“Notes on the Ideological Patrons of an Islamophobe, Robert Spencer”

“Notes on the Ideological Patrons of an Islamophobe, Robert Spencer”

by Carl W. Ernst

Here is the self-description of Robert Spencer:

“ROBERT SPENCER, the director of Jihad Watch, is a writer and researcher who has studied Islam for more than twenty years. He is the author of Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West (Regnery [1]) and Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith (Encounter [2]). He is coauthor, with Daniel Ali, of Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics (Ascension) and coeditor of the forthcoming essay collection The Myth of Islamic Tolerance.  Spencer (MA, Religious Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) is an Adjunct Fellow with the Free Congress Foundation [3]. He has written seven monographs on Islam that are available from the Foundation: An Introduction to the Qur’an; Women and Islam; An Islamic Primer; Islam and the West; The Islamic Disinformation Lobby; Islam vs. Christianity; and Jihad in Context.” ( http://www.jihadwatch.org/spencer/ )

Who are the publishing firms that publish Spencer’s works? Who funds them? Who supports his work?

Some information on these patrons is given below (the numbers refer to the citations of the organizations marked in bold in the paragraph above). This information is significant because these books are not scholarly, and they do not pass the review of blind refereed evaluation practiced by university presses. They are instead supported by specific political and ideological interests through think-tanks and private foundations. They need to be evaluated differently from scholarly studies, since their agenda does not have to do with the scholarly goals of the humanities and the social sciences. In particular, the lectures given by authors such as Spencer on college campuses may be misunderstood as being equivalent to scholarly research. While it certainly may be acknowledged that scholarship has political implications, independent research needs to be distinguished from hired polemics.

The publications of Spencer belong to the class of Islamophobic extremism that is promoted and supported by right-wing organizations, who are perpetuating a type of bigotry similar to anti-Semitism and racial prejudice. They are to be viewed with great suspicion by anyone who wishes to find reliable and scholarly information on the subject of Islam. I make these remarks because Spencer was invited to speak at UNC-Chapel Hill in the spring of 2004; I shared these observations with UNC students at the time to indicate that his views have no basis in scholarship (he has no academic training in Islamic studies whatever; his M.A. degree was in the field of early Christianity). For further information on Islamophobia, see my book Following Muhammad: Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World (UNC Press, 2003), and The New Crusades: Constructing the Muslim Enemy, ed. Emran Qureshi and Michael A. Sells (Columbia University Press, 2003). Note that both of the latter books are published by university presses on the basis of blind peer review by qualified scholars.

1. Regnery Publishing Inc. (http://www.regnery.com/index.html) is a subsidiary of Eagle Publishing, considered by many America’s leading conservative publishing company, whose headquarters are located in Washington, D.C.

“When the Henry Regnery Company first opened its doors in 1947, its mission was to contribute to the rebuilding of Western civilization after World War II, publishing serious works of cultural recovery, including, as it turned out, establishing and sustaining the postwar conservative intellectual movement in America. Over the years, the company has published such authors as Russell Kirk (The Conservative Mind), William F. Buckley, Jr. (God and Man at Yale), Wilmoore Kendall (The Conservative Affirmation), Whittaker Chambers (Witness), James Burnham (The Suicide of the West), and many other classics of modern American conservatism…..”  (http://www.regnery.com/about.html)

2. Encounter Books (http://www.encounterbooks.com/) is an activity of Encounter for Culture and Education, Inc., “a tax exempt, non profit corporation dedicated to strengthening the marketplace of ideas and engaging in educational activities to help preserve democratic culture.”

Encounter for Culture and Education, Inc. has in turn been funded with $4,635,000 for its publications over the past ten years (see data on Encounter for Culture and Education at http://www.mediatransparency.org/recipientgrants.php?98), all from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation (see http://www.mediatransparency.org/funderprofile.php?funderID=1).

“With over $700 million in assets (down to $489 million
in 2002), the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation of
Milwaukee, Wisconsin is the country’s largest and most
influential right-wing foundation. As of the end of 1998, it
was giving away more than $30 million a year [The Bradley
Foundation 1998 Annual Report].
Its financial resources, its clear political agenda, and its
extensive national network of contacts and collaborators
in political, academic and media circles has allowed it to
exert an important influence on key issues of public
policy. While its targets range from affirmative action to
social security, it has seen its greatest successes in the
areas of welfare “reform” and attempts to privatize public
education through the promotion of school vouchers.”

3. The Free Congress Foundation (http://www.freecongress.org/): “Free Congress Foundation is politically conservative, but it is more than that: it is also culturally conservative. Most think tanks talk about tax rates or the environment or welfare policy and occasionally we do also. But our main focus is on the Culture War. Will America return to the culture that made it great, our traditional, Judeo-Christian, Western culture? Or will we continue the long slide into the cultural and moral decay of political correctness? If we do, America, once the greatest nation on earth, will become no less than a third world country.”

Run by New Right strategist Paul Weyrich, FCF evolved from the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress and Free Congress Research and Education Foundation, and was founded by Colorado beer magnate Joe Coors. Other groups affiliated with FCF include Free Congress Political Action Committee. Publishes Empowerment! See also Coalitions for America. It has received almost $24 million in funding from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and other conservative sources in the past twenty years (see http://www.mediatransparency.org/recipientgrants.php?recipientID=126).

Carl W. Ernst is William R. Kenan, Jr., Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill