ROBERT SPENCER is the Director of Jihad Watch, and the author of seven books, mostly on Islam and jihad. Two recent works were New York Times best-sellers: The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) in 2005, and The Truth About Mohammed in 2006. His most recent book was published in late 2007 and is called Religion of Peace? Why Islam Isn't and Christianity Is. Mr. Spencer granted this exclusive interview to The Liberal Institute in early September of 2007.
Liberal Institute: What aspects of Islam do you find most problematic?
Robert Spencer: The institutionalized discrimination against women and religious minorities, the denial of the freedom of conscience, the deeply rooted approval of slavery -– these are several of the most problematic aspects of traditional Islam.
LI: Muslims say Islam means "peace" and jihad means "self-improvement." Is this true?
Spencer: In Arabic Islam means “submission” and jihad means “struggle.” While that struggle can take the form of self-improvement, the primary meaning of jihad in the Qur’an and Sunnah is warfare against unbelievers in order to subjugate them under the rule of Islamic law.
LI: Is the enemy of the West radical and extremist Islam -- as George Bush and almost all pundits say -- or is it moderate and mainstream Islam?
Spencer: The key problem here is that few analysts take the trouble to investigate the meaning of these terms, or Islam itself. If Islam at its core is peaceful and no more political than Judaism or Christianity, then certainly moderate and mainstream Islam pose no threat to the institutions and societies of the West. But if Islamic doctrine is inherently political and supremacist, then one cannot reasonably assume that no Muslims in the West will be pursuing this political and supremacist agenda, and not only by means of terrorism, but by many other methods as well.
LI: Norman Podhoretz says the world is currently engaged in World War IV: [WW III being the Cold War] the West vs. Islam. To what extent and in what sense is this true?
Spencer: This is true in the sense that the conflict is much larger than Iraq and Afghanistan, larger than Israel -– indeed, it encompasses the whole world, as violent jihad movements can be found from Nigeria to Indonesia and in the West as well. But this term also risks giving the impression that the conflict is entirely military, when in fact the Islamic supremacist agenda is advancing today through numerous non-military means.
LI: Samuel Huntington calls the current conflict a "clash of civilizations." Is this a good description?
Spencer: Yes, although only one civilization -– the Islamic one -– thus far generally recognizes it as such.
LI: You defend Western Civilization vigorously and heroically -- but you call it "Judeo-Christian." Isn't it more accurate to call our Western World "Greco-Roman" or "Enlightenment liberal?"
Spencer: I don’t see this as an Either/Or proposition, but as Both/And one. I focused on the Judeo-Christian aspect because that is both the element of Western civilization most frequently attacked by the jihadists (cf. Adam Gadahn of Al-Qaeda in his extended critique of Christian doctrine last year), as well as by atheists in the U.S. (Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens) who see Christianity and Christians as part of the problem along with the Islamic jihadists, not as part of our civilization that is worth defending.
But I myself have no problem working with atheists and with anyone who is interested in defending the West from the jihad.
LI: Most people say the essence of Islam is "the five pillars:" pray, repeat the motto, give alms, fast for a month, visit Mecca. But isn't it more truthful and useful to say the essence of Islam is "the two pillars:" jihad (war) and sharia (slavery)? Don't almost all Muslims want to conquer the world in the name of their God, and then rule it according to divine law?
Spencer: The five pillars do indeed encompass the ordinary practice of Islam for most Muslims. However, it is undeniable that all the schools of Islamic jurisprudence teach that it is part of the responsibility of the Islamic community to struggle (wage jihad) against unbelievers in order to extend the supremacy of Islamic law (Sharia). Sharia doesn’t equal slavery, but it does mandate a second-class status of inequality for non-Muslims. Do “almost all Muslims” want to make this supremacist agenda a reality? Perhaps in theory, but the number of those who are actively working, whether by peaceful or violent means, to bring this about does not remotely constitute “almost all” Muslims. In Islam, as in all religious traditions, there is a spectrum of belief, knowledge, and fervor. To say that all the schools of Islam teach something is not to say that all Muslims hold to it.
LI: Is it fair to say that most Muslims, even in the West, essentially believe in three things for the "infidels:" Convert or Conquer or Kill?
Spencer: This is based on Qur’an 9:29 and Muhammad’s instructions in Sahih Muslim 4294 to invite the non-Muslims to accept Islam, and if they refuse that to invite them to enter the Islamic social order by paying the jizya, the non-Muslim poll tax, and accepting subservient status, and if they refuse both, to go to war with them. Since this triple choice of conversion, subjugation, or war is founded on Muhammad’s words, it is hard for serious and knowledgeable Muslims to reject it explicitly.
LI: Muslims claim they aren't genocidal. But isn't it a fact that the three most beloved Muslims of the past century are jihadi fundamentalists Osama bin Laudin, Ayatollah Khomeini, and Sayid Qutb?
Spencer: There is no doubt that these three men are very popular. But although Osama has targeted Western civilians, none of these three have advocated genocide. Rather, they wanted to subjugate the non-Muslim world under the rule of Islamic law.
LI: What do atheists fail to understand in the current battle royal for the soul of the planet?
Spencer: They fail to understand that not all religions pose an equivalent threat to generally accepted notions of human rights, and that therefore to lump them all together is to alienate potential allies against the genuine threat of jihadism.
LI: If someone wanted to clear his mind quickly of ignorance and propaganda about Islam, what three or four books should he read?
Spencer: Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali; Islam and Dhimmitude by Bat Ye’or; Muhammad by Maxime Rodinson.
LI: You refer to the West today as "self-hating" and "suicidal." But why are we this way? What should we do about it?
Spencer: We have been taught for decades now that the West is responsible for all the evil in the world. I suspect that this is a guilty reaction to the West’s success and prosperity. I believe in the face of it that we need to recover a sense of the value of our own civilization, no matter where we may stand in reference to its founding impetuses. Many elements of Western civilization -- the freedom of conscience, the equality of rights of women and men, and more -- are threatened by the jihad imperative. That gives us an opportunity to throw off multiculturalist relativism and state firmly that we stand for certain values that are superior to those offered by the jihadists, and are ready to defend them.
LI: What are the main points -- six years after 9/11 -- Westerners still fail to understand about Islam in general and the global jihad in particular?
Spencer: Islam is not a religion of peace. It has an inherently political character that is being brought to the West by immigrants, and will cause more trouble in the future. The jihadists have not hijacked it. Peaceful Muslims should be encouraged but do not have a sufficiently influential voice in the Islamic world to allow them to be counted on. The jihadists will not be bought off by negotiations or concessions. This is the revival of a 1,400-year-old war, and we need to be prepared for the fact that it will not end anytime soon -- and prepared to defend ourselves militarily and ideologically.
LI: The American government speaks of today's worldwide struggle as "the long war." What do we need to do to quickly win it?
Spencer: It cannot be won. It can be managed, and not lost. Initiate a Manhattan Project to find alternative energy sources, and free us from foreign policy dependence on Saudi Arabia. Realign our alliances with Egypt, Pakistan, etc., so as to make foreign aid contingent on their actively working to restrict the preaching of Islamic supremacism in their mosques. End Muslim immigration to the U.S., since there is no reliable way to distinguish jihadists and potential jihadists from peaceful Muslims. Reclassify American Muslim groups as political groups, subject to all the scrutiny and accountability of political groups, unless they renounce political Islam and Sharia definitively and clearly, and back up their words with actions.
All that is just for starters.
This interview originally appeared in the intensely-liberal publication
The New Individualist and appears here with their permission