Widgets Magazine

Let’s talk about Robert Spencer

Graphic by Irene Han

Let’s talk about Robert Spencer. As some of you know, Spencer has recently been invited by Stanford College Republicans to give a talk funded by Stanford on November 14 about the dangers of radical Islam. This has expectedly led to criticisms from other campus groups, often portraying Spencer as an Islamophobe who twists historical fact for a political agenda. His credentials are, truthfully, less than astounding: his formal area of study is Catholic history and all of his books have been published by fringe publishers and lack academic peer review. However, he has worked with the United States government and military on Islamic issues and has appeared on various news networks. Because of this, I decided to read some of his more recent books for myself.

 

Did Muhammad Exist?: An Inquiry into into Islam’s Obscure Origins

Despite the rumors of Spencer’s Islamophobia, I was — daresay, pleasantly — surprised reading this book. Published in 2014, “Did Muhammad Exist?” exams and challenges the orthodox historiography and the historicity of the prophet. While orthodox historiography argues that the early Muslim conquests of the sixth and seventh centuries were done by a unified Muslim empire, Spencer claims that the theology of Islam only appeared after the conquests and the formation of empire. However, this is essentially all he does: despite the editorialized title, Spencer rarely challenges the actual existence of Muhammad. Furthermore, the actual historical argument is unconvincing, relying on minor documents that merely obscure the conventional narrative instead of disproving it. His claim is simply too large to support with the evidence he supplies. With its editorialized title and unconvincing arguments, the text is simply a weak attempt at a historical analysis.

 

The Truth about Muhammad: The Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion

If you can’t tell by the title, this book has a far more apparent agenda. Published in 2006, this text has three goals: to show the truth of the prophet’s life and actions, to explain how the prophet’s life influenced the development of Islam, and to advocate for these two discussions to influence our modern relationship with Islam. Like in “Did Muhammad Exist?” Spencer uses certain texts and documents to poke small holes in the orthodox historiography while failing to really reveal anything groundbreaking. Despite the editorialized title (a common trend with his works), this is not a biography of Muhammad. Instead, it’s merely an outline focusing on the more negative and controversial aspects of the prophet’s life without making any new developments in the historiography of Islam. The attempt to discuss America’s current involvement with the Middle East, however, is far more interesting: completely ignoring literally centuries of political, material, and religious developments, Spencer attempts to directly link Muhammad’s life and contemporary Islamic developments to the United States’ relationship with Islam and the Middle East today. This is an obvious example of bad historiography. While the events of the sixth century of course have influence on our modern cultures and politics, to draw a straight line between the two while not even mentioning anything that has happened in between is at best misguided and at worst disingenuous. Furthermore, it is poorly written and quite redundant: Spencer feels the need to repeat himself countless times over the text, perhaps making up for his lack of actual content.

 

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades)

If the previous two books were the entirety of Spencer’s bibliography, I’d be willing to agree that he is simply a bad historian instead of a bad historian with an overwhelming political agenda against Islam. This guide, however, makes it clear where his opinions on Islam lie: Spencer openly claims that Islam is a fundamentally violent religion and that both historic and modern conflicts of the West with Islam are justified responses. Written less like an academic text and more like a manifesto, this 2005 text is an addition to the “Politically Incorrect Guide” (or “P.I.G.”) series which includes gems such as the unapologetically unscientific “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design” and the Neo-Confederate “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War.” Spencer’s addition fits in perfectly with this motley crew: though never explicitly false, this guide twists legitimate historiography and neglects to mention anything that would potentially harm his argument. For example, Spencer argues that Islam spreads through violence while Christianity spreads peaceful conversion. However, this section of the book (which does not contain a single citation, an all too common theme in this text) completely neglects to mention the enslavement and forced conversions of the native peoples of the Americas by Christians. Spencer also attempts to construct an intricate retelling of the Crusades. He claims that Christians were forced to defend themselves from an expanding Muslim empire — an exciting theory which has the potential to be groundbreaking historiography if only he supported it with any actual evidence. The question of the Crusades and their justifications is a large debates in Western historiographic tradition. Unfortunately, Spencer adds nothing to it. He oversimplifies the Crusades to a Muslim versus Christian conflict (a clear result of him trying to make a political statement about the two religions as a whole) while the actual contemporary political and religious milieu was far more nuanced. Spencer simply refuses to use the nuance necessary to perform historical research and relies on ham-handed oversimplifications and generalizations to make his point.

I could go on, but I won’t. The rest of his books follow the same pattern: pseudo-intellectual texts that add nothing to the current discussion (e.g. “A Religion of Peace?: Why Christianity is and Islam Isn’t”) alongside polemic manifestos with no academic or historical significance (e.g. “The Complete Infidel’s Guide to Free Speech (and its enemies)”). Spencer seems to be continuing this trend of manifesto-esque drivel with his upcoming book: “Confessions of an Islamophobe.” (Isn’t it a little odd that all this controversy is occurring right before Spencer’s book drops? Almost like he needs controversy to convince people to buy it, since no one would buy it based on merit and quality.)

It is painfully clear that Robert Spencer is only popular due to the topics of his books and not their quality. Because of this, I’d like to address Mr. Spencer directly, who, judging by his website, apparently has nothing better to do than read and rant about college newspapers. You severely lack academic credentials and have the historical nuance of an elephant. It is completely understandable why none of your texts have been academically peer reviewed and published, since they would be shot down in seconds. However, despite this, I must congratulate you on your success commodifying the anger and hate pervading this country with your manufactured controversies. It truly takes some form of talent to sell such shoddily written and poorly researched texts.

I also have a question for the Stanford College Republicans who actually bought Spencer’s snake oil: Why him? All religions including Islam should be discussed and criticized in an academic environment, and there are countless scholars and academics critical of modern Islam, some of whom were even raised in the religion and have firsthand experience with the negative aspects. You could have had your choice of any of them and held an insightful and respectful talk that actually contributes to the discussion of religion on campus. Yet, you elected to invite someone whose books add nothing besides generalizations and spite. Have you simply not read his books? Is this an attempt to be controversial instead of providing actual intellectual content? Do you seriously believe Robert Spencer is the best face for conservatism at Stanford? If so, go ahead. But don’t complain when no one takes you seriously.

 

Contact Ben Maldonado at bmaldona ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Ben Maldonado

Ben Maldonado is a history major from Turlock, California, in the San Joaquin Valley. He is interested in historiography (both the good and the not so good) and the politics behind it. When not reading and writing about books for the Daily, he is reading and writing about books for his classes.
  • Such poorly written tripe. Lots of assertions with no substantiation. Lacking in substance, I would only give the author a 2 out of 10. Must try harder.

  • Jan Doelman

    You talk about Robert Spencer. He talks about Islam. Rather like a prosecutor, of it. And Muslims and all sorts of people, especially academically trained and very logical people may act as “defense-lawyers”of Islam. And there may be an honest equal time debate. And then it is the public, acting as “Judge and jury” to determine who debated best. But you chose to Judge the prosecuting side of this debate. Will you also Judge the defense-team of Islam or do you belong to it? Remember that countless Muslims are much less educated in Islam than Robert Spencer.
    It is OK to Judge Robert Spencer, but it also seems a distraction from the real topic; Islam. And it’s influence.

  • Jan Doelman

    And when you talk about Spencer, obviously you consider him prejudiced. But then you emphasize his “Status”, Quality or lack thereof and that he leaves out a lot.
    It seems you have arguments of failure to name all the facts and nuances concerning Islam and the behavior of Muslims.
    It seems you suggest that Islam is OK, and that in the end it should be seen as “mysterious, unknowable”. So Spencers conclusions must be wrong or worthless.
    It seems to me it would be better to compare his arguments, facts and conclusions about Islam with those of Muslims and academic scholars. and then choose among them, after thorough research, with an open mind.
    We know Christianity has long since had much scrutiny and serious criticism, if not ridicule, visited upon it.

  • Pedro Rabaçal

    Someone is jealous of Spencer and his editorial success at polemic truths denied by many idiots without b @ lls.

    Meanwhile, facts persist at supporting Spencer: MANY MANY Islamic crimes, VERY FEW “islamaphobic” crimes.

  • Pedro Rabaçal

    Robert Spencer quotes many violent teachings from Quran and Suna.
    Just like many experts of Islam, like the Ayatollahs of Iran, ulemas from Saudi Arabia and a guy with a PhD in Islamic Studies, named Omar al Bagdhadi, the leader of Daesh.

    Meanwhile, great defenders of peaceful islam cant find REAL peaceful verses nor REAL peaceful ulemas and mullahs.

    Shameful how a bad historian knows much more than many intelectuals who never read the Quran.

    Me, I am a former muslim convert. So, I know how islam is. Unlike, many TV watchers…

  • Jan Doelman

    Perhaps, when you are equally thorough with what the pro-Islamic side says and judging their status and quality, you may find the fault lies with the sources Quran, Hadiths, Sira for being so Multi-interpretable, ambiguous, vague, unclear, incomplete, obsolete (because of not allowed to be changed one iota).

  • nth

    Robert Spencer is a great man. European culture and heritage are awesome. I love white people.

  • Abu Hana

    Hi Ben –
    you may be interested in this quick 30 minute debate with Robert SPencer: https://youtu.be/J_mPD1F5RQw

  • Mo

    “Furthermore, it is poorly written and quite redundant: Spencer feels the need to repeat himself countless times over the text, perhaps making up for his lack of actual content.”

    Quite like this mass of baseless and fact-less accusations here.

    Which statements in which of his books did you find to be false, and upon what basis do you say that? What study have you done of Islam in order to make any such claim?

    Answer me. Do not play your games. Answer me. People such as yourself feel that you can just slander people and their work in this manner, and that you bear no responsibility for backing up your accusations with facts.

    I find that reprehensible.

  • Mo

    @ nth

    Looks like you are commenting on the wrong article. No one here is talking about skin color. Islam can be followed by anyone of any skin color or ethnic background.

  • snooks

    And the “peaceful” verses from Mecca are abrogated (mansukh; set aside as overruled) by Medinan verses of jihad and qital. Sorry readers, you’ll have to look those up … Recommend you look all of it up. Learn about Qu’ran and Muhammad’s Sunnah (sira and accepted hadith). It’s all there for the learning.

  • Nessie

    You probably already know about the organization ex-Muslims of North America, but if not, it seems like a great resource. Compassionate, intelligent and brave.

  • Nessie

    There actually is a debate on Intelligence Squared. Ayaan Hirsi Ali opposed Maajid Nawaz. Now they are more colleagues.

  • Pedro Rabaçal

    Well, I am portuguese and I live in Portugal. lol

  • Nessie

    They have partners internationally, but I didn’t see any in Portugal. One of my closest friends (in the US) is from the Azores. Take care.

  • Ben Maldonado, a tool for jihad:

    “the Messenger of Allah […] would say: ‘Fight in the name of Allah and in the way of Allah. Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah. Make a holy war. […] When you meet your enemies who are polytheists, invite them to three courses of action. […] Invite them to (accept) Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them. […] If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah’s help and fight them […]'” (Muslim Book 19, Number 4294).

    “fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war) […]” (Qur’an 9:5).

    “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued” (Qur’an 9:29).

    “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter […]” (Qur’an 5:33).

    (Islam’s great exegete Ibn Kathir says of this verse: “‘Wage war’ mentioned here means, oppose and contradict, and it includes disbelief, blocking roads and spreading fear in the fairways. Mischief in the land refers to various types of evil.” So, Muhammad requires execution, crucifixion, or cutting off hands and feet from opposite sides for “disbelief.”)

    “Allah’s Apostle said: ‘I have been ordered (by Allah) to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah’s Apostle […] if they perform that, then they save their lives and property from me […]'” (Bukhari Volume 1, Book 2, Number 24).

    “It is not for any prophet to have captives until he hath made slaughter in the land. Ye desire the lure of this world and Allah desireth (for you) the Hereafter, and Allah is Mighty, Wise” (Qur’an 8:67).

    “Allah’s Apostle said, ‘[…] I have been made victorious with terror […]'” (Bukhari Volume 4, Book 52, Number 220).

  • Simon Platt

    Interesting. I hadn’t seen that before.Thank you. That Nadir fellow is on another planet. Planet Bonkers, I think.

  • Pedro Rabaçal

    Besides, no peaceful verse defends that islam is peace nor equality between races nor genders…

  • Pedro Rabaçal

    Thank you very much, Nessie.
    Have a nice bath in the Loch. 😉

  • Simon Platt

    Dear Ben,

    Robert knows his stuff, you know. And that jibe of yours about his supposed lack of credentials: I don’t think it’s justified: I don’t know Robert personally but I do know enough about his personal and academic background to consider him pretty well credentialled. But I also know, from my own academic training and professional experience, in a different field, that academic credentials provide little guarantee of anything. And you are, I think, a student; an undergraduate student, I think. That means you have precisely no academic credentials of your own. I think that doesn’t make you wrong, or even less worth listening to, but you seem to think it important. Please don’t think that. What matters is the truth or falsehood of what you say, not the letters you will, perhaps, eventually have after your name.

  • Nessie

    Let’s talk about the imam in California, in the year 2017 who said to his congregation (among other things):

    “Oh Allah, liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews. Oh Allah, destroy those who closed the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Oh Allah, show us the black day that you inflict upon them, and the wonders of your ability. Oh Allah, count them one by one and annihilate them down to the very last one. Do not spare any of them.”

    BTY – Israelis didn’t “close” Al-Aqsa but established metal detectors to prevent another murder like the one that happened days before this quote. Abbas told Muslims to pray outside of the mosque until Israel would remove the safety measures.

  • PaulyG

    Another complete idiot who knows absolutely nothing about Islamic doctrine, theology, law, history, etc., yet thinks he’s some sort of arbiter on Islam.

    Also, a common theme with these mental retards seems to be an obsession with post-graduate degrees, as if that gives you higher authority on the subject matter.

    Ok, let’s use that logic then. Do you know who has a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies and Law from the University of Baghdad? Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS. Do you know who has a Masters in Qur’anic Studies and a Ph.D. in Islamic Theology from Al-Azhar University, the most prestigious school in the Islamic world? Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. Both of them would be described as “radicals”. They have all the credentials you could ask for, from all the right institutions.

    Are you telling me they don’t know what they’re talking about? Are you telling me that the University of Baghdad and Al-Azhar University are teaching an incorrect version of Islam? Mind you, virtually all of the most famous Islamic theologians and Qur’anic commentators in history all say the same things. And guess what? Robert Spencer simply repeats these things because that is what the religion teaches. All you have to do is read it. Morons.

  • Pedro Rabaçal

    Lol And those liberaloid students, likeBen Maldonado, are to stupid to notice such simple facts.

    Khomeini had 20 years of studies in Islam. He was an expert. He knew much more than Spencer.
    Yet, he was a murderous bigot.
    And Spencer only quotes him.

  • Nessie

    Look at the website Canary Mission and the professors from your school who they mention – posting public work and opinions that expose them for who they are.

  • Nessie

    Agreed, especially since many European slave girls from various Islamic conquests of now European lands, Barbary pirate victims, etc were forced into Islam to bear children who would be forced to be jihadists. It is an ideology and not a race – it cares not which race it consumes – as long as it consumes, dominates and oppresses – like its founder.

  • Pedro Rabaçal

    Besides, chechens, albanians, bosnians and many terrorist converts who joined Daesh ARE ALL WHITE!

  • PaulyG

    They’ve never read any of it. You think this asshole, Ben Maldonado, has read a Qur’an? Do you think he’s even heard of the ahadith? Give me a f*cking break.

    This sh*t for brains wrote this entire nonsensical screed on something that he has no clue about. How does that make sense?

    But, yes, more to your point, even if these people actually did take the time to read these things, they would be too stupid to notice such simple facts. You are correct.

  • Pedro Rabaçal

    No one reads nothing: they only watch screens.

    Then they become surprised when they find out how the firy tales are very different of Disney movies, become shocked when they discover that count Dracula was killed by a texan with a knife, etc.

    Reading is too hard-working, even for entertainment.
    So why would they read for important things, like their jobs.

  • End PC

    Read just the first 9 suras of the Qur’an and see for yourself its violent intolerance of the unbeliever. Over & over again it condemns, in especially sura 9, the unbeliever as hell-bound and insists that believers fight against them just because of their unbelief with no more justification than that. Most infamously

    Q 9:29 ” Fight against those who (1) believe not in Allah, (2) nor in the Last
    Day, (3) nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His
    Messenger (4) and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e.
    Islam) among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), until
    they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”

    Note that it didn’t say fight those who wage war on you, or do wicked stuff. Just unbelief is the great sin.

    Q9:73 “O Prophet, fight against the disbelievers and the hypocrites and let them find in you a harshness.”

    Q 9:123. O you who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who are close to you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah is with those who are the pious.”

    Robert Spencer is clearly the real expert.

  • End PC

    This is just a shabby hit-piece on Robert Spencer, who has proved his expertise by his well referenced books and debates that you can judge for yourself on YouTube.
    BTW check out his experience instructing US military & intelligence listed on his informative website:

    Spencer has led seminars on Islam and jihad for the FBI, the United States Central Command, United States Army Command and General Staff College, the U.S. Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group, the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), the Justice Department’s Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council and the U.S. intelligence community. He has discussed jihad, Islam, and terrorism at a workshop sponsored by the U.S. State Department and the German Foreign Ministry. He is a consultant with the Center for Security Policy.

  • Deuce Prez

    Great article!

    Robert Spencer shares no knowledge about Islam or Muslims with his audience, only his own Islamaphobic innuendo.

  • Deuce Prez

    Thanks for cutting and pasting those ayats and hadiths.

    Now, do you understand when each means?

  • Deuce Prez

    Yes. Nadir is from nearby planet called Earth.

    Ever heard of it…..??

  • Thanks […] understand

    That’s ayat and ahadith, and you’re not grateful. The fact that you’re trying to discredit my posting them means that you understand them, but you don’t want anyone else to.

    Be honest.