Am I being unfair to Spencer?

(Note: Further down in this entry, I reply to Robert Spencer’s charge, made in an e-mail in September, that I committed a “calumny” against him. Since I recently asked him several times to retract the charge, and he several times refused, I feel it is now appropriate to discuss the matter publicly.)

Robert Spencer has sent several e-mails over the weekend challenging my characterization of his views in the blog entry, “Muslim wants to take oath of office on Koran; Prager is shocked.” For readability, I am abridging and condensing four of Spencer’s e-mails to get at the substantive points:

A question regarding your latest posting: why do you continue to represent my views in ways that are at variance with what I have told you directly? Is it possible that you believe that your personal dislike of someone justifies your stating falsehoods about that person? I do hope not…

“Prager and Spencer both believe that Muslims, with the exception of those nasty radical Muslims whom they want to screen out, can be assimilated into America…”—Lawrence Auster

I respectfully challenge you to substantiate that statement from my writings, or, if you cannot do so, to retract it publicly….

Specifically, your statement today is in direct contradiction with what I have written to you below.

Perhaps you have forgotten about these statements, so I thought you might find it helpful if I sent them again.

Spencer then copied the main part of an exchange that took place between us in August. I’ve added the first two e-mails in the exchange to provide the context.

LA to RS, August 17

I’m sorry I’ve forgotten this, but could you direct me to your most explicit statements on what ought to be done about Muslim immigration? I’d appreciate it. Thanks.

RS to LA:

I don’t mean to be unhelpful but I don’t keep track of things in this way. Perhaps I should. In any case, it should be made subject to detailed stipulations making it clear that the jihad ideology is not welcome here. This is a tactic, not a philosophy.

LA to RS:

How would this translate into practice? Currently Muslims can immigrate to the U.S. on the basis of the same laws and rules as everyone else, under all the same categories as other immigrants. Are you speaking of close personal examination of all persons with identifiable Muslim characteristics (i.e., either they come from a Muslim country, or they come from a Western country but have a Muslim name, etc.) to determine their beliefs, allegiances, etc.?

RS to LA:

Yes. I’ve developed a 30-question questionnaire for immigration applicants, designed to focus on the elements of Sharia that are incompatible with American society and law. Of course honest answers would not be expected, but applicants would be put on notice that deportation would follow any actions to the contrary.

LA to RS:

Are you saying that the overall numerical quota for Muslim countries should remain the same as it is now, and that we should simply screen them more carefully, or are you saying that the numerical quota for Muslim countries should be reduced or eliminated? If the latter, what about Muslims coming from non-Muslim countries? Should they continue to be admitted, but just with closer screening for their beliefs, or should they be prevented from coming?

RS to LA:

I’m not in the least interested in what country Muslims come from. I’m interested in making it impossible for Sharia adherents and jihadists to come to or remain in the U.S. This will ultimately involve bans on Muslim immigration from wherever, unless Muslims come up with a reliable way to screen out Sharia adherents and jihadists—but they haven’t, and won’t. No one, of course, as you have so well argued, has any natural right to live in the West. The questionnaire I mentioned above is a means by which the specifics of the problem can be brought into the public debate in a way that shows that such measures are, I believe, not incompatible with Constitutional provisions regarding free exercise of religion.

My reply

Let me respond first to Spencer’s accusation that out of personal dislike I am knowingly stating falsehoods about him. It’s amazing how often people make this kind of accusation of me. Just the other week, John Derbyshire said that my criticisms of him over his immigration position were motivated by a desire to get back at him for something he once said to me. Apparently it hadn’t occurred to Derbyshire that I have been criticizing pro-open immigration advocates since the 1980s, so that when Derbyshire, a supposed anti-immigration conservative, said that conservatives should stay home on election day and let the Democrats take over Congress, which would most likely lead to the passage of Bush’s open-borders bill, I naturally criticized him for that.

In this instance, Spencer doesn’t seem to have noticed that I faulted Dennis Prager at least equally with himself. Yet I have never had any contact with Prager, so I couldn’t have any personal grudge against him. Does Spencer believe that my criticism of Prager is impersonal and honest, while my same criticism of Spencer, for expressing the same views as Prager, is personally motivated and dishonest? In fact, Prager is more blameworthy, since he is a promoter of open borders, which Spencer is not.

Now to the substance.

I told Spencer last summer that I was favorably impressed by his questionnaire and that I saw it as a move in the right direction. But, as I’ve also said, by itself the questionnaire is inadequate to meet the Muslim threat. Muslims can dishonestly reply that they are not supporters of jihad and sharia. They can answer sincerely that they are not jihad and sharia supporters, but later change their minds. They can have children in this country who grow up to be supporters of jihad and sharia. Meanwhile, a vast apparatus—the equivalent of an American Inquisition—would be necessary to keep track of and examine the Muslim population, even as it keeps increasing. Thus Spencer’s questionnaire does not solve the Islamization problem. Only the actual cessation of Muslim immigration and the actual departure of Muslims from this country (whether voluntary or forced, and it doesn’t have to be all at once, it can be gradual), can solve the Islamization problem.

In our e-mail exchange last summer that he quotes above, Spencer said: “This [the questionnaire] will ultimately involve bans on Muslim immigration from wherever, unless Muslims come up with a reliable way to screen out Sharia adherents and jihadists—but they haven’t, and won’t.” This is Spencer’s strongest statement on immigration that I have seen. But there are several problems with it. First, he said it to me in a private e-mail. He has never to my knowledge said this in a published article, though he is now quoting the e-mail in the evident expectation that it will be posted here. Thus he is only going public with this position in order to respond to my criticisms; he did not take this position publicly of his own motion, which suggests that this is not a position he strongly stands behind. I repeat: Spencer had never made his desire for a ban on Muslim immigration public until after I had written the blog entry he is now complaining about.

Second, how would the questionnaire lead to the bans on Muslim immigration that Spencer says he ultimately favors? The questionnaire assumes that as long as Muslims can (honestly or dishonestly) keep convincing U.S. authorities that they are not sharia supporters, they are welcome in America. Spencer himself has said that we can expect Muslims to lie, but then at least we have a sword hanging over them that if they engage in jihadist activity, we can deport them. But what if they don’t engage in openly jihadist activity? It becomes evident that the only way to ban Muslim immigration would be to ban Muslim immigration, not to approach the issue indirectly through a questionnaire.

Spencer asks that I justify my statement, “Prager and Spencer both believe that Muslims, with the exception of those nasty radical Muslims whom they want to screen out, can be assimilated into America.”

I base what I said on what Spencer said about his questionnaire. It is aimed at screening out supporters of jihad and sharia, which means that other Muslims could enter and stay in America and presumably assimilate. But the problem that we now see for the first time, as a result of the Keith Ellison story, is that any Muslim elected to public office in this country is probably going to want to take his oath on the Koran. Spencer and Prager were “aghast” at that prospect (a characterization by reader David G. that Spencer did not contradict). That means that Spencer regards such an oath as totally unacceptable. He regards a Muslim wanting to take such an oath as a failure of assimilation and a violation of the very character of our country. Now, as I’ve noted previously, Keith Ellison is not an immigrant, but there is no reason to believe that Spencer would not be equally aghast if Ellison were an immigrant, even a non-jihad-supporting immigrant. Therefore, given Spencer’s total opposition to a Muslim taking his oath on the Koran, the only consistent position for him to hold is that there must be no Muslims in this country, whether jihad-supporting or non-jihad supporting, and if there are Muslims in this country they must be deprived of the right of free exercise of religion, namely that if they adhere to Islam they are barred from public office.

My own position is consistent with this. For years I have repeatedly stated publicly that Muslims do not belong in significant numbers in any Western society. Spencer’s position is that we should subject Muslims to a questionnaire. To my knowledge he has never publicly advocated reducing or ending Muslim immigration. He has never advocated policies aimed to removing Muslims per se (that is, Muslims apart from certified terror- and jihad-supporters) from America. Yet, given that he finds the thought of a Muslim public official in this country taking his oath on the Koran to be totally unacceptable, the total exclusion of Muslims from this country is the only policy consistent with his idea of what is acceptable in this country.

The Ellison situation brings the problem of Muslim assimilation into sharper focus than ever before. Conservative immigration advocates say that immigrants including Muslims can all assimilate and are assimilating. But if Muslim mayors and state senators and Congressmen took their oath on the Koran, would these same advocates see that as assimilation? Would they regard that as acceptable? Some no doubt would. George W. would. Condi and Karen and Laura and Harriet would. But many conservative or right-liberal supporters of our current immigration policies—such as Dennis Prager—would not. Yet these same Prager types, when they kept assuring the country that Muslims were assimilating, never asked themselves what this meant. Did it mean that Muslims would give up Islam? That thought never occurred to them. It never occurred to the immigration advocates that for a Muslim to assimilate into America required that he stop being a Muslim. The immigration advocates imagined that Muslims would remain Muslims, yet somehow never publicly express their identity as Muslims. But now we realize that no believing Muslim can assimilate fully into this country, because any Muslim on entering into a government position would naturally insist on taking his oath of office on the Koran, which even open borders advocates like Prager regard as a violation of the meaning of our country.

But Prager hasn’t yet realized that. He wants Muslims to immigrate, yet he is aghast when a Muslim in this country simply acts like a Muslim.

Spencer is also aghast, which clearly suggests that he, like Prager, has assumed that non-jihadist Muslims could assimilate into this country. He had not fully taken in the reality that no Muslim can assimilate into America. Now perhaps he is realizing it.

- end of initial entry -

John Hagan writes:

The immigration\race question in the West is so explosive that it creates some kind of cognitive dissonance where someone like Spencer can accuse you of a personal animus, as your e-mail shows, instead of dealing with the facts as stated.

It’s all very depressing. It’s as if we are dealing with some type of macabre mass hysteria that has shrouded the ability of our elites, and opinion-makers to think clearly about this ongoing cultural catastrophe.

Ben writes:

Here we go again.

Spencer keeps saying you are misrepresenting his views and attacking him, as he has done over and over again. It’s getting old already. Here’s the bottom line for me. Until he calls for the halt to immigration of all Muslims, I will not take him seriously. I will read his articles and his insights because many of them are really good, but I will never see him as totally serious until he rejects the modern liberal doctrine of multicultural-based open immigration. This goes for any other mainstream conservative talking about the Islamic threat. Prager is a walking contradiction, I cannot listen or read him. He’s one of those guys always talking about the civilizational threats while doing nothing to prevent them except the same mindless platitudes repeated over and over again.

LA replies:

You don’t know a fraction of it. Every time a comment about him appears at VFR, I get a flurry of e-mails from him accusing me of deliberately misrepresenting and smearing him out of personal hostility. His intent is evidently to intimidate me from making any intellectual criticisms of him, no matter how mild they may be. The worst came in September, when he told me that I had committed a “calumny” against him. I asked him what this calumny consisted of. It turned out that it consisted of the below comment, which appeared in my discussion of Ralph Peters’s attack on the Islam critics as genocidal bigots:

Ron L. writes:

If you define the U.S. as liberalism then Peters’s argument is correct. By defending the U.S. and the West in civilizational terms, we are undermining liberalism far more than the Islamists.

LA replies:

Yes, good point.

However, I think that Peters would feel that even the Islam critics who defend the West in liberal terms are undermining liberalism. Islam threatens the West equally, whether we define the West in civilizational terms (as I do) or in purely liberal terms (as Robert Spencer does—see his reply to the Al Qaeda’s invitation to him to convert to Islam). So the truth of the Islam critics’ claim about the Islamic threat to the West is true either way. And Peters calls Islam critics Nazis, even if, like Spencer, they define the West in liberal terms.

Peters can call us Islam critics bigots all he wants, because we threaten his radical liberalism. In reality, his radical liberalism leaves the West open to Islam which will destroy liberalism far more thoroughly then we would do, while we would defend the West from Islam and so save at least those parts of liberalism that are compatible with civilization.

But such distinctions are of course beyond Peters’s ken. As a radical liberal, he sees only two political alternatives: liberalism and Auschwitz. Since we Islam critics (whether neocon or tradcon) are non-liberal insofar as we say that a certain alien group is ineluctably unassimilable and dangerous to us, we are genocidal Nazis. But since Muslims are, as Peters sees it, moderates who can potentially secularize and become part of the modern world, they are liberals. Thus Muslims are good, and are welcome in our society, while Islam critics are evil, and must be crushed and expelled from our society.

I was stunned that Spencer called my objective reference to his “liberal” definition of the West, in conjunction with my “civilizational” definition of the West, with all of it part of a discussion of Ralph Peters against whom I was defending Spencer and other Islam critics, a “calumny.” Calumny is defined as a malicious attack, an abusive attack on a person’s character or good name. All I was doing was describing Spencer’s definition of the West in his response at FrontPage Magazine to Al Qaeda’s invitation to him to convert to Islam. Further, I was including Spencer with myself in the group of Islam critics whom Peters considers genocidal bigots. I said that from Peters’s point of view, “Since we Islam critics (whether neocon or tradcon) are non-liberal insofar as we say that a certain alien group is ineluctably unassimilable and dangerous to us, we are genocidal Nazis.” Thus I was including Spencer, with his liberal definition of the West, along with myself in the group of “we Islam critics” who “would defend the West from Islam and so save at least those parts of liberalism that are compatible with civilization.” So obviously I was not using “liberal” in a smear sense, since I am presenting myself as part of the group that is trying to preserve the good parts of liberalism. But in his e-mails to me Spencer has kept insisting that by referring to his “purely liberal” definition of the West I was calling him a left-liberal and was thus smearing him.

Also, Spencer didn’t seem to notice my reference in the same comment to Peters’s “radical liberalism” as contrasted with the position of “us Islam critics.” So obviously I was not calling Spencer a left-liberal. My description of him had to do with his reply to Al Qaeda at FrontPage Magazine in which he defined America solely in terms of the liberal principles of Jefferson and Madison and so on.

In any case, I was so appalled that Spencer would describe this mild descriptive reference to him as a calumny that I broke off the correspondence. Then about ten days ago he wrote to me again, and, after prefacing his e-mail with expressions of good wishes toward me and reiterations of apologies for his past insults of me, he complained about Jeff in England’s recent criticisms of him on the immigration issue. I replied to Spencer that if he wanted to apologize to me for past insults, how about starting by retracting and apologizing for his recent accusation that I had published a calumny against him, which he had not apologized for? He refused, repeatedly, to retract the statement, all the while repeating his many expressions of good wishes (which obviously made no sense and were inappropriate given his position that I am an unrepentant smearer of him). At that point I stopped writing to him.

Then this past weekend he again wrote to me a bunch of e-mails complaining about my recent post on Prager and himself, accusing me of deliberately misrepresenting his views (and once again with each of his e-mails larded with the same expressions of good wishes for my success, health, and happiness). In response, I wrote him one e-mail:

—— Original Message——-
From: Lawrence Auster
To: Robert Spencer
Sent: Sunday, November 26, 2006 4:20.p.m.
Subject: Re: Request for retraction of a false statement of my views

I will be replying at my site to your present complaint and to any future complaints you may care to send me.

Given your accusation that I committed a “calumny” against you, and your refusal to retract it, I will not correspond by e-mail with you again. Any future exchanges between us will be public.

David H. writes:

In one of his emails to you, Spencer writes that his questionnaire is intended to exclude jihadists without running afoul of the Constitutional guaranty of freedom of religion. The problem with this argument should be clear: a Muslim living in a foreign country has no right to freedom of religion under our Constitution. If Spencer’s only point is that the ACLU will claim that any immigration restriction based on religion is a per se violation of the First Amendment, then why does he allow this prospect to determine his policy recommendations? Wouldn’t the ALCU have to prove either (i) that our prohibiting a foreign Muslim from immigrating violates a domestic Muslim’s freedom of religion, (ii) that the Constitution protects foreign Muslims who have never even set foot on U.S. soil, or (iii) that a relgious restriction on immigration is an unconstitutional government entanglement with relgion? To your knowledge, has any court adopted one of these positions?

So Spencer advocates his questionnaire as a way of indirectly limiting Muslim immigration without violating the Constitution. The problem is, the questionnaire policy has no bite: Muslims intent on killing themselves in commiting an act of terrorism are not likely to be deterred from entering the country by the prospect of deportation.

Even if he personally believes such a restriction would violate the Constitution, why should that prevent him from supporting a massive reduction in the immigration quotas for Muslim countries on the basis that jihadists are far more likely to originate from those countries? Does he believe that a reduction in the numeric quotas for Muslim countries would likewise violate the Constitution?

Stephen F. writes:

You might point out that the position in favor of ending and reversing Muslim immigration is that held by Hugh Fitzgerald on Jihad Watch itself. Fitzgerald specifically and repeatedly cites the problem that you do, that anyone who is born a Muslim and holds a Muslim identity can “revert” to Islam at any time, no matter how liberal, secular, privileged, or content he is. As I recall, Spencer has referred to this position as Fitzgerald’s personal opinion, and defended his right to hold it, but not stated it as the position of the site per se. He appears to find it necessary to distance himself from it for political reasons.

Clark Coleman writes:

I think that a big part of this problem is that most Americans blithely assume that everyone in the world is pretty much like us. They all secretly share our values and want to be Americans, you know.

The particular blindness here is that they assume that religion is a private matter, because religion has been privatized in America over the last 60 years or so. So, it is no big deal if Muslims come here, because they will just practice their different religion in private—won’t they? Then, when Muslims engage in a public display, they are SHOCKED!

Perhaps they can revisit their assumption that Islam will always be a private matter among American Muslims.

LA replies:

That’s the whole point. That’s the new and definitive clarity on the issue brought out by Keith Ellison’s election to Congress, and that’s why Prager’s and Spencer’s response to it was so significant and why I wrote about it. The assimilationist assumption is that anything specific to the immigrants’ culture or religion is of purely secondary importance, of the order of ethnic foods, and apart from such secondary ethnic artifacts Muslims can become a part of American public life. But Muslims who identify themselves AS Muslims, even if they are not “radical” Muslims, view the Koran as their holy book and are going to take their oath of office on it. This blindingly obvious fact never occurred to the people who thought that everyone can assimilate into America. Prager and Spencer, by being “aghast” at the prospect, indicated that they were among those to whom this little problem had never occurred.

I also had not thought about this particular angle before. But, unlike Prager and Spencer, I was not aghast or shocked or surprised when I heard about it, because, far from upsetting my expectations, it was the most decisive confirmation of my view that Muslims qua Muslims are incapable of being true members of our society.

Ben writes:

Mr. Auster, it’s obvious this man has no use for any real debate of ideas, at least on the right side of the aisle anyway. I’m actually amazed at this since I would think a man who is willing to take on Islam like he does would be willing to stand like a brick wall against any criticism. He gets way too uptight about it, almost abnormal. How could a man like this who can stand no criticism rise in the ranks such as he has. Well, one reason is that he is the only one (in the mainstream of course) making any kind of intelligent discussion about Islam. It has gotten so bad that whenever you hear some form of truth, even if it’s distorted, it’s like a breath of fresh air.

However, he almost seems to be obsessed with you, constantly charging you of attacking him. Here is why I think that is. I think it makes him crazy that there are people out there who are against Islam who also disagree with him. We seem so off the wall to him by the mere fact of disagreeing with him, when he is hated the world over by Islam and the left, that he just comes to the conclusion that we are on some crusade against him. Like you said, what’s amazing about Spencer is, you will quote him word for word and then he will say you misquoted him or misrepresented him.

I think Spencer and the way he has treated you has been totally unprofessional. I’m just an ordinary guy out here and I see that. You have the right to criticize his writings and speeches because he is an influential figure in the conservative movement. If he wants to be taken seriously, then he’d better start acting serious, act like a man, and respond to criticism without all this whining and charges of being attacked.

Also I read that email from Jeff and agreed with it. Spencer is like Melanie Phillips. Almost in every way. Like your title, so serious, yet so unserious.

LA replies:
I think Ben’s analysis of Spencer’s thought process is basically correct, and it’s the same with Phillips. They are on the front lines on the Islam issue and see themselves attacked by the left and by Muslims. So they think of themselves as being at the rightmost edge of (respectable) human thought. So criticism of them from the right strikes them as absurd, instantly dismissible, and only explicable in terms of the critic’s personal vendetta against them (Spcncer’s take on me) or the critic’s sheer willful ignorance (Phillips’s take on me).

But this only demonstrates how leftism keeps pushing the center to the left. The left, by attacking right-liberals and liberal conservatives as extremists, creates the impression that right-liberalism really is extremism, so that anything to the right of right-liberalism is off the charts. The leftist attack on moderates as extremists thus has the effect of marginalizing and silencing genuine conservatives. There are always those who disapprove of my criticisms of liberal conservatives, seeing it as unhelpful. But it is central my political understanding that weak conservatism can be an even greater danger than the left, because it deludes conservatives into thinking that the forces of leftism and alienism are being effectively opposed, when in fact they are not.

On another point, I would not agree that Spencer is “unserious” to quite the same degree that Phillips is. First, Spencer’s grasp of Islam is far deeper than Melanie’s. (Recently she even reverted to the view that true Islam has been “hijacked” by radical Islam.) Second, and more important, Melanie’s unceasing apocalyptic warnings of the mounting Islamic menace in Britain, combined with her total lack of any discussion of reducing or stopping Muslim immigration, truly earn her the sobriquet, “so serious, yet so unserious.”

Mark P. writes:

You wrote:

“I think Ben’s analysis of Spencer’s thought process is basically correct, and it’s the same with Phillips. They are on the front lines on the Islam issue and see themselves attacked by the left and by Muslims. So they think of themselves as being at the rightmost edge of (respectable) human thought. So criticism of them from the right strikes them as absurd, instantly dismissible, and only explicable in terms of the critic’s personal vendetta against them (Spcncer’s take on me) or the critic’s sheer willful ignorance (Phillips’s take on me).”

What I don’t understand is why neither Spencer nor Phillips can make a distinction between the act of criticism and the content of criticism. Criticism is a neutral concept and an action that can come from anywhere along the political spectrum. Criticism is, in and of itself, meaningless. What matters is the content of that criticism. Surely the reason that Phillips and Spencer resist attacks from Leftists and Muslims is because the content of their criticism is worth rejecting because they do not even address the arguments Phillips and Spencer make. Yet, these two are hung up on you simply because you criticize.

I just don’t understand.

Spencer Warren writes:

I thought about all this last evening. It is a defining moment in our crisis—the crisis of liberalism. The continuing refusal of such “conservatives” to face up to the issue of discrimination against Muslims on immigration, of the necessity of keeping them out, and the conservatives’ almost hysterical hostility against you for calling them on it, is mind-boggling. You advocate what is verboten in the Orwellian liberal world view. Keep after them. Note by contrast Fjordman’s gentlemanly response to you.

12/2/06. LA writes:

Since six days have passed since this entry was posted and Robert Spencer has—very uncharacteristically—not replied with renewed complaints about how I am misrepresenting and smearing him, I must assume that on reading over the material in this entry he has realized how absurd and wrong was his “calumny” charge, as well as his other complaints. Unfortunately, he still doesn’t have it in him to retract the “calumny” charge.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 26, 2006 11:11 PM | Send

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