The Death of Reasoned Discourse · 05 November 2008

By Robert Spencer - Frontpage Magazine

Over the last year, during three different Islamo-Fascism Awareness Weeks, I’ve spoken at seventeen university campuses all across the country. I’ve never been shouted off the stage, as have some other speakers. I have, however, been threatened, heckled, protested, and made the subject of libelous hate-sheets passed out to people attending my talks, but I have never encountered a bolder or more brazen display of Islamic supremacist denial, obfuscation, lies, slander, intimidation, apologetics for mass murder and open hostility to reasoned discourse than I did last Wednesday night at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee.

East Tennessee State, of course, is that bastion of free inquiry and open debate that denied funding for my address for fear that my speaking there would make Muslim students feel “ostracized.” Through a donation from the Middle East Forum, supplementing the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s covering of the costs of travel, lodging and a bodyguard (all of which should have been paid for by the University, whose students evidently can’t be expected to behave civilly), I was able to go anyway, and university officials need not have worried: Muslim students had no reason to go away feeling ostracized. Indeed, they were anything but ostracized: along with some Muslim leaders from the area, they were responsible for an evening strongly reminiscent of the denunciation sessions once held in the Soviet Union and Communist China for those who deviated from the ideological line of those who held power. The same furious hatred, the same frenzied personal attacks, the same emotionalism and defiance of reason and fact -- it was all on display in spades, and it was all directed at me.

Inside the folder that Muslim students were handing out at the door was a paper entitled “WHO IS THE REAL ROBERT SPENCER?” This contained the usual libels, more expensively printed than usual. A choice morsel:

He is politically aligned with the extreme Right-wing and receives patronage from Neo-Conservative foundations and organizations.

This sentence is designed to frighten away the ignorant and easily intimidated by invoking scare words -- “Right-wing,” “Neo-Conservative” -- that ultimately have no substance beyond “opposed to Islamic supremacism.” But as empty as it is, this charge was a favorite of the Muslim propagandists at the event. Two separate questioners asked me just who was paying me, asking me to identify the “right wing extremists” that were supposedly bankrolling my attempt to “defame Islam.”

I refused to play along with this, saying both times that I was supported by patriotic Americans who were interested in defending the U.S. Constitution, the freedom of speech, the freedom of conscience, and the equality of rights before the law, and I would not stand by silently while these good people were slandered. For this one of the slanderers said he hoped that the audience noted how “defensive” I got at his question. But he did not dispute my characterization of my benefactors -- no doubt for the questioners who tried this ad hominem tack, to defend the Constitution is precisely to be a “right wing extremist.”

The flier goes on to claim that I have “no formal academic training in Islamic studies,” which is false. I don’t have a degree in it, but I certainly have formal academic training in it. I took courses on Islam, and first read the Qur’an, while working toward my Master’s degree in Religious Studies -- not, as the flier claims, in “the field of early Christianity.” The University of North Carolina doesn’t offer a Master’s degree in “early Christianity.” Of course, the point is that I have learned most of what I know about Islam through personal study -- something I’ve never made a secret of. The assumption of the flier is that this means that what I say is inaccurate. Its compilers, however, did not and could not buttress that assumption with any actual evidence that I’ve said anything false about Islam.

The flier invokes such impartial, disinterested authorities as Carl Ernst, Robert Crane, FAIR, Dinesh D’Souza, and Stephen Suleyman Schwartz to establish my wicked “Islamophobia,” although none of them either, of course, offers even one specific example of any false or inaccurate claim that I make about Islam. (How proud Dinesh D’Souza must be to find himself used as a tool by Islamic supremacist smearmongers and thugs!)

Then followed a few supposedly damaging quotes from me, such as my saying that Islam is the only major religion that mandates violence against unbelievers -- in other words, statements that are absolutely true, but may appear troublesome to the ignorant. Anyway, the main impact of this flier and the folder it came in was that it showed signs of considerable expense and careful preparation: the Islamic community of East Tennessee worked long and hard to prepare for my appearance at ETSU, and this showed also during the question period.

Many of the questions were clearly scripted. One girl apparently got mixed up about which question she had been assigned to ask, and asked the same question that had been asked by a young man before her. When I asked her why she was asking the same question that the previous questioner had just asked me, she insisted it was a different question, so I went ahead and answered it again.

My talk was not disrupted, but the question period immediately heated up, with the first questioner engaging in the ad hominem “Who is paying you” attack. Subsequent questions were uniformly hostile, with many “questioners” engaging in self-righteous and beside-the-point counter lectures. I tried to stop them from doing this whenever I could, as this was something both the moderator and I had asked the audience not to do -- a request the Muslims in the audience utterly ignored.

Many also called me a liar. Yet only one questioner even tried to back up the accusations of lying with even one specific example. He claimed that I had misquoted the Qur’an, because I had said that Qur’an 4:89 said “Slay them wherever you find them.” He asked me to read the passage -- I had a Qur’an with me, so I read it, including the section that says, “Slay them wherever you find them.” Evidently his point was that I had misrepresented the passage because I didn’t mention that it goes on to say that Muslims shouldn’t fight those with whom they have peace treaties. I pointed out that I had discussed the institution of dhimmitude at some length, in which non-Muslims agree to what is essentially a peace treaty with the Muslims, accepting a second-class status and institutionalized discrimination, and so I had not misrepresented the passage, and had not misquoted it, since it does indeed contain the words “Slay them wherever you find them.”

It wasn’t until I was back at the hotel that I remembered that I had only quoted 4:89 out of the Islamic legal manual ‘Umdat al-Salik, which quotes “Slay them wherever you find them” -- and only that part of the verse -- from 4:89 in the context of its teaching about jihad warfare. So if I was misquoting the Qur’an, it was actually this Islamic legal manual certified by Al-Azhar, in Cairo, the foremost authority in Sunni Islam, as a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy, that was misquoting the Qur’an. Not that it would have made any difference with the thuggish crowd at ETSU.

Besides that one failed attempt, no one even tried to demonstrate that anything I had said (and established from the Qur’an, Sunnah, and fiqh) about the Islamic doctrinal imperative to make war against and subjugate unbelievers was false. One charged that the translations of the Qur’an and ‘Umdat al-Salik that I was using (I had both with me) were inaccurate, but was unable to sustain his claim after I pointed out that both were made by Muslims -- and that Al-Azhar even certified the accuracy of the translation of ‘Umdat al-Salik.

Several “questioners” spoke of how painful it was to have to sit and listen while I defamed Islam. I responded to one that if reading from their authoritative texts and recognized authorities constituted defaming Islam, maybe he ought to take a second look at those authorities.

The questioners, all of whom were Muslim, issued two separate invitations to the audience to attend one of Yusuf Estes’ talks, at which, they said, they would hear the truth about Islam. Capping off a lovely evening was the last questioner, who had no question at all, but accused me of shouting down questioners (perhaps in reference to cutting off their windy, pseudo-pious counter-lectures), not answering questions (in reality I answered every substantive point that anyone made), and calling me a liar. One of his slightly smoother coreligionists than ran to the mike to assure me that he thought of me as a brother, albeit a misguided one, invite everyone to come see Yusuf Estes.

The Orwellian Hate-Rally atmosphere reached its crowning point just before I left the hall (between police officers and security guards, of course). A middle-aged Tennessee matron approached me; she had been sitting next to her husband, who was clearly a Muslim, during the entire evening, and had not asked a question. She said: “I forgive you for hating Muslims so much, and I hope that God will forgive you too.” I told her that I didn’t hate Muslims, and that she should be ashamed of saying so -- but she was busy making a quick getaway.

There was an unpleasant, mob atmosphere, marked by the refusal of any of my accusers to deal with the actual arguments that I had made. Perhaps they hoped to rattle me, but the more that they resort to these gutter tactics, the more determined I am to resist them.

It is worth noting that in the news as this event took place was the beheading of a convert from Islam to Christianity for apostasy, the stoning to death of a woman for the crime of adultery, and a suicide car bombing in Somalia. And that’s just a small bit of this week’s jihad news. The people in the mob at ETSU are among those who are responsible for these things. They could be speaking out against them, but they didn’t say a thing about them Wednesday night at ETSU, and almost certainly will not.

Instead, they direct all their energies toward discrediting one who is speaking out against these things. Their motives are clear. The blood is on their hands.

Make no mistake: had a Muslim speaker been treated this way, the university would be opening up a commission of inquiry about “Islamophobia” on campus. As it is, university administrators will take little notice of what happened on their campus Wednesday night. But to the lasting shame of East Tennessee State University, the record of what happened will stand as a challenge and rebuke to anyone who thinks that reasoned dissent and free academic inquiry are still even possible at ETSU, or at many other American universities today.

Robert Spencer is 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 next book, Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam is Subverting America without Guns or Bombs, is coming this November from Regnery Publishing.