The American Muslim Communities’ “Useful Idiots”
by Sheila Musaji
A Muslim “useful idiot” is an individual who may believe that they are being a force for good, but who are either naive or a publicity seeker whose actions and words actually give support to the cause of the Islamophobes.
These folks are in a different category than the actual “lunatic fringe” who hold dangerous views - individuals like Anjem Choudary, or groups like Revolution Muslim and the Islamic Thinkers Society.
Some of these “useful idiots” are people who think that it makes sense to appear on the television or radio programs of individuals like Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, or Michael Savage, and “defend” Islam against professional Islamophobes like Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, Brigitte Gabriel, etc. The problem is that they are usually not qualified to speak on behalf of anyone but themselves. When they come out looking foolish, the audience takes their inability to convincingly defend whatever claim is being made as “proof” that there is no defense. They do a great deal of harm to the entire community.
Engaging with such known Islamophobes only gives them credibility. Engaging with them on their “turf” and under their rules, cannot do anything other than provide them more fuel for their prejudiced attacks on Islam and Muslims. Examples of useful debates might be those on the Young Turks site hosted by Cenk Uygur Here is one of these TYT debates. Another example of the possibility of an honest debate would be a case like that of Reza Aslan debating Robert Spencer on the relatively neutral CNN with Christiane Amanpour as the moderator. It is a very different situation when the Islamophobes are not allowed to control the debate. When both the host of the program and the individual being debated are both Islamophobes, there is not much chance that a Muslim participant will be given an honest hearing. They are not “fair and balanced” and the outcome is pretty much rigged.
An individual named Mohamed El-Hassan or Elhassan is an informative case in point. He unwittingly played a dupe to Terry Jones last Qur’an trial and Qur’an burning stunt in March.
According to the Washington Post
Elhassan, a native of the Sudan who is now an American citizen, likes to call himself a sheik. He wears a cleric’s flowing white robes and claims hundreds of followers throughout Egypt, Sudan and in the United States.
But he is unknown as a scholar or holy man in the state he has called home for two decades. Religious leaders in Texas say they have never heard of Elhassan, including the imam at the mosque where he worships. “This so-called leader, we have never heard of this person,” said Imam Zia ul Haque Sheikh, the head of the Islamic Center of Irving. “I believe the whole thing is made up.” Elhassan has only a handful of followers who chant with him on Saturdays and Sundays at a small prayer center, located in a strip mall, that he founded in 2001 for other Sufi Muslims — a sect that embraces mysticism and a personal relationship with God.
Another article adds this important information
Not Known — Nobody, it seems, knows this Mohamed Elhassan. Not even the imam at the mosque where he worships. Imam Zia ul Hawue Sheikh, who heads the Islamic Center of Irving said: “This so-called leader, we have never heard of this person. I believe the whole thing is made up.”
Rebuked — Mohamed Elhassan said that since the burning of the Holy Quran, people have questioned him about his participation at the mock trial. Mohamed Elhassan said: “There are some people who blame me, who say you don’t need to go there. You were in the place of the devil.” There are also other consequenes arising from his participation at the kangaroo court. On the religious front, some of his small group of followers have demanded that he cease to lead in prayer. And on the business front, many drivers have refused to drive taxis owned by his family.
Think About It — Was it wise for Mohamed Elhassan to agree to act as defense counsel for the Holy Quran simply because he wanted to bring his family to Florida’s Disney World? Can he call himself an imam? Mohamed Elhassan said he did not know that the Holy Quran would be desecrated by being burnt if found guilty. Shouldn’t he have enquired about the purpose and the outcome of the so-called trial for which he is acting as defense counsel for the Holy Quran? It is reported that Mohamed Elhassan is the only Muslim that Pastor Terry Jones and his followers could find to accept the role of defense counsel at the kangaroo court. If Mohamed Elhassan had been more circumspect, and declined the invitation, there may be no burning of the Holy Quran for lack of a defense counsel.
According to the Daily Beast Imam Muhammed Musri from Florida had requested that no Muslims participate in any way with Jones publicity stunt.
The church desperately needed a Muslim— anyone to lend their court the appearance of balance.
Jones went as far as to invite Anjem Choudary, a British Muslim and public extremist widely accused of inciting hatred and violence in his home country. Hearing of the plan, Musri contacted law enforcement and encouraged them not to let Choudary into the country. Eventually, the church resorted to asking television entrepreneur Ahmed Abaza, the prosecutor they had settled upon, to find them a suitable exemplar. He brought along Sheik Imam Mohamed El Hassan, a man with a limited online presence who claims to be, at once, a former candidate for president of Sudan, the owner of the Irving, Texas, branch of the 3g Network, and an imam at a small Sufi Islamic Center in Dallas. Musri phoned around to get a hold of El Hassan, but nobody in Dallas had heard of him. “I’m not sure if he exists, and, if he does, I doubt he’s a real imam,” said Musri.
Although Alhassan is now an American citizen, he wanted to run for President of Sudan and even had a website on which you can read his rather odd bio which really doesn’t give any documentation for any credentials in Islamic Studies. From this bio: Mohammed ElHassan is the founder of the Alsufi Center in Dallas, Texas, Jet taxi inc, Paradise prime Investments, inc in the U.S.A and Alsufi international for solar energy in Sudan. Interesting that his solar energy company and his Islamic Center in Dallas have the same name.
It would seem that this is a pretty much discredited individual, unknown in even his local Muslim community, and with no scholarly credentials. He may be a Sheikh in the sense of being an elderly person, but certainly does not qualify to be called a Sheikh because he is a religious scholar, or an individual whose knowledge about Islam is highly respected in the community.
His main defense of getting involved in this publicity stunt was that he didn’t know that the “trial” of the Qur’an would end in a Qur’an burning. This means that not only is he not qualified as an Islamic scholar, but he didn’t even bother to do basic background checks on the individual and organization that he was “defending” the Qur’an against. Whether naive or negligent, this sort of behavior is inexcusable.
It is no surprise to see that Robert Spencer has just posted a video of a “debate” between himself and this fake Sheikh on the subject of Islam and human rights. His only lead in to the video is Here is my debate last night on ABN with Sheikh Mohamed El-Hassan of the Texas Islamic Center on the question, “Does Islam respect human rights?” The first half hour of the show is an interview with Walid Phares; the debate starts after that.
Like Terry Jones, Spencer has come up against the difficulty of finding any legitimate Muslim scholars to involve themselves with his publicity stunts, as the scholars and leadership in the American Muslim community are now only too aware of his modus operandi. And so he needs to attempt to get some mileage from pointless “debates” with uninformed Muslims who seem to also be only interested in publicity. Spencer has actually published a list of Muslims (and a few non-Muslim scholars) who have rejected his demand that they debate him, and published articles claiming that Muslims are afraid to debate him.
ABN, where a number of these debates have been broadcast, is by the way, 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.
There are other individuals like Mike Ghouse, also from Texas, who fall into this category, but seem to genuinely believe that engagement with these individuals might have some positive outcome.
Ghouse has been on the Sean Hannity program at least a dozen times. You can view a list of these programs here, however in order to view them you need to sign up and pay a monthly fee to the Sean Hannity Insider. Hannity is making money every way he can off of his bigotry. Some of these debates are available on You Tube - e.g. debating Robert Spencer on radicalism here - debating Spencer on Imam Rauf and the Cordoba House project here - debating Pamela Geller on Cordoba House project here.
On these programs he has debated Andrew McCarthy (on media coverage of Muslims, and on the Libyan revolution), David Horowitz (on the French Burqa ban), Leland Vittert and Doug Schoen (on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt), Brigitte Gabriel (on the American response to the Egyptian revolution and on U.S. border security and on the firing of Juan Williams), Jay Sekulow (on TSA security tactics), Pamela Geller (on the Cordoba House project in NYC), Robert Spencer (on the Qur’an and “Islamic Supremacism” and on radicalism in the Middle East). Ghouse may mean well, and be a good person, however, it should be obvious that no one has expertise in all of these subjects that he is ready to “debate” if no one else steps forward. Mike Ghouse has a bio on one of his 4 websites and 27 blogs that shows that he has a lot of experience in interfaith dialogue, but that is a far cry from engaging professional Islamophobes. Dialogue is useful and positive, such debates are non-productive and negative.
I really hope that individuals who are tempted to take the bait and engage with professional Islamophobes, stop to consider that there is a reason that most scholars, activists, and leaders in the American Muslim community ignore their provocations and requests to debate.
Ahmed Rehab’s experience with Robert Spencer is another good case to study. It shows how desperate the Islamophobes are to get Muslims to play their debate game. Devon Moore reports on an incident between Ahmed Rehab and Robert Spencer.
Fast forward to the past few days when Spencer took it a step further. Ahmed Rehab of CAIR-Chicago was on Michael Medved’s radio program and stated that he, unlike, Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar would not have left the stage over O’Reilly’s comments because he never leaves a debate. Spencer rushed to his soap box and claimed that Rehab “ducked a debate” with him, and therefore was lying.
Spencer is missing a key ingredient here: truth. Rehab never “ducked a debate” with Spencer, he never agreed to one in the first place.
Ahmed Rehab writes:
Apparently this guy (Spencer) heard me on the Michael Medved show earlier today where I disagreed with Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar for storming off the stage during a debate with Bill O’Reilly. It is something I would not do. Spencer who had invited me to a debate before, ran to his blog and put up a piece complaining that if that is the case then how come I “ran away” from debating him.
Surfing through JihadWatch.org, it doesn’t take much to figure out that Spencer is an odd fellow. His rhetoric ranges between the sensational, the simplistic, the superficial, and in many cases the delusional (such as in this case). yet still, until today, I thought he was smarter than that.
Apparently Spencer does not know the difference between storming off from a debate, and never gracing the debate with your presence in the first place.
Spencer, I never agreed to debate you in the first place, and it is highly unlikely that I ever will. If I did for some odd reason, I assure you I would stomach your delusional diatribes throughout the length of the debate and not storm off.
I have debated people in the right wing. So Spencer is probably wondering why I am ignoring him? Well, it’s pretty simple really. There needs to be three criteria present for me to actively want to set up a formal debate with you:
- That I disagree with you. (Why would I want to debate someone I agree with?) Spencer Check.
- That you are a reasonable individual who is a truth-seeker. Spencer Fail.
- That I respect you. Spencer Fail.
In this epic slam of Spencer, Ahmed Rehab essentially points out something that Spencer, basking in his inflated ego never considered: people don’t want to debate bigots such as him because it would be like someone from the NAACP debating David Duke. It just wouldn’t fly. The two aren’t equal.
UPDATE 5/21/2011 — Robert Spencer just posted a “response” to this article which conveniently ignores the key arguments that I made. The title of his rant is “Cowards: The American Muslim begs Muslim leaders to stop debating Robert Spencer”. Actually, I was requesting individuals who are not either leaders or experts on the particular topic being discussed to refrain from engaging with professional bigots.
His posting follows all of his usual patterns and includes this statement “Cowards. Obviously, if I were really the egregious liar Musaji and others claim that I am, it ought to be easy for a Muslim spokesman to show me up in a public forum and end my baneful influence forever. Instead, they circle the wagons and claim that it is “non-productive” to discuss matters with me. Notice to Sheila Musaji and the Islamic establishment in the U.S.: if any of you poor dears, nervous nellies and shrinking violets ever grow some spine and become willing to defend your positions, I am ready to debate you. I am willing to stand and defend my views—why aren’t you?”
Actually, individuals who are qualified, and/or actually represent a well-known Muslim organization have debated Spencer on particular topics, and not only defended their positions, but also disproved all of his arguments. And, in my case, I have published hundreds of responses to his spurious claims, just type Robert Spencer into the TAM search engine.
One example of such a debate with Spencer by Christina Abraham, a well-qualified Muslim individual is illustrative of the modus operandi of Spencer and his cohorts.
Christina Abraham debated both Frank Gaffney and Robert Spencer on the topic of Rep. King’s Muslim radicalization hearing, the civil rights of American Muslims, and claims about CAIR on Eric Bolling’s program on Fox News. Here is Abraham’s bio from her personal blog:
Christina Abraham is the Civil Rights Director at CAIR-Chicago. Christina has spoken and written on issues related to Arab and Muslim civil rights, and actively works to pursue successful resolutions to incidents of discrimination through legal and non-legal channels. Christina is also a member of the Advisory Board for the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights and a member of the Advisory Board of the BRussels International Tribunal. Christina holds a Masters in the Arts of Social Sciences (M.A.) at the University of Chicago where her focus was on Politics in the Middle East, and a Juris Doctorate at DePaul University where she received membership in the Order of the Barristers. She is admitted to practice in the State of Illinois.
She is knowledgeable and eminently qualified to speak on the particular topic being discussed, and is a representative of the organization being discussed. She expressed herself clearly, was not intimidated by aggressive tactics, stuck to the facts, did not allow herself to be sidetracked, and did an excellent job of discussing legal issues, and of responding to particular claims and innuendos with facts.
Nevertheless, after the debate, Bolling had a panel of “experts” including Spencer’s partner Pamela Geller who attempted to keep the audience clearly focused on the agenda of maligning American Muslims.
On her Atlas Shrugs site, Geller posted the video of the debate, and her comments which included this: “Today’s CAIR spokersperson [sic] was a doozy. Going by the name “Christina Abraham” (got that? looks like she’s got the Christians and the Jews covered with that name), an uncovered Western-looking woman unleashed her fury on Robert. Apparently she is a devout Muslim, because in undercover footage of her urging Muslims not to co-coperate [sic] with law enforcement, she is in full Muslim garb. Muhammad said, “war is deceit.” Indeed.”
When faced with facts, they respond, not with a consideration of those facts, but with a tabloid-style personal attack on the name, appearance, and character of the Muslim participant in the debate. Spencer and Geller are both fond of claiming that people are making “ad hominem” attacks on them. This response by Geller to Christina Abraham’s statements is a textbook example of an ad hominem attack.
If even a well-qualified individual like Christina Abraham is treated in this despicable manner, what does that tell us about engaging with these Islamophobes? 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.
UPDATE 11/27/2011 — Loonwatch has published an interview with Reza Aslan who has had experience with attempting civil discourse with Robert Spencer. It is an excellent interview and the following passage relates directly with this issue of whether or not to engage with these Islamophobes
This idea that these are people who deserve engagement (laughs)…Spencer’s fans email me all the time and say “you’re afraid to debate Robert Spencer.” No, I don’t debate Robert Spencer for the same reason I don’t debate a four year old child because this is not about a conversation. You cannot have a rational conversation with a clown and the fact of the matter is that the reason Robert Spencer is constantly begging people like myself to debate him is because he knows that appearing on the same platform legitimizes his view.
You are not going to have a debate about the African American experience in the United States with the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan (laughs), that person does not belong in that debate. To have him there by definition legitimates his position.
So Spencer, Geller, Emerson, these guys belong in the gutter where they are. That’s where they are, that’s where they belong. They get a lot of attention because Fox News keeps inviting them and good for them. Fox News has become the go to Islamophobic network for these kinds of guys, and that’s great, and they are going to keep preaching to the same choir that watches Fox. Good for them but the notion that these guys somehow belong in the mainstream, that they belong on a dais debating socio-religious matters with an actual scholar is absurd.
UPDATE 1/25/2012 — I have just published an article Danios vs Spencer: 18 months and Spencer still avoiding a debate laying out the history of what has become a saga.
UPDATE 5/1/2012 — In the article David Wood and Robert Spencer “Debate”?, I lay out details of what became a truly bizarre “debate”.
Spencer was unable to find any Muslims to play his ongoing “debate” game, and so Wood and Robert Spencer announced they would have a “debate” on the thesis of Spencer’s new book Did Muhammad Exist? Just prior to this publicity stunt, they announced that 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. Good, let the bigots talk among themselves.
This is not the first time that the Islamophobes set up a phony debate among themselves. In 2010, Spencer “debated” Peter Kreeft at Thomas More College on the topic “the only good Muslim is a bad Muslim”. Spencerwatch discussed this at length.
Another Muslim, Mubin Shaikh debated Robert Spencer on ABN on the topic “The Qur’an teaches warfare against and subjugation of unbelievers”. Mubin Shaikh is an expert in counter terrorism, radicalization and homegrown terror, but NOT an Islamic scholar. Even prior to the debate Spencer was identifying Mubin Shaikh as an “Islamic supremacist”. A curious designation for an individual who was instrumental in helping the Royal Canadian Mounted Police convict 11 individuals involved in a terrorist plot. Mubin Shaikh bio. See The Use and Abuse of Scriptures for a discussion of the issue of quote mining scriptures to “prove” or disprove almost anything about any scripture.
UPDATE 5/31/2013 — The Oxford Student Union in Britain held a debate on the motion “This House believes Islam is a religion of peace”. Adam Deen, Matthew Handley and Mehdi Hasan spoke in favor, while Peter Atkins, Daniel Johnston, Anne-Marie Waters spoke against. At the end of the debate the vote was Ayes 286, Noes 168. Loonwatch has the video of Mehdi Hasan’s argument here. This debate has generated a great deal of comment. There are thousands of articles online. Not surprisingly, many Muslims thought Hasan’s argument was excellent, and most Islamophobes rejected the argument. Robert Spencer insisted that Hasan failed to prove his argument. Spencer’s partner, Pamela Geller called Hasan’s arguments big league taqiyya.
UPDATE 8/5/2013 — Ave Maria Radio is hosting a debate under the title Ave Maria Radio Asks, “Is Islam a Religion of Peace?”.
UPDATE 8/13/2013 — The discussion surrounding this debate became so lengthy that it is now all included in the article Robert Spencer vs Shadid Lewis Debate. It is another object lesson on why getting involved in debates with committed Islamophobes, especially those like Robert Spencer who make their living spreading anti-Muslim propaganda is unwise.
A Who’s Who of the Anti-Muslim/Anti-Arab/Islamophobia Industry http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/a_whos_who_of_the_anti-muslimanti-arabislamophobia_industry/
for information on these Islamophobes and their tactics
What everyone “knows” about Islam and Muslims http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/what_everyone_knows/
for information about some of their false claims