The Robert Spencer vs Shadid Lewis Debate - update 8/16/13

The Robert Spencer vs Shadid Lewis Debate

by Sheila Musaji


On 8/5/2013, I posted an update to the article The American Muslim Communities’ “Useful Idiots” which has discussed the pros and cons of debating with Islamophobes and lists a number of debates over the past few years.  The update was about a debate between Robert Spencer and Shadid Lewis.  The story of this debate became so lengthy that it really requires its own separate article including the whole saga.

I’ll begin at the end with a summary.  A Catholic radio station and their host sponsored this debate.  All of those involved in the planning and the actual program (except for the 2 Muslim participants) are known Islamophobes with an agenda.  Prior to the event, leaders of the local Muslim community in Michigan stated that they were opposed to the program, and asked that Muslims not attend.  The voices of reason were ignored, and the “debate” went on as planned, and ended badly.  I have watched the partial copy of the debate that was posted, and have followed all the discussion in the Islamophobia echo chamber, and in my opinion - NO ONE WON - and everyone involved lost.  Unless of course their goal was further divisiveness and mutual animosity.

Ave Maria Radio is hosting a debate under the title Ave Maria Radio Asks, “Is Islam a Religion of Peace?”.  Here is the information from their press release (emphasis added):

Ann Arbor, MI: On Saturday, August 10, Ave Maria Radio will bring together renowned experts on Islam from around the world to discuss and debate the question, “Is Islam a Religion of Peace?” The one-day symposium will be held in the Student Center at Eastern Michigan University.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life recently showed that 19% of U.S. Muslims said that “suicide bombing or other forms of violence against civilians in the name of Islam” could be justified. That number in Egypt is 29% and 40% in the Palestinian territories. Do these findings mock the claim that Islam is a religion of peace?

Al Kresta, CEO of Ave Maria Communications notes: “When this conference is over, Christians and Muslims won’t be holding hands and singing Kumbayah. Everyone who participates in this frank, no holds barred discussion, however, will be thankful for free speech and a civil society which permits people with irreconcilable differences to understand if not agree with one another.”

The featured debate will be Robert Spencer, director of JihadWatch.org facing off against Shadid Lewis, regional director of the Muslim Debate Initiative in the US, on the question “Is Islam a Religion of Peace?”

Muslim columnist for the Turkish News Mustafa Akyol will debate Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Law Center on “Can Islam Support Religious Liberty?”

Other speakers include Andrew Bieszad, author of Lions of the Faith: Saints, Blesseds and Heroes of the Faith in the Struggle With Islam, and Al Kresta, President/CEO of Ave Maria Communications and host of Kresta in the Afternoon.

Most Rev. Earl A. Boyea, bishop of Lansing, will celebrate Mass after the conclusion of the symposium.  ...

There are a lot of issues with this press release.  The release makes it clear that this is not meant to be an event with the purpose of mutual understanding.  It is to be a battle, and the end result will not be the singing of kumbaya, but the “defeat” of the Muslim position.  The inclusion of the incomplete statement about the meaning of the PEW poll results shows the bias of the organizers.  Please see the TAM article Islamophobes Distort Poll Results To Hide the Truth for a discussion of the PEW Poll that Al Kresta mentioned in the press release, and that other Islamophobes are once again raising in their talking points.  This article discusses this and other polls and notes that based on actual data, more than twice as many non-Muslims think that violence against civilians is sometimes justified.

Mustafa Akyol is very capable of discussing the topic of religious liberty (You can view his TED Talk on Faith versus tradition in Islam here), however I can’t understand why he would even consider involving himself with such an event, and such individuals.  Right Wing Watch has an entire series of articles on Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Law Center, and his views here.  He was one of those who attacked Debbie Almontaser and the Khalil Gibran Academy.  He called the school “a Trojan horse” for “homegrown terrorists”. 

However, as the press release clearly states, the The featured debate will be Robert Spencer, director of JihadWatch.org facing off against Shadid Lewis, regional director of the Muslim Debate Initiative in the US, on the question “Is Islam a Religion of Peace?”  The question itself is fatally flawed and has no yes or no, right or wrong answer.  The question is an example of the “false dilemma” logical fallacy.  And, Kresta’s framing this as if it is a Christians versus Muslims debate makes it even more noxious.  There can only be losers in such a debate.  No one wins except those who revel in divisiveness.  “Is Islam a Religion of Peace?” is a very different question than that debated recently at the Oxford Union, “This House believes Islam is a religion of peace”. 

Spencer’s article announcing this “debate” says that he is debating Muslim scholars.  Ave Maria’s Kresta posts an article saying that renowned experts on Islam from around the world come to MI discuss and debate the question, “Is Islam a Religion of Peace?”  Actually, one journalist (Mustafa Akyol) is coming from Turkey, but he is not a “renowned scholar of Islam”, and he is debating a different question entirely.

Who is Shadid Lewis, and what is the Muslim Debate Initiative?  I had never heard of either before the announcement of this event.

I did some searching and dif find two MDI websites here and here but they don’t offer much information.  In just going through the sites, it seems as if there are no more than 10 people contributing articles or engaging in debates.  There are no biographies for any of them.  Their about section doesn’t say when they were founded. 

Shadid Lewis has a series of debates and lectures on YouTube.  The Michigan Catholic reported thatLewis, who has participated in similar debates before, said he agreed to participate to “put forward the Muslim perspective in an academic and intellectual manner and address these controversial issues.” While he expected a “heated debate” with Spencer, Lewis also expressed hope that the audience would come away with a better understanding of the key issues. “My intention is help the audience get a better understanding of what Islam is really about and just let them see that the media is only giving attention to those who are doing negative things,” he said.  I could not find a bio for Shadid Lewis anywhere.  Based on looking at a few articles Shadid Lewis posted on MDI and watching a few of his YouTube videos, he is a young convert, who is not an academic, and certainly not a “Muslim scholar”.

He will certainly be in over his head, and this “featured debate” will simply be used as an opportunity to humiliate the American Muslim community.  Shadid Lewis may mean well, but participating in this very public event without the tools to deal with someone like Robert Spencer is at the very least unwise.  And, the fact that Spencer, Kresta, Ave Maria, et al are framing this as a debate between scholars, when that is clearly not the case makes it clear that they have an agenda.

Here are a few comments from members of the local Muslim community in Michigan about the advisability of this particular debate that were made prior to the debate:

“I think it’s sad to see that this group would try to stage this kind of confrontational encounter, when Catholic and Muslim leaders are engaged in an ongoing, cordial dialogue,” said Dawood Zwink, executive director of the Michigan Muslim Community Council. “I don’t know why these organizers would choose as a headliner someone who just this summer was barred (from the United Kingdom) because his presentations are so incendiary. It’s not in keeping with American values of civil dialogue.” **

Victor Begg, senior adviser to the Michigan Muslim Community Council, questioned why Catholic Bishop Boyea would appear at such an event, “knowing these people have an Islamophobia, bigoted agenda.” **

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations – Michigan, said he supported Spencer’s free speech rights but urged Muslims to avoid the event, saying the man’s views could provoke “animosity and enmity.”  “That’s not what we should be embracing coming out of Ramadan,” Walid said, referring to the holy month for Muslims.  **  Dawud Walid, also expressed his disappointment with Bishop Boyea for his involvement with the event.  “I don’t believe that he would hold Mass at an event driven by a neo-Nazi or a skinhead,” Walid said. “Spencer is in the same category according to many in the civil rights community. We hope that the bishop will not give de facto support to this event, which the Michigan Muslim community does not support in any form.”

Note, Bishop Boyea’s office Boyea released a statement saying that he: “neither endorses nor condemns any of the featured presenters.  Bishop Boyea hopes that the symposium, and dialog like it, can spur what Pope Francis last week called “mutual respect through education” between Christianity and Islam.”

When I posted a tweet to Robert Spencer referring him to this article, I received a series of tweets from Shadid Lewis.  This particular exchange is most enlightening:

I did a little research and this Islamic American Open University doesn’t seem to be accredited, and its website http://aou.edu/ doesn’t list it’s scholars or professors, and is in fact seems to be a pretty shady undertaking.

UPDATE 8/9/2013: — A lot has been happening regarding this debate, and TAM published this detailed run-down in the article Robert Spencer and TAM, the site that cannot be mentioned.

Today, Robert Spencer posted another article with an impossibly long title -  Hamas-linked CAIR leader warns Muslims to stay away from Robert Spencer debates with Muslim leaders; Muslim site says Muslim debater will lose.  Spencer has three primary objections in this article.

1.  Spencer is objecting to an article by Mark Hicks in the Detroit News

Controversial speaker planned at symposium on Islam in Ypsilanti for “smearing” him and for calling him “anti-Muslim” which Spencer says is like calling a foe of the Nazis “anti-German.”

Mark Hicks is in good company, he joins a long list of non-Muslims who accept Muslims as equal citizens and participants in American society, and who have been attacked by Spencer and his cohorts. See The Islamophobic Attempt to Marginalize American Muslim Civic Participation for this lengthy list. 

Here is some information from a much longer collection of evidence which should make it clear that Mark Hicks use of the term anti-Muslim is NOT a smear but an accurate description:

The Islamophobia Industry exists and is engaged in an anti-Muslim Crusade.  They have a manifesto for spreading their propaganda, and which states their goal of “destroying Islam — as a culture, a political ideology, and a religion.” They produce anti-Muslim films.  They are forming new organizations and coalitions of organizations at a dizzying speed, not only nationally, but also internationally.   They have formed an International Leadership Team “which will function as a mobile, proactive, reactive on-the-ground team developing and executing confidential action plans that strike at the heart of the global anti-freedom agenda.”

The Islamophobia of these folks is very real, it is also strikingly similar to a previous generations’ anti-Semitism, and it has predictable consequences.   The reason that this is so obvious to so many is that rational people can tell the difference between legitimate concerns and bigoted stereotypes.

The claim that the Islamophobes are “truth-tellers” and “defenders of freedom” who actually “love Muslims” and have never engaged in “broadbrush demonization” or “advocated violence”, or that nothing that they say could have had anything to do with any act of violence,  are nonsense.  The claim that they are falsely being accused of Islamophobia for no reason other than their legitimate concerns about real issues and that in fact there is not even such a thing as Islamophobia, or their claim that the fact that there are fewer hate crimes against Muslims than against Jews or that some Muslims have fabricated such crimes “proves” that Islamophobia doesn’t exist,  or that the term Islamophobia was made up by Muslims in order to stifle their freedom of speech, or that anti-Muslim bigotry is “not Islamophobia but Islamorealism” are all nonsense

When Islamophobes are caught in the act of making up or distorting claims they engage in devious methods to attempt to conceal the evidence. 

Islamophobes do not understand freedom of speech or that freedom of speech does not include freedom from condemnation of that speech and they are quick to call for censorship and repression of speech they don’t like.

There is a reason that many, even outside of the Muslim community see such demonization of Muslims as Islamophobic.  There is a reason that the ADL has stated that Brigitte Gabriel’s Act for America, Pamela Geller & Robert Spencer’s Stop the Islamization of America (SIOA), David Yerushalmi’s Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE)  are “groups that promote an extreme anti-Muslim agenda”.  There is a reason that The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated SIOA as a hate group, and that these individuals are featured in the SPLC reports Jihad Against Islam and The Anti-Muslim Inner Circle.  There is a reason that these individuals and organizations are featured prominently in: — the Center for American Progress reports “Fear Inc.” on the Islamophobia network in America and Understanding Sharia Law: Conservatives skewed interpretation needs debunking. — the People for the American Way Right Wing Playbook on Anti-Muslim Extremism.  — the NYCLU report Religious Freedom Under Attack:  The Rise of Anti-Mosque Activities in New York State.  — the Political Research Associates report Manufacturing the Muslim menace: Private firms, public servants, and the threat to rights and security.  — The ACLU report Nothing to Fear: Debunking the Mythical “Sharia Threat” to Our Judicial System — in The American Muslim TAM Who’s Who of the Anti-Muslim/Anti-Arab/Islamophobia Industry.   There is a reason that the SIOA’s trademark patent was denied by the U.S. government due to its anti-Muslim nature.   There is a reason that these individuals and organizations are featured in just about every legitimate report on Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred. 

See Resources for dealing with Islamophobes for many more reasons that these people cannot be trusted.

Robert Spencer also said in response to this same article by Mark Hicks (emphasis mine):  Then comes the British ban, with no mention of the fact that the British government banned me from entering for fear that Muslims would become violent if I entered—in other words, because they were kowtowing to violent intimidation. And “anti-Muslim” again—which, again, is like calling a foe of the Nazis “anti-German.”

Spencer’s partner Pamela Geller said in response to a Fox News report discussing the upcoming debate: ...  his description of British ban is a lie.The Home Secretary excluded us because our words might “justify terrorist violence.” So that is the recognition and sanction of Islamic violence.

Nonsense!  In the articles Britain should ban Geller & Spencer, and deport Al-Arefe & Al-Habib, and Pamela Geller is confused about what constitutes lies, lies, lies!, the entire history of the ban were laid out.  These articles discussed the charges and counter charges, and provided evidence and sources.

Here is the full text of the letter from the British Home Office (emphasis mine) informing Spencer and Geller that they are banned from entering Great Britain.  A copy of this letter was published by Pamela Geller on Atlas Shrugs:

I am writing to inform you about the British government’s measures for excluding or deporting extremists under the Unacceptable Behaviour policy. The list of unacceptable behaviours covers any non-UK national whether in the UK or abroad who uses any means or medium including:

•writing, producing, publishing or distributing material,
•public speaking including preaching
•running a website
•using a position of responsibility such as a teacher, community or youth leader
to express views that:
•foment or justify terrorist violence in furtherance of particular beliegs,
•seek to provoke others to terrorist acts,
•foment other serious criminal activity or seek to provoke others to serious criminal acts,
•foster hatred which might lead to inter-community violence in the UK.

The list is indicative and not exhaustive.

The Home Secretary has considered whether, in light of this list, you should be excluded from the UK. After careful consideration on 25 June 2013 she personally directed that you should be excluded from the United Kingdom on the grounds that your presence here is not conducive to the public good. The Home Secretary has reached this decision because you have brought yourself within the scope of the list of unacceptable behaviours by making statements that may foster hatred which might lead to inter-community violence in the UK.

The Home Secretary notes that you are a prolific blogger, author, political activist and commentator.  You co-founded Stop Islamization of America, an organization described as an anti-Muslim hate group.  You also operate a number of websites including Jihad Watch and Atlas Shrugs.

You are reported to have stated the following:

“Al-Qaeda is a manifestation of devout Islam…it is Islam.”

* “If the Jew dies, the Muslims will die as well:” their survival depends on their constant jihad, because without it they will lose the meaning and purpose of their existence.”

The Home Secretary considers that should you be allowed to enter the UK you would continue to espouse such views.  In doing so, you would be committing listed behaviours and would therefore be behaving in a way that is not conducive to the public good.

You are therefore instructed not to travel to the UK as you will be refused admission on arrival.  Although there is no statutory right of appeal against the Home Secretary’s decision,  this decision is reviewed every 3 to 5 years.

In accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998 the Home Office treats all personal information in confidence.  However, such information may be disclosed to other government departments, agencies, local authorities, the police, foreign governments and other bodies for immigration purposes or to enable them to perform their functions.

Note:  Spencer’s letter is the same as Geller’s but includes a different quote.  It was posted by Spencer on his Jihad Watch site:

You are reported to have stated the following:

”...it [Islam] is a religion and is a belief system that mandates warfare against unbelievers for the purpose for establishing a societal model that is absolutely incompatible with Western society because media and general government unwillingness to face the sources of Islamic terrorism these things remain largely unknown.”

Nowhere does this say anything about “fear that Muslims would become violent”, nothing that backs up Spencer and Geller’s claims.  Since the purpose of the planned visit to Britain by Spencer and Geller was to participate with the EDL in an event, it is as likely that EDL hoodlums would be the source of any possible inter-community violence.

What “violent intimidation” was the British Government “kowtowing to”?  Could it have been the plea from Tony Lloyd, Greater Manchester’s Police and Crime Commissioner, was it the article by the editor of the Manchester Gazette?

2.  Spencer is objecting to a quote in that article from Dawud Walid of CAIR-MI

“Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations – Michigan, said he supported Spencer’s free speech rights but urged Muslims to avoid the event, saying the man’s views could provoke ‘animosity and enmity.’ ‘That’s not what we should be embracing coming out of Ramadan.’”  Spencer’s take on this comment is:

“So here I am going up against two Muslim spokesmen in debate, and he tells Muslims to stay away. Why? Wouldn’t he and other Detroit-area Muslims want to watch the spectacle of a couple of righteous Muslims shining the light of truth upon my manifest falsehoods?”

Since, contrary to Robert Spencer’s views, Muslims really are NOT the Borg, I don’t know what reasons Dawud Walid had for his statement (although I agree with him).  Based on a recent incident in Tennessee involving Robert Spencer (and his partner Pamela Geller), and on numerous other incidents, I would have to say that it is reasonable to assume that Spencer’s views could provoke ‘animosity and enmity.’  In fact, that is an understatement.

That possibility is even more likely when we consider that Al Kresta, CEO of Ave Maria Communications said: When this conference is over, Christians and Muslims won’t be holding hands and singing Kumbayah. Everyone who participates in this frank, no holds barred discussion, however, will be thankful for free speech and a civil society which permits people with irreconcilable differences to understand if not agree with one another.”

Pamela Geller weighed in  She says about Dawud Walid’s comment “Robert Spencer is scheduled to appear, and the usual suspects are out for blood. Hamas-CAIR shrieked, “That’s not what we should be embracing coming out of Ramadan.”   Actually, Pamela Geller is the one who shrieks so often that there is a Pamela Geller Shrieking Harpy Rant Generator.

As to referring to Dawud Walid as a “Hamas-linked CAIR leader”, this is a tiresome smear.  All Muslim and Arab organizations and individuals are regularly connected to the infamous Muslim Brotherhood document or the unindicted co-conspirator label, or accused of not condemning Hamas, Hamas linked, etc. 

As Ingrid Mattson pointed out in the article Six Degrees of Terrorism:  the Internet, Islam and Islamophobia

...  The most common technique special interest groups use to undermine the credibility of American Muslim and Arab intellectuals, academics and religious leaders is to play the “linking game”.  Like the trivia game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”, the attempt to link all prominent American Muslims and American Muslim organizations to militant-extremist, Wahhabi or Islamic terrorist organizations and agendas is a game that yields no meaningful results.  Further, both games allow the unscientific practice of both forward and back linking in order to connect unrelated individuals.  This technique makes it possible to show a “link” between virtually any two individuals in the world. 

Let me give an example:  Adolf Hitler was a great admirer of the anti-Semitic German musician Richard Wagner to the extent that Wagner’s original scores kept him company in the bunker in which he killed himself.  For his part, one of Wagner’s earliest and foundational influences was Ludwig van Beethoven.  Now, who was one of the twentieth-century’s most influential conductors of Beethoven’s music?  None other than Leonard Bernstein!. With the linking game, we have just been able to show an ideological connection between the twentieth-century’s most vicious enemy of the Jewish people, Adolf Hitler,  and one of the twentieth century’s most accomplished and beloved Jewish composers and friends of Israel Leonard Bernstein. 

To make such a link is revolting, and that is how I feel when there is an attempt to link me and other Muslim scholars and leaders who have proven their commitment to academic excellence and ethical principles to terrorist or extremist militant organizations and ideology.  In a desperate attempt to undermine prominent American Muslims, some “experts” don’t even bother to go to the trouble of looking for links.  Instead, these individuals place the name of a scholar like Khaled Abou El Fadl within an article in which they mention various terrorists, militant groups or opponents of the United States like Osama Bin Laden and Ayatollah Khomeini.  The result they are aiming for is to create a negative association that will last long after the article has been read.  ...

 

3.  Spencer is objecting to an updated article on The American Muslim (TAM)

The American Muslim Communities’ “Useful Idiots” in which I explain clearly my reasons for believing that such debates in general are counter-productive and that this debate in particular is likely to be a mistake.

It is very interesting that Spencer does not name the source other than an unspecified “Muslim site”, does not name me, and does not provide a link to my article.  Spencer says:

In a similar vein, a Muslim site (granted, one that has never been known for its truth or honesty) brands one of the Muslim spokesmen I am set to debate tomorrow, Shadid Lewis, a “Useful Idiot” and laments: “He will certainly be in over his head, and this ‘featured debate’ will simply be used as an opportunity to humiliate the American Muslim community. Shadid Lewis may mean well, but participating in this very public event without the tools to deal with someone like Robert Spencer is at the very least unwise.” In other words, Lewis is going to lose, and he shouldn’t have agreed to the debate in the first place.

Spencer quotes me accurately, but incompletely.  Here is what I actually said about this particular debate in that article:

...  Mustafa Akyol is very capable of discussing the topic of religious liberty (You can view his TED Talk on Faith versus tradition in Islam here), however I can’t understand why he would even consider involving himself with such an event, and such individuals.  Right Wing Watch has an entire series of articles on Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Law Center, and his views here.  He was one of those who attacked Debbie Almontaser and the Khalil Gibran Academy.  He called the school “a Trojan horse” for “homegrown terrorists”. 

However, as the press release clearly states, the The featured debate will be Robert Spencer, director of JihadWatch.org facing off against Shadid Lewis, regional director of the Muslim Debate Initiative in the US, on the question “Is Islam a Religion of Peace?”

Spencer’s article announcing this “debate” says that he is debating Muslim scholars.   Ave Maria’s Kresta posts an article saying that “renowned experts on Islam from around the world come to MI discuss and debate the question, “Is Islam a Religion of Peace?”

Who is Shadid Lewis, and what is the Muslim Debate Initiative?  I had never heard of either before the announcement of this event.

I did find two MDI websites here and here but they don’t offer much information.  In just going through the sites, it seems as if there are no more than 10 people contributing articles or engaging in debates.  There are no biographies for any of them.  Their about section doesn’t say when they were founded.  

Shadid Lewis has a series of debates and lectures on YouTube.  The Michigan Catholic reported thatLewis, who has participated in similar debates before, said he agreed to participate to “put forward the Muslim perspective in an academic and intellectual manner and address these controversial issues.” While he expected a “heated debate” with Spencer, Lewis also expressed hope that the audience would come away with a better understanding of the key issues. “My intention is help the audience get a better understanding of what Islam is really about and just let them see that the media is only giving attention to those who are doing negative things,” he said.  I could not find a bio for Shadid Lewis anywhere.  Based on looking at a few articles Shadid Lewis posted on MDI and watching a few of his YouTube videos, he is a young convert, who is not an academic, and certainly not a “Muslim scholar”.

He will certainly be in over his head, and this “featured debate” will simply be used as an opportunity to humiliate the American Muslim community.  Shadid Lewis may mean well, but participating in this very public event without the tools to deal with someone like Robert Spencer is at the very least unwise.  And, the fact that Spencer, Kresta, Ave Maria, et al are framing this as a debate between scholars, when that is clearly not the case makes it clear that they have an agenda.

As I said at the beginning of this article - 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.

Ave Maria Radio is advertising that it “will bring together renowned experts on Islam from around the world to discuss and debate the question, “Is Islam a Religion of Peace?”  They clearly state in their press release that

The featured debate will be Robert Spencer, director of JihadWatch.org facing off against Shadid Lewis, regional director of the Muslim Debate Initiative in the US, on the question “Is Islam a Religion of Peace?”

Muslim columnist for the Turkish News Mustafa Akyol will debate Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Law Center on “Can Islam Support Religious Liberty?”

So, this is false advertising.  Shadid Lewis IS NOT a “renowned expert on Islam”.  He is the only Muslim listed as being involved in the debate with Robert Spencer.  According to their press release Mustafa Akyol is debating another individual on a different topic.  Akyol is a historian and a journalist, but he is NOT a “renowned scholar of Islam”, and he is not listed as being involved in the debate with Robert Spencer.  There are no other Muslims listed anywhere on their press release.  Who are these “renowned experts on Islam” that are coming in from all over the world?

The only person in all of this claiming to be a “renowned scholar of Islam” is Robert Spencer, and that claim is disputed by Muslims here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here etc.

Why is it that Robert Spencer is so careful to avoid mentioning TAM?  Spencer is well aware that over the years I have written hundreds of articles exposing his hateful activities, associations, and false claims — in print.  Type Robert Spencer into the TAM search engine and 294 articles will come up.  I might be wrong, but my best guess is that Spencer doesn’t mention me, or TAM because he knows that I am well able to counter his claims in print.

UPDATE 1:

I have just been made aware that Spencer also objected to an article by Michael Sean Winters in the National Catholic Reporter Who Should Be Barred From Catholic Forums?.

  Spencer has the same objections to this article.  He claims that calling Spencer anti-Muslim “is the ultimate smear term”, and “like calling an opponent of the Nazis “anti-German.”  Spencer says: “Michael Sean Winters’s vicious little libel here, he doesn’t quote even one of my “vile anti-Muslim pronouncements” that “approach the level of bigotry we associate with Holocaust denial.” He doesn’t, because he can’t, because what I actually say is nothing like his caricature.” 

In case Michael Sean Winters needs hateful quotes by Robert Spencer, he can find them here,  and here,  and here, and here, and here, and here.  And, here are just a few of those quotes:

“Islam constitutes a threat to the world at large.”  Robert Spencer, AFDI, SIOA, SION

When Shi’ite Muslims were persecuted by Sunnis, they developed the doctrine of taqiyya, or concealment: They could lie about what they believed, denying aspects of their faith that were offensive to Sunnis…Closely related to this is the doctrine of kitman, or mental reservation, which is telling the truth, but not the whole truth, with an intention to mislead…Remember that the next time you see a Muslim spokesman on television professing his friendship with non-Muslim Americans and his loyalty to the United States. Of course, he may be telling the truth–but he may not be telling the whole truth or he may be just lying.  Robert Spencer, AFDI, SIOA, SION

There are “many elements of traditional and mainstream Islam that are at variance with our system of government, our Constitution, and our entire way of life.”  Robert Spencer, AFDI, SIOA, SION

“There is no reliable way to distinguish a “moderate” Muslim who rejects the jihad ideology and Islamic supremacism from a “radical” Muslim who holds such ideas, even if he isn’t acting upon them at the moment.”  Robert Spencer, AFDI, SIOA, SION

“The misbegotten term “Islamo-fascism” is wholly redundant: Islam itself is a kind of fascism that achieves its full and proper form only when it assumes the powers of the state.” Robert Spencer,AFDI, SIOA, SION  

“There is no distinction in the American Muslim community between peaceful Muslims and jihadists.” Robert Spencer, AFDI, SIOA, SION

“(Islam) is the only major world religion with a developed doctrine and tradition of warfare against unbelievers.”  Robert Spencer, AFDI, SIOA, SION

As to the background on Spencer’s talks being cancelled by Bishops Robert McManus of Worcester, Massachusetts and Jaime Soto of Sacramento, California - see the TAM article Islamophobes Spencer & Geller are confused about who are the “brownshirts” for a detailed background including responses to previously made claims by Robert Spencer now being repeated in this latest article.

Spencer raises the issue of the books he has written on Islam and says “Just recently the National Catholic Register, the Reporter’s saner competitor, called me “perhaps the foremost Catholic expert on Islam in our country.”  The same TAM article Islamophobes Spencer & Geller are confused about who are the “brownshirts” discusses that at length, as this particular article and praise is being used by Robert Spencer as some sort of “proof” that those who have called him “anti-Muslim” are wrong. .

UPDATE 2:  I was just sent a link to an article on The Catholic News Agency.  That article reports that

Citing the need for public dialogue, Catholic radio host Al Kresta defended Islamic scholar Shadid Lewis’ invite to controversial critic Robert Spencer to a symposium and debate sponsored by Ave Maria Radio.

“It was Shadid Lewis of the Muslim Debate Initiative who called for a public debate with Spencer,” Kresta said Aug. 7, adding that he “was disappointed that Robert Spencer’s participation was treated as a sign of ill will.”  ...

As stated numerous times, Shadid Lewis is NOT an Islamic scholar.  And, if in fact he is the one who initiated this debate, that says a lot about his common sense.  It also directly contradicts Lewis’ previous published statement that he “agreed to participate” in this debate.  The further fact that on his twitter feed ‏@MrIslamAnswrBak he is regularly posting reminders about the speech and appeals for donations to pay his expenses and to engage in more debates makes me wonder about his motivation.  The fact that Robert Spencer is so anxious to debate with anyone at all and willing to confer made up titles on them to make the debates seem more respectable says a lot about Spencer’s motivation and need for publicity.  Spencer is the same man who previously promoted a “debate” between himself and David Wood versus the “Islamic scholars” Anjem Choudary and Omar Bakri of the Muslim lunatic fringe.


UPDATE 8/10/2013 — We have just posted an article by Prof. Ahmed Afzaal Is Islam a Religion of Peace?:  Asking the Right Questions which is an excellent discussion of why this topic is flawed.  I highly recommend reading the entire article.  Here is the opening statement:

Ever since the atrocious events of September 11, 2001, the question has been raised and discussed countless times: Is Islam a religion of peace? I do not wish to add yet another answer to the already huge pile of responses that have been produced by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Instead, I would like to argue that the question itself is not — or is no longer — worthy of any serious consideration by intelligent people. I propose to examine this question one last time in order to expose its fatal flaws, before suggesting that we banish it forever. I would then like to propose what I believe is a more constructive and fruitful way of inquiring into the issues involved.

Is Islam a religion of peace? Whenever I hear this, I want to ask a counter-question: Who wants to know? It so happens that the overwhelming majority of people who ask this question do not care about getting an informed or accurate answer. They do not raise this question because they believe they are lacking in the knowledge of the Islamic tradition, and that the response will help them overcome their ignorance by giving them new insights. The question is typically raised by those who are already sure of being in possession of the right answer.

In the majority of these cases, the speaker is an Islamophobe who asks the question only to create an illusion of having carried out an objective inquiry; he/she is then able to present the right answer as an emphatic “no.” Occasionally, this question is raised by an uncritical Islamophile whose response, as expected, is an equally emphatic “yes.” Unfortunately, what this well-meaning friend of Islam does not recognize is that the problem represented by the negative response to the question cannot be solved by simply giving a positive response.

Whether the question is raised for polemical purposes or apologetic ones, it has little or no scientific value. The question fails to generate real inquiry, mostly because it is weighed down by its own ideological underpinnings, which can be revealed by making explicit a series of unacknowledged assumptions without which it cannot function as it currently does.

The most obvious assumption is that there are only two possible answers: “yes” and “no.” The yes/no dichotomy coincides with the peace/violence dichotomy that is also assumed in the question. The question implies that Islam is either a “religion of peace” or it is not. If it is not a “religion of peace,” Islam must, ipso facto, be a “religion of violence.” The query does not allow any third choice.

This way of framing the discussion is problematic. As a clichéd joke has it, a man cannot answer the question, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” with either a “yes” or a “no” without admitting his guilt. The same holds true for the question, “Is Islam a religion of peace?” As soon as we agree to offer a response, we find ourselves trapped in the faulty logic of the question. The wording seduces us to respond within the structure of the question, encouraging us to disregard all the details and nuances of the issues that may be pertinent to the matter at hand. In order to say either “yes” or “no,” we must become highly selective in our choice of evidence. Regardless of which side we choose, the exercise does not generate an honest inquiry but a hardening of preconceived positions, an increase in polarization.  ...


UPDATE 8/13/2013

Robert Spencer has published what I am sure will be the first of many articles attempting to capitalize on the Michigan debate,  In debate with Robert Spencer, Muslim spokesman Shadid Lewis tries, fails to prove that Islam is a religion of peace.

Spencer’s partner, published Truth Begets Hate.  Geller’s article has been published on JBlog Central, Atlas Shrugs, World Net Daily, Jihad Watch, The Patriot Factor, Winds of Jihad, Counter Jihad Report, Islamic Alert, Before Its News, and lots of other anti-Muslim sites.  And, this was the article Ave Maria Radio chose to feature on its’ site.  Ditto with Spencer’s article.  The Islamophobia Echo Chamber is spreading their version of who won the debate far and wide.  In Spencer’s view, the debate with Shadid Lewis “was actually quite one-sided”,  “a disastrous afternoon” for Lewis, and Spencer “handily won”.

Spencer says “If the organizers decide to post the videos on YouTube, I will post them here as well.”  It will be very interesting to see what, if anything, is posted.  Since, Al Kresta, the organizer of this event is clearly as biased as Spencer, it is not likely they will post anything that might make them look foolish.

The few reports that have been published in any mainstream press are very vague, for example this from the Detroit Free Press.  The mainstream press has for the most part ignored this debate, and that seems reasonable. 

Although the debate was in front of a live audience, there was no vote.  No way of knowing whether the audience thought one side or the other had won, or even whether they thought there was any point to this at all. 

The full debate has not been published anywhere (a partial, 48:37 video was posted by Shadid Lewis on YouTube).  This video has received only 470 views and the comments are very negative (on both sides).  Shadid Lewis himself has posted most of the responses to negative comments, and raises “points” like “Look the local newspaper the Marion star proved I won,They quoted Alex Wallo, 17, of Westland “I’ve been persuaded to the affirmative position so far,” Wallo said of whether Islam is peaceful. There you have it, I WON , now get off my page you liar and hater!!! Ya Boy Spencer LOST THIS 1 !!”

The comments under this video are actually very hateful from both sides.  Both sides claim that “we won”.  Sadly, the conversation in this comment section has descended into name calling, and insulting the religious beliefs of the other side.  At least one individual calling themselves Rocky Balboa has engaged in numerous virulently anti-Christian diatribes and has not been called out by Shadid Lewis.  Really a terrible spectacle.  Shadid Lewis himself (using the name MrIslamAnswersback) engages in calling those who disagree with him “devils”, “idiots”, “white bigots”.  Those engaging in this us versus them street fight are not representative of Christianity or Islam.  All they are accomplishing is to increase the divisions between human beings.

Today Dawud Walid published Freedom of Speech does not mean accepting voices of incivility in the Detroit News.  He said:

The First Amendment is one of the most cherished hallmarks of America. There is no other nation on earth that has such a robust right for citizens to articulate their thoughts – including scientific discourse, the ability to challenge the government, and even expressions of hatred and bigotry.

Eastern Michigan University recently hosted a debate on Islam in which an anti-Muslim critic named Robert Spencer was the key participant. People ranging from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to prominent rabbis have criticized anti-Muslim intolerance spewed by Spencer and his affiliate organization, the American Freedom Defense Initiative.

I believe that Spencer has the fundamental right to speak hatefully about fellow Americans. I also know that people of goodwill have the right not to engage him in his rhetoric. Moreover, we have the right to challenge his bigotry by not granting him dignified platforms.

Passivity in the face of hate speech has cumulative consequences. Words matter, and discrimination is inspired by those who have loud voices that repeat sweeping false generalizations and stereotypes.

Spencer – and peers like Pam Geller, Pastor Terry Jones et al who seek attention and revenue from their exploits – come to our region to prove a point about Michigan Muslims that denigrates Muslims who have been here over a century.  One of the oldest mosques in America was established in Highland Park in 1921, and the oldest socio-political expression of American Muslims comes from Detroit. America’s first Muslim judge, Adam Shakoor, hails from Detroit, and America’s first Muslim congressman, Keith Ellison, is a Detroit native and Wayne State graduate.

Muslims guided by faith have been overwhelmingly law-abiding, peaceful and productive citizens of Michigan and America in general – counter to Spencer’s narrative.

We don’t have control over the United Kingdom barring Spencer from speaking there, nor do we have influence over other governments and people to force them to live according to American standards. We do, however, have the ability to influence civility. This includes pushing back against those who foment ethnic and religious intolerance such as Spencer and his acolytes. I encourage government officials and interfaith leaders to use their freedom of speech to drown out the speech of Spencer, Westboro Baptist Church and other merchants of vitriol who seek to prosper off of the backs of Michiganians.

Think about it — the debate itself was witnessed by 500 people, and no one knows what they thought.  The partial debate posted on YouTube has been seen by only 470 people and most of the comments are negative.  The few articles in the mainstream press quoted only one person at the debate as saying that he was persuaded that Islam was a peaceful religion.  The articles written by Geller and Spencer promoting a point of view reflecting badly on Muslims and Islam generally have been widely disseminated on at least 50 sites (and tweeted numerous times by Geller and Spencer who have between them 52,630 followers), and been seen by thousands (even tens of thousands) of people generating lots more hateful comments from their followers.  They have used this debate effectively as a tool in their anti-Muslim propaganda campaign.  So, when all was said and done, the Islamophobes were able to use this to reach thousands with their negative message. 

I have watched the partial copy of the debate that was posted, and have followed all the discussion in the Islamophobia echo chamber, and in my opinion - NO ONE WON - and everyone involved lost.  Unless of course their goal was further divisiveness and mutual animosity.

As I have said previously, Muslim “useful idiots” are individuals who may believe that they are being a force for good, but who are either naive or publicity seekers whose actions and words actually give support to the cause of the Islamophobes.

As individuals and as a community we need to be a lot smarter than this and not allow ourselves to be used as pawns in the Islamophobes debate game. 


UPDATE 8/16/2013

I just noticed that the partial copy of the debate posted by MDI has now had all of the comments removed, and there is a notice that says:  “Comments will be disabled until we get the full version of the entire debate. Important parts are missing like my rebuttal and the rest of the cross fire segment. So wait until you see the entire debate then you all can judge for yourselves. This video will also be taken down so the full complete debate footage can be posted.”  At this point in time, this was still the only copy of this debate posted online by anyone.

 

 


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