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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    LETTER: Understanding Robert Spencer

    Hira Ahmed,

    In your op-ed article “Robert Spencer’s Radical Agenda,” you attempt to invalidate Mr. Spencer by saying that he is not a scholar on the Islamic doctrine or scripture. Mr. Spencer’s M.A. is not in “Christianity,” as you say, but in “religious studies” his master’s thesis was on Christianity. We think it is safe to say that having an M.A. in “religious studies” at least qualifies as having more than a passing interest in the subject.

    Robert Spencer has also held seminars on Islamic jihad for the United States Central Command, United States Army Command and General Staff College, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, branches of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, and other parts of the U.S. intelligence community. Would they have given him the time of day if, instead of being an expert on the matter, he were just some dilettante?

    What is most troubling about your attack on Spencer’s credentials is the implicit proposition that truth-telling only comes from people with the appropriate letters after their surnames. By this logic, we should not take anyone seriously who opines on a topic for which they don’t have an advanced degree. So, as one person commented online in response to your piece, Noam Chomsky – someone whose opinion you might think highly of – has no business talking about foreign policy, since his training is in linguistics. Similarly, Paul Krugman, who just won the 2008 Nobel Prize in economics, should just quit writing his weekly column in The New York Times because he rarely restricts himself to economics.

    We dare say that this idea of disregarding the views not emanating from the elite cabals of the ivory tower poses an even greater danger to our intellectual climate than listening to “bigoted” ideologues ever could.

    We assume you attended the lecture, although we do not see how Mr. Spencer can be misconstrued as bigoted. He made it a point to reiterate the fact that he did not believe all Muslims were terrorists, but rather that it was up to everyone, especially Muslims themselves, to speak out, condemn and fight against the doctrines of Islamic jihad. Over the years, he has made it abundantly clear in his writings that he does not believe all Muslims are terrorists, or that Islam needs to be destroyed. He has even worked with Muslims such as the late Tashbih Sayyed on these matters.

    We sincerely wonder, have you – who lectures us on the need to keep an open mind regarding different ideas – ever even read any of Mr. Spencer’s multiple books, two of which are New York Times bestsellers? After reading your article, we are unfortunately led to believe you have not. Instead of attacking Spencer’s supposed lack of professional credentials, perhaps you can next time enlighten your readers to the inaccuracies of Spencer’s work, if you can find any. That would be the most honest and effective way to debunk someone’s arguments, would it not? Perhaps you can explain to us how Spencer’s mention of Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad’s first biographer, is wrong when Ishaq – not Spencer – explains the genesis of Islamic doctrine on jihad on the Qur’an, as it relates to the events of Muhammad’s life, in his commentaries.

    Perhaps you can explain to us how the Tafsir al-Jalalayn and Ibn Kathir, two of the Islamic world’s most respected commentaries on the Qur’an, are wrong on their doctrine of jihad. Perhaps you can explain to us the futility of examining surat in the Qur’an such as 9:5, 9:29, and others that insist on violence against kuffar. Again, Spencer is merely bringing forth Qur’anic scripture, jurisprudence and commentary, not opinion. We did not hear any of the MSA students, Sister Nadim – or you, for that matter – try to refute any of the direct references Mr. Spencer used, both out of the Qur’an and the Hadith.

    You simply say he “hijacked” the quotes out of those books without giving any substantial evidence to back yourself up. You say that we should challenge ourselves “to develop a thorough understanding of the subject,” but you seem to be contradicting your own advice throughout the entire article. You have done exactly what you are criticizing Mr. Spencer for, only on the opposite side of the spectrum. So our question to you is, if what you say about Mr. Spencer is true, which anyone actually listening at his lecture with an open mind would realize is false, how are you being any different? You are very concerned that Mr. Spencer “spreads politically incorrect propaganda” at the same time you insist we keep an open mind. But how can one keep an open mind if one is slavishly following politically correct bromides and multicultural clich’eacute;s?

    We expected criticism of Robert Spencer when we made the decision to invite him, and indeed, we welcome it. For we, like you, believe that when we encounter people with whose ideas we disagree, we “should challenge them, not by engaging their bias, but rather by becoming knowledgeable individuals.” Yet, it is clear you do not practice what you preach, for your entire criticism, from the title to the last word, is rife with your own bias against anyone who makes unflattering comments about Islam, no matter if it’s true. Knowing that most of your readers are equally held captive by a similar bias against those who don’t genuflect at the altar of political correctness, you took the easy road and craftily exploited that proclivity by vilifying Spencer without addressing any of his claims. Your aim was to evoke from your readers an unthinking, knee-jerk repulsion to Spencer so that they are never tempted to examine his work on their own. Is this not the same tactic of “preying on our impressionability” that you accuse Spencer of?

    Such hypocrisy is what results when, as Spencer so eloquently put it, “you believe in your own propaganda.” At the end of all this, we are happy to reflect on the fact that Spencer’s visit has inspired much debate and discussion in our campus community, but are saddened to know that some of that dialogue is comprised of the trite invectives and disingenuous critiques you present here. The best we can do is hope that our fellow classmates are more curious and intelligent than to be turned away by an opinion piece in the campus newspaper, and that they will not heed your advice to flinch from ideas and views that are not standard fare at Stony Brook University.

    Sincerely, The Editors of The Patriot

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