An AT rookie author and the commenters
I was pleased and a bit surprised that my very first American Thinker article, “Don't Draw Mohammed, Debate the Origins of Islam,” published on May 11, drew 382 comments (and counting). I understand from more knowledgeable people that this is a healthy amount of commentary. Thanks to all of you who read it and who took the trouble to comment.
With a mixture of curiosity and trepidation, I read all 382 comments, and I learned quite a lot. For starters, I picked up a couple of new terms to incorporate in my counter-jihad correspondence, such as “Dhimmicrats” and “Islama-naïve.” That second one was applied to me, and was echoed by someone who wrote, “Mr. Chambers is confused and rationalizes his dhimmitude.” Some of my long-suffering family, friends, and correspondents would find it hysterical to see me dubbed a dhimmi. Evidently those who wrote that and similar comments didn’t Google me, or they would have found that I wrote a book and some prior articles that should have inoculated me from that particular epithet.
Others dubbed my piece “ridiculous” and me a “presumptious [sic] JERK!” Oh, well – my work and I have been called worse, and by colleagues and family, and since the whole point of the article was to defend free speech, I certainly can’t get bent out of shape by people saying such relatively tame things.
Here are some other posts that seem noteworthy, if only because they so badly misunderstand my intent:
- “Debating with religious psychopaths about their religion with the hope of changing their mind is pointless. You’d have the same luck trying to explain the virtues of Judaism to Adolph (sic) Hitler. You’re wasting your time.”
- [The proposed debate] “would elicit from Muslims one of two responses: ‘You are lying about our prophet’; or, the same response as in Garland.”
- [Here’s the headline we’d see after such an event:] “Academics debating the origin of Islam cut down in righteous anger by defenders of Islam.”
I can’t argue that some crazed Muslims might get violent, but provoking them is not my intent. Unfortunately, almost anything aside from abject submission provokes them, as innumerable dead Christians and Yazidis throughout the Dar al-Islam (“Abode of Peace”) bear silent testament.
I also became rather concerned that my maiden voyage as a writer for American Thinker would be my last when I read, “Rarely have I read an American Thinker article so full of horse hockey.” But then I was relieved to come across a more encouraging verdict from rayzorbak: “Mr. Chambers, YOU sir, are the EPITOME of an ‘American Thinker!’ This is probably the BEST article I have read here so far. (Maybe ever)[.]” Bless you, rayzorbak!
I was most pleased, though, to see that several people understood some of the points I was making. Someone calling himself 45colt Hack2ey wrote, “No war is successfully fought on one front only. This war, and we ARE at war, must be fought on all fronts. We are facing the socialist dems and Islam.” Indeed. David Horowitz, a former leftist himself, made that latter point very well in Unholy Alliance. As to the term “fronts,” I’ve long refused to refer to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan as wars; since 2001, I’ve dubbed them “campaigns.” This is going to be a very long war, with many campaigns and fronts.
Another poster, rosy2012lamb, also got the point, writing, “More than aiming at the Western public, [this debate] would be aimed at Western intellectuals,” and later, “This is about Westerners waking up.”
Another good synopsis of my intent is this post from ajay4777: “too many here missing the point. The article is not a call for debates in the hope of changing the minds of Muslims. The hope is that more Infidels will wake up to the dangers if Islam. Too many give it a pass just because it poses as a religion. If the true origins were exposed there would be a much different and much broader response to these murders.” But I am also trying to change the minds of at least some Muslims, as I explain below.
One person, Jason P, thoughtfully suggested that my approach had already been taken: “I’m sorry Mr. Chambers, they’ve tried the debate route. In 2007 they held a Secular Islam Summit conference and mainstream scholars dismissed it as a bunch of extremists. Devout Muslims and Islamic apologists refused to attend. Look at the Wikipedia article for ‘Secular Islam Summit’ and see the skewed vilification of Spencer, bin [sic] Warraq, etc…”
Taking Jason’s tip, I looked up the Wiki article, which I realized I remembered from the time, and found that it wasn’t exactly the same sort of debate that I was calling for. This event focused on making Islam more secular; I’m calling for a debate of the origin of the religion itself, and Mohammed’s role in founding it – including whether he existed at all.
As some of the readers discerned, the point of the debate I called for is to open minds both on the left and among Muslims. I’m not so “Islama-naïve” nor “lefty-naïve” to think that the minds of all the people in those categories could be pried open. Intellectuals such as Karen Armstrong and the Brandeis profs who banned Ayaan Hirsi Ali from speaking on the plight of women in Islam are too obdurate to be susceptible to change. Self-described liberal Kirsten Powers explains such intransigence at length in her new book, The Silencing: How the Left is killing free speech. (In full disclosure, I’ve not yet read it, just heard her discuss it, which suffices for this purpose.) Likewise, ISIS members are not likely to care what some wizened old German scholars of ancient languages have to say. However, I would like to change some minds and peel off some support for radical Islam, tacit or vocal, among both Muslims and the West’s intellectuals.
I do a fair amount of speaking about radical Islam, and one of the devices that I have used to help people think about Muslims is Exhibit A.
The vertical axis refers to how Muslims approach their sacred texts: interpretively, as has been the practice of most Muslims for about 1,000 years, or strictly literally, as the Wahhabis, the Muslim Brotherhood, and their various offshoots, including al-Qaeda and ISIS, have insisted. The horizontal axis measures how traditional a Muslim is in his attitude toward and practice of Islam versus how modernized he is, in one of two ways. “Modernized” can mean adapted to modernity, such as perhaps Fareed Zakariah or liberal Canadian Muslim Tarek Fatah, but it can also mean adapting into Islam elements of modern authoritarian ideologies, again as directed by the Muslim Brotherhood.
The upper left quadrant is where the vast majority of Muslims reside, particularly in traditional Islamic societies such as from the Maghreb through South Asia and into Indonesia, but also in sequestered Muslim communities in the West. Those in that quadrant who became radicalized by the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots largely descend into the lower left quadrant. Those in the lower right are the highly radicalized, often Western, militant Muslims who are most aggressively pursuing the Third Jihad.
For the purposes of this discussion, the most important quadrant – the target – is in the upper right. These are the still practicing but interpretive, open-minded, modernized, often Westernized Muslims, whether they live in Chicago or Cairo, London or Lahore. They will tend to be better-educated, wealthier, and more influential than their brethren in the upper left quadrant and will be important thought leaders for Islam. While they constitute a relatively small portion of the Ummah, their influence is disproportionately large. If discussions and debates about the origins of Islam can convince many of them to question the certitude of the Qur’an, particularly the militant verses supposedly from Medina such as in Sura 9, then those doubts are likely to spread more widely within all of Islam.
Turning to the “intellectuals,” they also sit along continua of attitudes. The most important one is ideology, which ranges from manic Marxists to committed libertarians and free enterprisers. (I accept Jonah Goldberg’s argument that fascists are not the opposites of Marxists, but rather their ideological siblings.) I’m not trying to persuade those obdurate Brandeis profs – I’m trying to reach people who are less ideologically resolute and hence are probably more open-minded. For this discussion, these people, be they academics, journalists, politicians, or just concerned citizens, are the Western equivalent of modernized Muslims. They are thought leaders and will influence the debate in the West on how to deal with Islamic militancy. They will also influence the thinking of modernized Muslims, and hence Islam more broadly.
These are people who have objected to using cartoons of Mohammed to provoke a response. For the record, I have no problem with those cartoons, even if they provoke crazed Muslim fanatics into violence. As I said, almost everything provokes them. Moreover, even Martin Luther King, Jr. “provoked violence by seeking out confrontation.” My concern about cartoons of Mohammed is that they repel many intellectuals and modernized Muslims who might otherwise be persuaded to support efforts to contain militant Islam. How can such people condone militant Muslims howling, much less becoming violent, about an intellectually honest exploration of the historicity of Islam’s religious documents? To do so would be to reject the entire intellectual foundation of our society. And as these people come to criticize the scriptural foundations of Islamic violence, the die-hard apologists and militants will become increasingly marginalized.
In the end, I’m comfortable with Mark Hooks’s post: “Naw, do both. Draw & debate.” I just think the debate I’m calling for – an ongoing, persistent debate about the origins of Islam and thus the authority of its texts – will appeal to different and critically important audiences. To paraphrase rosy2012lamb slightly, this is about waking up Westerners, as well as modernized Muslims.