by Kevin Barrett (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 47, No. 4, Ramadan, 1439)
After an introduction about Robert Spencer’s background, Dr. Kevin Barrett interviews the leading Islamophobe and self-styled “Islam expert” of Fox News.
The good news for Robert Spencer is that at least one international celebrity considers him a leading expert on Islam. The bad news: the celebrity is Anders Breivik, who is in prison for murdering 77 people he considered too Islam-friendly. Breivik’s 1,500-page manifesto repeatedly lauded Spencerm “About Islam, I recommend essentially everything written by Robert Spencer,” Breivik raved in one of his 162 hat-tips to his Islamophobic mentor.
Breivik’s view of Islam is virtually identical to Spencer’s, suggesting that the terrorist was heavily influenced by the arch-Islamophobe “expert.” For example, under the heading “Robert Spencer, Author, Islam Unveiled, Director of Jihadwatch.org” Breivik concludes, “Islam has a developed doctrine theology and law that mandates violence against unbelievers.” That is precisely the argument that Spencer has been obsessively and speciously promoting throughout his career as an anti-Muslim hatemonger. Indeed, virtually everything that Breivik says about Islam sounds like it was written by Spencer; and everything Spencer says about Islam sounds like the ravings of Breivik.
Breivik is not the only terrorist on board with Spencer’s warped views. Da‘ish and other takfiri terrorists would also undoubtedly agree with some, though not all, of Spencer’s grotesque calumnies against Islam (it is darkly ironic that Spencer proffers an even more terroristic caricature of Islam than the most deluded “Islamic terrorists”). During my recent interview with Spencer, I got the distinct impression that he was trying to convince me to join Da‘ish — or maybe even argue with them that their terrorism isn’t extreme enough. FBI, please take note!
Despite his full-time yet ineffectual efforts to recruit Muslims for Da‘ish or worse, Spencer has somehow been anointed an “Islam expert” on Fox News. But where’s the expertise? Though he has an MA in Religious Studies, his thesis was on “Church history — Primitive and early church, ca. 30–600.” So he is a second-tier scholar, lacking a doctorate, on the early Christian period, when Islam did not even exist. And though he conned Breivik and Fox News by claiming he has been reading about Islam in his spare time since around 1980 — a dubious basis for “expertise” — in his almost four decades of alleged efforts to become an Islamic Studies autodidact, Spencer has never even bothered to learn Arabic, yet he rakes in more cash than most tenured professors! According to the Daily Beast, Zionist operative David Horowitz pays Spencer $167,000 a year for his Islam-bashing services.
Islam is rooted in the Qur’an, and the only Qur’an is in the Arabic language. There are no translations, only interpretations. So one would think Spencer would have at least enrolled in night school Arabic classes if he fancied a career (mis)interpreting Islamic scripture. Since he apparently never did anything of the kind, why would Fox News hire such a charlatan, given that many thousands of actual Islam experts do exist and would be happy to share their views with the public? The likely answer: nobody who knows anything about Islam would ever fabricate the kind of mendacious hate propaganda that is Spencer’s specialty. And anti-Islam hate propaganda is what Fox does best.
In our interview, Spencer rolled out a series of misinterpretations of the Qur’an based on inadequate translations and out-of-context interpretations, all aimed at buttressing his absurd claim that all Muslims are ever and always required to kill or subjugate every “unbeliever” (meaning non-Muslim) they encounter. If he were correct, I guess I would be obliged to knock on my neighbor’s door and say, “Hi, I know we brought you halal cookies last week, but I just had a conversation with Robert Spencer and he convinced me that from now on I have to offer you either death or subjugation. So which do you prefer? Subjugation? OK, great! Would you like a cookie with that?”
Spencer told me, “‘Fight them until there is no more persecution, and the religion (deen) is all for Allah.’ That is chapter 8 verse 39. That is an open-ended mandate for Muslims to fight until Islam is supreme over all other religions.” But it is obviously nothing of the kind. Spencer has concealed the rest of the ayah, “But if they stop, then Allah surely is the Seer of what they do.” In other words: if the persecutors stop, you stop! (and leave them to their own relationship with God — to Whom they like everyone else will have to answer). So far from being an open-ended mandate to fight non-Muslims, ayah 8:39 tells Muslims to fight against persecution or extreme corruption/injustice (fitnah) and fight to win — until the enemy shows a willingness to end the fighting, in which case Muslims should reciprocate. Like everything else in the Qur’an, this ayah offers divine guidance that is in perfect harmony with moral reason and simple common sense.
Another of Spencer’s absurd distortions is his claim that the Qur’an prohibits taking Christians or Jews as friends. The relevant Qur’anic passage (5:51) can be rendered, “You who have iman! Do not take the Jews and Christians as your allies; they are each others’ allies. Any of you who takes them as allies is one of them. Allah does not guide wrongdoers.” If we bracket the two groups as [Jews and Christians] then this ayah may have been revealed at a rare historical moment when certain specific groups of Jews and Christians in Arabia were each others’ allies against Muslims; or, as Shaykh Imran Hosein argues, it may have prophetically looked ahead to today, the run-up to Akhir al-Zaman, when the Anglo-Zionist Empire, consisting of an alliance of Jewish and Western (post)Christian power, is the army of Dajjal. The Islamophobic alliance of genocidal Jew Horowitz with genocidal Christian Spencer exemplifies this all-too-plausible [Jews and Christians] alliance. Another possible interpretation: do not make an alliance with Jews or Christians against your fellow Muslims (that would have made sense in 7th-century Arabia, as well as most other times and places). Of course that is too simplistic, since the ayah is addressed to “you who have iman,” which is not the same thing as “nominal Muslims.” But in any case, ayah 5:51 is obviously about alliance, not personal friendship. Since we are obliged to share the message of Islam with Jews and Christians, and since the only effective way to do that is through friendly relations, Muslims with iman (heart-knowledge) are obviously required to be on terms of friendship with the People of the Book whenever possible. Unfortunately, with people like Spencer, it may not be possible.
Kevin Barrett: Welcome to Truth Jihad Radio, the all-out struggle for truth, where we bring on all sorts of outside-the-box views. I generally tend to agree with most of them, but today’s guest is an exception. He is Robert Spencer, self-styled Islam expert. He’s gotten all kinds of interesting reviews from all kinds of people, including dozens of plaudits from Anders Breivik, the alleged lone terrorist who slaughtered 77 people in Norway. Robert Spencer has been banned from the United Kingdom. People organize to keep him off campuses. But here at Truth Jihad Radio we believe the best remedy for bad speech is better speech. Don’t censor. Refute! Quoting the Qur’an, “Not equal are the good deed and the bad. Answer a bad deed by one that is better, so your enemy will become a devoted friend.” So I’m hoping to make friends with Robert Spencer. Hey Robert, how are you doing?
Robert Spencer: Well, all right. You know, it’s nice to have ad hominem smears and inaccuracies and lies coming from you as an introduction, but I didn’t really expect anything different.
Kevin Barrett: Wait a minute, what was inaccurate?
Robert Spencer: What was inaccurate? Well, in the first place, Breivik, if you actually read his insane manifesto, he says that he was inspired to do violence by al-Qaeda in the 1990s. And he recommends all sorts of things that I would never recommend, like an alliance with Hamas. And to claim that I incite him to violence when I’d never written anything publicly about Islam in the 1990s, is patently false.
Kevin Barrett: I didn’t say any of that. I just said he cited you dozens of times in his manifesto. Is that true or is that not true?
Robert Spencer: He quoted John Locke, he quoted Charles Darwin, he quoted so many people! And yet when people speak about him, they pretend as if he only quoted me, and as if I am responsible for his murders. In reality, he rebuked me for not calling for violence. And so the idea that I incited him to violence is incoherent on its face. I had nothing to do with Breivik’s murders any more than the Beatles have to do with Charles Manson’s murders, even though he said that he was incited to do violence by them. And so if you want to be friends, we can only be friends on the basis of truth and accuracy, and if you have any interest in those things, then you will have to acknowledge that what I’m saying about Breivik is true.
Kevin Barrett: I’m sure it is. You didn’t contradict anything I said. All I said was that he cited you dozens of times.
Robert Spencer: That’s correct. But the implication is, whenever this is mentioned, is that I have somehow some kind of responsibility for his murders. Because otherwise you wouldn’t bother to mention it. So let’s just be clear about your intentions in the first place. You are trying to smear my reputation. You don’t for example say that I was, up until the Obama Administration, a trainer for the FBI and for the military.
Kevin Barrett: That’s terrifying!
Robert Spencer: You don’t say that my work has been featured at many, many mainstream venues: the Heritage Foundation —
Kevin Barrett: That’s mainstream?!
Robert Spencer: …you don’t say any of that, you only make this spurious claim about Breivik. And so you see, it’s very clear to me, as well as to you of course, though you probably won’t admit it, and to your audience no doubt, that what you are trying to do is defame me. You are not trying to have an honest discussion from the get-go. I didn’t expect anything different. I understand. I don’t mind. I don’t mind having a discussion with you. Let’s just be upfront about what’s being done here.
Kevin Barrett: I would like this to lead to a friendship —
Robert Spencer: But the Qur’an says do not take Jews and Christians to be your friends, Chapter Five, Verse 51.
Kevin Barrett: No, no, that’s awliya’, meaning “your allies.” That’s a totally incorrect interpretation of that passage.
Robert Spencer: Why don’t you explain why it’s an incorrect interpretation?
Kevin Barrett: I was going to try to frame what we’re doing here first, if you don’t mind. We’re debating the topic, “The Qur’an teaches that Muslims should wage war against and subjugate unbelievers.” So jumping back to the Qur’anic quote about taking Jews and Christians for your friends or allies: like every quote in the Qur’an, it can only be interpreted in the context of asbab an-nuzul, the occasion of revelation. Like all other such verses, this verse is very specifically talking about a particular moment in a particular military (or political) struggle. You generalize from these sorts of verses —
Robert Spencer: You’re familiar with Ibn Kathir, right? The famous tafsir author? He’s a mainstream, widely-accepted commentator on [the] Qur’an. In 5:51 discussing the asbab an-nuzul, he says “Allah forbids his believing servants from having Jews and Christians as friends because they are the enemies of Islam and its people. May Allah curse them.” So if you have a problem it’s with Ibn Kathir and his ilk, not with me.
Kevin Barrett: Actually I would re-interpret or have my own interpretations of the entire history of Islamic scripture. And indeed that is precisely what the scripture itself tells us to do. It tells us to use our reason. Unlike all other scriptures, at least that I know of, the Qur’an repeatedly tells us to use ‘aql or reason. So we should be constantly reinterpreting scriptures according to reason. And Muslims throughout history have of course been doing that. But let me frame the discussion by giving my overall take on what the Qur’an is about — the context that we need to interpret any specific verses you may bring up. And that (context) is that the Qur’an is a revision of earlier Middle Eastern monotheisms, the first being Zoroastrianism, and its stepchildren Judaism and Christianity. In the Qur’an we get a clarification and rational interpretation of these earlier scriptures, and a scripture that insists on reason and, above all, justice. The earlier scriptures present a grotesquely unjust (portrait of) God. In the Torah, the Old Testament, God is (portrayed as) a psychopath in many, many passages. I can quote some of these for you. They are so far beyond anything that you could possibly take out of context from the Qur’an! And in the Injil, the New Testament, the only way to redeem humanity is through the torture and death of His “son.” That is completely irrational and unjust. And He’s also too forgiving, in that He forgives everybody all their sins, all they have to do is mutter the magic words “somebody else died for my sins” and they’re saved! In Islam, we are all ultimately responsible for everything we do. God is good; all of creation is good. God is rational and just, and we are asked to be rational and just. That is the framework of everything in the Qur’an, and everything in the Qur’an has to be interpreted within that framework.
Robert Spencer: Okay, great. Now in the first place, whatever the Bible is, the Bible might be the most evil book on earth, and Judaism and Christianity might be the most evil religions on earth, but that is absolutely irrelevant to the question at hand, which is whether the Qur’an teaches warfare against and the subjugation of unbelievers. The fact is that Islamic apologists often try to change the subject in this way.
Kevin Barrett: It’s not changing the subject.
Robert Spencer: But the fact is, it’s irrelevant. It has nothing to do with it.
Kevin Barrett: It has everything to do with it.
Robert Spencer: The Qur’an stands on its own and has to be evaluated on its own.
Kevin Barrett: No it doesn’t. The Qur’an presents itself as the latest revelation in this series of [divine] revelations. It doesn’t stand alone.
Robert Spencer: “Fight them until there is no more persecution, and the religion is all for Allah.” That is chapter 8 verse 39. That is an open-ended mandate for Muslims to fight until Islam is supreme over all other religions. And “Fight those who do not believe in Allah and the Last Day and who do not forbid what Allah and His messenger have forbidden, even if they are from the People of the Book, until they pay the jizyah with willing submission and feel themselves subdued.” (9:29). This is also an open-ended call to wage war against Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians and others.
Kevin Barrett: No it’s not.
Robert Spencer: Okay, explain why those understandings are false.
Kevin Barrett: Because both of those were revealed in a particular context of particular battles. The entire Qur’an must be read in its context. First, as I said earlier, as the Qur’an tells us, the context is the series of monotheistic revelations. It doesn’t mention the Zoroastrian revelations much, but it repeatedly mentions the so-called Jewish and Christian revelations, and says it is part of that process, confirming and correcting. So you need to understand the Qur’an’s position in this series of revelations. Secondly, each verse of the Qur’an comes out of a particular context. And to understand those particular contexts, we need to understand the general context. And the general contexts — I will summarize it as briefly as I can — is that the Prophet Muhammad, peace upon him, was basically turning the other cheek from the year 610 (when his prophetic mission began) to the year 622ce. The first revelations, in 610, led to the beginnings of a community that was standing up for truth and justice in a larger community that was extremely oligarchical, exploitive, and oppressive. And so he preached for truth and justice peacefully, under horrific persecution, for 12 years. And then when his persecutors plotted to kill him, he barely escaped, made it to Madinah in 622, and waged a defensive struggle against these oligarchical, unjust persecutors. All of the revelations about warfare are about waging defensive war against persecution and for justice, and to establish justice. The various details of each of these revelations refer to specific moments in this larger series of battles that are in self-defense and 100% in the cause of justice…
The full one-hour interview is available at www.patreon. com/DrKevinBarrett.