My emailed response to Mr. Spencer was posted on Jihad Watch this morning.
Dear Mr. Spencer,
Some corrections and clarifications: First (and perhaps you can be forgiven for overlooking this fact given the number and chaotic arrangement of comments on the blog), I made it quite clear in my contributions that I was questioning your credibility and qualifications not to discuss “Islamic issues” but rather to participate in a forum on library policies and outreach to Muslim communities. Second, you neglected to note the backdrop of lively and blunt give and take regarding Islam—some of it quite crudely prejudiced or hostile—in the comments which inevitably colored my comments at times. Third, despite my inclusion of a link to the term’s definition you neglected to note that “Islamophobe-e-Azam” was a play on the title Quaid-e-Azam (“Great Leader”) used by Pakistanis for their nation’s founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, rather than some obscure insult or malediction; given your already established fame as a critic of Islam and, thus, little need for introduction to Muslim readers in the Blogosphere, it functioned as a joke more than anything else. Fourth, the quip about your writings representing a “personal crusade” involved a bit of poetic license, but I think it’s a defensible interpretation of your career as a public figure. More generally, my comments were frank and opionated [sic] —in keeping with the medium—but hardly “defamatory.” In fact, I took another commenter to task for engaging in ad hominem attacks against you. (Still, there is a limit to how diplomatic one can be when confronting what one sees as bigotry; a spade must be called a spade.)
I am not particularly inclined to write a treatise on special topics in Fiqh for Jihad Watch or otherwise play games with you. My comments on the blog in question were undoubtedly a bit disjointed and off the cuff, but they captured the gist of my concerns reasonably well. People who dismiss those objections out of hand aren’t likely to be a very receptive audience for further reflections by me here.
Islamic law is besides the point in a way, though. In my view, the flaws in your writings on Islam transcend simple factual points and speak to far more fundamental conceptual problems. There is a critical dearth of social scientific awareness in the writings I have seen by you, this manifesting itself most strikingly in an acute overemphasize of jurisprudence, as if Islamic civilization and Muslims were simply the sum of their laws. (Nor coincidently [sic], I suspect, this narrow, legalistic approach dovetails nicely with the agenda of those in contemporary politics intent on discouraging consideration of the many non-religious factors at play in the Muslim world’s problems.)
The graver problem, though is systematic bias, and the point at which it rises to the level of outright prejudice and hate. As you must know, a new definition of anti-Semitism added to the Western political lexicon in recent years holds that criticism of Israel that demands of the Jewish State that it adhere to standards never applied to other nations is anti-Semitism. It is a reasonable criterion for prejudice and method of detecting more insidious forms of bias. It is also at the crux of this debate: Analyses of Muslims—or any other community, for that matter—that discuss them in a vacuum and hold them to ahistorical and/or unique standards are equally immoral and intellectually disreputable. (Sadly, it has become second nature in wide swathes of American political life to view Muslims through such a dehumanizing, Islamophobic prism, thanks in part to the attacks of people such as yourself.)
That will have to do for now. Perhaps another time.
Was sleepy when I wrote it, so I guess I should be grateful it only had 2 typos.
I'm still ticked with myself for my mangled rendering–lovingly highlighted by Mr. Spencer and, of course, seized on as proof of my lacking literacy by a JW reader who doesn't appear to understand the concept of a metaphor–of gerrymander as "jerrymander". You can never spell-check too often. You never know when your mind is going to play a prank on you and toggle to Soundex mode. [Unless you're my wife, who never misspells anything whatsoever, and who thus sees perfect spelling as the self-evident touchstone of literacy.]
As could be predicted, Spencer has dismissed the above as a "non-answer." So be it–I'm under no obligation to drop what I'm doing to dance at Mr. Spencer's command. Besides, I was responding to a non-question, anyway. Fair's fair.
Back to work. More later.
Update (2009-08-09): All the posts on Robert Spencer/Jihad Watch exchange are available on a single page here.