By: Dr. Dany Doueri
Robert Spencer's Islam Unveiled is one of numerous works which have emerged during the past quarter century, taking a carefully calculated aim at what they rightfully claim to be, the world's fastest growing faith. However, unlike the emotionally charged and poorly researched works of several pseudo scholars of Islam and the Middle East like Robert Morey's The Islamic Invasion and Daniel Pipes' Militant Islam Reaches America, Spencer's book is eloquently written, judiciously edited, and tactfully presented. Nonetheless, while Daniel Ali, founder of the Christian-Islamic Forum Inc., considers the book to be the "first successful attempt at revealing - (the evilness of) - Islam," it would be more appropriate to label it the first serious rather than successful attempt due to its flagrant and innumerable errors in its greater part.While a book ought never be evaluated by its cover, Spencer's tabloidal choice to publish close-up facial portraits of a mean-looking Muhammad Atta (one of the believed masterminds of the 9/11 attack), along with the picture of an attractive-looking young woman with mesmerizing Arab eyes yet wearing the hijab, is an open invitation for people to form a negative image of and condemn the Islamic faith altogether. This prelude sets the stage for the rest of the play: Islam, the religion of hate and violence par excellence, promotes terrorism and suppresses human rights. His claim is further solidified by a forward of Arab-abhorrer, pro-Zionist and senior editor of the conservative National Review, David Pryce-Jones, along with a back-cover feedback by renowned Islam-basher, Dr. Anis Shorrosh.The entire book revolves around one basic premise: the evil actions, unethical practices, intolerant behavior and promiscuous conduct that Muslims commit and believe in, are not the works of a few zealots falsely claiming to adhere to Islam. Instead, they are inspired and ordained by unquestionably legitimate Islamic sources, abundantly found in the Qur'an, the authentic Hadith collections, and the writings of mainstream Muslim scholars across the centuries. Hence, while Spencer states that his book is about Islam and not Christianity or the West, he never hesitates to frequently remind his reader that it would be inaccurate to compare Muslims' mischievous actions to those committed by their Christian and Western counterparts. He argues that unlike Islam, evil actions committed by people claiming to adhere to the Christian faith and democracy, such as the Crusaders' massacres of the innocents and the Ku Klux Klan discriminatory practice, cannot find any basis in the teachings of the Bible. Additionally, he contends that, in the event when Biblical verses do incite their follower to aggression, such as in Psalm 137:9: "Happy shall be he who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rocks" (p.23) (see also Psalm 101:8, I Samuel 18:7, Leviticus 24:20 and Joshua), they are usually extracted from the Old Testament; yet the civilized Western World which follows the "New Testament corrective of the gospel of mercy" (p.34), as depicted in Matthew 5:38-39 and 5:44 along with Jesus Christ's dovish teachings, cannot religiously justify any violent or immoral behavior.Spencer attempts to substantiate his assertion through a prologue and ten relevantly-chosen chapters dealing with the most-asked questions in the contemporary Islam versus Christianity, and West versus Middle East dialogues: What does Islam really stand for; Is Islam a religion of peace; Does Islam promote and safeguard sound moral values; Does Islam respect human rights; Does Islam respect women; Is Islam compatible with liberal democracy; Can Islam be secularized and made compatible with the Western pluralistic framework; Can science and culture flourish under Islam; The Crusades: Christians and Muslims; Is Islam tolerant of non-Muslims, and Does the West really have nothing to fear from Islam?In his misleading approach for thoroughness and cohesiveness, the author, especially in the first few chapters, discredits Islam by following a tactic of discourse. Instead of outright attacking Islam, he describes apparently condemnable events in Islamic history and beliefs, then, briefly presents parallel examples of how the West and/or Christianity committed similar mistakes. However, he concludes that, while the latter performed them in full violation of Christian and Western values, the Muslims accomplished them in full compliance and even observance of Islamic teachings. Spencer's articulate style and meticulous editing camouflages his argument's weaknesses and flaws, swaying the novice reader to believe that what is presented is factually correct when the majority of his arguments are flatly incorrect, misleading, out of context, or at best, incomplete. For example, (on page 1,) he states "Most Americans got their first taste of contemporary Islamic terrorism at the Munich Olympics of 1972, when Muslim terrorists murdered Israeli athletes" (p.1). Blaming this actual incident on Muslims is outlandish and bizarre. Never in the history of documenting this event has any side (Israeli, Palestinian, German, or anyone around the world) ever pinpointed the blame on Muslims. The group that executed the attack was known as Black September, which was directly or indirectly linked to Fatah, one of the most secular organizations among all the Palestinian institutions, which even includes numerous Christians. By making such an assertion in 2002, thirty years after the attack, the author deliberately lied, was grossly misinformed, or has uncovered secret documents that Israel's sophisticated intelligence has not yet encountered.While the Olympics incident is easily documented and swiftly refuted by any person familiar with the basic history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Spencer presents numerous arguments in a carefully deceptive style, disguising them for the English-only apprentice reader to trace, understand within their proper context and rebut. For instance, he subtly integrates three Qur'anic verses that permitted Muslims to kill pagans ("When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield, strike off their heads and when you have laid them low, bind your captives firmly" (Surah 47, verse 4), (see also Surah 9, verse 5 and Surah 2:190-191) (p.20) with a verse related to combating People of the Book: "Fight against such of those to whom the Scripture were given as they believe neither in God nor the Last Day É" (Surah 9 verse 29). While he correctly informs the reader that the first set of verses applied only to idolaters, he totally fails to report the context and circumstances that led Muslims to retaliate against the pagans, i.e., the latter had breached pacts, conspired against, attacked and harmed the Muslims first.When Spencer does not rely on lies, misinformation, and out-of-context citations, he uses other deceptive techniques by selecting less popular interpretations of specific events that suit his critical agenda of Islam although alternative and more authoritative accounts of the same events differ with his selected account. A case in study would be his account of the circumstances behind the first few verses of Surah 66 (Surah at-Tahreem) in which God reprimands the prophet Mohammad for prohibiting something upon himself which God had made lawful. Spencer chooses the more sensual Hadith reported by Tirmidhi that the prophet Muhammad promised to avoid Mary the Coptic after his wife Hafsa became angry with him for having been with Mary at Hafsa's house. He fails to Ð or chooses not to- relate the stronger narration of Bukhari with a totally different account in which the prophet had pledged no longer to eat honey (instead of not seeing Mary) in order to please his two wives who, out of jealousy, had conspired against him and complained about the prophet's foul-smelling mouth created by his consumption of honey. These and literally hundreds of other fallacious, misleading, out-of-context and half-truth examples are not haphazardly chosen. Instead, from the start of his book until its end, they are carefully and abundantly implanted, drawing from a variety of sources, including classical, contemporary, religious, social, political, international and regional sources related to Islam. This strategy accomplishes a very important objective: Exposing hundreds of shallowly discussed cases about the evilness of Islam forces the reader to conclude that, even if some of the examples are potentially debatable and refutable, there is still an overwhelming volume of arguments to condemn the faith and its followers. Since the book targets the mainstream, mono-lingual, mostly novice or single-subject-expertise audience, it becomes difficult to discredit the author, unless a multi-disciplinary-and-linguistically-trained reader refutes him by documenting authoritative sources and revealing the author's true flimsiness. The book's main merit lies in its ability to address a wide variety of controversial topics that are of interest and relevance to the inquisitive Western public. It is relatively well written and edited, yet serves as a good primer only for wannabe scholars of Islam. Its biggest failure does not only lie in what the author presents, but instead, about what he deliberately chooses to omit, which, had it been exposed adequately, would totally discredit his own premise and conclusions. This is mostly caused by the fact that he relies on haphazard events and statements that Muslims had done throughout history to prove his point, instead of digging deeply into the roots, circumstances and causes of certain actions. One feels confident to make this assertion against the author because he did have access to and often quoted Ðthough selectively- some primary Islamic sources.The other weakness in the book is the author's microscopic knowledge and understanding of the dynamics of socio-political, economic, and cultural factors that affect any human behavior irrelevant of one's faith. Blaming Muslims only for certain universally shared behaviors is rather simplistic. Oppression, economic exploitation, injustice, and cultural heritage, among many other factors, all impact a society's development, its worldview and reactions to events. In addition, his deification of Western culture, politics and value systems reflect his considerable ignorance of the West's own political history, which did in the past and still supports today, some of the most violent, cruel and brutal behavior that world civilizations have ever experienced, not only threatening the Muslim and developing worlds, but also, the entire humanity, including the West's own existence. Adapting the words of renowned author Phyllis Bennis' assessment of the American public's knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we can safely state Mr. Robert Spencer knows quite a lot about Islam. However, what he knows is completely incomplete.
1- Robert Spencer could be a very sincere man and writes what he believes in as does other people mentioned above. Many of the worst enemies of Islam became the best of Muslims. Caliphate Omar who was one of the most just of Islam was a strong enemy to Islam before his conversion. He did not ruin his eternity. You never know when God opens people heart to Islam and guide them. So as Muslims we have to leave the door open to them. Meanwhile we have to refute what they write.
2- Many of the writings against Islam now is to prevent its spread and its simple message of justice and freedom for all. It is used by the people in power around the world to keep the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few elites.
3- Spencer and anyone who are attacking Islam has the right to do that. However they have to be very sure that the author of the Quran is not God since they will have to answer to him in the day of judgement.
4- Cut and paste are the common tricks to gather all that could be negative against Islam and take it out of context, lump it together and make it the true story of Islam.
5- The incident of Muhammad (PBUH) ' wife Aisha teased him that God look after Muhammad pleasure in marriage is one of his common points. The other point is the prophet had married her at age of 9 years old. Both are answered in my blog. There is few Muslims that can be like Aisha in her faith, service to Islam and narration of a lot of Hadith about the prophet. She continued to be very faithful and believer of the truth of the prophet and the truth of Islam. Mr. Spencer never say that in his book he just want to cut and paste what he wants. Muslims did not delete anything could be controversial in the Quran or the rightful Hadith they inherited they were very keen to transmit it like it is. This is unlike Mr. Spencer who wants to cut and paste.
6- He has the right to make his claims against Jihadists as we Muslims do the same and as we do also to the unmerciful wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Killing innocent Muslims is called collateral damage and is not shown in the American Media unless it is second to fool Muslims killing each other it is called terror even if it is crazy sectarian violence.