Thursday, December 24, 2009

Getting to the Root of Understanding Islam

Few would consider Robert Spencer, author and prominent scholar of Islam, to be a radical.

Spencer’s politics fit snuggly within the mainstream of conservative thought. He appears regularly at both Human Events and FrontPage Magazine. His books are published by the stalwart conservative press Regnery.

His rhetoric and demeanor are hardly radical either. Read his books and you’ll find sly, witty humor to complement his often depressing subject matter. His talks are no different. He presents a friendly demeanor. Here’s an example from the recent Restoration Weekend:

So in what manner is Spencer possessed of the Radical Spirit?

To understand this we need to understand what it means to be radical. The first definition of the term (coming from its etymology) sums it up: “Arising from or going to a root or source.”

Thus Spencer’s radicalism soon becomes clear to those familiar with his books and his essential blog, JihadWatch. His principle project is this: to go to the root of understanding Islam. To strip away the obfuscations of the Left and alleged “moderate” Islamist apologists and to really demonstrate just what this religion is all about.

And so his newest book, The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran is in a sense his most radical work yet. In the past Spencer has hit numerous Islam-related topics. Last year’s Stealth Jihad looked at how many Islamists have shifted tactics from violence to quiet subversion. Previous books focused on Muhammad and the differences between Islam and Christianity.

Now he examines the Koran itself. In twelve accessible chapters – each interspersed with sidebars and quotes in Idiot’s Guide fashion – Spencer gives a crash course on the Koran’s origins, its interpretation and its contents. He explains how the book was assembled and why it’s so difficult to understand. (It’s not even written chronologically!) He also shows how pervasively anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, intolerant, and violent attitudes are embedded within this book revered by more than a billion people.

The experience of reading The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran brought to mind two other “radical” texts, each exploring a different kind of faith.

The first is Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts about the Sixties, the classic critique of the New Left by Peter Collier and David Horowitz. Destructive Generation is a dense book that overwhelms with the sheer number, variety, and intensity of its facts and arguments. One completes it almost exhausted. Spencer’s Infidel’s Guide produces a similar effect. The author packs his text with so many quotes from the Koran, the Hadith, and prominent Muslim commentators that it’s profoundly difficult to argue with him. (Which perhaps explains why the usual anti-Spencer retort is to slur him as a bigot and not bother to even quote him.)

The second is this year’s Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them) by agnostic New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman. The new book by the author of Misquoting Jesus and God’s Problem provided a more thoughtful alternative to critiquing religion than the Christopher Hitchens/Richard Dawkins militant atheism.

Spencer’s approach to the Koran is identical to Ehrman’s to the New Testament. He’s a nonbeliever who seeks to look at a holy text critically, examining how it was made and what the text itself actually says – not how it’s allegedly divine and infallible. Yet why is Spencer the “bigot” of the two? Why is it acceptable to look at Christianity critically but “racist” to do so for Islam? Why have we built an advantage to our enemies right into the fabric of our “politically correct” culture?

And it’s here where we return to understanding Spencer as a radical. Because Spencer is not just a radical intellectual – willing to take an idea to its root no matter how maligned the left-dominated intellectual culture might make him. He’s also a radical activist. Consider another of the American Heritage Dictionary’s definitions of radical: “One who advocates fundamental or revolutionary changes in current practices, conditions, or institutions.”

Possessed of the conservative’s understanding of human nature and loyalty to individual liberty he knows the only way one can both effectively and morally change society is to change people’s ideas. And so the “fundamental or revolutionary change” that he advocates is a revision in the way Americans understand Islam.

Let us support him as he pursues this intellectual revolution. Our very society is dependent upon its success.


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