Frontpage Interview's guest today is Robert Spencer, a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. He is the author of seven books, eight monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including the New York Times Bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is Religion of Peace?.
Frontpage: Robert Spencer, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.
Spencer: Thanks, Jamie. I am a great admirer of your work and it is always good to talk with you.
Frontpage: Likewise sir.
What inspired you to write this book?
Spencer: For six years now, almost invariably when I would talk about the elements of Islam that jihadists use to justify violence and make recruits among peaceful Muslims, people would respond by referring to violence in the Bible and the sins of Christianity. Over time I came to see that the all-pervasive sense of guilt and self-hatred that blankets the West in this age of the dominance of multiculturalism is the single greatest obstacle keeping us from meeting the ideological challenge that the jihadists present. Insofar as Westerners are ashamed of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and so many are, they will not defend it.
This is not a matter of faith. Whether or not one is Jewish or Christian, Judeo-Christian civilization has given the world numerous ideas of human rights that the jihadists directly challenge: freedom of conscience, the equality of dignity of men and women, equality of rights before the law for all, and more. Islamic Sharia offers a radically different model of society. We in the West need to recognize this and stand up for our own civilization, culture, and heritage. If we are too paralyzed by guilt and consumed with self-hatred to defend our own civilization, we certainly won't keep it.
Frontpage: Ok, so let's build on these themes. Can you talk a bit about why the lib-Left wages war on Christianity and keeps quiet about Islam? This is a pathology in the context of Islamic jihadists being the real threat to free societies.
Spencer: Well, Jamie, this phenomenon is so all-pervasive that I thought it deserved book-length treatment. Ayaan Hirsi Ali said it well to a Leftist interviewer in Canada a few weeks ago: "You grew up with freedom, and so you think you can spit on freedom." They take it for granted, without realizing how severely it is imperiled. Would Leftists prefer to live in an Islamic society rather than in one that is or was Judeo-Christian? If they would, they will be, eventually, quite unpleasantly surprised: they will discover that many of the liberties they enjoyed were made possible by core assumptions of the Judeo-Christian civilization they helped to subvert, and that those liberties are not upheld under Islamic law.
Frontpage: I disagree with you in the sense that I think that the Left realizes very well how severely imperilled our society is in the face of radical Islam. Just like in the days of communism, the Left venerates tyranny and yearns for submission under it. The Left knows exactly what it is doing when abetting and supporting an entity that it knows it itself will be consumed by. There is a logic to why leftist intellectuals support societies that butcher intellectuals, why leftist feminists support societies that mutilate women and why leftist homosexuals and minorities worship societies that barbarize homosexuals and minorities. It's a death wish based on self-loathing. But perhaps this deeper discussion between us belongs in another forum.
Let's continue: in what ways is Christianity a religion of peace and Islam not a religion of peace?
Spencer: In terms of your disagreement with me, I think you have a fascinating thesis, and I think it is well worth exploring. It is noteworthy, as you yourself have pointed out elsewhere, that both the Left and the jihadists envision an earthly utopia enforced by terror: the Left has demonstrated this every time it has gained power, and Sharia is a recipe for a totalitarian reign of terror in the name of justice and right, as the Taliban showed. I look forward to discussing this further with you and getting your thoughts on this.
So getting back to Christianity and Islam: Islam is unique among religions in having a developed doctrine, theology, and legal system mandating warfare against unbelievers. This is found in the Qur'an and Sunnah, as well as in Islamic jurisprudence. Many like to point to violent passages in the Bible as an alleged equivalent to this, but actually the Bible contains no open-ended, universal command for believers to wage war against unbelievers, as does the Qur'an (9:5, 9:29, 2:190-193, etc.). The violent passages in the Bible are also spiritualized by most exegetes, while mainstream Muslim commentators going back to Muhammad's first biographer, Ibn Ishaq, and including many modern authorities (such as Imran Ahsen Khan Nyazee of the International Islamic University and many others) see the Qur'an's violent passages as taking precedence over other, relatively peaceful passages.
Jesus taught, "Love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44). The Qur'an tells Muslims to be "ruthless to unbelievers" (48:29). When one commits violence in the name of Christianity, he is transgressing against Christ's teachings, but the jihadists make and sustain the case among their fellow Muslims that they are the believers who are being truly faithful to Islamic teaching.
Frontpage: Why is there no distinction between Church and State in Islam? What are the consequences of this reality?
Spencer: The ideas of the non-establishment of a state religion, and the equality of rights of all before the law, both of which are essential to any viable republican government, arose in a Christian context. The philosopher and cultural analyst Roger Scruton observes that Christ's "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:21) "contrasts radically with the vision set before us in the Koran, according to which sovereignty rests with God and His Prophet, and legal order is founded in divine command."
From a Muslim perspective, this is a virtue. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a professor at George Washington University and author of many books about Islam, suggests that Christianity was incomplete because, unlike Islam, it offered no comprehensive system for governance. Nasr asserts that because Christianity "had no Divine legislation of its own, it had to absorb Roman law in order to become the religion of a civilization." Therefore "in Christian civilization law governing human society did not enjoy the same Divine sanction as the teachings of Christ. In fact this lack of a Divine Law in Christianity had no small role to play in the secularization that took place in the West during the Renaissance." By contrast, "Islam never gave unto Caesar what was Caesar's. Rather, it tried to integrate the domain of Caesar itself, namely, political, social, and economic life, into an encompassing religious worldview."
The jihadist Sayyid Qutb stated this idea more bluntly in 1948. After criticizing both the Communist world and the West for their materialism, he continues: "But Christianity.cannot be reckoned as a real force in opposition to the philosophies of the new materialism; it is an individualist, isolationist, negative faith. It has no power to make life grow under its influence in any permanent or positive way..Christianity is unable, except by intrigue, to compete with the social and economic systems that are ever developing, because it has no essential philosophy of actual, practical life. On the other hand, Islam is a perfectly practicable social system in itself.It offers to mankind a perfectly comprehensive theory of the universe, life, and mankind." In short, it offers a totalitarian, theocratic vision -- which might be quite attractive to true believers like Qutb, but remains less appealing to dissenters.
Scruton notes that in contrast to this theocratic framework within Islam, "the fifth-century Pope Gelasius I made the separation of church and state into doctrinal orthodoxy, arguing that God granted 'two swords' for earthly government: that of the Church for the government of men's souls, and that of the imperial power for the regulation of temporal affairs." While the understanding of the relationship between the two has been the source of a great deal of controversy, "throughout the course of Christian civilization we find a recognition that conflicts must be resolved and social order maintained by political rather than religious jurisdiction." One reason why this is so important is for the protection of minorities and dissenters -- freedom of conscience, Scruton says, "requires secular government."
Scruton, of course, is not referring to the aggressively anti-religious secularism that has dominated the public discourse on religion in the United States for several decades now, but simply to the non-establishment of a state religion. Only a state in which there is no established religion can people of differing religions live together in harmony, enjoying equality of rights before the law. Freedom of conscience can only be guaranteed where one is free to change his religion, or to have no religion at all, without incurring a death sentence or any other legal penalty.
Frontpage: Many Muslim extremists love to paint the West as being rampant with "immorality" and the Islamic world as being somehow "pure." But is the Islamic world really more "moral" than the West?
Spencer: Jihadists routinely deride Western freedom as libertinism: "In essence," one explained, "the kufr [unbelief] of Western society can be summed up in one word which is used over and over to justify its presence, growth, and its glorification... Freedom. Yet what such a society fails to comprehend, is that such 'freedom' simply represents the worship and enslavement to desires, opinions, and whims, a disregard for what is (truly) right, and a disregard for the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth."
However, as much as American conservatives may deplore the depravity of pop culture today, they should not allow themselves to be placed on the defensive by the Islamic moral critique - and not just because of the hypocrisy of the jihadists in making this critique. In reality, the freedom at which the jihadists sneer is an essential component of any genuine morality. "Australian law guarantees freedoms up to a crazy level," remarked the controversial Australian Mufti, Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali - but without freedom, even "up to a crazy level," morality is hollow. The secular West, with all its irreligion and debauchery, provides the only authentic framework for genuine virtue. Without the freedom to choose evil, the freedom to choose what is good actually amounts to nothing more than coercion. If an individual is forced to be good, he may display an outward conformity, but this conformism bears no other resemblance to the genuine virtue that is manifested in a choice to do good when one could just as easily choose the opposite.
Yet this coercion is a fundamental element of Sharia law, with its stonings and amputations. The Ayatollah Khomeini admitted this without apology: "Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to Paradise, which can be opened only for the Holy Warriors!"
The alternatives are not to try to appease the jihadists by deriding permissiveness in accord with their cultural critique or to turn a blind eye to the genuinely revolting aspects of pop culture. In fact, one of the most potent recruiting tools the jihadists have today is their ability to present themselves as those who are loyal to God, as opposed to a Western world full of blasphemers and libertines. Thus a shrewd response to the jihadists' ideological critique of the Western world would be to point out that the Judeo-Christian tradition, with its principle of individual freedom as a prerequisite for virtue, offers a superior (yes, superior) vision of God and the world than that offered by the Ayatollah Khomeini and his sword as the key to Paradise. Certainly there is great moral evil in the West, as there is everywhere else in the world, but that moral evil is an unavoidable byproduct of the freedom without which there can be no genuine adherence to moral norms.
Such a response would give content to the oft-repeated avowal that America is offering "freedom" to the Islamic world. Rather than allowing the jihadist characterization of that freedom as mere libertinism to go unanswered, an explanation of the elements of genuine virtue would take the substance out of the jihadist moral critique altogether.
Frontpage: Who is threatened by militant Islam? Who are the potential victims?
Spencer: Everyone is threatened by the Islamic jihad in various ways, except the Muslim male jihadists themselves. The Islamic law the jihadists want to institute institutionalizes the subjugation of women and non-Muslims, denies freedom of conscience, inhibits freedom of speech and freedom of inquiry. So who is not among the potential victims?
Frontpage: Overall, what role is the Left playing in this terror war?
Spencer: One of obfuscation and denial, with a smattering of outright identification with those who would destroy us. There is plenty of denial and wilful ignorance about the jihad threat on the Right also. It is long past time for both sides to stop playing politics with this threat, and to take steps to secure our national survival.
Frontpage: What are Islam's and Christianity's disposition toward reason? What are the effects of these dispositions?
Spencer: Nietzsche once noted that "there is no such thing as science 'without any presuppositions.' A philosophy, a 'faith,' must always be there first, so that science can acquire from it a direction, a meaning, a limit, a method, a right to exist." It may be jarring to those who believe that faith and reason are at odds, and that religions are all the same, but it is nevertheless a historical fact that modern science took its presuppositions from Christianity, and that Islam gave modern science no impetus at all.
The Qur'an explicitly refutes the Judeo-Christian view of God as a God of reason when it says: "The Jews say: Allah's hand is fettered. Their hands are fettered and they are accursed for saying so." (5:64) In other words, it is heresy to say that God operates by certain natural laws that we can understand through reason. This argument was played out throughout Islamic history. Muslim theologians argued during the long controversy with the Mu'tazilite sect, which exalted human reason, that Allah was not bound to govern the universe according to consistent and observable laws. "He cannot be questioned concerning what He does." (Qur'an 21:23).
In contrast to the dogmatic stagnation of the Islamic world, science was able to flourish in Christian Europe during the same period because Christian scientists were working from assumptions derived from the Bible, which were very different from those of the Qur'an. The Bible assumes that God's laws of creation are natural laws, a stable and unchanging reality-a sine qua non of scientific investigation. In the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas even went so far as to assert that "since the principles of certain sciences-of logic, geometry, and arithmetic, for instance-are derived exclusively from the formal principals of things, upon which their essence depends, it follows that God cannot make the contraries of these principles; He cannot make the genus not to be predictable of the species, nor lines drawn from a circle's center to its circumference not to be equal, nor the three angles of a rectilinear triangle not to be equal to two right angles." (Emphasis added)
Such ideas could never have taken root in the Islamic world. They would have been tantamount to saying that Allah's hand was fettered.
Frontpage: What reactions do you expect to your book? What reactions have there been to your book?
Spencer: I expect the usual venom and distortion of my thesis from Muslim and non-Muslim apologists for jihad in the U.S. I'd like to begin a dialogue with those who believe, like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, that religion itself is the problem. John Derbyshire has begun this with an elegantly written review at Pajamas Media, to which I have been invited to reply. I have written a reply, and hope PJM will publish it soon.
Frontpage: What do you hope to achieve with Religion of Peace?
Spencer: I hope that all those people -- Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, secular Muslims, atheists, etc. -- who enjoy the benefits of Judeo-Christian Western civilization will be moved to mount a more spirited defense of that civilization in its hour of greatest peril.
Frontpage: Robert Spencer you are a true soldier. Thank you for having the nobility and the courage to tell the truth and for your priceless contribution to the West's fight for freedom. We hope to talk to you again soon.
Spencer: Thank you, Jamie. I admire your courage and that of everyone at FP for your willingness to discuss these issues openly and freely, despite the political correctness that blankets us and the smears and intimidation that are at this point virtually the only non-lethal weapons remaining to the politically correct Left and the apologists for jihad.
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