An Interview With Robert Spencer
John Hawkins:: Why haven’t moderate Muslims been able to stop the spread of violent Islam?
Robert Spencer:: While there are moderate Muslims, moderate Islam is something else again. There are Muslims who are very peaceful people, who would never wage jihad, and who don’t approve of those waging jihad in the name of Islam today. But the fact is that the radicals actually do have a stronger theoretical, theological, and legal basis within Islam for what they believe than the moderates do. They’re able to intimidate moderates into silence because if the moderates speak out, they’re labeled as disloyal to the religion.
John Hawkins:: Given that, do you see Islam moderating anytime soon?
Robert Spencer:: The only way it can is if there is a large scale, multi-national movement from Muslims themselves to repudiate violent jihad and all the doctrines and laws that go along with it once and for all. This would be a large scale reformation and no, I don’t see any chance of that happening in the near future. But very surprising things have happened in history and I won’t say it could never happen.
John Hawkins:: You know, when I interviewed: Daniel Pipes: he even told me that he thought moderate Islam was actually on the retreat.
Robert Spencer:: I would agree. The problem is as I said that moderates don’t have a strong theoretical foundation within the classic Islamic texts. That being the case, they’re not able to sustain a large scale movement. That’s because they’re constantly placed on the defensive by people who go back to the text and quote these passages that radicals use to justify violence. If they say, “We simply don’t take that as being our marching orders for today” they’re charged with disloyalty. So this is why moderate Islam is in retreat, because the radicals are so explicitly & persistently explaining what they do in light of the classic teachings. So there are millions of moderate Muslims, but moderate Islam is something that is only formulated by particular individuals in particular places. Most of the Muslims who are moderates are simply just ignoring the other aspects of the religion without confronting and refuting them on Islamic grounds.
John Hawkins:: When I interviewed congressman: Tom Tancredo, he said the following “People ask me, “Well of the Islamic Community, how many would you say are really terrorists?” I say, “There are relatively few, less than 10% of the Muslim population that you could categorize as (supporters of) terrorists.” Now how many people in their heart of hearts in that community want to see the demise of this country? How many would cheer, not out loud maybe, but in their heart when things like 9/11 occur and I’ll tell you; it’s a majority among them.” Do you think he was on target with that?
Robert Spencer:: I would say the congressman is entirely, 100% right. There are very few who are going to act, but the theological foundations of radical Islam make it so that a much larger number of Muslims are in sympathy with what the radicals do even though they would never do it themselves.
John Hawkins:: So I guess that would explain why there were polls that showed Osama Bin Laden was very, very popular after 9/11 in many Islamic countries?
Robert Spencer:: That’s correct and he still is. I could take you online right now and take you to jihadist websites from all around the world with pictures of Osama in prominent places, obviously celebrating what he has done and glorying in it.
John Hawkins:: Now I understand of course why militant Islamists would support Osama, but why is he so popular among Muslims who are thought of as moderate?
Robert Spencer:: Well, there are a great many answers I could give to that. One is rooted in everything I’ve been saying so far about the strong foundations of radical Islam in traditional theological and legal concepts of Islam. But also, it’s simply because there is a great hatred of America. The hatred of America makes Osama a hero, because he’s the one who struck a blow against the “Great Satan”.
John Hawkins:: Now speaking of that, some people may believe that the loathing of America in the Middle-East is a largely a reaction to President Bush’s actions after 9/11. Is that the case?
Robert Spencer:: No. Certainly, there is some anger at America that has to be attributed to that and also to the propaganda that distorts the actions of the President after 9/11 in the Muslim world and consistently portrays what he’s doing, despite his own best efforts, as a war against Islam. Nonetheless, the hatred of radical Muslims for the United States goes back much further than the administration of President Bush. You’ll find that Osama Bin Laden himself declared jihad against the United States twice during the Clinton administration.
Back to the 1920s, certain radical Muslim theorists, particularly Hasan Al Banna & Syed Qutb, taught that no government had any legitimacy unless it obeyed Islamic law and that it was the duty of Muslims around the world to wage war against those governments that did not, Muslim and non-Muslim, until Islamic law was established. Those people would consider America to be their primary foe because America is offering a different model for the world. A model that involves freedom, equality, dignity, & rights for all, Republican government and so on. This is their chief competition.
John Hawkins:: Speaking of the war on terrorism, do you think Iraq can be turned into a democracy, and if so, how long will it take?
Robert Spencer:: I think that Iraq could be turned into a democracy, but that it will always be a difficult process and Iraq will from the beginning as a democracy be threatened by Muslims who believe no government has any legitimacy unless it obeys Islamic law. The problem is that Islam has been conceived of as a political and social system, not just as an individual faith. So democracy is viewed by many in the Muslim world as a Western import that has no legitimacy in an Islamic context and is in fact a competitor to the establishment of Islamic law. So democracy in Iraq, it could be established, but it’s going to take a large scale change of political and theological attitudes in Iraq for it to get deep roots and thrive there.
John Hawkins:: Well let’s say it does. Let’s say we get a functioning democracy going in Iraq and it gets more stable and prosperous each year. What do you think the effect on the surrounding region would be?
Robert Spencer:: Well if that were to happen, it would be positively transforming and it might well become the linchpin for the kind of reformation I’ve been saying is necessary. This is I think our great challenge and our great opportunity at the same time. It might not be as easy as we’d like and the people in Iraq might not be as thirsting for Democracy as the President might want or hope, but there’s no doubt that if Democracy can succeed there it would be a major challenge to all the Islamic states in area, particularly Saudi Arabia and Iran.
John Hawkins:: Let me ask you this; Let’s say President Bush came to you and said, “Robert Spencer, what should we do to make America more popular in the Middle-East,” what would you say to him?
Robert Spencer:: Consistency, first thing, consistency in the war on terror. The President declared a war on terror and said, “you’re either with the terrorists or with us” and any country that is supporting terrorism can consider itself to be an enemy of the United States. Yet, we have not seen the consistent application of those declarations particularly in regard to Saudi Arabia. Now Saudi Arabia is reaping what it has sowed and we see that the radicals have turned against the House of Saud itself and are trying to topple it even though the House of Saud has been one of radical Islam’s chief sponsors of Wahabi Islam around the world for years. It would seem that is ultimately self-defeating for us to continue to treat the Saudis as allies. If we are going to regard them as allies, they’re going to have to become more cooperative in anti-terrorist efforts. But of course, at this point (the Bush administration) is afraid that they’re going to be forced out altogether and I can’t say that isn’t a real possibility.
John Hawkins:: Of course, there’s no discussion of the Middle-East and Islam that can be considered complete without talking about Israel. To begin with, do you think that it’s fair to say that there are “Naziesque” levels of anti-semitism in much of the Muslim world?
Robert Spencer:: Oh, no doubt about it, yes. I believe in the two state solution and I think that the Palestinians have to a certain extent, a legitimate claim. There are people and I know some of them personally, who were forced out of their homes in the 1940s. But, the full truth of this is rarely publicized. The fact is that the neighboring Muslim states refused these people asylum and the right to settle and build homes in their countries, because they wanted to use them as a stick to beat Israel with, and they have. So both sides have really mistreated the Palestinians and the Palestinians have hurt their own cause by targeting innocent civilians with suicide bombing which is a direct result of the radical jihadest rhetoric that comes out of the mosques and also from the state organs of the Palestinian authority.
But yes, there’s no doubt that it’s also fueled by, as you say “Naziesque” levels of anti-semitism. For example, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion circulate widely in the Muslim world. They were actually made a TV serial in Egypt, they were serialized in a New Jersey Arabic language Muslim newspaper, they’re taken seriously by millions of Muslims. They think that there is a Jewish world conspiracy. We saw that with the prime minister of Malaysia.
John Hawkins:: Since we’re talking about the two state solution, let me ask you if you think a Palestinian state living beside of Israel in peace and harmony is realistically possible within say the next decade or so?
Robert Spencer:: No, because of the jihad ideology that has completely poisoned any possibility for genuine negotiations there.
John Hawkins:: Yeah, that’s my opinion too. So on to Israel’s not so distant neighbor, Iran. Their former President, Hashemi Rafsanjani once said that “In a nuclear duel in the region, Israel may kill 100 million Muslims. Muslims can sustain such casualties, knowing that, in exchange, there would be no Israel on the map.” Do you think his sentiments are common?
Robert Spencer:: Yes.
John Hawkins:: They are?
Robert Spencer:: Yes.
John Hawkins:: Are we just talking about the Islamo-fascists who run Iran here or are we talking about around the region?
Robert Spencer:: If any Muslim country (in the region) gets hold of a nuclear bomb and the ability to fire it, then we’re all at great risk because they will use it.
John Hawkins:: Wow.
Robert Spencer:: Radical Islam does not believe in the equality, dignity, and rights of all people. There is a sharp difference in the Koran between the believers and the unbelievers. The Koran says in Surah 48:29, “Muhammad is the apostle of Allah. Those who follow him are merciful to one another, but ruthless to unbelievers”. This kind of dichotomy runs throughout Islamic theology and law. There have been many prominent Muslims who have questioned the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” from the United Nations because they simply don’t believe in the declarations of freedom, equality, the freedom of religion, and so on that are enshrined in that document. That being the case, the idea that they would use a nuclear bomb against unbelievers is eminently believable.
John Hawkins:: You mentioned Muhammad and of course, there have been a lot of things said about him. But did he lead armies into battle, force captured cities to convert to Islam, and have hundreds of helpless prisoners of war massacred? Is that something that’s true, something that Islamic scholars largely agree on?
Robert Spencer:: Everybody agrees that he lead armies into battle. You will find Islamic apologists saying that he fought only defensive battles, but if you go back into the sources that doesn’t turn out to be the case. The earliest sources that tell about the life of the Prophet Muhammad have him leading quite a few offensive battles and raids and so on.
He did on several occasions enslave prisoners and on some notorious occasions he had all those who were captured massacred and this kind of behavior became enshrined in Islamic law as per the provision that if a city resists the Muslim conquerors, it’s to be dealt with harshly. But if it does not, then it’s to be treated with gentleness. This kind of thing is rooted in the behavior of the prophet himself.
John Hawkins:: Let me change directions here. I saw a statistic mentioned in one of your articles that really jumped out at me. According to Sisters in Islam, a Malaysian advocacy group for Muslim women, in Pakistan “three out of four women in prison…are (there because they’re) rape victims.” Is that the case…
Robert Spencer:: Yes.
John Hawkins:: …does it apply to other Muslim countries, and what is the thinking behind that supposed to be?
Robert Spencer:: It varies from country to country depending on to what extent they obey the Sharia. However, it is deeply rooted in the canons of Islamic law which stipulate that a woman who is raped, her testimony is disallowed in the first place. The only way that the rape charge can be proven is by the testimony of four male Muslim eyewitnesses to the crime itself.
John Hawkins:: (Laughs at how ridiculous that is)
Robert Spencer:: (Laughs) I know, it sounds absurd, but this is the law. So, these women are not ordinarily able to prove that they have been raped. In some cases, the accusation itself becomes a confession of adultery. Particularly if the woman has a child as we saw in some of the celebrated cases in Nigeria recently, then the child is proof that there has been unlawful sexual activity. The man denies any involvement, the woman’s testimony is disallowed, there are no witnesses, so there’s no way to sustain the rape charge. That means she’s guilty of adultery which can be a stoning offense.
John Hawkins:: Where is this sort of thing going on? Nigeria, Pakistan…
Robert Spencer:: …Iran, Saudi Arabia, anywhere where the Sharia is in full force. It’s also enforced in relative, secondary ways in other countries. For example, in Dubai, there: was a case of a French woman who was jailed after claiming she was raped. It’s a moderate Muslim country though, so they weren’t going to stone her to death, they were just going to imprison her. An international outcry eventually resulted in her being freed, just as in Nigeria the women were not stoned. But stonings for adultery happen all the time in Saudi Arabia & Iran and they don’t make any headlines.
John Hawkins:: Can you tell us a little bit about your book, “Onward Muslim Solder — How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West“.
Robert Spencer:: Yes, “Onward Muslim Soldiers” is an in depth study of Jihad because when I wrote my first book, “Islam Unveiled,” I had people say, “You’re just taking a few verses of the Koran out of context and you can do that with any religion and make something out of it”. I also heard a lot of people saying that jihad is a spiritual struggle and ultimately a peaceful thing and then I would see Osama Bin Laden saying, “wage jihad against the United States”. In the latest tape from Saddam Hussein, we have him saying “Wage jihad against the United States” and I don’t think he meant work on your soul for self-improvement.
So, I thought it was necessary to provide an in depth study of jihad from the Muslim sources themselves, from the teachings of radical Muslims around the world, to show how radicals use those sources to recruit and motivate terrorists. “Onward Muslim Soldiers” shows how these radicals are able to get recruits around the world and I show how from the Muslim sources, which is very important because it’s still happening. Until we understand how it is that these movements are becoming so widespread, we won’t be able to wipe them out.
John Hawkins:: Are there any blogs or websites you could recommend to our readers?
Robert Spencer:: Well, I have my own,: Jihad Watch: which is a weblog, but is intended to be much more depending on what kind of funding we’re able to get. We’re hoping to make it into an advocacy organization to raise people’s awareness about global and domestic jihad movements, the dhimmitude which continues world wide, the subjugation of Jews, Christians, and other non-Muslims under Islamic law, and to the distortions and whitewashes put out to the culture at large by American Muslim advocacy groups.
Also, indispensable in terms of weblogs is: Little Green Footballs: which is an immense clearinghouse for finding important news stories about these matters. There is also: MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute. That page is a goldmine of translated material from the Arabic speaking world which really gives one some amazing insights into what our opponents in the war on terror are thinking.
John Hawkins:: Last but not least, is there anything else you’d like to say or promote before we finish up?
Robert Spencer:: I guess not, I think we’ve covered it all.
John Hawkins:: Thanks for your time!
John Hawkins:: To begin with, the Iraqis have a vote on their own Constitution coming up soon ‘ the election, the
John Hawkins:: So how did a University of Tennessee law professor become the godfather of conservative blogging? Glenn Reynolds:: Beats me, especially