Friday, October 26, 2007

Cant We Talk About This?

Robert Spencer

[The following is a speech given by Robert Spencer on Monday at Depaul University for Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week]
Thank you. Thank you for coming. It's a great honor for me to appear here tonight with the hero of our age, Amir-Abbas Fakhravar, and I hope you all heeded his words and will consider them very carefully. I'm here tonight to discuss some of the larger issues and implications involved in the conflict, which is almost certain to come, and in many ways of course has already begun and has gone on since 1979 between the United States and Iran.

Nick, in his introduction, made a reference to Pope Benedict XVI and his notorious address at Regensberg. One of the things that the Pope said in there was actually a quotation. The quotation was this: "One does not need a strong arm or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death, to convince a reasonable soul ."

Those were the words, ironically enough, the 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus whom the Pope quoted in that Regensberg address. And of course, he also quoted some other words that Manuel II Palaeologus said about the Prophet of Islam which touched off worldwide riots, indicating that there are some people in the world today, and I think that we can very clearly assign the Iranian regime to this group, that are not interested in any kind of reasonable dialogue or exchange, but only into making people conform to their will by force. And this is really the heart of the matter. Whether we are going to be able to have reason and rational dialogue or whether we are going to submit to intimidation, whether peaceful or violent. . .whether carried out by means of smear tactics or by means of guns and bombs. . . or whether we are going to be able to discuss things with mutual respect.

The conflict, I think, was summed up most vividly in the murder of the Dutch film-maker, Theo Van Gogh, in Amsterdam, November 2nd 2004. Theo Van Gogh you may know was a relative, a decendant of the great painter. He was a gadfly. He had alientated virtually everyone. He made public statements insulting Jews, Christians, and then he made a twelve minute video, "Submission," about the oppression, the mistreatment of women in Islam and the video featured images of battered women wearing see-through robes with verses from the Qur'an written on their bodies. That was enough, for Theo Van Gogh.

Bicycling through the streets of Amsterdam back in 2004 was a man named Mohammed Bouyeri wearing traditional Islamic clothing began to shoot at him. After Theo fell off his bike, Bouyeri ran up to him and began slitting his throat, attempting to be-head him. In his agony, Theo Van Gogh uttered his last words which were, "Can't we talk about this?"

Well, obviously he couldn't. Obviously he couldn't and obviously many others can't today.

In Iran, you try to talk about this and you end up in prison like our friend. All over the world, even in the western world, you try to talk about these issues and you get vilified, smeared, lied about, condemned without fear.

Bouyeri, of course, replied to Van Gogh's intriguing "Can't we talk about this?" by stabbing him repeatedly and finally leaving a knife stabbed into his body on which a note was attached containing verses from the Qur'an and threats to other Dutch public figures.

At his trial, Bouyeri was absolutely un-repentant and absolutely clear about why he murdered Van Gogh. He said, "I did so, purely out of my beliefs. I want you to know . . .", he said "that I acted out of conviction and not that I took his life because he was Dutch or because I was Moroccan or felt insulted. If I ever get free I would do it again. "

And finally he summed it all up. "What moved me to do what I did was purely my faith. I was motivated by the law that commands me to cut off the head of anyone who insults Allah and his Prophet. "

"Can't we talk about this?"
"I was motivated by the law that commands me to cut off the head of anyone who insults Allah and his Prophet. "

That is the heart of the conflict that we face in the world today. On the one hand there is a determination to talk, to negotiate, to accomodate, no matter what the provocation. On the other side, there is fury, intransigence, absolute conviction and an absolute unwillingness to budge.

All pervasive in the West, all pervasive, here in this group, I'm sure, is the assumption that everyone wants peace and is willing to compromise and negotiate to get it. And that everyone will be willing to meet an opponent half way. And that everyone shares this conviction such that we can all, if we can work hard enough, work through every problem peacefully. Oh, I wish it were so. I wish we could talk about this. I've been trying to talk about this for years. And if you'll permit me a personal note, for years now, I have been trying to speak about the origins and the derivations, the causes of the violence committed in the name of Islam, by Muslims who justify it explicitly. You read, for example Osama bin Laden's recent address to the people of Pakistan. He quotes ten Qur'an verses and he explains those verses in the context of, say that the first loyalty of the muslims is to the umma and therefore Musharaf, in collaborating with the Americans, has betrayed the umma and every Muslim because of his relgious beliefs has to rise up against that regime. And he's doing it, he quotes Qur'an, he makes voluminous use of the Islamic traditions of Islamic law.

THis is, of course, nothing new. You read any statement from anyone who shares his ideology and constantly there is this appeal to the purity of Islam, to what they represent as being the true Islam.

Now, what I have done, over these years, these last few years, publicly and for considerable time before that in other studies was to call attention to the elements of Islam that are being used by the jihad terrorists to justify violence and to support a supremacist agenda such as we see also from Ahmadinejad in Iran today, who has said very clearly, and repeatedly that Islam will dominate not just Iran, not just the Islamic world but the entire world at large and that this is something he sees as a manifest destiny, something he sees as an inevitablity that it will be fulfilled and it's his religious responsiblity to carry it out.

Now when I first started to speak about these things publicly, I thought that what I had hoped to have seen, what I hoped at that time to see, was a reasonable dialogue. Because there is no reform of anything without admitting there is a need for reform. There is no fixing a problem that you won't admit is a problem. If I had a brain tumor and I say I have a headache and I take a couple of aspirin and I'll be fine, will I get better? No.

In order to solve a problem, you have to diagnose a problem. If the jihadists, if Mahmud Ahmadinejad, if Osama bin Laden, if jihadists around the world are appealing to core texts and the teachings of Islam then it is incumbent upon peaceful Muslims and all people of good will, Muslim and non-Muslim, to work against that and to find reasonable ways to reinterpret those passages to counter those teachings and to stand up for human decency, for the universality of human rights, for the equality and dignity of men with women, of women with men, for the freedom of conscience, for all these things that are threatened by this ideology.

But there was no dialogue.

Many of you are probably here tonight because you've heard all sorts of terrible things about me or about Amir-Abbas Fakhravar, or about both of us, or about terrorism awareness week or about Islamofascism awareness week and so on. Now this is exactly the same problem that we see, "Can't we talk about this?" or I have to behead anyone who insults me.

Is there going to be reasonable dialogue with people who disagree with you or is there going to be violent intransegence and smears? I leave that to you.
But in a larger sense, the regime that imprisoned Amir-Abbas Fakhrava and that threatens the world today - and yes, it does threaten the world today - is not in the least interested in dialogue, not the least interested in discussion, not the least interested in debate. And if it were in charge here tonight, then, we would not be doing this. We would be sent to prison for even attempting to do it.

Mahmud Ahmadinejad has spoken on several occassions about human rights abuses in the West, most of them more fictional than fact, not all, but most of them. Even with the United Nations, The Islamic Republic of Iran has registered complaints about human rights abuses particularly concerning Muslims in France and elsewhere in Europe.
In the Islamic Republic of Iran, right now, there are eight women awaiting death by stoning for the crime of adultery.

In the Islamic Republic of Iran right now, there are eight women . ..They sentenced just last week, a young mother, sentenced to death by stoning.
You never hear the leaders of the Islamic Republic discussing or even manifesting any willingness to discuss the ideology that underlies this because they believe that this ideology is founded in divine revelation and thus cannot be questioned, cannot be possibly, ever, subjected to critical scrutiny.

But as the Byzantine emperor said so long ago, that as the Pope said last year, "to convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm or weapons of any kind or any other means of threatening a person with death."

It's the same thing, even internally in Iran, with this kind of coersive law that violates so many principles that are universally accepted around the world, or almost universally accepted as being intrinsic to the rights of every individual.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, promulgated by the United Nations in 1948 guarantees the equality of rights of all people, regardless of gender, regardless of creed. And it guarantees the freedom of conscience, the right to change ones religion or to have no religion at all, to discard religion.

Now, of course, this goes against some very deeply held principles in Islamic tradition. Muhammed, the Prophet of Islam said that if anybody changes his religion, kill him. That is in the hadith recorded by Bukhari in several places. It has become, unfortunately, a foundation of Islamic law that is taught by all schools of Islamic jurisprudence. That the male who is of the age of reason or is at puberty, if he leaves Islam is subject to death.

The idea enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of the freedom of conscience is rooted in the principle of the equality and dignity of all people and of the value of the human person. That is fundamentally a Judeo-Christian principle that comes from the idea of all human beings being created in the image of God, as taught in the bible.

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, this and many other principles annuciated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were challenged by the Islamic critique of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights published in 1970, which said that a avowal of the freedom of conscience is obviously a denial of the express wishes of Muhammad. Muhammad, is uswa hasana, the excellent example of conduct as articulated by the Qur'an in chapter 33 verse 21, his words were normative in this and could not be questioned.

Now here there are two competing principles. How are we going to determine how we can live together with these principles or which one is going to take precedence. We cannot do that except through a rational dialogue, a reasonable discussion without coersion or force. And of course, this is a very vexous thing because with coersion and force are precisely what is directed, what one believes to be directed, then it becomes very difficult to maintain this kind of dialogue. But this is the choice. This is the dilemma that we face in the world today.

One hundred thirty eight muslim scholars from around the world, representing every sect, every school of jurisprudence, every group within Islam, writing to the Pope and to a large number of other Christian leaders and appealing for peace, saying the future of the world, the peace of the world depends upon us being able to get along as Muslims and Christians because together we comprise, what was it, almost half the world's population and together, if we cannot get along, thus the world will be plunged into chaos.

Now this was a very welcome statement and one that represents perhaps a different spirit and just the kind of spirit of dialogue that we need to have.
Unfortunately, it did not touch upon, and I would have liked to see it touch upon some of the teachings of the Qur'an and of Islamic tradition, about perhaps the Sunni tradition of the return of Jesus, when he would rape all the crosses and Islamize the world. Or the idea in Chapter 5 Verse 17 of the Qur'an that Christians are unbelievers if they believe in the deity of Christ or that they are under the curse of Allah as outlined Chapter 9 Verse 30 of the Qur'an for believing that Jesus is The Son of God.

Now, of course, these are statements that can be subject to a variety of interpretations, a variety of understandings, but we cannot possibly achieve a reasonable dialogue, and come to some kind of a common understanding unless they're discussed openly and honestly, without the villification of one part or another - just for bringing them up.

And so, the fanatical intrangesense can some, that Mahmud Ahmadinejad and his regime represent, and that many others from around the world represent today including Mohammed Bouyeri, the murderer of Theo Van Gogh - that is what is the primary enemy of every human being, Muslim and non-Muslim today who wishes to live in peace with his neighbors and wishes to achieve some kind of a foundation by which we can possibly have a harmonious coexistence of people of conscience who in their all their faiths come to differing views of the world . This cannot possibly happen unless we heed the Pope's call in the Regensberg address for reason and rational dialogue, or listen to Theo Van Gogh in his last words, as ironic as they were back in the occassion "Can't we talk about this?"

So, if we are going to understand that to convince a reasonable soul, one does not need strong arms or weapons of any kind or any other means of threatening a person with death, to conduct the genuine dialogue of cultures and religions that is so urgently needed today and which underlies the conflict between the United States and Iran.

We have to be honest and engage not just in criticism of others, not just in shouting slogans and calling for other people to be silenced, discussion, even when that discussion must touch upon unpleasant aspects of ones own tradition. For dialogue to be fruitful, for dialogue to be even possible in any genuine sense both parties have to respect one another enough to lay aside cant and sloganeering and deal with one another honestly and forthrightly. I had hoped to see this dialogue in the past. I don't any longer. I've been disappointed.

Can't we talk about this? Maybe we can, but one side can't do all the talking or all the listening. The West is still looking for a force in the Islamic world with the courage, with the generosity of spirit, with the openness of intellect and the foresight to be a willing partner in this dialogue.

Thank you very much.

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 latest book is Religion of Peace?.

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