Evariste’s reply to Robert Spencer

In the last two weeks, VFR readers have become familiar with Evariste through three remarkable essays. In A Muslim apostate explains his complete rejection of Islam, Evariste, who was born and raised in the U.S. until being brought to Jordan at age nine, tells how at age 15 his discovery of Darwinism in the library of the American embassy enabled him to break totally with Islam and become an atheist, though, he added, at the time of writing he was sympathetic with the God of Christianity and Judaism. In A Muslim apostate rejects Darwinism, he tells how he recently began to see the falsity of Darwinism, and to believe, at least intellectually, that God exists. And in How material existence, life, and consciousness point to the existence, life, and consciousness of God, he shows step by step that God not only exists, but has personality.

Now Evariste turns his attention to something less cosmic, the Spencer-Auster dispute (though, according to Kristor, the Spencer-Auster dispute really is cosmic). Below is Robert Spencer’s e-mail to Evariste, followed by Evariste’s reply.

From: “Robert Spencer”
To: Evariste
Cc: “Lawrence Auster”
Sent: Thursday, July 10, 2008 6:14.a.m.
Subject: A word of clarification and caution

I am writing this because I have read your writings on Islam and am a great admirer of your work.

Your characterization of my views here—“Look at these illiberal Muslims. They keep doing things that aren’t liberal. I’m a very daring iconoclast for pointing this out. Since everything is malleable in this, our liberal world, I will keep waiting for liberal Muslims to appear and make Islam liberal”—is inaccurate. While Lawrence Auster has charged me with counseling that we should passively wait for Islam to reform itself, in fact that is not my view and has never been my view. On the contrary, I have recommended a posture of military and cultural strength toward the Islamic world, so overwhelming as to make jihad activity impossible.

With respect, I would caution you against forming opinions of my views based on Mr. Auster’s presentation of them, about which I stand by all the statements I have made. He has selectively presented the emails I have sent them, shorn of most (albeit not all) of their substance, and then claimed that no substance was present within them. In reality, I have written and spoken against Muslim immigration, and have not been inconsistent in my opposition to it. I would be happy to discuss this or any other matter, if you are interested in doing so. But I suspect, if you think that I actually present no serious critique of Islam and no solution to the problem, that it might be a good idea to read what I actually have written rather than rely on the characterization of it by a hostile interlocutor.

Evariste replies:

Hi, Mr. Spencer—thanks for the note, and for your kind words about my writings.

I would like to point out that I have little desire to get in the middle of this fracas, and until yesterday I had never even discussed you with Mr. Auster. We were discussing some unrelated tech topics, and he mentioned as an aside that he needed to put his mind to writing something to lay this whole issue with you to rest, and that provoked me to reply to express my astonishment at the personally nasty tone of your latest series of emails to him, which gave me pause for the first time since I started reading him regularly and followed the on-again, off-again debate between you two. In both my ignorance and my casual, broad generalization, I went too far in totally lumping your work in with Charles Johnson’s (the “Islamo-atrocity of the day” genre of posts that I was criticizing). I did once find the “explosion of the day” blogging valuable, both on LGF and JW, and probably emulated it myself for years, so in repudiating it, I’m partially repudiating my own previous predilection for sitting around the LGF comment section reading, and posting my own, overwrought emotional reactions to senseless Islamic acts of violence.

But if you’ve read what I wrote him, you must also have read Mr. Auster’s reply to me, in which he corrects my overreaching dismissal of your intellectual output, a point which I immediately conceded to him because, as I readily admitted, I haven’t followed you all that closely aside from a short period a few years ago, or read any of your books. I am sure that you present a serious critique of Islam, just as you say you do. Not only do you say it, but so too does Auster, so I would really be taking a position that’s both ridiculous and lonely if I tried to argue to the contrary. That you are a serious critic of Islam is not in question; in addition, you are not just a critic, but a scholarly critic. The point I’m sort of groping towards here is that the portions of your emails which Mr. Auster posted calling him names were a huge turn-off to me, and do a lot more to harm your cause than anything Auster himself has ever said about you. It was that personal name-calling which primarily provoked my reply to Auster; I’d never seen such a directly vehement and nasty tone from you! It does not reflect well on you at all, and was not in character for you. He clearly infuriates you, but from what I remember of your writing, you always had a very temperate and even tone, not this sort of slash & burn. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Mr. Auster has never attacked you as a person, or called you names. He has attacked your positions or policy prescriptions, what he has perceived as a lack of follow-through from what you know to what you advocate. One of his criticisms is that you keep adding a needless qualifier that you await the coming-into-being of a moderate Islam, a point I agree with him on. It seems to undermine a broader and more correct point to repeatedly include this alongside it.

If his reading of you is mistaken, you should reply with “Lawrence Auster says the following about me. He is wrong about my positions, and here’s why: X, Y, and Z.” The end. By the way, and this notion might make you laugh out loud, but it should probably flatter you that Mr. Auster takes you seriously enough to take you to task on his own terms. In paying you the critical attention that he does, he is acknowledging you as a force worth the mention. Your replies should ideally be proportional and balanced (there’s that word again). Indeed, while I’m sanctimoniously dispensing advice that I myself probably do not follow, you should be as scrupulously fair to him as he strives to be to you. Let’s posit, and I don’t believe this, but just for the sake of argument, that it’s all an act on Auster’s part—he still comes off better than you do in the most recent exchange, getting points purely for form and style, not content. Even if every name you’re calling him is true, that doesn’t mean it behooves you to say it, and it doesn’t mean you should give in to a heated state of emotion. My friend Kevin V., a former diplomat and lawyer who comments both at my site and Auster’s, has a good concept for this: “moral credit.” We must afford one another moral credit and debate one another rationally. And we must have the generosity of spirit and commitment to the truth to allow ourselves to admit to being wrong at times, to back down at times. None of us sprang forth fully formed from Zeus’s forehead; we all grow and learn.

There is no reason why this debate should be a demolition derby of personal destruction, in which the winner triumphs by bloodying the loser. You’re both fumbling toward Truth, and if it’s a serious pursuit for both of you, then the interests of truth should transcend the personal friction between you. Passion is one thing; unhealthy venom another entirely. You have a choice every time you respond to Auster or people like him, about how you go about it. In my case for instance, you wrote me the very respectful and kind note to which I’m replying, in spite of the fact that my comment at Auster’s website about you was more dismissive and unkind than anything Auster himself has said about you! So why take him so personally? If he’s so peripheral, so fringe as to have been “shunned” by all the conservative outlets and “sidelined,” as your reader Mike S. childishly taunted him, then why does he even leave this large of a footprint in your personal universe? I’m sure plenty of people criticize you from all directions; as Fjordman pointed out, they even go so far as to issue death threats. If Auster is such an insignificant flea, then why all this? In my opinion, even if unprincipled opportunists like Mr. Horowitz have “shunned” Auster, his outsized intellectual impact is far too substantial and influential to be squelched by such small-minded acts of blacklisting as Horowitz’s. Speaking personally, in my so-far brief readership, Auster has had a dramatic, galvanizing, catalytic effect on my intellectual development, because his work is so stunningly original and packed with so much rare insight and perspective. Speaking as an observer, you clearly take him as seriously as I do, which leads to your taking his criticism very personally. I (very, very) humbly suggest taking a step back and devising a new approach, tailored perhaps more to the granting of moral credit, and to participating in the discovery of truth, than to egoism and personal squabbling.

Thanks again for the note. I hope you will take this with the same constructive spirit of goodwill in which I wrote it.

- end of initial entry -

Jim C. writes:

Evariste’s reply to Spencer is magnificent. Why isn’t what he says apparent to everyone. It certainly is to me.

Josh F. writes:

I would just like to extend my gratitude to Evariste for his incredibly thoughtful and incisive reply to Spencer. Somehow even Spencer’s speculative rejection will settle this dispute. Persuasion at is finest.

Erich writes:

I’ve noticed that Spencer indulges in a sort of variation on the straw man fallacy—he misrepresents his critic’s criticism of him time and time again. The latest instance is in his response to Evariste:

“While Lawrence Auster has charged me with counseling that we should passively wait for Islam to reform itself, in fact that is not my view and has never been my view.”

As I understand it, you don’t charge him with this: you charge him with the inconsistency of saying certain things that have the effect of saying this, while at the same time saying other things that seem to contradict this.

In a recent flurry of emails to me in the last two days, Spencer has indulged in the same quasi-straw man fallacy about my allegations about him, mischaracterizing them in such a way that they become relatively easy to dismiss, since in their distorted form as he phrases them they tend to sound preposterous. This fallacy is remarkably similar to one we who have tried to debate Muslims (and/or Islam apologists) know all too well. If I present a position that too many Muslims around the world are demonstrating dangerous, unjust and evil behavior, the Muslim interlocutor in response immediately characterizes my position as saying that “all Muslims are dangerous, unjust and evil”—or worse, yet, that I want to “kill all Muslims.” Spencer should know this particular rhetorical trick, since he has debated many Muslims over the years. Perhaps their tricks are rubbing off on him.

Terry Morris writes:

Robert Spencer wrote to Evariste:

I am writing this because I have read your writings on Islam and am a great admirer of your work.

What writings of Evariste’s is Mr. Spencer referring to, those at VFR, or is he speaking of other writings on Islam that Evariste has produced? The terms Spencer uses here ([I’m] a great admirer of your work) makes it sound as though Evariste has written a great deal of published material on the subject of Islam worthy of admiration. Is this true?

I forwarded Mr. Morris’s question to Evarist, who replied:

Terry, Robert Spencer must be referring to my writings at VFR. Those works which have been published at VFR are the only significant or notable written artifacts on Islam that I have produced to date. Of the four major pieces I’ve written for VFR, two are primarily about Islam, and two are not.

LA replies:


So it was by reading the evil VFR, the fount of all lies and discord, that Spencer came upon a writer he admires so much that he’d like you to write at his website.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 12, 2008 11:48 PM | Send

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