views.  I met conservative Muslims, liberal Muslims, atheists, Christians, Communists, hippies, you name it.  No sweeping generalization could be made about them (aside for, perhaps, their disgust of American foreign policy).

It is true that I was deeply disturbed by the mistreatment of women, religious and ethnic minorities, poor people, servants, and animals.  But, I also met people there–men, no less–who were also deeply disturbed by these things and would have no part in it.

Just as the viral Kony 2012 video drew criticism for reinforcing the idea of White Man’s Burden, so too does Mona Eltahawy’s article tap into historically racist Orientalist attitudes towards the Arab world.

By firmly pegging abuses against women to the Arab culture and Muslim religion, Mona Eltahawy’s article was nothing short of bigotry.  Indeed, one could hardly tell the difference between Eltahawy’s article and what could normally be found sprawled on numerous Islamophobic websites, such as Robert Spencer’s JihadWatch and Pamela Geller’s Atlas Shrugs.  It is almost a surety that her article will be approvingly cited on such sites, which pit “our civilized, freedom-loving civilization” against “those barbaric, women-hating peoples.”

Had Mona Eltahawy been just any ole’ Islamophobe hacking away at the keyboard–had she been a Robert Spencer or a Pamela Geller–her article would hardly have made headlines.  It would have been just one of thousands and thousands of such hateful rants on the internet by anti-Muslim trolls.  But, like Irshad Manji and Asra Nomani, Mona Eltahawy has an official “I’m a Muslim” card.  That’s even better than the official “I’m an ex-Muslim” card that bigots like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Nonie Darwish proudly carry.  It’s probably even a step above the “I’m a former jihadi terrorist” gold card.  Eltahawy holds the platinum card and gets extra points for being a woman.

As other pundits have noted, Mona Eltahawy is–along with Irshad Manji, Asra Nomani, Tarek Fatah, Zuhdi Jasser, etc.–acting in the role of the “native informant.”  Monica L. Marks writes on the Huffington Post:

Why Do They Hate Us?” asks the latest cover of Foreign Policy magazine. Beneath the title stands a cowering woman wearing nothing but black body paint resembling the niqab, or full Islamic face veil.

Egyptian feminist Mona Eltahawy authored the article. Her central contention — that Arab Muslim culture “hates” women — resurrects a raft of powerful stereotypes regarding Islam and misogyny. It also situates Ms. Eltahawy’s work within a growing trend of “native informants” whose personal testimonies of oppression under Islam have generated significant support for military aggression against Muslim-majority countries in recent years.

Books by these “native voices” — including Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s “Infidel,” Azar Nafisi’s “Reading Lolita” in Tehran, and Irshad Mandji’s “Faith Without Fear” — have flown off the shelves in post-9/11 America despite being roundly rebuffed by leading feminist academics such as Columbia University’s Lila Abu-Lughod and Yale’s Leila Ahmed. Saba Mahmood, another respected scholar, noted that native informants helped “manufacture consent” for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by serving up fear-inducing portrayals of Islam in “an authentic Muslim woman’s voice.”

Although such depictions have proven largely inaccurate and guilty of extreme generalizations, they have become immensely popular. Why? Because these native “testimonials” tell us what we in the West already know — that there’s something inherently misogynistic about Muslims and Arabs.

By stirring up our sympathies and reinforcing our prejudices, individuals like Ms. Hirsi Ali and Ms. Eltahawy have climbed to the top of the media ladder. Their voices are drowning out the messages of more nuanced, well-respected scholars.

Marks goes on to say:

Her fault lies in extrapolating broad cultural judgments from context-specific abuses, implying that Islam and Arab culture writ large are have toxically combined to create a hopelessly backward region that “treats half of humanity like animals.”

These native informants just tell us what we want to hear.  Their job is to increase hatred of Arabs and Muslims, something that is needed in order to sustain our multiple wars of aggression in that part of the world.

Native informants do not help fix the problems they point to.  Why, for example, did Mona Eltahawy choose to publish her article in Foreign Policy, an American magazine?  Why didn’t she write it for an Arab/Arabic publication, with a primarily Arab readership?

Instead she chose Foreign Policy Magazine, which was founded by none other than Samuel P. Huntington.  His famous Clash of Civilizations theory pit the Judeo-Christian West against the Muslim world.  How very fitting that Mona Eltahawy’s us vs. them article was published in the magazine he founded.

Eltahawy’s audience is clear:

You — the outside world — will be told that it’s our ‘culture’ and ‘religion’ to do X, Y, or Z to women.

Monica Marks writes:

 It is important for her readers, however, to understand the dangers of sensationalist coverage that over-simplify complex matters of gender, politics, and religious observance in Muslim-majority countries.

History is rife with examples of seemingly women-friendly arguments hijacked in the service of imperialistic and aggressive ends. While emotional and sensationalist portrayals such as this most recent Foreign Policy cover will sell copies, they do little to deepen our understanding of the contexts and conditions shaping women’s oppression in Arab countries today.

Indeed, the issue of human rights was routinely used by the colonial powers to justify the conquest and expropriation of land.  The Americas, including the land that is now the United States, was brutally conquered and stolen by Europeans on this very basis.  The indigenous peoples were portrayed as savages needing civilizing.  The white man would bring them “democracy”, “freedom”, and “civilization” (Operation Iraqi Freedom?).

In her article, Mona Eltahawi enumerates numerous abuses Arab women face.  However, none of these inhumanities–not even female genital mutilation–can be considered as problematic as the cannibalism and human sacrifice that the indigenous peoples of the Americas sometimes engaged in.  And yet, whatever failings the indigenous peoples had in their culture and civilization, it is now widely understood who the real savage was.

We can continue to pat ourselves on the back for how civilized we are, how free our women are, how we are so much better than them.  But, none of that will change the fact that we are the ones waging wars of aggression and occupation in the Muslim world.  We are the ones killing hundreds of thousands of their innocent men, women, and children.

It was in another article, also published in Foreign Policy with almost the exact same title–Why They Hate Us?–that Prof. Stephen Walt calculated the number of Muslim lives the U.S. has extinguished:  “a reasonable upper bound for Muslim fatalities…is well over one million, equivalent to over 100 Muslim fatalities for every American lost.”  To use a jazzy catchphrase of my own: mutilating a baby girl’s genitals is horrible, but dropping a bomb on her head is much worse.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.

Jihad By Any Means Necessary?

The following is a part of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series, which is a refutation of Robert Spencer’s book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).  Specifically, I am herein refuting chapter one of his book, entitled “Muhammad: Prophet of War.”

An anti-Muslim canard that has gained considerable popularity in the post-9/11 world is the idea that Muslims can do anything, no matter how morally questionable, if it furthers the Islamic cause.  According to this idea, jihad can be waged “by any means necessary.”  Robert Spencer argues this in his book, writing:

Islam’s only overarching moral principle is “if it’s good for Islam, it’s right.” [1]

Spencer traces the birth of this Islamic “principle” to the life story of the Prophet Muhammad, specifically the raid at Nakhla.  To properly debunk this conspiracy theory, we must then transport ourselves back in time to this controversial event.

In the year 610 A.D., Muhammad declared his prophethood.  His people, the Quraysh of Mecca, violently rejected him.  The early Muslims suffered heavy-handed persecution, which they endured with patience for well over a decade.  Finally, the God of the Quran permitted them to take up arms in self-defense.  Muhammad and his followers, who had regrouped in the nearby city of Medina, engaged in guerre de course (commerce raiding) against the powerful Quraysh.

I have discussed Muhammad’s guerre de course in quite a lot of detail in a previous article.  This tactic was not only something considered acceptable in the Arabian context of the time, but also has a celebrated history in the American–as well as French and German–naval traditions.  Historically, it has been considered a valid military strategy and a means of waging economic warfare against a more powerful enemy.

The early military operations led by the Muslims were largely unsuccessful–that is, until the raid at Nakhla.  Muhammad had dispatched Abdullah bin Jahsh with secret instructions contained in a letter that were not to be opened until after traveling two days journey.  (This precaution was designed no doubt to thwart potential spies, who may have informed the Quraysh of Muslim “troop” movements, which could explain the earlier failed military expeditions.)

When Abdullah opened Muhammad’s letter, it read:

When you have read this letter of mine proceed until you reach Nakhla between Mecca and Al-Ta’if. Lie in wait there for [the] Quraysh and find out for us what they are doing. [2]

On the way to Nakhla, Abdullah and his fellow riders happened across a poorly armed Qurayshite caravan.  They debated among themselves whether or not to waylay it, for it was the last day of the month of Rajab.  The pre-Islamic culture at the time assigned four months of the year as sacred (of which Rajab was one), in which fighting was proscribed.  In addition to the four sacred months, fighting was forbidden in certain holy sanctuaries (i.e. Al-Bayt Al-Haram, the area around the Kaabah).

Abdullah’s contingent faced a difficult choice:

If [we] leave them alone tonight they will get into the sacred area and will be safe from [us]; and if [we] kill them, [we] will kill them in the sacred month. [3]

They were also not quite sure what day it was.  Was it the last day of the sacred month of Rajab or the first day of of the next month, Jumada (in which fighting was permitted)?  Prof. Reuven Firestone writes of this:

The uncertainty of the day is a natural result of the calendrical system of that period, in which the moon was the primary measurer of time, because the beginning of the month was established only by actual observation of the new crescent moon. [4]

Making matters worse was the fact that, according to the lunar calendar used by the Arabs, days change at sunset, not midnight.  One of the men explained to Muhammad later that

it was becoming evening. We looked at the crescent moon of Rajab, and we did not know whether we [struck during] Rajab or in Jumada. [5]

Initially, Abdullah and his men hesitated, but then decided to attack.  The Muslims shot and killed one of the Quraysh (a man by the name of Amr Ibn Al-Hadrami), captured two of them, and seized the caravan’s goods.  By killing Ibn Al-Hadrami, the Muslims had violated the pre-Islamic Arabian custom forbidding bloodshed during the sacred month.

When Abdullah and his men returned to Medina, Muhammad rebuked them, saying:

I did not order you to fight in the sacred month! [6]

Sir Thomas W. Arnold wrote of this incident:

In so doing, [Abdullah] had not only acted without authority but had violated the sacred truce within Arab custom caused to be observed throughout the month of pilgrimage.  Muhammad received him coldly with the words, “I gave thee no command to fight in the sacred month;” dismissed the prisoners, and from his own purse paid blood-money for a Meccan who had lost his life in the fray. [7]

Other Muslims in Medina also chastised the men.  Meanwhile, the Quraysh exploited the incident to further their war propaganda against the Islamic nation.  They effectively drove a wedge in the community of Medina, with Muslims distancing themselves from other Muslims, and non-Muslims from Muslims.  Muhammad’s leadership itself was called into question.

It was in this crisis that the following Quranic verse was revealed:

They ask you about fighting in the sacred month. Say, ‘Fighting in that month is a great offense, but to bar others from God’s path, to disbelieve in Him, prevent access to the Sacred Mosque, and drive out its people, are still greater offences in God’s eyes: [their] persecution is worse than the killing [of Amr Ibn Al-Hadrami].’ They will not stop fighting you [believers] until they make you renounce your faith, if they can. If any of you renounce your faith and die as disbelievers, your deeds will come to nothing in this world and the Hereafter, and you will be inhabitants of the Fire, there to remain.  But those who have believed, who were driven out from their homes, and who strive for God’s cause, it is they who can look forward to God’s mercy: God is most forgiving and merciful. (Quran, 2:217-218)

This response from the God of the Quran successfully rallied the Muslims around their leader and their cause.  Muhammad’s treatment of the raid was splendidly balanced, neither making the Muslims look too warlike nor too humiliated: on the one hand, he paid blood money for the Qurayshite man that was killed (blood money was a form of restitution given to a victim’s family) and freed the two Qurayshite prisoners.  On the other hand, he released the two Qurayshite prisoners only in exchange for two Muslim prisoners, and also accepted the confiscated goods as legitimate spoils of war.

*  *  *  *  *

Robert Spencer writes of the Nakhla raid:

In Medina, these new Muslims began raiding the caravans of the Quraysh, with Muhammad personally leading many of these raids.  These raids kept the nascent Muslim movement solvent and helped form Islamic theology–as in one notorious incident when a band of Muslims raided a Quraysh caravan at Nakhla, a settlement not far from Mecca.  The raiders attacked the caravan during the sacred month of Rajab, when fighting was forbidden.  When they returned to the Muslim camp laden with booty, Muhammad refused to share in the loot or to have anything to do with them, saying only, “I did not order you to fight in the sacred month.”

But then a new revelation came from Allah, explaining that the Quraysh’s opposition to Muhammad was a worse transgression than the violation of the sacred month.  In other words, the raid was justified.  ”They question thee, O Muhammad, with regard to warfare in the sacred month.  Say: warfare therein is a great transgression, bu to turn men from the way of Allah, and to disbelieve in Him and in the Inviolable Place of Worship, and to expel his people thence, is a greater sin with Allah; for persecution is worse than killing” (Quran 2:214).  Whatever sin the Nakhla raiders had committed was overshadowed by the Quraysh’s rejection of Muhammad.

This was a momentous revelation, for it led to an Islamic principle that has had repercussions throughout the ages.  Good became identified with anything that redounded to the benefit of Muslims, regardless of whether it violated moral or other laws.  The moral absolutes enshrined in the Ten Commandments, and other teachings of the great religions that preceded Islam, were swept aside in favor of an overarching principle of expediency. [8]

In true Spencerian fashion, he misleads the reader using lies of omission and commission.  Spencer does not clearly state that Muhammad had dispatched the “band of Muslims” on a reconnaissance mission, in order to “find out for us what [the Quraysh] are doing.”  This is why the Prophet of Islam later disavowed Abdullah’s actions, for he had “acted without authority.”  Also, no mention is made in Spencer’s book of the difficulty in ascertaining the day and month in which the raid took place.

Spencer’s biggest lie, however, is the following doozie:

Whatever sin the Nakhla raiders had committed was overshadowed by the Quraysh’s rejection of Muhammad.

In fact, it was not merely “the Quraysh’s rejection of Muhammad”, but, in the words of the Quran itself, their persecution [of the Muslims that] is worse than the killing” of Amr Ibn Al-Hadrami.  Here, the Islamic holy book was referring to the over decade-long period of Qurayshite persecution, during which the early Muslims suffered beatings, imprisonment, torture, and forced conversions; some of the early believers were even killed.  This, the God of the Quran argued, was worse than what the “band of Muslims” had done.  It would be difficult to argue otherwise.

Spencer goes on to say:

In other words, the raid was justified.

No, it wasn’t.  In fact, the Quran recognized and affirmed that the Muslims had committed a grave sin: “Fighting in [the sacred] month is a great offense.”

Many Western commentators have claimed that Muhammad and the Quran, by this passage, abandoned observation of the ban on fighting during the four sacred months.  The insistence on this view is based on their blind acceptance of the traditional opinion [9], held by various Islamic exegetes in medieval times, that this was a pre-Islamic tradition that was overturned by the advent of Islam.

Yet, a neutral reading of the Quranic text–both this passage and those that follow it–reveals the exact opposite: the Prophet Muhammad affirmed and respected the sanctity of the four sacred months.  The Quranic verse starts by saying, “They ask you about fighting in the sacred month.”  Obviously, Muhammad was being accosted by all sides about the raid at Nakhla, which threatened to be a public relations disaster for the Muslims.  How much easier it would have been for the Prophet of Islam to have simply declared the four sacred months a “pagan belief” that the Muslims did not accept.

After all, in another controversy in early Islam’s history, when Muhammad received significant criticism for having married his adopted son’s ex-wife Zaynab bint Jahsh, the Quran justified the act by declaring that: firstly, unlike in the pagan custom of the time, in Islam there is no prohibition against such a thing; and secondly, it was God himself who commanded Muhammad to marry Zaynab, and therefore, “the Prophet is not at fault for what God has ordained for him” (Quran, 33:38).  (It should be noted that the Islamic permission to marry one’s adopted son’s ex-wife is no more disconcerting than Judaism’s permitting of marriage to one’s nieces.)

The point is that the Quran didn’t just take the easy way out, which would have been to reject the four sacred months altogether.  (Muhammad could have also simply declared the pagans to be “disbelievers”, licit to be attacked at any place or any time.)  Instead, the Quran affirmed that it was indeed a grave offense to fight therein, and in fact, commanded Muhammad to tell the people so:

They ask you about fighting in the sacred month. Say, ‘Fighting in that month is a great offense.’ (Quran, 2:217)

The Islamic affirmation of the four sacred months occurs throughout the Quran.  Muslims are not to fight in these months, so long as the other side respects this prohibition:

Fight during the sacred months if you are attacked therein, for a violation of sanctity is subject to the law of just retribution.  So, if anyone commits aggression against you, attack him as he attacked you. (Quran, 2:194)

The Quran also affirms the idea of sacred spaces:

Do not fight them at the Sacred Mosque unless they fight you there. (Quran, 2:191)

This topic deserves greater elaboration, but for now, suffice to say that even in the jihad passages of chapter nine of the Quran–which the Islamophobes insist are (in the words of the anti-Muslim website ReligionOfPeace.com) “the final ‘revelations’ from Allah” about jihad–the four sacred months are affirmed.  For example, in the so-called “verse of the sword” (ayat al-saif), the Quran declares:

When the sacred months are passed, then fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them… (Quran, 9:5)

Leaving aside for now the fact that the verse right before this one (verse 9:4) explains that this injunction refers only to those pagans who broke a treaty and waged war against the Muslims, there is another obvious point to be made here: Islamophobes insist that this passage was revealed in Muhammad’s last years and was his final, all-out call to war against non-Muslims.  (I will refute this argument in a future article.)  If we are to accept this claim, then we see that–even in this late stage of Muhammad’s decrees about jihad–the sacred months are to be respected.

In fact, the Quran goes so far to claim that it was God himself who decreed these months to be sacred.  More than this, the God of the Quran chastises the Qurayshite pagans for violating the four sacred months by “transposing them” for other months in the year, something they did out of convenience:

God decrees that there are twelve months–ordained in God’s Book on the Day when He created the heavens and earth–four months of which are sacred: this is the correct calculation. Do not wrong your souls in these months–though you may fight the idolaters at any time, if they first fight you–remember that God is with those who are mindful of Him.  Transposing sacred months is another act of disobedience by which those who disregard God are led astray: they will allow it one year and forbid it in another in order to outwardly conform with the number of God’s sacred months, but in doing so they permit what God has forbidden. Their evil deeds are made alluring to them: God does not guide those who disregard Him.  (Quran, 9:36-37)

In conclusion, it is not true that Muhammad justified the Nakhla raid, nor is it valid to claim that the Prophet of Islam simply made it legal when Muslims did it.  Spencer’s claim that ”if it’s good for Islam, it’s right” finds no basis.

The Quran acknowledged that the killing of Amr Ibn Al-Hadrami in the sacred month was a “grave offense” and Muhammad offered restitution to the victim’s family.  This mea culpa indicates that the Prophet of Islam acknowledged that wrong had been committed and he sought to right it.  Meanwhile, the “band of Muslims” involved in the escapade were duly chastised.  After they had expressed remorse for their sin, the God of the Quran forgave them “for God is Forgiving, Merciful” (2:218), and reassured them of their salvation.  That forgiveness was necessary in the first place indicates that they had committed a sin.

What the Quran didn’t do is claim that the Muslims had done nothing wrong.  All it did was point out the hypocrisy of the Quraysh, for they had committed greater offenses against the Muslims.  Robert Spencer would quickly claim that the Quran was committing a tu quoque fallacy, but there is a difference between a valid tu quoque argument and an invalid tu quoque fallacy.  Tu quoque (“you too”) arguments are not always illegitimate.  Of significance is the fact that, following the Nakhla raid, Muhammad (1) admitted that the Muslims had committed an offense, and (2) willingly submitted to the penalty of that offense (i.e. paid blood money).

The Prophet of Islam didn’t try to make something right because the enemy did something wrong.  More importantly, he didn’t try to get out of the penalty for the offense.  Instead, he admitted that his side had done something wrong, paid the penalty for it, and then pointed out that his accusers had committed far greater offenses without making any amends for it.  He was not trying to get out of the penalty, but only highlighting the Qurayshite hypocrisy so that they would not exploit the incident to further anti-Muslim propaganda.

Islamophobes today are also guilty of hypocrisy on this front: they are among America and Israel’s most hawkish proponents of war in Muslim lands.  During Muhammad’s pre-Badr expeditions, the Muslims had killed only one person, and this was in violation of their orders.  What about the hundreds and hundreds of Muslim victims who die at the hands of the American and Israeli military, without any form of restitution given to them?  We are told then that “this is war”…But when Muhammad’s men kill one person, then it’s the greatest tragedy in all of history.

Related to our opening question (Is Islam more violent than other religions, specifically Judaism and Christianity? Was Muhammad the most violent prophet or religious figure in history?) lies another question: the Biblical prophets–such as MosesJoshuaSamson,DavidSaul, etc.–engaged in genocide against the natives of Canaan.  Thousands and thousands of innocent people were slaughtered.  Are there any stories in the Bible of any of these Judeo-Christian prophets and holy figures giving restitution to the victim’s families?  One can already hear Robert Spencer crying “tu quoque, tu quoque!”, a word that he obviously does not properly understand.  Islam, identified as our enemy in the post-9/11 war, is put through a special standard, one that Spencer’s own religion could not withstand.

*  *  *  *  *

The Islamic principle of justice is to apply the law equally to all.  There are numerous verses of the Quran to this effect (i.e. 16:90: “God commands you to uphold justice and to do good to others”) and this topic would require another article to elucidate fully.  For now, however, it would suffice us to refer to the opening of sura (chapter) five, which is said to be among the final revelations of the Quran.  It was revealed after the conquest of Mecca.  In it, we see once again that the Quran affirms the idea of sacred months and sacred spaces.  More importantly, it commands Muslims to uphold justice and be fair even to their enemies:

Do not violate the sanctity of God’s rites or the Sacred Months…or the people coming to the Sacred Space…Do not let your ill-will towards a people–because they barred you from the Sacred Mosque–cause you to transgress against them.  Help one another to do what is right and good.  Do not help one another towards sin and aggression. (Quran, 5:2)

Robert Spencer traces “Islam’s only overarching moral principle” of “if it’s good for Islam, it’s right” to the raid at Nakhla, but the evidence simply does not bear his argument out.  Instead, all that becomes apparent is the Islamophobic tactic: if it makes Islam and Muslims look bad, let’s run with it.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.

Footnotes
1. Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), p.79
2. Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasulullah, p.287 (tr. A. Guillaume)
3. Ibid.
4. Reuven Firestone, Jihad, p.57
5. Ibid.
6. Ibn Ishaq, p.287
7. Thomas W. Arnold, The Preaching of Islam, p.30
8. Spencer, pp.5-7
9. It should be noted that the nineteenth century gave birth to the modernist movement within Islamic thought, which redefined jihad and challenged the long-held “traditional” opinion on the matter.  Today, the “traditional” opinion is held only by a few ultra-conservative Muslims, a view that should not to be conflated with that held by Radical Muslims such as Osama Bin Laden.

History’s First Jihad: Was It Justified?

Note: The following is a part of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series, a refutation of Robert Spencer’s book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).  Specifically, this article addresses the bottom of page 5 of Spencer’s book (part of the section entitled “Muhammad the raider” in the chapter “Muhammad: Prophet of War”).  Admittedly, my rebuttal makes for a lengthy read, but it would be doing an injustice to this complex topic to sacrifice thoroughness for brevity.  Those looking for an easy, children’s book sort of read (in size 16 font no less) are encouraged to refer to Spencer’s book.

When it comes to matters pertaining to Islam, there is no buzzword quite like the word jihad.  In the West, especially among anti-Muslim elements, it is firmly associated with violence, terrorism, and perpetual holy war against unbelievers.  Even many well-meaning non-Muslims think that “moderate Muslims” do not believe in jihad and that this is a doctrine espoused only by radical elements of the faith.

But, the reality is that most observant Muslims accept jihad as an integral part of Islam.  It should be understood, however, that ”there are…many kinds of jihad, and most have nothing to do with warfare.” [1] Prof. Reuven Firestone writes:

The semantic meaning of the Arabic term jihad has no relation to holy war or even war in general. It derives, rather from the root j.h.d., the meaning of which is to strive, exert oneself, or take extraordinary pains. Jihad is a verbal noun of the third Arabic form of the root jahada, which is defined classically as “exerting one’s utmost power, efforts, endeavors, or ability in contending with an object of disapprobation.”

There are, therefore, many kinds of jihad, and most have nothing to
do with warfare.Jihad of the heart,” for example, denotes struggle against one’s own sinful inclinations, while “jihad of the tongue” requires speaking on behalf of the good and forbidding evil. [2]

Of these, there is jihad al-saif (“the struggle of the sword”, which will be referred to henceforth simply as jihad).  Using Firestone’s definition of “holy war” (“holy war is defined most broadly as any religious justification for engaging in war”[3]), it is difficult to accept the claim of some Muslim preachers that the Quran does not endorse the concept of holy war at all. [4]

Nonetheless, most modern day Muslims view jihad as their equivalent of the West’s just war doctrine. [5] War is religiously justified (and approved by God, a “holy war” in this sense) if it is in response to injustice, oppression, and aggression.  Certainly, the Quran provides considerable evidence to support the idea that war ought to be waged only in self-defense. [6]

The question arises, however: does the sira (biography) of the Prophet Muhammad support such a view?  Muhammad waged history’s first jihad: he mobilized the Muslim refugees in Medina against the Quraysh of Mecca.  Naturally, the circumstances and context of this event are pivotal to Islamic theology and the doctrine of jihad.  Did Muhammad wage a war of aggression against the Quraysh simply because they were infidels?  Or, was he waging a justifiable war of self-defense?  Muhammad’s motivations in this regard are instrumental to formulating Islam’s views on matters of war and peace.

It is no surprise then that Robert Spencer, the internet’s leading anti-Muslim ideologue, has dedicated an entire chapter of his book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), to the biography of the Prophet Muhammad.  Spencer depicts Islam’s holy prophet as a violent aggressor and warmonger.  Meanwhile, Muhammad’s enemies, the Qurayshite leaders, are portrayed as the hapless victims of Muhammad’s aggression.

Yet, as I pointed out in a previous article, this is a complete inversion of reality.  The truth is that Muhammad declared his prophethood in Mecca and preached his message peacefully for over ten years.  During this time period, the Qurayshite leaders persecuted him and his followers: the early Muslims suffered beatings, imprisonment, torture, and forced conversions; some were even killed.

The persecution reached such a level that the most vulnerable members of the Muslim faithful were forced to flee for their lives to the African land of Abyssinia.  Soon, the condition of Muslims in Mecca had become so unbearable that there was a very real fear that the nascent religion of Islam would be snuffed out altogether.  With the death of his guardian uncle, Muhammad lost tribal protection, leaving him extremely vulnerable to his enemies.

It was at this precarious moment in history that a group of influential men from the city of Yathrib (later to be renamed Medina [7]) accepted Islam and promised to protect the Prophet Muhammad.  They secretly met Muhammad while he was still in Mecca, and took two solemn oaths to protect him, known as the First and Second Pledge at al-Aqaba.  Under the cover of night, waves of Muslims began to flee Mecca to find refuge in Medina. Muhammad was one of the last ones to undertake the Flight (Hijra), a watershed event that is the Islamic equivalent of the Exodus.

For almost a decade and a half, Muhammad had advised his followers to endure their humiliation and persecution with patience.  Prof. Firestone writes:

Muhammad is invariably portrayed as steadfast in his refusal to respond to insult with violence…

The Muslims are portrayed in this early period as being regularly beaten and occasionally even tortured by their Meccan opponents, with virtually no recourse for the injurious treatment they received….

[T]hey most certainly refrained in most cases from violence in reaction to such harmful treatment. In at least one case, a person is killed simply for belonging to the new followers of Muhammad. [8]

But in Medina, the Muslim refugee community regrouped and prepared for battle against their avowed enemies, the Quraysh of Mecca.  The stage for history’s first ever jihad was set.

*  *  *  *  *

The Prophet of Islam had actually arrived in Medina to bring peace: the two major tribes of the city had been involved in a protracted civil war, and the city elders had hoped Muhammad could arbitrate between the two sides. (As peculiar as it sounds to us today, it was not unusual in the ancient world for holy men to be called in to arbitrate between warring factions.)

The newly arrived Muhammad called for an end to tribalistic rivalries, preached brotherhood, and ”fashion[ed] a united community (umma) out of disparate and contending groups: Muslim emigrants (muhajirun) from Mecca, Muslim helpers (ansar) from Medina [the Medinese that converted to Islam], Medinan Jews, and pagan Arabs.” [9]  Muhammad’s influence as an arbiter led to him to become the de facto leader of Medina.

Soon, Muhammad turned his attention to his former tormentors, the Quraysh of Mecca.  The first military expedition against them was dispatched about seven to nine months after Muhammad’s arrival in Medina in what is known as Hamza’s Expedition to the Seashore.

According to Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad dispatched Hamza ibn Abdul-Muttalib “to the seashore in the neighborhood of Al-’Is with thirty riders.” [10] There, they met Abu Jahl, one of Muhammad’s fiercest enemies, who was accompanied by “three hundred riders from Mecca.” [11] This would become the very first jihad operation in history, but how anticlimactic it turned out to be:

Majdi b. ‘Amr al-Juhani intervened between them, for he was at peace with both parties.  So the people separated from [one] another without fighting. [12]

Although there was no clash of swords on that day, the two sides did exchange enlivened battle poetry.  (Who would have thought that the very first jihad in history would have amounted to nothing more than the ancient equivalent of 1980′s battle rap?)

The Expedition of Ubayda bin al-Harith, the second such military operation [13], was equally uneventful.  Ubayda along with ”sixty or eighty riders” rode out to the valley of Rabigh, where they ”encountered a large number of Quraysh” [14] consisting of “more than two hundred riders led by Abu Sufyan” [15] Ibn Ishaq writes that “no fighting took place” [16]; Haykal writes:

The Muslim forces withdrew without engaging the enemy, except for the report that Sa’d ibn Abu Waqqas shot one single arrow, later to be called, ‘the first arrow shot in the cause of Islam’. [17]

Saad ibn Waqqas led a third group “into the Hijaz, but he [too] returned without engaging the enemy.” [18]

Muhammad himself led the next four expeditions (Waddan, Buwat, Safwan, and Dhil ‘Ushairah), each of which resulted in the same uneventful outcome: the Muslims kept going out to meet the enemy, only to find them gone.  Thus it was that the Prophet of Islam and his followers ”returned to Medina without a fight.” [19]

It was only with the eighth expedition that actual military combat took place.  Muhammad dispatched Abdullah bin Jahsh to scout the Qurayshite movements at a place called Nakhla.  Although Muhammad intended this expedition to be a reconnaissance mission, Abdullah took the initiative when his men happened across a poorly armed Qurayshite caravan, which they waylaid.  In the firefight that ensued, one of the Qurayshite men was killed, two more were captured, and the caravan’s property was seized.

When the men reported back to Medina, Muhammad was less than pleased with their actions for, as Sir Thomas W. Arnold wrote, Abdullah had “acted without authority.” [20] Muhammad “paid blood money” [21] for the Qurayshite man that was killed (blood money was a form of restitution given to a victim’s family) and freed the prisoners in exchange for two Muslim prisoners.  The confiscated goods from the caravan, however, were taken as spoils of war.  (The Nakhla raid became very controversial, and in a future article, I will deal with this particular event in more detail.)

Shortly thereafter, Muhammad decided to intercept a Qurayshite caravan led by Abu Sufyan, which was returning from Syria to Mecca.  As the Muslims advanced towards it, the Quraysh of Mecca were informed of this news and quickly organized a response.  Abu Jahl mobilized a large army who marched out from Mecca to meet Muhammad and protect Abu Sufyan’s caravan.

Abu Sufyan’s caravan successfully slinked past Muhammad’s men and into safety, which caused both the Muslims and the Qurayshite army to reconsider their objectives.   A group of the Quraysh argued that “there is no point in going to war” [22] now that Abu Sufyan’s caravan was safe.  They advised to

turn back and leave Muhammad to the rest of the Arabs. If they kill him, this is what you want. [23]

Abu Jahl, one of the powerful chiefs of Mecca, rejected this argument and declared: “No, by God, we will not turn back until God decides between us and Muhammad.” [24] With this said, most of the Qurayshite army pressed on towards Muhammad and his men, with an intent to deliver the Islamic movement a decisive blow once and for all.

Meanwhile, the early Muslims were themselves conflicted as to whether or not to retreat to Medina or to face the Qurayshite army marching toward them.  They certainly had the numbers to take on Abu Sufyan’s caravan, but they were heavily outnumbered against the larger Qurayshite force headed by Abu Jahl.  Some of Muhammad’s followers advised a hasty retreat.  But, Muhammad was of a different mind and decided to face the threat head on.  Of this, the Quran declared to the believers:

God promised you that one of the two enemy groups would fall to you: you wished the unarmed one to be yours, but it was God’s will… to cut off the root of the disbelievers, so that He may make the truth manifest and prove falsehood false, however hateful this be to the criminals. (Quran, 8:7-8)

It seems that both Abu Jahl and Muhammad saw it as a sign of weakness to retreat, one that would only embolden the other.  So it was that the two forces met at a place called Badr.  The Battle of Badr was the first (and most pivotal) battle of Islamic history.  In the words of Robert Spencer:

Above all, the battle of Badr was the first practical example of what came to known as the Islamic doctrine of jihad… [25]

Muhammad’s followers were heavily outnumbered, on a scale of three to one.  The Muslim battalion consisted of a meager 313 men, 70 camels, and 2 horses.  Meanwhile, the Qurayshite army was composed of almost a thousand men with 170 camels and 100 horses.  Spencer writes:

[T]his time the Quraysh were ready for him, coming to meet Muhammad’s three hundred men with a force nearly a thousand strong…[Muhammad] cried out to Allah in anxiety, “O God, if this band perish today Thou wilt be worshiped no more.” [26]

Whether it was better military strategy, survival instinct, or divine intervention, the Muslims were victorious on that fateful day.  They overcame the Quraysh, their former tormentors, who, after a pitched battle, eventually gave flight.  Islam had survived.

*  *  *  *

The details of the actual battle itself and the aftermath warrant further discussion (and I will write a future article on this topic).  However, the even more pertinent question arises: did the Muslims have just cause?  Or were their actions unprovoked aggression against unbelievers, as Spencer and other anti-Muslim ideologues argue?

To portray Muhammad as the aggressor, Islamophobes downplay or even deny the persecution of the early Muslims in Mecca.  (As we have seen, Robert Spencer just omits it entirely from his biography.)  Even if he had been persecuted aforetime, they argue, Muhammad was now living safely in Medina.  Indeed, Orientalists have long argued that Muhammad initiated an offensive war against the Quraysh by attacking them a year after the Flight (Hijra). (In reality, the sources indicate that it was a delay of seven-to-nine months, not a full year.)

The anti-Muslim website ReligionOfPeace.com (henceforth to be referred to as simply ROP) argues:

After his eviction by the Meccans, Muhammad and his Muslims found refuge many miles away in Medina where they were not being bothered by their former adversaries.  Despite this, Muhammad sent his men on seven unsuccessful raids against Meccan caravans…

Elsewhere, ROP argues:

The Myth:

The Muslims were under Persecution from the [Quraysh] Meccans while Living at Medina

The Truth:

…In fact, it was the Meccans who were acting in their own defense during this time.

Historians do not record any act of aggression by the Meccans against the Muslims during the time at which the second sura was narrated by Muhammad. There were no armies marching against them, nor any plans for such. The Meccans had no influence in this far-away town, and Muslims were not under persecution at the time by any stretch of the term as it is popularly understood today. According to the sequence of events in the Sira (biography), the Meccans were quite content with leaving Muhammad alone following his eviction (even though he had made a pledge of war against them)…

There is absolutely no record of Meccan aggression against the Muslims at Medina in the first three years after their arrival in 622.

Muhammad ordered the first raids against the Meccans a year after the hijra in February of 623, which eventually proved deadly. There is no record of Meccan aggression during this time.

As can be seen, the historical record provides absolutely no evidence that the Muslims were being threatened in any way by the Meccans, and fully supports the view that it was the latter who were acting in self-defense.  The Meccans had no interest in Muhammad and simply wanted to live in peace and pursue their commerce.  At each turn, the prophet of Islam unnecessarily harassed them with deadly and provocative actions that eventually forced battles on several occasions.

ROP’s basic argument is that Muhammad may have been a nuisance to the Quraysh in Mecca, but once he fled the city, they could care less about him or the Muslims in general.  He was no longer their problem or concern.

But, Muslim historians depict the situation quite differently, pointing to continued aggressive behavior of the Quraysh towards the Muslims; Ar-Raheeq Al-Makthum reads:

The Quraishites, mortified at the escape of the Prophet along with his devoted companions, and jealous of his growing power in Madinah, kept a stringent watch over the Muslims left behind and persecuted them in every possible way. They also initiated clandestine contacts with ‘Abdullah bin Uabi bin Salul, chief of Madinese polytheists, and president designate of the tribes ‘Aws and Khazraj [the two major tribes of Medina] before the Prophet’s emigration. They sent him a strongly-worded ultimatum ordering him to fight or expel the Prophet, otherwise they would launch a widespread military campaign that would exterminate his people and proscribe his women. [Narrated by Abu Da’ud]…

Provocative actions continued and Quraish sent the Muslims a note threatening to put them to death in their own homeland. Those were not mere words, for the Prophet received information from reliable sources attesting to real intrigues and plots being hatched by the enemies of Islam. Precautionary measures were taken and a state of alertness was called for, including the positioning of security guards around the house of the Prophet and strategic junctures. [27]

Indeed, the primary sources confirm (and Western historians accept as historic) that the Quraysh had attempted to assassinate Muhammad in Mecca right before he took flight (Hijra).  According to Ibn Ishaq, once they came to know that Muhammad was escaping the city of Mecca, the “Quraysh offered a hundred camels as a reward for whoever would seize Muhammad and bring him back.” [28]

This certainly goes against ROP’s argument that the Quraysh could care less about Muhammad once he left the city.  Even though the Quraysh knew he fled Mecca, they continued to pursue him.  In fact, this lends credence to the counter-argument: the Quraysh were very much concerned about Muhammad reestablishing a base of support in another city such as Medina.  Furthermore, they were ready to use force against him even outside the city’s limits.

Indeed, there is primary evidence to support the argument that the Qurayshite leaders exerted their influence on the leadership of Medina, especially Abdullah ibn Ubai [29], to expel Muhammad and the other Muslim refugees.  The Quraysh issued the following ultimatum:

O people of Medina, you have given safe-haven to our opponent[s].  By God, if you do not fight or expel them, we shall come out against you and kill your warriors and enslave your women. [30]

If Iran sent an official letter to the United States threatening to kill all American men and enslave their women unless the country abandons and even attacks Israel, would any reasonable person object to Israel interpreting this as an act of war?

Certainly, this threat created a sense of looming fear and insecurity in the nascent Muslim community, which was at the mercy of their hosts (the Medinese).  Muhammad himself took the threat seriously enough to sleep with a bodyguard posted outside his door.  Tafsir Ibn Kathir notes that verse 5:67 of the Quran was revealed in regard to his fear of assassination: ”The Messenger of God was vigilant one night, after he came to Medina…” [31] Then, the Quran reassured him:

God will protect you from mankind. (Quran, 5:67)

Haykal brings up a good point, noting that the Qurayshite leaders had earlier sought the official extradition of the Muslim refugees from the distant land of Abyssinia. [32] Would it not be reasonable to assume then that the Quraysh would similarly seek to pursue the Muslims when they fled to Medina?

The Quraysh feared (and one could say reasonably) Muslim hegemony spreading around the area of Medina, which lay directly in between the Quraysh and their trade routes to Syria (and the rest of the world).  But more than strategic concerns, the animosity between Muslims and the Quraysh had, after over a decade in strife, reached such a high level that it is unlikely that the Qurayshite leaders would have suddenly dropped their hostility towards the new religion.  It is therefore difficult to accept ROP’s argument that the Meccans didn’t display any hostility towards the Muslims in Medina.

ROP claims that “[t]he Meccans had no influence in this far-away town [of Medina]“, but the evidence seems to indicate otherwise.  Mecca was the most influential city of the Arabian Peninsula, and the Quraysh attempted to use this influence to pressure the Medinese to turn out Muhammad and his followers.  The fear of Mecca had been, after all, one of the major reasons the leaders of Taif had turned Muhammad out so quickly.

The Quraysh colluded with a fifth column within the ranks of the Medinese, a group referred to pejoratively in the Quran as the Hypocrites (Munafiqun).  They were led by an influential man named Abdullah ibn Ubai who, prior to Muhammad’s arrival, had been slated to become the unified chief of the two major tribes of Medina.  Ibn Ubai’s influence was quickly eclipsed by the Prophet of God, a fact that put the two men at loggerheads with one another.  The Quraysh urged Ibn Salul to expel the Muslim refugees, although Ibn Salul countenanced himself with less crude means of countering Muhammad’s growing influence within his city.

During the Meccan Period, the Quraysh had applied pressure to the Banu Hashim and Banu Muttalib to rescind their protection of Muhammad so that they could kill him.  When Muhammad fled to Medina, the Quraysh did the same with the Medinese.  We can see evidence of this, for instance, in the case of Saad ibn Muadh’s visit to Mecca in order to perform a religious pilgrimage.  Saad, a Medinese convert to Islam, entered the city under the protection of his old Meccan friend, Abu Safwan.  Abu Jahl, one of early Islam’s fiercest opponents, saw Saad with Abu Safwan and threatened:

I see you wandering about safely in Mecca in spite of the fact that you have given shelter to the people who have changed their religion (to Islam) and have claimed that you will help and support them.  By God, if you were not in the (protective) company of Abu Safwan, you would not be able to go to your family safely!

Saad retorted:

By God, if you should stop me from doing this, I would certainly prevent you from something which is more valuable to you, that is, your passage through Medina. [33]

That Abu Jahl, one of the chiefs of Mecca, issued such a threat indicates that the Muslims of Medina had every reason to feel threatened by the Quraysh.  Additionally, this exchange seems to have occurred before the initiation of Muhammad’s military operations.  In it, the Medinese man threatens a retaliatory move (if you block our entry to Mecca, we will block your way through Medina).

Qurayshite hostility was not limited to threats alone: their persecution of Muslims in Mecca continued unabated.  Some of the Muslims in Mecca were too weak to make the arduous journey to Medina, whereas others were detained against their will.  The Quran itself mentions this fact in verse 4:98, calling them the “weak and oppressed–men, women, and children–who have no means in their power nor any way to escape [Mecca].”  Ibn Ishaq writes that ”[t]he emigrants [Muhajirun] followed one another to join the apostle [in Medina], and none was left in Mecca but those who had apostatized [under duress?] or been detained.” [34] Their “houses in Mecca were locked up when they migrated…and sold” by the Quraysh [35], prompting Muhammad to reassure one of his followers about the “property which [they] lost in God’s service”:

Are you not pleased that God will give you a better house in Paradise? [36]

The Emigrants [Muhajirun] were barred from their homes and families in Mecca, whom they wished to visit.  They were also barred from making the pilgrimage to visit the Holy Kaabah.

It seems then that the faucet of Qurayshite hostility was not, as ROP implies, turned off the minute Muhammad and most of his followers fled the city.  It continued in the form of threats against the Muslims and those who harbored them, and active persecution of those Muslims still under Qurayshite control.

*  *  *  *  *

More than this, there is a point that is often overlooked by both the Muslim and anti-Muslim side, something that would seem to be the crux of the matter.  On the one hand, Muslims seem to argue that Muhammad had every reason to initiate attacks on the Quraysh due to their continued aggressive behavior.  On the other hand, the Islamophobic side argues the exact opposite, as ROP writes:

The only reason that this myth arose is the need for Muslim apologists to justify the more violent passages of the Qur’an’s second chapter, which was “revealed” shortly after Muhammad arrived in Medina following the hijra.  Passages from this chapter encourage believers to violence within the context of ending “tumult,” “oppression,” and “persecution.”

…[However, h]istorians do not record any act of aggression by the Meccans against the Muslims during the time at which the second sura was narrated by Muhammad.

It is true that chapter two of the Quran does include some verses justifying war (2:190-194, 216-218, and 244,), but the first passage ordaining war was in chapter twenty-two of the Quran (typo on ROP’s part?), in which the God of the Quran states:

Permission to take up arms is granted to those who are being fought, because they have been oppressed–And indeed, God has the power to help them!–those who have been unjustly driven out from their homes, only for saying “Our Lord is God.” (Quran, 22:39-40)

ROP claims that “[h]istorians do not record any act of aggression by the Meccans against the Muslims during the time at which the [twenty?] second sura was narrated by Muhammad.”  By this, ROP implies that Muhammad and the Muslims were living safely in Medina–for well over a year–before this passage came down.  Was Muhammad justifying war by looking to an old infraction, just as the United States used Saddam’s gassing of the Kurds in the 1980′s to justify war against him years later?

In fact, however, this passage, which permitted the Muslims to defend themselves–and constituted a declaration of war against the Quraysh–was revealed long before Muhammad’s military expeditions against the Quraysh were launched.  Ibn Ishaq places its revelation (“[w]hen God gave permission to his apostle to fight” [37]) to the Second Pledge at Al-Aqaba, which occurred right before the Prophet’s Flight (Hijra).  Ibn Ishaq writes:

The apostle had not been given permission to fight or allowed to shed blood before the second ‘Aqaba…[at which time God] gave permission to His apostle to fight and to protect himself against those who wronged them and treated them badly.

The first verse which was sent down on this subject…was: ‘Permission [to take up arms] is given…’ [Quran, 22:39] [38]

He writes elsewhere:

Then God sent down to [Muhammad]: ‘Fight them so that there be no more seduction’, i.e. until no believer is seduced [coerced] from his religion.  ’And the religion is God’s…

When God had given permission to fight and this clan of the Ansar had pledged their support to [Muhammad]…the apostle commanded his companions…to emigrate to Medina and to link up with their brethren the Ansar. [39]

Prof. F.E. Peters writes (emphasis added):

While still at Mecca, if we have the chronology right, during Muhammad’s last days there, a revelation had come to him for the first time permitting Muslims to resort to force, or rather, to meet Quraysh violence with violence (Quran 22:39-41). [40]

Other sources, such as Tabari and Wahidi, date this revelation to shortly afterward, to immediately after the Flight (Hijra).  Prof. Reuven Firestone writes:

According to Wahidi, sura 22:39 was revealed during the year of the Hijra immediately after Muhammad left Mecca. Abu Bakr is reported to have complained that the minute they would leave the limited protection of Mecca, they would be destroyed by their enemies.46 The verse was therefore revealed to allow them henceforth to defend themselves. Sura 22:39 is considered the first revelation allowing the Muslims to engage in fighting.47

46. P. 177. Similar words put into the mouth of Abu Bakr are also found in a number of the sources listed in note 47, following.

47. Many authoritative statements to this effect (i.e., statements attributed to specific early authorities) are collected in Tabari, book 17, pp. 172–173; Nahhas, vol. 2, pp. 233, 301, 525; Tafsir Ibn Abbas, p. 280; Tafsir Muqatil, vol. 3, p. 129; Tafsir Mujahid, p. 482. [41]

If Ibn Ishaq’s dating is to be accepted, this could explain why the Qurayshite leaders decided to finalize their plot to assassinate Muhammad.  Ibn Ishaq writes:

When the Quraysh saw that the apostle had a party and companions not of their tribe and outside their territory, and that his companions had migrated to join them, and knew that they had settled in a new home and had gained protectors, they feared that the apostle might join them, since they knew he had decided to fight them.  So they assembled in their council chamber…to take counsel what they should do in regard to the aspotle, for they were now in fear of him…

The discussion [among the Qurayshite leaders] opened with the statement that now that Muhammad had gained adherents outside the tribe they were no longer safe against a sudden attack and the meeting was to determine the best course to pursue… [42]

Ibn Kathir writes:

[The] Quraysh were concerned that the Messenger of God would leave and join [the people of Medina], since they knew that he had decided to do battle with them. They therefore gathered in the Dar al-Nadwa, the house of assembly…[and] discussed there what they should do about the Messeger of God, since they now feared him….They would kill him. [43]

The state of war between the Quraysh and the Muslims thus already existed by this point in time, far before Muhammad’s military expeditions several months later.  ROP argues this exact point, saying:

Muhammad eventually made an alliance with another town, Medina, that included provisions of war against the Meccans. The parties to the treaty were asked “Do you realize to what you are committing yourselves in pledging your support to this man? It is to war against all and sundry” (Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 299). The pledge to war is further confirmed in Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 305.

Therefore, it was only after Muhammad committed himself to armed revolution against the Meccans that the town’s leaders sought to have him either killed or evicted.

The weakness in ROP’s argument lies in the fact that the Quraysh had long before considered harming or killing the Prophet of Islam.  In fact, the Quraysh had implored Abu Talib, Muhammad’s uncle and tribal guardian, to rescind his protection over his nephew so that they could deal with him.  Their level of seriousness can be assessed by their complete social and economic boycott of Abu Talib’s entire tribe along with the Banu Hashim.  It can also be gauged by the fact that as soon as Abu Talib died, Muhammad felt threatened enough to flee to Taif.  Therefore, all that can be said is that Muhammad’s decision to battle the Quraysh convinced the chiefs of Mecca to finalize and actualize their idea of murdering the Islamic prophet, a plan that they were already mulling over in their heads.

Another weakness in ROP’s logic becomes apparent: on one page he argues that Muhammad declared war while “safe in Medina”, but on another page he (inadvertently) “concedes” that Muhammad declared war against the Quraysh while in Mecca.  (This is of course another case of an Islamophobe trying to further as many arguments as possible against Muhammad and Islam, a strategy that often results in contradictory claims.)

In any case, it is more likely that the later dating of verse 22:39 is more accurate, and that the failed assassination attempt on Muhammad’s life may have been the casus belli for the Quranic injunction of war against the Quraysh.  In this dating scheme, Muhammad was committed to war against the Quraysh immediately after he was forced out of Mecca.

Whether one accepts the earlier or later dating of verse 22:39, the fact is that Muhammad’s declaration of war occurred much earlier than when he finally launched military expeditions against the Quraysh.  This point completely nullifies ROP’s argument that “[h]istorians do not record any act of aggression by the Meccans against the Muslims during the time at which the [twenty-]second sura was narrated by Muhammad.”  In fact, Muhammad’s war declaration occurred at the zenith of Qurayshite persecution, when it had reached a tipping point and Muslims had to flee from Mecca entirely.

A state of hostility between the two sides already existed by the time the Prophet of Islam arrived safely in Medina.  It should be noted that there was no formal declaration of war because the Quraysh regarded Muhammad and his party as “renegades” and, in the words of ROP, as “armed revolution[aries]“.  They were seen as non-state actors against whom formal declaration of war was not needed.  Muhammad, on the other hand, quickly organized in Medina to establish his community not as a refugee community but as a sovereign nation onto itself.  Muhammad’s military forays were show-of-force exercises designed to convey this message to the Quraysh.  But, there were likely two other audiences in mind: firstly, these early campaigns were confidence-building measures for the benefit of the Muslims themselves.  Secondly, they were meant to send a message to the city that had granted his people refuge: the Muslims could stand their own ground against the Quraysh.

The seven-to-nine month gap of military conflict between the Quraysh and Muslims can be thought of as similar to the six-month Phony War during World War II.  The Phony War was the “name [given] for the early months of World War II, marked by no major hostilities” between the Allies and the Germans.  Military historian David Horner writes:

This period between the Anglo-French declaration of war and the fall of France is known as the ‘phoney war’ because of the very inaction of both sides.  The Germans were honing their plans for the assault on the Allies in the west, and the Allies too were busying themselves with organizing their counter-effort. [44]

Muhammad’s delay of seven-to-nine months, between when he expressed his intent to fight the Quraysh and the actual military expeditions against them, was due to the time needed to organize his community from a refugee population into a functioning state.

On the other side of the equation, the Quraysh of Mecca had not yet committed themselves to war against Medina itself.  It should be noted that Mecca was not in a state of war with the city of Medina overall, but only with the Muslim refugees (“renegades”) from Mecca (Muhajirun).  The Quraysh were not at war with the Medinese converts to Islam (the Helpers or Ansar) nor with the non-Muslim residents of Medina.  It is recorded that the Quraysh had actually initially said to the Medinese:

We have come to know that you have come here to conclude a treaty with this man (Muhammad) and evacuate him out of Mecca.  By God, we do really hold in abhorrence any sort of fight between you and us. [45]

This is also why Muhammad’s initial military campaigns against the Quraysh consisted of, in the words of Ibn Ishaq, “emigrants [from Mecca], there not being a single one of the [Medinese] Ansar among them.” [46] The war at this point in time was only between the Quraysh and the Muslim refugees (Muhajirun).

The Quraysh had not yet made the decision to attack Medina itself, a move which had the potential of uniting the city behind Muhammad.  Such an act would have also converted what the Quraysh saw as an internal conflict between a state and a renegade faction into an all-out war between two different (city-)states, an escalation that the people of Mecca may not have been ready to commit to.  Instead, they chose the less energy-intensive option of isolating the Muslims, hoping that the Medinese would, under Qurayshite pressure, expel them.  For their part, the Medinese were willing to harbor the Muslim refugees against Qurayshite wishes, but they had not yet accepted the idea of war with Mecca.

In light of our Phony War paradigm, it not only becomes apparent but also somewhat understandable why the Quraysh maintained hostilities towards the Muslims–why they tried to kill Muhammad, pressured Medina to expel or fight the Muslims, and oppressed Muslims stranded in Mecca.  As detestable as these acts may seem to Muslim historians, they are, at least to some degree, an expected part of war.

On the flip side, Muhammad cannot be accused of declaring or initiating an offensive war against the Quraysh.  All that can be said is that “Muhammad went on the offensive”, which is a much different matter.  No reasonable person would argue that the Allies had declared or initiated an offensive war when they invaded Normandy.  Instead, this was a case of the Allies going on the offense in a defensive war (against German aggression).  Likewise, Muhammad had declared a defensive war against the Quraysh at the height of Qurayshite persecution of Muslims, and it was only in Medina several months later that he went on the offensive.

This point also negates the anti-Muslim canard that Muhammad was “opportunistic” in terms of war and peace, i.e. that he called for peaceful coexistence when he was weak and war when he was in a position of strength.  (Based on this idea, Robert Spencer and other Islamophobes argue that Islam itself advocates such opportunism, i.e. Muslims calling for peace when they are weak and war when they are in a position of strength.)  In fact, Muhammad declared war against the Quraysh when, from a military standpoint, he was very, very weak.  According to Ibn Ishaq’s dating, the Prophet of Islam declared war against the Quraysh while still in Mecca.  He was not the leader of a powerful city but rather a hunted down rogue prophet who feared for his life.

Even if we accept the later dating, Muhammad conveyed his intent to battle the Quraysh as he fled the city.  He was a refugee leader at this time, nothing more.  His emerging leadership role in Medina was only just developing and far from determined.  Either way, Muhammad’s intent to square off with the far more powerful Quraysh can be seen as something courageous and not opportunistic at all.  The “peace when weak and war when strong” paradigm cannot be accepted; the Muslims, from a military standpoint, were quite weak.

Neither could it be said that Muhammad was now in a position of power because he had the Medinese to aid him.  The various factions of Medina had only committed to defending the city of Medina from attack.  Unless the Quraysh attacked Medina directly, Muhammad could not count on their support.  In the initial military campaigns, only the Muslim refugees (Muhajirun) took part, not the Medinese.  Muhammad had at his disposal a ragtag group of refugees, nothing more.  How then can we accept the claim that Muhammad was “opportunistic” and called for peace in times of weakness and war in times of strength?

*  *  *  *  *

That there was a financial component to such warring cannot be denied.  The Muslims of Mecca had been forced to escape the city under cover of darkness, with their life possessions reduced to what they could carry on their backs.  The Quraysh seized their remaining property in Mecca, aside from what they could sneak out. [47] Thus it was that the Muslim Emigrants arrived in Medina in an impoverished (and homeless) state.  The generosity of the Muslim Helpers sustained the refugees for some time, but faith and brotherhood could only be expected to go so far.

Military historian Richard A. Gabriel writes:

As the leader of this new community Muhammad was responsible for ensuring that it survived.  He and his people were on the brink of starvation and living in poverty.  During the early days in Medina they survived on dates and water, having no money to purchase much else…There was, in any case, little new land to be cultivated by the newcomers in the already developed agricultural community of Medina. [48]

(And yet we are expected to believe that Muhammad, whose “people were on the brink of starvation and living in poverty…surviv[ing] on dates and water”, was now in a “position of strength”!)

Raiding Qurayshite caravans was a solution to this financial dilemma.  Frances O’Connor writes in the History of Islam:

The Muslim community in Medina faced many challenges.  In particular, when the Meccan Muslims migrated there, they had no way to make money because they were not farmers like the Medinans, and most of their belongings left behind in Mecca had been confiscated by the Meccan tribes.  Muhammad sent a party of his followers to raid the Meccan trade caravans that were coming through the area.  This was a way for their followers to get supplies of food and other goods, as well as to demonstrate to the Meccans that the Muslims were not weak.  The Arabs of this time were accustomed to this type of warfare and competition as a means of survival, and the Muslims felt justified in harming Meccan economic interests. [49]

Robert Spencer writes:

In Medina, these new Muslims began raiding the caravans of the Quraysh, with Muhammad personally leading many of these raids.  These raids kept the nascent Muslim movement solvent… [50]

Spencer entitles this section of his book “Muhammad the raider“, clearly using the term “raider” in a pejorative manner.  I have myself opted to use the more neutral term “military expedition” to refer to Muhammad’s early operations against the Quraysh.  But, is “raid” an appropriate term to use?  What about “raider“?

From a purely technical standpoint, the word “raid” seems to be appropriate.  The dictionary definition of raid is: “[a] rapid surprise attack on an enemy by troops, aircraft, or other armed forces in warfare.”  The United States military routinely engages in raids, such as the infamous “night raids” in Afghanistan.  For some reason, however, the word has a positive or at least neutral connotation when used for our own military or our allies.  Meanwhile, when the term is used for our enemies or The Other, it has a very negative meaning.

More problematic is the Spencerian epithet of “Muhammad the raider.”  If Muhammad is to be given this name for having ordered military raids, then should George W. Bush or Barack Obama be called “raiders” for their role in ordering raids against the nation’s enemies?  Should it be “Bush the raider” or “Obama the raider”?

Spencer’s tactic of wordplay can also be seen with the following misleading statement of his:

In 622, [Muhammad] fled his native Mecca for a nearby town, Medina, where a band of tribal warriors had accepted him as a prophet and pledged loyalty to him. [51]

In fact, “the Medinese were agriculturists.” [52] The “tribal warriors” of the day were the desert Bedouins, not the urban and agricultural folks of Medina.  For the most part, the people of Medina were not wise to the ways of war.  In fact, as Richard Gabriel writes, “most Muslims were urban or agricultural folks, not bedouins, and knew very little about how to undertake a successful caravan raid.” [53] The city of Medina, had been from time to time involved in this or that battle or war, but how is this different from every other city and nation in history?  Should we call the United States a nation of “tribal warriors” simply because it is involved in war?

Richard Gabriel himself, whose book is nothing more than post 9/11 anti-Muslim polemic encased in a pseudo-scholarly shell [54], refers to Muhammad as a “marauder.”  Likening the vast desert to the open seas, ROP calls Muhammad and his followers “pirates.”  This is a consistent theme in Islamophobic literature.

Much has been written by Western commentators about the ghazu (raid) and how it was a “peculiar” pre-Islamic Arabian custom that Muhammad adopted.  For instance, Prof. Joseph Morrison Skelly writes of it:

It is historically apparent that raiding was commonplace among Arabs in the pre-Islamic era. Also, raiding was not considered immoral unless it entailed stealing from kinsmen…[It was] a pre-Islamic Arab practice later adopted by Muslims. [55]

Voices sympathetic to Islam argue that the early Muslims were operating in a completely acceptable way for that time.  Meanwhile, anti-Muslim elements argue that Muhammad should be condemned for accepting such a “barbaric” Arabian custom.

These discussions, however, seem to miss the crux of the matter: Muhammad and the early Muslims did not raid caravans belonging to random tribes or peoples.  Instead, their attacks were very specific and limited to caravans belonging to the powerful Quraysh, their arch-enemy, with whom they were already in a state of conflict with.

Had Muhammad simply been a marauder or pirate wishing to enrich himself, he would most certainly have chosen to attack caravans belonging to far less powerful peoples.  The Quran did not, however, legitimate raids against all non-Muslim peoples, but only against those who persecuted the Muslims, i.e. the Quraysh.  The Quran declared: “Fight in God’s cause against those who fight against you, but do not commit aggression, for surely, God does not love aggressors.” (Quran, 2:190) (This is of course important from a theological point of view.)

Having understood this, Muhammad’s decision to raid Qurayshite caravans need not be rationalized by citing some ancient Arabian custom.  Rather, one can actually look much closer to home.  The tactic employed by the early Muslims was identical to that used by the United States from its very inception.  Using the same “open seas” analogy, we see that the Prophet of Islam engaged not in “piracy” but in “commerce raiding”, which has been an accepted form of warfare throughout history and across all cultural lines.

The distinction between the act of piracy and commerce raiding is an important one to make.  There are two major reasons why piracy is considered illegitimate as compared to commerce raiding: firstly, pirates do not possess proper authority; secondly, “pirates attack merchants without distinction.”  Conversely, commerce raiding is vested in proper authority, and commerce raiders only attack commercial ships belonging to enemy nations.  Clearly, Muhammad’s expeditions fall into the latter category: he was the leader of a community, and he only targeted enemy caravans.

Commerce raiding is known in French as guerre de course (“war of the chase”) and in German as handelskrieg (“trade war”).  Both France and Germany have a long history of using this tactic, which is considered respectable and even celebrated.  This tactic also has a venerated position in American history, being used against the British during the Revolutionary War (1775-1783).  The Continental Congress formed the Continental Navy, which

was not expected to contest British control of the seas, but rather to wage a traditional guerre de course against British trade, in conjunction with scores of privateers outfitting in American ports.  The Continental navy’s ships were to raid commerce and attack the transports that supplied British forces in North America. To carry out this mission, the Continental Congress began to build up, through purchase, conversion, and new construction, a cruiser navy of small ships–frigates, brigs, sloops, and schooners.

…[The Continental Navy’s] cruisers ranged far and wide and demonstrated that British commerce was nowhere safe, not even in British home waters.

Retired navy officer and military author Joe B. Havens writes:

During that war, the Continental navy, privateers, and commerce raiding squadrons chartered by individual American states, and the navy of our French ally all played vital roles in our fight against the British.

The Continental navy’s squadrons and individual ships attacked British sea lines of communication and seized transports laden with munitions, privisions and troops. Continental and state Navy ships and privateers also struck at enemy commerce, taking nearly 200 British ships as prizes, forcing them to divert warships to protect convoys and trade routes. [56]

In fact, commerce raiding was used to boost American morale against the British and were instrumental in winning the war against such a powerful naval power.  Military historian James C. Bradford writes in the Atlas of American Military History:

The Continental Congress and the state governments issued letters of marque to ship owners, who then attacked enemy commerce. Captured and condemned vessels became prizes and the property of the owner, captain, and crew, among whom the spoils were divided according to the proportion of investment and crew rank.

Privateering proved to be both an effective weapon against the enemy as well as a profitable source of income for those in the business. For the British, the American privateers proved to be a major source of trouble, as their efforts, combined with later naval activity by the French, Spanish, and Dutch, led to the seizure of approximately 3,300 ships of the total 6,000 British vessels involved in overseas trade during the war…

Commerce raiding also made for good propaganda, as the exploits of individual captains made news both in America and in Europe. In March 1776, a squadron of eight Continental Navy vessels unders Commodore Esek Hopkins raided New Providence in the Bahamas and captured the British governor…The most distinguished American captain, however, was John Paul Jones, a native of Scotland who joined the Continental Navy and made an early name for himself capturing prizes off the coast of Canada…

[Jones] proceeded to raid British shipping off the coast of the British Isles, crowning this achievement by raiding the Lake District port of Whitehaven…underscoring the harassing role the American navy would play…In 1779, he captured a French merchant hulk and converted it into a forty-two-gun sloop…. [57]

The United States would use commerce raiding once again during the War of 1812 (“the second American revolution”), and continued to employ it throughout its history all the way to World War II (when it was used against Imperial Japan).  (In the post WWII world, the United States has the most powerful navy in the world and can now rely on blockades.  Commerce raiding is the tactic used by navies too weak to enforce blockades.)

In fact, since the very beginning of her birth, America has incorporated commerce raiding into its main strategy at sea.  Dr. Kenneth J. Hagan, Professor of Strategy and War at the US Naval War College, writes:

American submarine warfare against Japanese cargo vessels and oil tankers during World War II constitutes history’s outstanding example of successful guerre de course, or commerce raiding…[I]ts impact on the Japanese war machine and on the Imperial Japanese Navy’s sea-keeping potential was staggering. Of the 8.1 million tons of Japanese merchant marine shipping sunk in World War II, American submarines accounted for 4.8 million tons…

Guerre de course, or commerce raiding, is as old as naval warfare. It consists of an attack by an armed vessel–a privateer or warship–on an unarmed merchant vessel with the intent of capturing the victim and its cargo for the profit of the attacker. It is the favored tactic of a weaker naval power fighting a stronger one; for example, continental European powers have often employed it against England…

[G]uerre de course offered the only viable strategy for American naval policy makers from the moment independence was decided upon in 1776. The Americans were a lilliputian naval power compared with the British, and at best they could only sting Britain’s oceanic commerce while dodging the punitive might of the Royal Navy’s ubiquitous warships….[T]he U.S. Navy’s favorite weapon…[was the] hit-and-run mission…[C]ommerce raiding remained the preferred American way of fighting at sea until very late in the nineteenth century…

The pattern was set: American warships would not fight British warships, of which there were far too many to overcome, but they would capture British merchant vessels in order to acquire scarce capital and to sap mercantile Britain’s morale…Guerre de course could not defeat the Royal Navy, but by inclining London to negotiate a peace, it “made an enormous impact on the success of the war effort.”

George Washington understood the virtues of this strategy, as did a majority in Congress. [58]

Commerce raiding was accepted by the United States and the world as a valid form of warfare, and it was only with the advent of submarines that things began to change.  The Oxford Companion to American Military History explains:

The term GUERRE DE COURSE describes a form of maritime warfare aimed at disrupting seaborne commerce…[I]t is usually rendered as “commerce raiding” in English. Operationally, guerre de course resembles blockades in that it is primarily a form of economic warfare, in which combat with enemy ships is at best a secondary consideration…

Guerre de course, in contrast, is usually adopted by countries too weak to attempt such continuous, large-scale operations [such as blockades]; or unwilling to risk the kind of fleet action that may be necessary to impose or break a blockade. It is conducted by individual ships (naval warships or privately owned ships armed with guns and authorized by government letters of marque to engage in legal privateering) or small squadrons. These operate in hit-and-run fashion along oceanic shipping lanes…Strategically, guerre de course respresents an alternative to operations directed against the main naval forces of the enemy. Guerre de course in the form of privateering was widely employed by Americans in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

…[G]uerre de course aims to…undermine public morale by inflicting economic losses and depriving the population of necessary or familiar goods…

[I]n the twentieth century…the advent of torpedo-armed submarines, which brought to the guerre de course a ferocity and decisiveness it had not previously possessed. A surface cruiser operating under the rules of engagement accepted by nineteenth century navies was expected to board a prospective target, determine if the nationality and cargo made it a legal prize, and see the safety of the crew before taking further action.

However, the early months of World War I revealed that similar conduct by German submarines exposed them to enormous risks, and reduced their tactical effectiveness far below what was possible if such scruples were set aside. Guerre de course accordingly lost its traditional character as a relatively bloodless and vaguely romantic sort of peripheral operation, and became a desperate and murderous struggle capable of deciding a major war.

This trend culminated in the devastating campaign against Japanese commerce conducted by American submarines (and to a lesser extent by carrier-based aircraft) during World War II–a rare example of guerre de course waged by the stronger side… [59]

Muhammad’s military expeditions were commerce raids, not only completely acceptable in the Arabian context of the time, but also by American and international standards throughout history.  Just as commerce raiding had a ”traditional character as a relatively bloodless and vaguely romantic” tactic, so too was the ghazu (caravan raid) seen as a “relatively bloodless and vaguely romantic” tactic of the desert: only those merchants/caravans that resisted were fought and/or killed.

The question arises: are Robert Spencer and other Islamophobes in this country impugning the tactic relied upon by our nation’s Founding Fathers to gain independence from Britain and which America used to win World War II?  From every conceivable angle, Muhammad’s tactic of commerce raiding is similar to that employed by the Continental Navy, and by the U.S. Navy throughout its history.  It is only Orientalist hubris that allows one to talk of the early Muslim raids as part of some peculiar and “barbaric” Arabian custom, especially when the ghazu–unlike the submarine attacks by the United States during World War II–minimized innocent casualties.

Indeed, in the eight or so military expeditions preceding the Battle of Badr, only one Qurayshite died at the hands of the Muslims.  Even this action was carried out without Muhammad’s permission, and the Prophet of Islam expressed disapproval of it.  More importantly, Muhammad paid blood-money as a result of it, which, as discussed above, was an Arabian form of restitution given to a victim’s family.  The Muslim raids were certainly “bloodless” compared to “the devastating campaign against Japanese commerce conducted by American submarines”, which left countless Japanese dead.

Muhammad’s treatment of the incident at Nakhla reinforces the view that “commerce raiding”, not wanton bloodletting, was his intent.  He gave blood money to the family of the slain Qurayshite and freed the two Qurayshite prisoners in exchange for two Muslim prisoners.  But, Muhammad held onto and distributed the confiscated goods from the Qurayshite caravan.  The purpose of the attacks was to strangle the Quraysh economically.

It should be noted, however, that Muhammad did not succeed in this effort.  All of the initial military expeditions were failures, with the lone exception of the unintentional “success” at Nakhla.  Richard Gabriel notes, correctly, that the early Muslims “knew very little about how to undertake a successful caravan raid.” [60] From an economic standpoint then, one must question Robert Spencer’s claim that “[t]hese raids kept the nascent Muslim movement solvent.” [61] How did a series of unsuccessful caravan raids keep the “nascent Muslim movement solvent”?

Gabriel is also correct in thinking that there must have been something more than economic benefit that enticed Muhammad.  From a purely risk-benefit standpoint, raiding Qurayshite caravans was a bad idea: the raids were largely unsuccessful, and only ”succeeded” in earning the wrath of the vastly more powerful city of Mecca.  Writes Gabriel:

Muhammad must have known that any attack on the Meccan caravans would have been but the opening skirmish in a long campaign in which the Meccans would try to exterminate him and his followers…[T]he Meccan chiefs could raise significant military forces on their own, including cavalry, and had the money to hire mercenaries and bedouin warriors. Muhammad’s forces in Medina were small by comparison and certainly no match for the Meccans.

Muhammad was too good a strategic thinker not to have been aware of these realities. And yet, he went ahead with his plans to challenge the Meccans. [62]

Gabriel goes on to argue that Muhammad’s ”attacks on the Meccan caravans were but the first strike in a larger strategy of conquest and destruction of his enemies.” [63] Indeed, Orientalist commentators have long argued that Muhammad’s intention–when divine permission was granted to him to fight, when he fled Mecca, and when he launched raids against the Quraysh–was the conquest of Mecca.

Hindsight is 20/20, and it is easy for us now to think that the early Muslims would one day return to their city of origin as victorious conquerors.  Yet, this idea would have seemed far-fetched at the time: Muhammad and his handful of followers were driven out of the city of Mecca by the Quraysh, and were living as an impoverished and meek refugee community in the city of Medina.  Richard Gabriel himself argues that “Muhammad’s forces in Medina were small by comparison and certainly no match for the Meccans.” The Islamic community was at that time fearful of being wiped off the face of the earth entirely, and so it seems quite fantastic for Gabriel (or anyone else) to then turn around and argue that Muhammad’s intention by raiding the Qurayshite caravans was to start the process of conquering them.

There is another much more likely possibility, which can be understood by looking back to other examples in history of commerce raiding.  The Americans relied on commerce raiding in order to “undermine public morale by inflicting economic losses” [65] by which they hoped to “inclin[e] London to negotiate a peace.” [66] It seems far more likely that Muhammad raided Qurayshite caravans with the intention of inflicting heavy economic losses on his enemy, so that the mercantile Meccans would come to believe it too costly to carry on the conflict with the Muslims.  Muhammad’s goal then was not conquest but a favorable peace.

One could reasonably argue that Muhammad’s actions did the exact opposite and just infuriated the Quraysh, who then organized a force to meet the Muslims at Badr.  However, it is equally reasonable to assume that Muhammad, as the leader of an emerging nation, was not satisfied with the Phony War situation that existed in place of a real peace.  At any moment, the Quraysh could have switched from indirect hostility towards the Muslims to more direct military action against them.  Muhammad wanted a peace treaty between his community and the city of Mecca, one which recognized the early Muslims as a sovereign nation (with the respect and rights of one) instead of as a hunted down renegade movement.  In order to “earn” this position in Qurayshite eyes, Muhammad had to show that the Muslims could stand their own against them, which is what the initial military expeditions were expected to do.

Muhammad must have known that such provocative action could, in the short term, exacerbate the conflict and draw the two forces into all-out war.  But, in the long run, the plan was successful and culminated in a treaty between the two sides.  Just as the British came to regard the Americans as a sovereign nation instead of a rebel movement, the Quraysh, by signing the treaty, had come to recognize the Muslims as a sovereign nation.

Muhammad’s intention can be gleaned from the primary sources themselves.  During this phase of the conflict, no Quranic passage calls on the believers to make way for the conquest and subjugation of Mecca.  Instead, the Islamic holy book commands the believers to “prepare whatever forces you can muster, including warhorses, to frighten off God’s enemies and yours…but if they incline towards peace, you must also incline towards it” (Quran, 8:60-61).  This is repeated elsewhere in the Quran: “If they desist [in their hostilities], then there should be no hostility [towards them] except against the oppressors” (2:193).  The Quran was letting the Quraysh know that the Muslims were willing to pursue a peaceful resolution of the conflict, if they (the Quraysh) would but just stop their hostility.

It should also be noted that Muhammad had another audience in mind: his own Muslim followers and the people of Medina.  By securing small wins against the Quraysh, Muhammad was boosting the morale of the early Muslims, proving to their own selves that they could stand up to the Quraysh and that God was with them.  This message was also directed to the people of Medina: just as the Americans had to prove to the French that they were a viable force against the British, so too did the Muslims need to prove their viability to the people of Medina who otherwise might succumb to Meccan threats to expel the refugee population.

There is another piece of evidence that indicates that on Muhammad’s mind was not conquest but the peaceful recognition of his new nation.  On his very first military expedition, Muhammad set out to meet the Quraysh at Waddan.  He missed the Qurayshite force and prepared to go back home, but before he did, he signed a non-aggression pact with the people of the area, the Bani Damra.  Shortly thereafter, he also signed non-aggression pacts with other neighboring tribes, such as the Bani Madlij.  It is likely that Muhammad would have signed such a pact with the Quraysh, the greatest threat to his peoples’ existence, had they been so willing.  Indeed, when the Quraysh finally did offer terms of peace to Muhammad, he accepted them, much to the chagrin of some of his most ardent followers.

As noted above, commerce raiding has generally been a tool used by the weaker force against the stronger one.  Historically, the Americans, French, and Germans used this tactic against the powerful British navy.  The British, on the other hand, did not need to rely on it, and instead used the much more effective tactic of blockading their opponents.  Muhammad simply did not have the resources to blockade the Meccans, which would have brought the Quraysh to their knees (economically speaking).  That he could not even set up a blockade of Mecca means that he certainly couldn’t imagine, at this point in time, to conquer it.  It is much more realistic that commerce raiding was meant to force the Quraysh to recognize the Muslim nation and make peace with it, just as the Americans wished recognition, independence, and peace with the British.

The early Muslims were not pirates or marauders.  They, like the revolutionary Americans, engaged in guerre de course (commerce raiding) against the oppressive party, the Quraysh.  Just as the American exploits against British shipping have been celebrated for their valor, so too were the Muslim military expeditions against the Quraysh courageous.  The Muslims were facing off against heavily armored caravans.  In the very first such campaign, for instance, Muhammad dispatched Hamza “with thirty riders” against a Qurayshite caravan armed with “three hundred riders from Mecca” led by Abu Jahl. [66] The second such operation involved “sixty or eighty riders” from the Muslims, who “encountered a large number of Quraysh” [67] consisting of “more than two hundred riders led by Abu Sufyan.” [68] Even in these military raids, the Muslims were heavily outnumbered.  Using our World War II comparison, it would be like the U.S. navy engaging in operations against enemy merchant marines that were flanked by battleships and aircraft carriers.

The perceptive reader also ought notice that these caravans were led by early Islam’s arch-enemies, such as Abu Jahl, Abu Jahl’s son Ikrima, Abu Sufyan, etc.  These raids were not opportunistic acts of piracy against random persons, but rather, were legitimate military operations against a far superior foe.

*  *  *  *  *

Robert Spencer claims that the Prophet Muhammad was the most violent religious figure in history.  Yet, when similar acts of violence are highlighted in his own faith tradition, suddenly he cries foul and chants “tu quoque, tu quoque!”  In reality, his own religion cannot withstand the same standards he so mirthfully applies to Islam.

It is just barely an exaggeration to say that Muhammad’s raids look like girl scout outings compared to the early military exploits of the Biblical prophets and respected religious figures, i.e. the brutal conquest and annihilation of the people of Canaan by MosesJoshuaSamsonSaulDavid, etc.  But, there is a specific comparison that I think necessitates closer attention: the raids led by King David.

It is beyond dispute that David (of David vs. Goliath fame) is considered highly regarded in the Jewish and Christian tradition.  When the king wanted to kill him, “David found refuge in [a place called] Ziklag…and raided other [nearby] cities to stay financially afloat”  (as opposed to Muhammad who signed non-aggression pacts with them).  The Bible says of this:

1 Samuel 

27:8 Now David and his men went up and raided the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites…

27:9 Whenever David attacked an area, he did not leave a man or woman alive, but took sheep and cattle, donkeys and camels, and clothes. Then he returned to Achish.

27:10 When Achish asked, “Where did you go raiding today?” David would say, “Against the Negev of Judah” or “Against the Negev of Jerahmeel” or “Against the Negev of the Kenites.”

27:11 He did not leave a man or woman alive to be brought to Gath, for he thought, “They might inform on us and say, ‘This is what David did.’” And such was his practice as long as he lived in Philistine territory.

David raided with such frequency that the question had to be asked of him, “[w]here did you go raiding today?”  During these raids, the great David annihilated every single man, woman, and child.  He then ran off with “much booty”:

From Ziklag David made an attack upon the Geshurites, Gerzites, and Amalekites, smote them without leaving a man alive, and returned with much booty.

If Robert Spencer would like to use Muhammad’s raids against the Quraysh as a blunt weapon to bludgeon the heads of Muslims with, then let us hit him back with David’s “plundering incursions”, which culminated in mass death and were part of a broader genocidal campaign.  Spencer won’t be able to respond, aside from his familiar cries of “tu quoque, tu quoque!”

Of course, I am not committing a tu quoque fallacy, first and foremost because it was Robert Spencer himself who posited the thesis that Islam is more violent than any other religion–and that Muhammad was the most violent religious figure in history.  Spencer has even penned a book with the title Religion of Peace? Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t.  In it, he intones that Islam is more violent than both Judaism [70] and Christianity.  It is Spencer’s central thesis, and yet when I chop off both legs of it [see footnote 70], he yells “tu quoque, tu quoque!” like the intellectual huckster he is.

In any case, this article of mine is part of the Understanding Jihad Series, which is answering the question: is Islam more violent than other religions (specifically Judaism and Christianity)?  This is the fundamental question I sought ought to answer, and therefore, it is of central relevance.

*  *  *  *  *

We can summarize our argument as follows:

* The Quraysh initiated the conflict with the Muslims by persecuting them.

* For over a decade, Muhammad preached peaceful resistance against such persecution.

* Finally, the God of the Quran permitted Muhammad and his followers to defend themselves against their Qurayshite persecutors.

* Islamophobes claim that Muhammad was opportunistic, calling for peace and tolerance while in Mecca, but war and violence when he was in a position of power in Medina.  But really, Muhammad declared his intention to fight the Quraysh while still in Mecca or just immediately after fleeing from it, at a time when he and the Muslims were still very weak.

* Following Muhammad’s declaration of intent to war against the Quraysh, a period similar to the Phony War of World War II came into effect.  Although no major or direct military combat took place during this period, the hostilities continued in other ways: the Quraysh threatened the life of Muhammad, as well as the safety and security of the Muslim refugees and those who harbored them.  The Quraysh were attempting to use their influence to coerce the people of Medina to expel or fight the Muslims.  The Quraysh also confiscated Muslim property left in Mecca, and continued to persecute those Muslims who had not been able to make the journey to Medina.  The Quraysh threatened to block the Muslims from returning to their homes or making religious pilgrimage, whereas the Muslims, for their part, threatened to harass Qurashite trade routes.

* Islamophobes claim that Muhammad initiated a war of aggression by targeting Qurayshite caravans.  However, a state of war had already existed long before Muhammad led his military expeditions.  Muhammad went on the offensive, which is not the same as initiating a war of aggression.  

* Muhammad and the early Muslims used the same tactic that the American revolutionaries used against the British navy: commerce raiding.  This has been a completely acceptable practice throughout history and differs from piracy in substantial ways.

* Muhammad’s intent was to compel the Quraysh to recognize the sovereignty of his new nation and make peace with it.

* Muhammad’s raids were far more morally acceptable than the early military expeditions of the Biblical prophets and religious figures, such as MosesJoshuaSamsonSaulDavid, etc., who committed genocide against the native population of Canaan.  David in specific led raids to plunder the local populations and then slaughtered them down to the last man, woman, and child.  This completely negates Robert Spencer’s central thesis, i.e. that Muhammad was the most violent prophet in history.

Most importantly, what is crystal clear is that the first military jihad in history was not waged against the Quraysh simply because they were non-Muslims.  (Instead, Muhammad signed non-aggression pacts with neighboring non-Muslim tribes.)  Jihad was not declared to fight infidels simply because they were infidels, nor was it to convert them to the faith of Islam.

The similarity between the early Muslims and the Americans during the Revolutionary War does not stop at tactics.  Rather, the overarching theme is the same: the Patriots were fighting to declare their independence from the powerful British.  If the American colonists were justified in waging war with the British due to high taxation and lack of representation, then how much greater right did Islam’s founding fathers have to fight off those who oppressed them for their religious beliefs, who drove them “out from their homes, only for saying ‘Our Lord is God’”?  Jihad was waged by the Muslims to defend against injustice, oppression, and aggression.  It is no wonder then that the nation responsible for inflicting the most injustice and oppression of Muslims today–for waging wars of aggression in their lands–would come to hate jihad so much.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.

Footnotes
1. Reuven Firestone, Jihad, p.17
2. Ibid., pp.16-17
3. Ibid., p.15
4. Having said that, I suppose it depends on one’s definition of “holy war”, with Prof. Firestone’s being the broadest possible.
5. Similar, but not identical.
6. For example, ”Fight in God’s cause against those who fight against you, but do not commit aggression, for surely, God does not love aggressors.” (Quran, 2:190)
7. From Medinat al-Nabi (the Prophet’s city).
8. Firestone, p.107
9. Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions, p.755
10. Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasulullah, p.283 (tr. A. Guillaume)
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.
13. Ibn Ishaq briefly discusses the “debate” over the exact order of the initial military campaigns. However, it seems that the first was most likely Hamza’s expedition, followed by Ubayda’s.
14. Ibn Ishaq, p.281
15. Muhammad Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, p.217. Ibn Ishaq states that the contingent was led by Abu Jahl’s son Ikrima.
16. Ibn Ishaq, p.281
17. Haykal, p.217
18. Ibid.
19. Ibn Ishaq, p.285
20. Thomas Walker Arnold, The Preaching of Islam, p.30
21. Ibid.
22. Ibn Ishaq, p.296
23. Ibid., p.298
24. Ibid.
25. Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), p.10
26. Ibid.
27. Saifur Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri, Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum, p.125
28. Ibn Kathir, Qasas al-Anbiya, p.390
29. Abdullah ibn Ubai had been slated to become the king of the united tribes of Medina prior to Muhammad’s arrival.
30. Sunan Abu Dawud, Vol.2, p.495
31. Tafsir Ibn Kathir, 5:67
32. Haykal, p.223
33. Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.5, Book 59, #286
34. Ibn Ishaq, p.230
35. Ibid.
36. Ibid.
37. Ibid., p.208
38. Ibid.
39. Ibid., p.213
40. F.E. Peters, The Monotheists, p.104
41. Firestone, p.54
42. Ibn Ishaq, p.221
43. Ibn Kathir, Qasas al-Anbiya, pp.151-152
44. David Horner, The Second World War: Europe, 1939-1943, p.34
45. Ibn Hisham 1/448, taken from Ar-Raheeq Al-Makthum
46. Ibn Ishaq, p.281
47. Refer to Ibn Ishaq, p.230
48. Richard Gabriel, Muhammad: Islam’s First Great General, p.73
49. Frances O’Connor, History of Islam, p.16
50. Spencer, p.5
51. Ibid.
52. Reinhart Dozy, Spanish Islam, p.16
53. Gabriel, p.73. Having said that, it should be pointed out that the caravan raids were led by Muslim Emigrants, not the Medinese.
54. Richard Gabriel is a military historian, not a scholar of Islamic history. His ideological bent can be gleaned from his previous positions in the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence, which The Idiot’s Guide to the CIA describes as “[t]he CIA’s publishing division”, from which “the CIA produces its propaganda” (p.25). He was also an “expert” for the Brooking’s Institution, which (in the words of Glenn Greenwald) “[w]hen it comes to foreign policy and civil liberties” serves three functions: (1) justify war in the Muslim world, (2) provide the ideological defense for Israel’s right-wing policies, and (3) legitimize indefinite detention of Muslim suspects. Quite unsurprisingly, Gabriel’s works reveal himself to be an apologist for Israel and its war crimes, for which he was approvingly cited by the Islamophobic Daniel Pipes. What a magnificent coincidence that such a person would write a biased book against the founder of Islam.  In any case, most damning of all is Gabriel’s book itself, which makes his agenda self-evident. Many anti-Islamic websites refer to his pseudo-scholarly work.
55. Joseph Morrison Skelly, Political Islam from Muhammad to Ahmadinejad, p.41
56. Joe B. Havens, Chief, p.21
57. James C. Bradford, Atlas of American Military History, pp.25-26
58. Article by Kenneth J. Hagan in Walter L. Hixson, The American Experience in World War II, Vol. I, p.269-272
59. John Whiteclay Chambers, The Oxford Companion to American Military History, pp.305-306
60. Gabriel, p.73
61. Spencer, p.5
62. Gabriel, pp.73-74
63. Ibid.
64. Ibid.
65. Chambers, pp.305-306
66. Hagan, p.269-272
67. Ibn Ishaq, p.281
68. Ibid.
69. Haykal, p.217
70. It’s interesting that Christian Islamophobes, including Robert Spencer himself, will quickly throw Judaism and Jews under the bus whenever the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) comes up or whenever the violence of Jewish prophets or Jewish law is  mentioned. Yet, Spencer himself writes in his book, quoting another Islamophobe: “We cannot defend Western civilization without defending its Jewish component, without which modern Western culture would have been unthinkable. The religious identity of the West has two legs: The Christian and the Jewish ones. It needs both to stand upright. Sacrificing one to save the other is like fighting a battle by chopping off one of your legs, throwing it at the feet of the enemies, and shouting: ‘You won’t get the other one!’” (Robert Spencer, Religion of Peace? Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t, p.10)

Why You Shouldn’t Trust Robert Spencer’s Biography of the Prophet Muhammad (I)

This article is a part of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series.

I recently agreed to debate the following thesis with Robert Spencer of JihadWatch:

Islam is more violent than other religions, specifically Judaism and Christianity.

This is the main theme in Spencer’s book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).  It is even the title of one of his books: Religion of Peace?: Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t.  More than this, it reflects the fundamental difference between he and I: whereas I accept the violent and intolerant aspect inherent in all religious traditions, Spencer specifically targets Islam.

Under this heading, I was willing to debate the following sub-thesis:

The Islamic prophet was more violent and warlike than Jewish and Christian prophets.

This was the argument Spencer brought forth in chapter 1 of his book, entitled “Muhammad: Prophet of War.” On p.3, Spencer writes:

[F]or the religious man or woman on the streets of Chicago, Rome, Jerusalem, Damascus, Calcutta, and Bangkok, the words of Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, Krishna, and Buddha mean something far greater than any individual’s reading of them.  And even to the less-than-devout reader, the words of these great religious teachers are clearly not equal in their meaning.

On p.4, Spencer promises to compare Muhammad to prophets and founders of other religious traditions in order “to emphasize the fallacy of those who claim that Islam and Christianity–and all other religious traditions, for that matter–are basically equal in their ability to inspire good or evil.”  In other words: Muhammad was the most violent of them all, and thus inspires greater evil.

But, is it true?

I’ve already written multiple articles related to this topic, but now I will directly refute chapter 1 of Robert Spencer’s book (“Muhammad: Prophet of War”), which is Spencer’s biography of Muhammad.  I will present a balanced, neutral, and academic picture of Muhammad–in between the Islamophobic narrative of Spencer on the one hand and the understandably biased Muslim apologist view on the other.

Once Muhammad’s life is understood thus, I will compare it to the lives of other prophets–MosesJoshuaSamsonSaulDavid, Jesus, etc.–to see if Muhammad was truly the most violent of them all.

*  *  *  *  *

Robert Spencer’s biography of Muhammad is extremely misleading.  This becomes apparent from the get-go. The very first section of Spencer’s biography of Muhammad begins on p.5, entitled “Muhammad the raider.”  Spencer’s opening words are:

Muhammad the raider

Muhammad already had experience as a warrior before he assumed the role of prophet.  He had participated in two local wars between his Quraysh tribe and their neighboring rivals Banu Hawazin.

What Spencer leaves out from this talking point–”Muhammad already had experience as  warrior before he assumed the role of prophet”!–is quite telling.

He is referring to what is known in Islamic history as Harb al-Fijar (the Sacrilegious War), a series of conflicts that took place when Muhammad was a teenager.  The spark that ignited the war was the unsettled murder of a member of one tribe, which lead to a blood feud.  Due to “entangling alliances,” many different tribes in the area found themselves at war with each other.

Like most of Muhammad’s life, the details of this event are contested.  This dispute is not simply one between modern-day Muslim apologists and Islamophobes, but rather one that traces its way back to the earliest biographers of the Prophet.

In specific, Muhammad’s level of participation in these wars is disputed.  On the one hand, Shia biographers reject the idea that Muhammad partook in them at all.  Meanwhile, Sunni biographers write that Muhammad simply accompanied his uncle but did not directly fight in these wars.  He only took on a very limited support role: picking up enemy arrows from the battlefield.  At the most, he fired off a few arrows, but did not kill anyone.

Not only was Muhammad’s role severely limited, but even this he would later express regret over.  Muhammad later recounted: ”I had witnessed that war with my uncle and shot a few arrows therein. How I wish I had never done so!” [1] Spencer conveniently omits this very important fact, one that mitigates Muhammad’s participation in the war, especially in regards to his views about war and peace.

Like World War I, the Sacrilegious War was sparked over a murder and resulted in great turmoil due to “entangling alliances.”  Once hostilities ceased, many of the tribes decided to convene a sort of “League of Nations” to prevent future wars.  The Arabian tribes assembled at the house of a man named Abdullah bin Judan and “forged the League of the Virtuous [Hilf al-Fudul].  The major aims of the League were to prevent wars from breaking out and to protect the weak and the defenseless from their enemies.” [2] Members would “henceforth and forever stand on the side of the victim of injustice,” instead of simply siding based on tribal loyalty. [3] It was hoped that such an arrangement would prevent the blood feuds that were common in that time.

Muhammad took part in the signing of the League of the Virtuous, and it left its indelible mark on him.  He would later say: “I witnessed in the house of Abdullah bin Judan a pact made that I wouldn’t have exchanged for the choicest of herds; and if it had been suggested after Islam, I would have responded positively to it.” [4] (“The choicest herd” is the ancient equivalent of saying: “I wouldn’t trade it in even for a Ferrari.”) Muhammad said further: “If further such pacts be made for the cause of the oppressed and I be called, I would certainly respond.” [5]

The ideals of the League of the Virtuous–of standing for justice regardless of family or tribal loyalty–finds its way into the Quran:

O you who believe, stand firmly for justice, witnesses before God, even if it be against your own selves, your parents or relatives, or whether it be against rich or poor. (4:135)

Throughout his career, Muhammad opposed tribal warfare and blood feuds.  Meanwhile, the Quran instructed the believers to defend the oppressed by fighting the oppressors:

What reason could you have for not fighting in God’s cause–for those men, women and children who are oppressed and cry out, “Our Lord, rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors!  By Your Grace, give us a protector and a savior!” (4:75)

The Sacrilegious War and the League of the Virtuous played a pivotal role in Muhammad’s views on matters of war and peace–but not in the way that Spencer implies it to (i.e. “he was born a warrior!”).  Instead, Muhammad became a “veteran against the war” and greatly supported the idea of a League of the Virtuous, a body intended to bring peace on earth–one that would end violence, bloodshed, and war.

By omitting key details, Spencer willfully misleads the reader.  This is just within the first three lines of his biography of Muhammad.  As we shall see, the deception just gets worse.

To be continued…

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.

Footnotes:
[1] Muhammad Husayn Haykal, Hayat Muhammad, p.62
[2] S. Ali Asgher Razwy, A Restatement of the History of Islam and Muslims, p.24.
Prof. Joseph Morrison Skelly writes on p.39 of Political Islam: “Hilf al-Fudul was an agreement among several pre-Islamic Arab tribes in the seventh century to prevent injustice and to aid those who had been wronged.”
[3] Haykal, p.62
[4] Ibn Kathir, Al-Sira Al-Nabawiyya, p.188
[5] A.H. Qasmi, International Encyclopaedia of Islam, p.113

Robert Spencer Runs Away from Debating Danios – Again – in ABN Getaway Car

Robert Spencer has complained for several years that “Muslims and Leftists” refuse to debate him on his ideas.  He issued an open challenge to debate.  I accepted this challenge and agreed to a radio debate over a year and a half ago, yet Spencer has been running away from me ever since.  To see the chronology behind Spencer’s debate-dodging with me, check out Sheila Musaji’s article Danios vs Spencer: 18 months and Spencer still avoiding a debate.

Initially, Spencer had used my anonymity as an excuse to get out of debating me.  After over a year and a half, he seemed to finally put this condition aside and agreed to debate me.  I offered Salon Radio as a possible choice for venue and moderator, to which Spencer initially agreed.  Shortly thereafter, however, Spencer chickened out of this, claiming that Salon Radio was not a neutral venue.  He then insisted upon ABN Sat, a loony right-wing Christian channel with anti-Muslim shows on it like Jihad Exposed.

Remember: Spencer rejected Salon Radio because it was not neutral enough, but meanwhile he has debated Muslims on ABN, which is the last thing on earth that could be called “neutral”.  Anyone see the double standard?

I agreed to ABN, just to get the debate moving along.  After this, Spencer emailed ABN saying: “It will be interesting in any case to see his face on camera.”  When did I ever agree to that?  Remember: I’ve always said that I am willing to engage in a radio (audio) debate with Spencer, so why the insistence that I do video?  After prolonged negotiations (designed to waste my time?), ABN finally refused to host the debate if I would be “audio-only” (as was my condition from the very beginning).

ABN claimed that it was against their policy to have one of the debaters be “audio-only” and that each debater must be on Skype (with video).  This seems to be nothing but a boldfaced lie made by ABN, since here is a debate they hosted just within this last year in which one of the debaters used Skype (video) and the other used the phone (audio only).  It seems that Spencer and ABN are colluding with each other in order to find an excuse to get out of the debate, because Spencer knows that he cannot defend his ideas.

So, the reality is that nothing has changed, and Spencer continues to use my anonymity to dodge the debate with me.

*  *  *  *  *

Moment of truth time for Robert Spencer: instead of wasting everyone’s time negotiating over venue and moderator (all of which seems to be designed to dodge the debate), I challenge you, Robert Spencer of JihadWatch, to a head-to-head debate using a format similar to bloggingheads.tv (no moderator needed) and audio only (like this debate or the one Spencer just did with “Spengler”–readers will note Spencer’s own words there: “Yes, it’s a video, but it’s audio only”).

We can make this debate happen right away.  Nothing fancy is required, no gimmicks, no third party needs to be negotiated with.  All we need is a recorded telephone conversation between you (Spencer) and I (Danios).  Then, we can put the recording of the debate on our respective websites (on LoonWatch and if Spencer wants, on JihadWatch).

As for the topic, we can debate the contents of Spencer’s book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).  I argue that this book is completely misleading, whereas Spencer argues that nobody has been able to refute the substance of it but just smear him instead.  We’ll go through the book chapter by chapter and see where the truth lies.  Spencer, if you can’t defend the contents of your book, what are you but a fraud?

A generous time limit can be set for the debate so that we can have a real substantive discussion.  I say we stick with what we both found reasonable initially: three hours.

Spencer, I’m trying to make this debate actually happen, whereas you keep trying to find ways out of it.  The ball is in your court now.

This is the moment of truth to see if Spencer wants to debate or just wants to flee from me.  I think the question most of us have is: what excuse will Robert Spencer come up with next to chicken out of the debate?  Is Spencer too scared to pick up a phone and debate with me?  I think so.

Update I:

Robert Spencer just went on a tweet splurge, attempting to do damage control in order to hide the fact that he is dodging the debate with me.  He argues: “Every debate [on ABN] has same format.”  This is clearly a lie that both ABN and Spencer are sticking to, despite the fact that we have clear evidence to the contrary: as I already pointed out above (a point Spencer ignored), here is an ABN debate in which one of the two debaters was “audio only”, just as I requested.  Their insistence that all debaters must appear on video is something new that they invented for me, just as a way to give Spencer an out.

Like I said, there’s nothing new here: Spencer has chickened out of the debate with me as usual, using my anonymity as a cheap excuse.  He has rejected my new debate offer above, saying about me: “He wants uneven playing field.”  How would that be an “uneven playing field” to have no moderator and just go head-to-head?  Here Spencer is guilty of projection: he is the one who insisted on ABN, a loony anti-Muslim Christian channel, that would be completely in his favor.  Meanwhile, I accepted this “uneven playing field”–to Spencer’s advantage!  This is yet another case of Spencer putting reality on its head.

Lastly, Spencer gets out of my new debate offer by arguing that he will only accept it if I accept a “university invitation.”  He knows that I won’t accept because it would require compromising my anonymity, something I am unwilling to do at this point in time.  Therefore, we’re once again back where we were, with Robert Spencer dodging me in debate, using my anonymity as his ultimate fall back excuse and cop-out.  Why, Spencer, did you waste all of our time by making us think a few days ago that you were ready to stop running?  Please don’t keep wasting everybody’s time.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.

Danios vs Spencer: 18 months and Spencer still avoiding a debate

(cross-posted from The American Muslim)

by Sheila Musaji

Danios of Loonwatch has had an ongoing online discussion with Robert Spencer in an effort to set up a debate.

Spencer has regularly challenged Muslims to debate him, but seems to prefer limiting those debates to marginal figures or useful idiots. As Danios has said in the past Spencer’s modus operandi: engage in debate with those who are weak debaters, fastidiously avoid debating with those who are skilled debaters (and who have solid grasp of the subject matter), and then crow in victory over one’s supposedly undefeated record.

Spencer has also shown a pattern of setting impossible conditions on even something as simple as a request for an interview, let alone a debate, as Dean Obeidallah found out just last month.

In the case of Danios attempt to accept Spencer’s challenge to debate, Spencer displays both of these propensities —  avoiding a genuine debate, and attempting to hide that avoidance by setting so many conditions that the other party will just give up.

First, a little background on the Spencer vs Danios debate saga, In June of 2010, Spencer stated thatThe list of the Leftist and Muslim academics and apologists who have refused my challenge to debate is very long; they know they can’t refute what I say on the basis of evidence, so they resort to broad-based smears and personal attacks — and haughty refusals to debate.

Danios of Loonwatch immediately responded to Spencer I accept your challenge, Spencer.  I agree to a radio debate with you on the topic of jihad and “dhimmitude”, namely chapters 1-4 of your book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).  It will then be seen if you can defend your own writing, which I argue is a load of sensationalist crock.  Will you accept my challenge to debate or cower in fear?  My guess is that you “know [you] can’t refute what I say” and will “resort to…haughty refusals to debate.”

Ahmed Rehab in an article stating why he personally was not interested in debating Spencer reminded Spencer of Danios acceptance of his challenge to debate:  And now for some irony. Spencer, you are claiming you are ready to debate anyone but that alas no one wants to debate you because no one can. But, is this actually true? Does the name Danios of Loonwatch ring a bell Spencer? You may be burying your head in the sand hoping no one will notice, but a simple Google search on “Robert Spencer debate” reveals your hypocrisy. How come you are ignoring an invitation from another blogger who has challenged you numerous times and whose articles shredding your arguments to pieces are all over the web without a peep of a rebuttal from you? Are you conceding defeat? Are you “running away?”

Robert Spencer at first said that I am willing: if “Danios of Loonwatch” reveals his real name, finds a university willing to host the debate and contracts an impartial moderator, I’m ready when he is.  Spencer expanded on the issue of Danios pseudonymn saying Sorry, I don’t debate fictional characters or pseudonyms. “Danios of Loonwatch” can go debate Scot Harvath or Harold Robbins.

ROUND 1:  Danios agrees to debate Spencer in a radio debate.  Spencer sets conditions:  Danios must reveal his real name, hold the debate at a university, and find an “impartial” moderator.

Danios responded Of course, Spencer’s two conditions–both of which involve revealing my identity–are completely bogus.  I have offered to debate Spencer on the radio. Does Spencer not do radio interviews?  In fact, Spencer has appeared on the radio countless times …   Danios also said This is of course strange since Hugh Fitzgerald, the Vice President of JihadWatch since 2004, himself operates under an anonymous pseudonym.  Fitzgerald is a co-administrator of the site, alongside Spencer.  Is Fitzgerald then a “fictional character” who is only worthy of debate with Scot Harvath or Harold Robbins?  If that is the case, I challenge Hugh Fitzgerald–co-administer and Vice President of JihadWatch–to a radio debate.  The topic will be Jihad, “Dhimmitude”, and Taqiyya (Stealth Jihad), namely chapters 1-4 of Robert Spencer’s book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).

ROUND 2:  Danios says that if Spencer doesn’t want to debate an individual using a pseudonym, then he will agree to debate Spencer’s Jihad Watch site’s Vice President, Hugh Fitzgerald, who also uses a pseudonym.  (Note: Spencer’s fellow Islamophobes whose work he publishes and promotes often use pseudonymns — e.g. Hanan Qahwaji, Nour Semaan, Rachael Cohen and Brigitte Gabriel are the same person.  Nonie Darwish and Nahid Hyde are the same person.  “Sultan Knish” is actually Daniel Greenfield.  “Baron Bodissey” of Gates of Vienna is actually Edward May.  “Bonni” of Bare Naked Islamis actually Bonni Benstock-Intall.  Fjordman is actually Peder Jensen.  Hugh Fitzgerald has been writing for Jihad Watch since 2004, although no biographical information on this individual appears anywhere else, and no photographs exist even on Jihad Watch.  No one knows who Jihad Watch contributorsHugh Fitzgerald or ]Henry Rochejaquelein, or Marisol actually are.)

Now, we jump forward to January 10, 2012, and the Spencer vs Danios debate saga heats up again.  Here is what Danios posted on Loonwatch about this development

Just yesterday, Robert Spencer posted an article with the title of “Why can’t Muslims debate? (Again)”, saying:

For example, an Islamic supremacist hate site that defames me and lies about what I say regularly charged that I was refusing to debate them:

I responded by repeating yet again something I had reiterated several times in the preceding weeks, when other Muslims had thrown up this site to me:

No response to that at all.

A simple Google search will reveal how this is a great big lie.  Spencer has adamantly refused to engage in a radio debate with LoonWatch and me in particular, using my anonymity as a face-saving excuse.

Do his recent tweets reflect a change in attitude or is he still cowering in fear of me?  Spencer, are you willing to back your words with action and “debate [me] anytime”?  I will debate the accuracy of your book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), with regard to the topics of jihad, “dhimmitude”, and taqiyya.  Are you ready to defend your arguments or not?

I think most of us anticipate “no response to that at all.”

This time, it didn’t take months for Spencer to respond.  Two days later, on January 12th, Danios posted this

When I first read Robert Spencer’s book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) a couple years ago, I knew I could not just refute it but (proverbially speaking) blow it out of the water.  After I penned my first few articles against it, I also knew that Spencer could not issue any substantive reply.  Soon, I began to detect fear in Spencer’s eyes.  It is no wonder then that he has refused to debate me for so long.  I have documented Spencer’s evasion here.

Yet, Robert Spencer is also keenly aware of the fact that his refusal to debate the one site that is dedicated to refuting him–and was voted by his “target population” to be the number #1 non-Muslim blog with the number #1 writer–makes his fear obvious to the world.  When his fear of debating me was pointed out in a recent Twitter war, Spencer finally agreed to debate me.  (Of course, in true Spencer fashion, he accused us of “lying” when we said that he had been refusing to debate us for almost two years.)

Even so, I had predicted–as had many others–that Spencer would try to weasel his way out of the debate.  Lo and behold, this now seems to be the case.

Initially, Spencer sent me an email saying “[t]here needs to be a thesis…So propose one.”  I proposed the following thesis:  Islam is more violent than other religions, specifically Judaism and Christianity.  This is not only the central argument in Robert Spencer’s book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) but is also the title of another book of his: Religion of Peace?: Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t.

Yet, Spencer emailed me back and said:

Actually, I am not interested in debating about Judaism and Christianity. I am only interested in debating regarding Islam and Jihad.

Spencer, the title of your book is a comparison between Christianity and Islam.  So, are you saying that you can’t defend the central tenet and title of your book!?

He goes on:

Your tu quoque arguments are silly and have had abundant airing already. Propose another.

When you write a book titled “Religion of Peace?: Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t”, then to you that’s a valid comparison, but when someone refutes that comparison by pointing out how Christianity, by the very same standards you apply to Islam, couldn’t be considered a “religion of peace,” then you cry “tu quoque”!

If my arguments “are silly,” then why don’t you debate me on them and show me how silly they are?  Do you accept my counter-argument that “Judaism and Christianity are just as violent as Islam, if not more so”?  If yes, then please state it openly so that we can declare victory and move on; otherwise, if you disagree with it, then refute it in debate with me.

The entire premise of Spencer’s book, the one I have been refuting all along, is the thesis I have proposed.  It represents the fundamental difference of opinion I have with Robert Spencer and JihadWatch, so why should we debate something else?  Does Spencer think we should debate on just any topic?  Maybe we can debate the following thesis then: Arrested Development should never have been canceled because it is the single best comedy show ever.

I have never said or believed that the Islamic tradition does not have its violent aspects to it.  I have only argued that Islam is not alone in this and that the religious tradition of the dominant group (the Judeo-Christian tradition) is just as bad in this regard, if not worse.  That is my central argument, so why should we debate something else?

To be clear: I will only debate this thesis (Islam is more violent than other religions, specifically Judaism and Christianity) and no other, since (1) it is the central tenet of Robert Spencer’s book and (2) it represents the fundamental difference I have with him.  The fact that Robert Spencer cannot defend his central tenet (and the fundamental difference between us) indicates that he knows he doesn’t stand a chance in defending the thesis.  That’s why he must insist on “propos[ing] another.”

*  *  *  *  *

Additionally, there is an issue regarding “venue.”  He has suggested we debate on ABN SAT–a Christian channel.  Ludicrously, he calls them “neutral,” even though the channel airs a show (the one Spencer debated on) called Jihad Exposed, with the email addressjihadexposed@abnsat.com. Yeah, real “neutral.”

I had earlier complained that Spencer tends to debate only on Christian or conservative channels, to which Spencer accused me of “lying.”  In any case, he asked that I propose another venue other than ABN and in the same email adamantly stated: “I will debate anywhere.”  OK, if that is the case, how about we debate on Salon?

Initially, Spencer responded (bold is mine):

I have no problem with Salon but I guess you mean a print debate, in that case.

I actually had meant Salon Radio, so it would be a recorded audio debate that they could reproduce on the Salon site.  In any case, I emailed somebody at Salon, only to later get this follow-up email from Spencer (bold is mine):

Also, Salon in print is not what I had in mind. If you have a radio show in mind, I wasnt aware that Salon had one, but in that case Salon is not a neutral forum with a neutral moderator.

ABN — they offer a completely neutral forum. Let’s do it there.

Initially, he will “debate anywhere” and he has “no problem with Salon,” only to follow-up with an email rejecting Salon as a venue.  And then he goes back to the same silly Christian channel as an option.

Whether or not Salon will agree to host the debate is still up in the air, but if they accept will Spencer stick by his word that he will “debate anywhere” and that he has “no problem with Salon”?  Spencer?

ROUND 3:  Spencer asks Danios to set a topic, Danios does, Spencer rejects that topic and asks for another.  Spencer agrees to a radio debate “anywhere”, but then refuses the venue proposed by Danios and demands a different venue, ABN and with ABN’s moderator.  (ABN, by the way is a Christian TV ministry whose mission statement says:  ABN is a non-denominational ministry committed to presenting the Word of God and its transforming message of Jesus Christ to Arabic and Aramaic speaking people worldwide through media.  Their approach to this missionary work is not to set a good example of what Christianity is, but to attack Islam.  I could find nothing on their site except such biased attacks.)

This attempt by Danios to arrange a debate with Robert Spencer has now gone on since June of 2010, but perhaps, we are actually getting close to seeing this debate happen.  Here is what Danios posted today, January 15, 2011:

A few days ago, it looked like Robert Spencer of JihadWatch had stopped running away from me and finally agreed to debate me.

But then (surprise, surprise), Spencer tried weaseling out of the debate.

One of Spencer’s sticking points was the issue of venue and moderator.  I had recommendedSalon Radio, whereas he suggested ABN Sat (a loony anti-Muslim Christian channel with shows like Jihad Exposed).  In our email exchanges, Spencer kept insisting that ABN is “neutral” (ha!).

The funny thing is that in my initial email to Spencer I pointed out that he always tends to only debate on Christian or conservative channels.  This observation angered Spencer to no end, who insisted that he would “debate anywhere.”  He even seemed to accept Salon as the venue for the debate.

Spencer then had an about-face, rejecting Salon, and once again bringing up ABN, reinforcing what I said earlier: Spencer’s M.O. has been to debate Muslim floozies on Christian or conservative channels, only to then thump his chest when he wins.  The fact that I suggested Salon (a respectable and award-winning site) and Spencer kept insisting on ABN Sat (a loony anti-Muslim Christian channel) speaks volumes about what company we prefer: I like the legendary Glenn Greenwald, whereas he likes loony Christian bigots.

The choice of ABN was designed to stack the cards in his favor.  That’s fine.  I am so utterly confident in the searing truth of my argument–and the absolute falsity of his–that I acceptABN as the venue and moderator of the debate.  

[Naturally, I would insist that they give me equal time to speak, reproduce the debate in its full, unedited form, and give our website (and any other website) the right to reproduce our own recording of the debate.  (Spencer has already agreed to a 2-3 hour long debate; if this is too long for ABN to air on their show, they can do what the Daily Show does by airing the first part of the debate and then putting the rest of it online.)]

Readers should understand this decision of mine (i.e. accepting such a hostile venue and moderator) as a reflection of my low regard for Robert Spencer’s arguments and views.  This is especially bold of me, considering the fact that he has engaged in numerous debates whereas I am a novice in this field: I prefer written medium.  Even so, I have absolutely no doubt that I will trounce him in debate.

Now that I have accepted Robert Spencer’s own choice of venue and moderator–one that is heavily slanted in his favor–what excuse will Spencer come up with to avoid debating me?

*  *  *  *  *

I must, however, insist on the following thesis:

Islam is more violent than other religions, specifically Judaism and Christianity.

As I stated before, this is not just the main theme in his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), but it is even the title of one of his booksReligion of Peace?: Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t.  More than this, it reflects the fundamental differencebetween he and I: whereas I accept the violent and intolerant aspect inherent in all religious traditions, Spencer specifically targets Islam.

Under this thesis, I will individually debate the following sub-points:

1.The Islamic prophet was more violent and warlike than the Judeo-Christian prophets.  This is the main argument in chapter 1 of Spencer’s book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), entitled “Muhammad: Prophet of War”. On p.4, Spencer compares Muhammad to Jesus and to all other prophets in order “to emphasize the fallacy of those who claim that Islam and Christianity–and all other religious traditions, for that matter–are basically equal in their ability to inspire good or evil…[T]hrough the words of Muhammad and Jesus, we can draw a distinction between the core principles that guide the faithful Muslim and Christian.”  In fact, throughout his book Spencer has sidebars that compare Muhammad to Jesus.  (Yet, somehow when you refute this, it’s a “tu quoque fallacy!”)

2. The Quran is more violent and warlike than the Bible.This is the focus of chapter 2, which he entitles “The Qur’an: Book of War”.  On the very first page of this chapter (p.19), Spencer states unequivocally: “There is nothing in the Bible that rivals the Qur’an’s exhortations to violence.”  (When I want to refute this claim, then “tu quoque, tu quoque!”)  He says on the same page: “The Qu’ran is unique among the sacred writings of the world in counseling its adherents to make war against unbelievers.”  On pp.26-31, Spencer explains why the Quran is far more violent and warlike than the Bible.  (But refute this claim and you are guilty of committing a “tu quoque fallacy.”)

3. The Islamic religious tradition was more violent and warlike than the Jewish and Christian traditions.This is what chapter 3 of his book is about, entitled “Islam: Religion of War”.  This argument is also spread throughout his book and blog.  For example, on p.31, Spencer argues that in Judaism and Christianity there have been “centuries of interpretive traditions” that have moved away from violent and warlike understandings, whereas “ in Islam, there is no comparable interpretative tradition.” Chapter 14 of his book is entitled “Islam and Christianity: Equivalent Traditions?”  (But if you question this point by showing that yes indeed the two traditions are at least equally violent, then get ready to be accused of committing “tu quoque!”)

4. Contemporary Muslims interpret their religion in a much more violent and warlike way than Jews and Christians. Again, this claim is found throughout his book and blog; on p.31, for example, he argues that, unlike Muslims, “modern-day Jews and Christians…simply don’t interpret [their scripture] as exhorting them to violent actions against unbelievers.”

5. Jews had it much better in Christian Europe than the Muslim world.This is addressed in chapter 4 of Spencer’s book, in which he talks about “dhimmitude.”  On the very first page of this chapter, he states: “The idea that Jews fared better in Islamic lands than in Christian Europe is false.”  (OK, so are you ready to defend this statement of yours, Spencer?  Or do you cry “tu quoque, tu quoque” when asked to do so?)  Spencer quotes “[h]istorian Paul Johnson” (a conservative Christian ideologue–surprise, surprise) who says: “the Jewish dhimmi under Moslem rule was worse than under the Christians,” and Spencer himself says that “the Muslim laws were much harsher for Jews than those of Christendom.”  (But ask Spencer to defend that statement and see how it’s automatically a “tu quoque fallacy” to do so.)

6. Islamic law, unlike Judaism and Christianity, permits lying and deception against unbelievers. This is the import of chapter 6 of Spencer’s book, entitled ”Islamic Law: Lie, Steal, and Kill”.  On the very first page of this chapter, Spencer argues that “Islam doesn’t have a moral code analogous to the [Judeo-Christian] Ten Commandments” and that “the idea that Islam shares the general moral outlook of Judaism and Christianity is another PC myth.”  On p.84, he writes that Islam is alone among religions and civilizations in that it fails to espouse “universal moral values.” On the very next page, Spencer bellows: “This is what sets Islam sharply apart from other religious traditions.”  (Try to disagree and suddenly you will hear chants of “tu quoque, tu quoque!”)

7. Islamic history was more violent and warlike than Jewish and Christian history. This argument is found in chapter 9 of Spencer’s book, entitled “Islam–Spread by the Sword? You Bet”.  On the first page of this chapter, Spencer writes: “The early spread of Islam and that of Christianity sharply contrast in that Islam spread by force and Christianity didn’t.”  On p.116, Spencer rejects the “myth” that “Christianity and Islam spread in pretty much the same way.”  (Reject that claim–and yep, you got it: “tu quoque, tu quoque!”)

8. In the modern day (twentieth and twenty-first century), Muslims are more violent and warlike than Jews and Christians.  This is of course the general theme found not only throughout Spencer’s book but also on his blog.  This is the ultimate fall-back argument of Islamophobes, who routinely ask: “why are there no Jewish or Christian suicide bombers?”

Spencer claims these are “tu quoque fallacies” (his favorite phrase), but in fact he himself is the one making these comparisons.  He makes such comparisons, and then shields himself from all counter-attack by invoking “tu quoque, tu quoque!”  How very convenient.

There is a very important reason that Robert Spencer refuses to debate me on this topic and thesis–he knows that he doesn’t have a leg to stand on.  Even when I let him choose the venue and moderator (one that slants the debate in his favor), he still cannot–at all costs–debate me on the central theme of his book and ideology.  That’s why Spencer is not a real scholar: he has never been forced to defend his thesis, nor had his work peer-reviewed, challenged, and intellectually critiqued.  I’m merely asking Spencer to defend the substance of his book.  This refusal in and of itself is a very powerful reminder of how his ideology is fraudulent, how he himself is nothing more than a hateful ideologue and huckster, and how he is so scared that I will expose him.

The fact that I want to debate him–and that he wants to run away from me–is now self-evident: I have removed any possible barrier by agreeing to his venue and moderator.  So, what excuse will Robert Spencer come up with now to chicken out of this debate?  Will he continue to run away from me on the one hand and on the other hand continue to lament why no liberal or Muslim will debate him?

Don’t hold your breath for a debate: Spencer can’t debate me.  It would be the end of him.  So, he will continue to run.

ROUND 4:  Danios accepts ABN as the venue even though it is not “neutral” but hostile, but insists on the original topic.

Spencer has said in an article bemoaning the fact that Muslims just won’t debate him:

…  other Muslims claimed they wanted to debate me, but never followed up on my invitation to email me and set a topic, date and venue.  … So the real reason why no Muslims will debate me is this:

They know that what I say about Islam and jihad is true, and don’t want that fact to be illustrated to a wider audience.

Why can’t Muslims debate? Because the truth is something they don’t generally wish the Infidels to know. So they do all they can to shut down those Infidels by other means.

There is an ancillary reason also: Islam doesn’t encourage critical thinking. It has no natural theology, only a series of laws declared by fiat. In some contemporary forms of Islam, hardly any premium is put on reasoning—after all, the Qur’an itself warns Muslims not to question (5:101). Consequently, even superficially intelligent Islamic supremacists such as Reza Aslan and Ibrahim Hooper are abjectly incapable of building a cogent intellectual argument and defending it. All they and so many others like them can do, as is clear from their track record, is heap abuse upon those who oppose them.

It seems as if Danios has followed up on all of Spencer’s demands.  Now all that is left is to set a date.  I am holding my breath to see what ROUND 5 will be.

Danios of LoonWatch Accepts Robert Spencer’s Choice of Venue and Moderator: Will Spencer Keep Chickening Out?

A few days ago, it looked like Robert Spencer of JihadWatch had stopped running away from me and finally agreed to debate me.

But then (surprise, surprise), Spencer tried weaseling out of the debate.

One of Spencer’s sticking points was the issue of venue and moderator.  I had recommended Salon Radio, whereas he suggested ABN Sat (a loony anti-Muslim Christian channel with shows like Jihad Exposed).  In our email exchanges, Spencer kept insisting that ABN is “neutral” (ha!).

The funny thing is that in my initial email to Spencer I pointed out that he always tends to only debate on Christian or conservative channels.  This observation angered Spencer to no end, who insisted that he would “debate anywhere.”  He even seemed to accept Salon as the venue for the debate.

Spencer then had an about-face, rejecting Salon, and once again bringing up ABN, reinforcing what I said earlier: Spencer’s M.O. has been to debate Muslim floozies on Christian or conservative channels, only to then thump his chest when he wins.  The fact that I suggested Salon (a respectable and award-winning site) and Spencer kept insisting on ABN Sat (a loony anti-Muslim Christian channel) speaks volumes about what company we prefer: I like the legendary Glenn Greenwald, whereas he likes loony Christian bigots.

The choice of ABN was designed to stack the cards in his favor.  That’s fine.  I am so utterly confident in the searing truth of my argument–and the absolute falsity of his–that I accept ABN as the venue and moderator of the debate.  

[Naturally, I would insist that they give me equal time to speak, reproduce the debate in its full, unedited form, and give our website (and any other website) the right to reproduce our own recording of the debate.  (Spencer has already agreed to a 2-3 hour long debate; if this is too long for ABN to air on their show, they can do what the Daily Show does by airing the first part of the debate and then putting the rest of it online.)]

Readers should understand this decision of mine (i.e. accepting such a hostile venue and moderator) as a reflection of my low regard for Robert Spencer’s arguments and views.  This is especially bold of me, considering the fact that he has engaged in numerous debates whereas I am a novice in this field: I prefer written medium.  Even so, I have absolutely no doubt that I will trounce him in debate.

Now that I have accepted Robert Spencer’s own choice of venue and moderator–one that is heavily slanted in his favor–what excuse will Spencer come up with to avoid debating me?

*  *  *  *  *

I must, however, insist on the following thesis:

Islam is more violent than other religions, specifically Judaism and Christianity.

As I stated before, this is not just the main theme in his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), but it is even the title of one of his books: Religion of Peace?: Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t.  More than this, it reflects the fundamental difference between he and I: whereas I accept the violent and intolerant aspect inherent in all religious traditions, Spencer specifically targets Islam.

Under this thesis, I will individually debate the following sub-points:

1. The Islamic prophet was more violent and warlike than the Judeo-Christian prophets.  This is the main argument in chapter 1 of Spencer’s book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), entitled “Muhammad: Prophet of War”. On p.4, Spencer compares Muhammad to Jesus and to all other prophets in order “to emphasize the fallacy of those who claim that Islam and Christianity–and all other religious traditions, for that matter–are basically equal in their ability to inspire good or evil…[T]hrough the words of Muhammad and Jesus, we can draw a distinction between the core principles that guide the faithful Muslim and Christian.”  In fact, throughout his book Spencer has sidebars that compare Muhammad to Jesus.  (Yet, somehow when you refute this, it’s a “tu quoque fallacy!”)

2. The Quran is more violent and warlike than the Bible.  This is the focus of chapter 2, which he entitles “The Qur’an: Book of War”.  On the very first page of this chapter (p.19), Spencer states unequivocally: “There is nothing in the Bible that rivals the Qur’an’s exhortations to violence.”  (When I want to refute this claim, then “tu quoque, tu quoque!”)  He says on the same page: “The Qu’ran is unique among the sacred writings of the world in counseling its adherents to make war against unbelievers.”  On pp.26-31, Spencer explains why the Quran is far more violent and warlike than the Bible.  (But refute this claim and you are guilty of committing a “tu quoque fallacy.”)

3. The Islamic religious tradition was more violent and warlike than the Jewish and Christian traditions.  This is what chapter 3 of his book is about, entitled “Islam: Religion of War”.  This argument is also spread throughout his book and blog.  For example, on p.31, Spencer argues that in Judaism and Christianity there have been “centuries of interpretive traditions” that have moved away from violent and warlike understandings, whereas “[i]n Islam, there is no comparable interpretative tradition.” Chapter 14 of his book is entitled “Islam and Christianity: Equivalent Traditions?”  (But if you question this point by showing that yes indeed the two traditions are at least equally violent, then get ready to be accused of committing “tu quoque!”)

4. Contemporary Muslims interpret their religion in a much more violent and warlike way than Jews and Christians. Again, this claim is found throughout his book and blog; on p.31, for example, he argues that, unlike Muslims, “modern-day Jews and Christians…simply don’t interpret [their scripture] as exhorting them to violent actions against unbelievers.”

5. Jews had it much better in Christian Europe than the Muslim world. This is addressed in chapter 4 of Spencer’s book, in which he talks about “dhimmitude.”  On the very first page of this chapter, he states: “The idea that Jews fared better in Islamic lands than in Christian Europe is false.”  (OK, so are you ready to defend this statement of yours, Spencer?  Or do you cry “tu quoque, tu quoque” when asked to do so?)  Spencer quotes “[h]istorian Paul Johnson” (a conservative Christian ideologue–surprise, surprise) who says: “the Jewish dhimmi under Moslem rule was worse than under the Christians,” and Spencer himself says that “the Muslim laws were much harsher for Jews than those of Christendom.”  (But ask Spencer to defend that statement and see how it’s automatically a “tu quoque fallacy” to do so.)

6. Islamic law, unlike Judaism and Christianity, permits lying and deception against unbelievers. This is the import of chapter 6 of Spencer’s book, entitled ”Islamic Law: Lie, Steal, and Kill”.  On the very first page of this chapter, Spencer argues that “Islam doesn’t have a moral code analogous to the [Judeo-Christian] Ten Commandments” and that “the idea that Islam shares the general moral outlook of Judaism and Christianity is another PC myth.”  On p.84, he writes that Islam is alone among religions and civilizations in that it fails to espouse “[u]niversal moral values.” On the very next page, Spencer bellows: “This is what sets Islam sharply apart from other religious traditions.”  (Try to disagree and suddenly you will hear chants of “tu quoque, tu quoque!”)

7. Islamic history was more violent and warlike than Jewish and Christian history. This argument is found in chapter 9 of Spencer’s book, entitled “Islam–Spread by the Sword? You Bet”.  On the first page of this chapter, Spencer writes: “The early spread of Islam and that of Christianity sharply contrast in that Islam spread by force and Christianity didn’t.”  On p.116, Spencer rejects the “myth” that “Christianity and Islam spread in pretty much the same way.”  (Reject that claim–and yep, you got it: “tu quoque, tu quoque!”)

8. In the modern day (twentieth and twenty-first century), Muslims are more violent and warlike than Jews and Christians.  This is of course the general theme found not only throughout Spencer’s book but also on his blog.  This is the ultimate fall-back argument of Islamophobes, who routinely ask: “why are there no Jewish or Christian suicide bombers?”

Spencer claims these are “tu quoque fallacies” (his favorite phrase), but in fact he himself is the one making these comparisons.  He makes such comparisons, and then shields himself from all counter-attack by invoking “tu quoque, tu quoque!”  How very convenient.

There is a very important reason that Robert Spencer refuses to debate me on this topic and thesis–he knows that he doesn’t have a leg to stand on.  Even when I let him choose the venue and moderator (one that slants the debate in his favor), he still cannot–at all costs–debate me on the central theme of his book and ideology.  That’s why Spencer is not a real scholar: he has never been forced to defend his thesis, nor had his work peer-reviewed, challenged, and intellectually critiqued.  I’m merely asking Spencer to defend the substance of his book.  This refusal in and of itself is a very powerful reminder of how his ideology is fraudulent, how he himself is nothing more than a hateful ideologue and huckster, and how he is so scared that I will expose him.

The fact that I want to debate him–and that he wants to run away from me–is now self-evident: I have removed any possible barrier by agreeing to his venue and moderator.  So, what excuse will Robert Spencer come up with now to chicken out of this debate?  Will he continue to run away from me on the one hand and on the other hand continue to lament why no liberal or Muslim will debate him?

Don’t hold your breath for a debate: Spencer can’t debate me.  It would be the end of him.  So, he will continue to run.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.

Surprise, Surprise: Robert Spencer of JihadWatch is Weaseling Out of Debate with Danios of LoonWatch

When I first read Robert Spencer’s book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) a couple years ago, I knew I could not just refute it but (proverbially speaking) blow it out of the water.  After I penned my first few articles against it, I also knew that Spencer could not issue any substantive reply.  Soon, I began to detect fear in Spencer’s eyes.  It is no wonder then that he has refused to debate me for so long.  I have documented Spencer’s evasion here.

Yet, Robert Spencer is also keenly aware of the fact that his refusal to debate the one site that is dedicated to refuting him–and was voted by his “target population” to be the number #1 non-Muslim blog with the number #1 writer–makes his fear obvious to the world.  When his fear of debating me was pointed out in a recent Twitter war, Spencer finally agreed to debate me.  (Of course, in true Spencer fashion, he accused us of “lying” when we said that he had been refusing to debate us for almost two years.)

Even so, I had predicted–as had many others–that Spencer would try to weasel his way out of the debate.  Lo and behold, this now seems to be the case.

Initially, Spencer sent me an email saying “[t]here needs to be a thesis…So propose one.”  I proposed the following thesis:  Islam is more violent than other religions, specifically Judaism and Christianity.  This is not only the central argument in Robert Spencer’s book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) but is also the title of another book of his: Religion of Peace?: Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t.

Yet, Spencer emailed me back and said:

Actually, I am not interested in debating about Judaism and Christianity. I am only interested in debating regarding Islam and Jihad.

Spencer, the title of your book is a comparison between Christianity and Islam.  So, are you saying that you can’t defend the central tenet and title of your book!?

He goes on:

Your tu quoque arguments are silly and have had abundant airing already. Propose another.

When you write a book titled “Religion of Peace?: Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t”, then to you that’s a valid comparison, but when someone refutes that comparison by pointing out how Christianity, by the very same standards you apply to Islam, couldn’t be considered a “religion of peace,” then you cry “tu quoque”!

If my arguments “are silly,” then why don’t you debate me on them and show me how silly they are?  Do you accept my counter-argument that “Judaism and Christianity are just as violent as Islam, if not more so”?  If yes, then please state it openly so that we can declare victory and move on; otherwise, if you disagree with it, then refute it in debate with me.

The entire premise of Spencer’s book, the one I have been refuting all along, is the thesis I have proposed.  It represents the fundamental difference of opinion I have with Robert Spencer and JihadWatch, so why should we debate something else?  Does Spencer think we should debate on just any topic?  Maybe we can debate the following thesis then: Arrested Development should never have been canceled because it is the single best comedy show ever.

I have never said or believed that the Islamic tradition does not have its violent aspects to it.  I have only argued that Islam is not alone in this and that the religious tradition of the dominant group (the Judeo-Christian tradition) is just as bad in this regard, if not worse.  That is my central argument, so why should we debate something else?

To be clear: I will only debate this thesis (Islam is more violent than other religions, specifically Judaism and Christianity) and no other, since (1) it is the central tenet of Robert Spencer’s book and (2) it represents the fundamental difference I have with him.  The fact that Robert Spencer cannot defend his central tenet (and the fundamental difference between us) indicates that he knows he doesn’t stand a chance in defending the thesis.  That’s why he must insist on “propos[ing] another.”

*  *  *  *  *

Additionally, there is an issue regarding “venue.”  He has suggested we debate on ABN SAT–a Christian channel.  Ludicrously, he calls them “neutral,” even though the channel airs a show (the one Spencer debated on) called Jihad Exposed, with the email address jihadexposed@abnsat.com. Yeah, real “neutral.”

I had earlier complained that Spencer tends to debate only on Christian or conservative channels, to which Spencer accused me of “lying.”  In any case, he asked that I propose another venue other than ABN and in the same email adamantly stated: “I will debate anywhere.”  OK, if that is the case, how about we debate on Salon?

Initially, Spencer responded (bold is mine):

I have no problem with Salon but I guess you mean a print debate, in that case.

I actually had meant Salon Radio, so it would be a recorded audio debate that they could reproduce on the Salon site.  In any case, I emailed somebody at Salon, only to later get this follow-up email from Spencer (bold is mine):

Also, Salon in print is not what I had in mind. If you have a radio show in mind, I wasnt aware that Salon had one, but in that case Salon is not a neutral forum with a neutral moderator.

ABN — they offer a completely neutral forum. Let’s do it there.

Initially, he will “debate anywhere” and he has “no problem with Salon,” only to follow-up with an email rejecting Salon as a venue.  And then he goes back to the same silly Christian channel as an option.

Whether or not Salon will agree to host the debate is still up in the air, but if they accept will Spencer stick by his word that he will “debate anywhere” and that he has “no problem with Salon”?  Spencer?

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.