Andrew Bostom’s plagiarism charge against Robert Spencer: still no beef

A correspondent informed me that Andrew Bostom has added some material to his extremely brief and fact-free blog post, entitled “The Little King,” in which he accused his—until recently—good friend and ally Robert Spencer of plagiarizing his work on Islamic anti-Semitism. The original Bostom entry was discussed at VFR here. I read the expanded entry and wrote back:

Andy has not presented evidence, he just points to links. He doesn’t seem to have any concept of the seriousness of the plagiarism charge, and what is needed to prove it. Also, based on Spencer’s reply to Bostom at Jihad Watch, it does appear that at least in part Andy is saying that if Spencer quotes an Islamic authority that Bostom quoted or discovered, and if Spencer does not credit Bostom, that is plagiarism. As Spencer points out, that is not plagiarism. If someone discovers a passage by some Islamic authority, and you then quote that passage, you are certainly obligated to give credit to the person who discovered it and first published it, and it is wrong not to do so. But not doing so is not the same as plagiarism. In other words, not giving a “hat tip” (“Thanks to Jones for pointing me to this worthwhile passage by Smith”) is not plagiarism.

Spencer writes at JIhad Watch:

In my book “Religion of Peace?,” the source for my April 21 post, Bostom is footnoted where appropriate. But he apparently believes that if he discovered, or thinks he discovered, salient quotes from this or that Islamic authority or anyone else, that they belong to him forever, and anyone who ever cites the same quote has to also mention Bostom. That is not the case according to any standard of academic usage that has ever prevailed in any part of the globe at any time in history. It is a form of academic megalomania that has no justification, and no warrant, and I am not going to be cowed by it.

But Spencer, while accusing Bostom of megalomania, shows his own. Thus he replies to a commenter:


It would have been private. Bostom chose to make it public. That was his decision: to give fuel to the Islamic supremacists and their enablers. Thus he has become one of the latter.

Robert Spencer

Spencer equates his own person with anti-jihadism.. To criticize Spencer is to weaken anti-jihadism, help Islamic supremacists and become their enabler. This is pathological narcissism.

I sent a follow-up to the same correspondent:

Something just occurred to me. With all the personal attacks that have been directed at me by other conservatives over the years, sometimes extremely vicious and aimed at marginalizing and discrediting me as a writer, I have never said—and it never occurred to me to say—that a person by attacking me was weakening the cause or causes with which I am identified and therefore was helping the other side. But Spencer takes any criticism of himself, whether (as in my case) about his non-existent or inconsistent position on Muslim immigration, or (in Bostom’s case) an accusation of plagiarism, and casts it as “helping Islamic supremacism.” I repeat that this is a form of pathological narcissism, in which Spencer imagines that the anti-jihad cause is identical with his own person or completely dependent on his person. It is to be hoped that someone Spencer trusts will point out to him his distorted attitudes. Unfortunately, all the indications are that he is surrounded by jealously protective groupies, ranging from Pamela Geller (and, until recently, Andrew Bostom himself) down to many of his commenters, and that he likes it that way. The discussions at Jihad Watch have always been unreadable, as so much of them consists of commenters saying, “Yes, Robert! Yes, yes!”

Thus the only statement by Bostom so far in this affair this is clearly supported by evidence is his description of Spencer as “The Little King.”

VFR reader Dean E., who has also followed the story, writes:

Just for fun I read over Dr. Bostom’s charges. If he has a case it wasn’t made obvious to me. Bostom begins by linking to Spencer’s blog post of 21 April, “The persistent fiction that Islamic anti-Semitism is a borrowing from Nazism,” but there’s no line-by-line demonstration of the alleged plagiarism. Then Bostom links to his book and to several of his articles and implies Spencer plagiarized from those sources, but no word-for-word evidence is produced.

Then, in the update Bostom added yesterday (28 April), he quotes the definition of “plagiarize”:

transitive verb: to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own : use (another’s production) without crediting the source.

intransitive verb: to commit literary theft : present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.

So apparently Bostom’s beef isn’t that Spencer swiped his exact words or sentences, but that he “presented as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source”, namely, that Bostom pioneered the subject with his book “The Legacy of Islamic anti-Semitism” and his other articles on same, and Spencer is now taking up the topic without properly crediting Bostom’s prior heavy lifting. Maybe so, but don’t historians often cover the same ground, same subjects and facts and sources as other historians?

Finally, Bostom’s update shows that a passage from his book was quoted without attribution in Spencer’s 21 April blog post (briefly quoting Maimonides on Jewish life under Muslim rule). It’s a passage Bostom had translated from an original source and it’s pretty sure Spencer quoted/paraphrased it and without citing Bostom. But as Spencer notes on his site he does not footnote blog posts and he has always been careful to credit Bostom’s work in his books. I can see how Bostom might get his nose out of joint here but it seems more a mild professional discourtesy than raging plagiarism.

It does seem as if something else may be going on and this “plagiarism” rap is the vehicle for Bostom’s unhappiness. Or maybe it is simply a case of professional rivalry and jealousy. Or combination of the two. In any event, Andy makes his case poorly.

- end of initial entry -

May 6

LA writes:

The Editrix, in a post on the Bostom-Spencer controversy, criticizes me for saying that Spencer had shown “pathological narcissism.”

I posted this comment at her site:

I agree with you that “pathological” narcissism was too strong, but it was not entirely off-base either. For Spencer to react to Bostom’s ridiculous plagiarism accusation by calling Bostom an “enabler of Islamic supremacism” was not normal and rational behavior.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 29, 2010 11:02 PM | Send

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