Commentary on Robert Spencer's "Not Peace but a Sword"

Living- Your polite and persistent request for me to read Mr. Spencer has worn me down. I found a free sample of the first chapter of “Not Peace but a Sword.” Below is my take on the Introduction. It’s not as polished or as in depth as I would make it for a graduate course or military presentation, but it should do for our conversation. That and it would most likely be much longer if it was. Let me know if I need to read and comment on the remainder of the free sample.

All else- This is a product of the discussion of Mr. Spencer in this thread-

-“It is fashionable in certain sectors for Catholics in the U.S and Europe to call upon the Church to make common cause on life issues, and other areas of apparently shared moral concern, with Muslims.”

First, why is this just “fashionable?” One would assume that collaboration with Muslims, and other non-Catholic faiths, on areas of shared agreement would not only be wise, but would help foster goodwill and friendship which are necessary for spreading the Word. While Mr. Spencer is correct to point out we should not ignore the differences between our faiths in order to not “derail the collaborative effort,” he seems to be dismissing the idea of cooperation on those areas that our faiths agree on. Odd given that he holds that an examination of our differences would make such cooperation more fruitful.

Second, does this “fashionable” status apply to other non-Catholic faiths? Is there some aspect of Islam that makes it less necessary or possible to engage in cooperation with Muslims versus our cooperation with other non-Catholic Christians and other non-Christian faiths?

Third, what exactly does he mean by “certain sectors?” Is he referring to our numerous Bishops, Church officials, and Holy Fathers who have undertaken to enlist the aid of Muslims and other non-Catholics in defending and promoting life issues and these “other areas of apparently shared moral concern?”

“Is cooperation with Muslims really a good idea?”

Not only is cooperation with Muslims really a good idea, it falls under treating people of other faiths “with the respect they warrant as human beings made in the image of God and endowed with an immortal soul, a soul for whom Christ died.” While Mr. Spencer is correct in pointing out the rise in violence and persecution against Christians by Muslims, he is incorrect in implying that this rise violence and persecution by a minority of Muslims should be used as a basis for determining if we should cooperate with any Muslim or the Muslim community as a whole. Additionally, to refuse to cooperate with or shun cooperation with Muslims simply because they are Muslims runs counter to Church teachings. It is unjust discrimination.

Lastly, and cynically, aside from Church teachings, cooperation with Muslims is in our own self-interest. Muslims have been reported as defending Churches and Christian communities from attack in at least Pakistan, Iraq, Indonesia, and Egypt. One would hardly think such actions by Muslims would take place if we refused to cooperate with Muslims due to the actions of a minority of their faith. I would daresay, for example, that the Pope Emeritus thought it was a “good idea” when he called on Christians and Muslims in Cameroon to jointly defend traditional African values.

-Starting on the latter half of page 13 with “Islam today presents a double aspect.”
–The double aspect- Islamist Jihadist and “Muslims in Western countries”
–Analogy used to highlight the differences between these two aspects- “These Muslims [Muslims in Western countries] appear to be as different from their co-religionists who are torching churches and massacring Christians as a tongues-speaking, fire-baptized Pentecostal is from a blue-blooded Episcopalian who listens to NPR in his Mercedes.”

The comparison, even in analogy, of Islamist Jihadists to our Pentecostal brothers is uncharitable. While our Pentecostal brothers, or as Mr. Spencer mockingly characterized them “tongues-speaking, fire-baptized Pentecostals,” have numerous errors in their theology, they are not engaging in the immoral behavior that the Jihadists are and are not trying to justify these immoral behaviors with their interpretation of their faith. I would hazard a guess that if I used the phrase “tongues-speaking, fire-baptized Pentecostal” and using them as the Christian version of Islamist Jihadist in an analogy would garner me an infraction for violating Catholic Answer Forum’s (owned by the same organization that is promoting this book) rules regarding charity toward others.

That aside, we are left with dealing with a rather shallow caricature of Muslims. Either a Muslim is a terrorist (no need to dance around the truth, an Islamist Jihadist that burns down places of worship and murders people due to their faith is a terrorist) or a wealthy political liberal. Even worse, apparently this latter type of Muslim only exists in the West.

Even assuming that Mr. Spencer is just citing these two types of Muslims as examples of the extreme, I’m confused as to why he is doing so. First, if these are the extremes, than Islam today presents more than just a double aspect (Extreme A-Jihadist, Extreme B-rich politically liberal Western Muslims, those Muslims who aren’t Extreme A or B). Second, examining the extremes and the relationship between the extremes doesn’t actually help with explaining “the relationship of Islam in general to Christianity and the Catholic Church.” All it actually does is reinforce a shallow (the extremes make up a minority of Muslims) and skewed (see the definition of the term “extreme”) understanding of Islam and its relationship with Christianity and the Church.

Assuming that Mr. Spencer really believes that a Muslim is either a Islamist Jihadist or a rich, Westernized political liberal…well that calls into question Mr. Spencer’s ability to actually address the issues he plans on addressing in the book. Islam, like Protestantism, is far too decentralized and far too diverse to be classified as having two aspects. Going back to his horrible analogy (see above comments concerning lack of charity toward our Pentecostal brothers, not all Pentecostal denomination “speaks in tongues”, not every Episcopalian is a rich liberal), one could hardly consider Pentecostalism and Episcopalianism as the two aspects of Protestantism, let alone Christianity.

We also must address Mr. Spencer’s dismissal of the internal divide in Islam as one of these two major aspects Islam presents today. This internal division of Islam not only affects relations with Muslims today, it is one of the dominant aspects throughout the history of Islamic relations with non-Muslims. This internal division literally can be traced back to the death of Muhammad and the ensuing conflict, including armed Muslim on Muslim conflict, over the future of Islam. The two major branches of Islam, Sunni and Shia, in fact are the products of this division. Today, Mr. Spencer’s apparent focus, this division not only affects Christianity’s relationship and cooperation with Muslims, it all affects secular relationships with Muslims. The long conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims has shaped the political landscape and alliances of the Middle East. One can hardly conduct research, form policy, or hold a discussion on Iran without having to address the Sunni and Shia divide and the associated effects of this divide.

This divide is also important in regards to how the Church and the secular world address the issue of Islamic extremism and Islamic terrorists. This is due to the fact that the predominance of Islamic extremism and Islamic terrorists is based on the Sunni branch of Islam. Mr. Spencer is apparently guilty of the charges he places on others. Namely, focusing on just the similarities (in his case within Islam) and ignoring the differences (within Islam). Would this mean his book and any discussion on its conclusions would “make for a pleasant afternoon coffee” but of little real value?

But, the most glaring aspect of Islam that the professed, or as others define the term “he believes he is,” expert on Islam seems to have missed is its lack of a central authority. One would think that its lack of a central authority and the resulting numerous branches and sub-branches of Islam would be a vital aspect for any discussion, let alone a book, on the differences between Islam and Christianity, the possibility of lasting cooperation or partnership between the Church and Muslims, and the relationship between Muslims and Christians. The last, in fact the only, central authority Islam had was Muhammad. Since his death Islam, like Protestantism, has continued to internally fracture as different theological interpretations and schools of thought have developed (for a quick non-scholarly overview of this internal fracture- One can hardly undertake a “respectful and accurate examination of differences” between Christianity and Islam without addressing the complete lack of a central authority within Islam.

This all begs the question of why Mr. Spencer, who is billed as “the foremost scholar on Islam in the US,” would claim that the two major aspects of Islam are murdering church burning terrorists and rich Westernized Muslims who listen to liberal radio while driving around in their Mercedes in a book preoccupied with “the relationship of Islam in general to Christianity and the Catholic Church.” Especially since both of these aspects are actually quite recent developments and do not actually represent the majority of Muslims (here I am assuming that Mr. Spencer does not actually believe that a Muslim can either be an Islamic terrorist or a Westernized political liberal). For what purpose would an expert on Islam identify two caricatures of the extremes found among Muslims as the two major aspects and ignore two of the most dominate themes in Islam not only throughout Islamic history, but today as well in a book about examining the differences between Islam and Christianity. Especially when one of these ignored items, the lack of a central authority, plays a fundamental role in how Christianity is different and the effects of this difference on relations and the possibility of cooperation with Muslims. The uncharitable cynic in me wants to think he does this in order to set the stage for a conclusion that cooperation and partnership with Muslims is impossible with support of this being based on just examining the extreme aspects of Islam and its followers. The charitable non-cynic in me doesn’t really have an answer.

Good posts. I’m about half-way through the book in question, and I think the fundamental issue is one of assumptions.

Islam, unlike the Catholic Church, does not have a single central authority or anything resembling a “Magisterium”. This means that any attempt to say “Islam is X, Y and Z and not A, B and C…” runs into a wall after a certain point: while we have source texts, traditions, and teachings to go on, there is no “One, Holy, Islamic Church” (I intend no blasphemy - I’m just drawing an anti-parallel to the Catholic faith) which we can consider authoritative. Moreover, despite some foundational principles, Islam does not have systematic theologies that can be used to form the premises of an argument

Given this situation, it’s easy to argue Mr. Spencer’s position - but it’s also easy to argue against it. The same could not be said about arguments regarding what the Catholic Church is, or even what Calvinism is. The nearest parallel is “non-denominational” Christianity, or perhaps Buddhism. I can write a book saying “non-denominational” Christianity is about speaking in tongues, handling snakes and dispensationalism; you could write one saying that it’s about smaller churches, simple liturgy and youth evangelization, and we’d both be right, because there is no “One, Holy, Non-Denominational Church”. So it is with Islam.

I’ll go into finer details later, but I think the book has definite strengths and weaknesses. To use it as the sole sourcebook on Catholic-Islam relations would be like using “Tradition In Action” as one’s sole resource on Traditional Catholicism. :stuck_out_tongue:

I would very much like to see Muslims join the fight to defend traditional marriage and putting some more serious limits on abortion.

Their participation alone will blunt the force of the liberal secular movement.

My biggest contention with books like this on Islam is that it’s often the exact opposite of what the Pope is saying or what Bishops are saying in regards to our relationship with Islam, and is often preoccupied with explaining away the Catechisms statements on Islam.


-Chapter 1- The jihad against modern-day Christians

-“Islamic jihadist for years called American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan “Crusaders” and claimed that they were there as part of a war being waged by Christians against Islam. Confirmation of this came from an unlikely source in January 2011, when the acclaimed journalist Seymour Hersh, speaking in Qatar, charged that retired General Stanley McChrystal and military personnel currently serving in special operations units were part of a secret cabal bent on waging a new Crusade against Muslims.”

Rather odd that Mr. Spencer would use these false allegations by a liberal journalist for an article from the “mainstream media” as confirmation for Islamic jihadists that the West was undertaking a new crusade. Especially when he himself wrote on his website- “Surely Semour Hersh was joking- wasn’t he? This is such a ridiculous charge, it seems inconceivable that the “acclaimed journalist” wasn’t speaking with tongue firmly in cheek. Maybe he had a snootful and thought he’d poke a little mischievous indirect fun at Islamic conspiracy paranoia and Crusade fantasies by retailing a conspiracy fantasy of his own for his Qatari audience.”

So the question I have is why is Mr. Spencer using this “ridiculous charge” of the now actual acclaimed journalist (in his article he viewed Mr. Hersh as an “acclaimed journalist,” in the book he does not place quotation marks around the same term) as confirmation for Islamic jihadist that the US was waging a new crusade against Muslims? I’m asking because Mr. Spencer does not present any supporting evidence that these allegations he attributed to Mr. Hersh’s inebriated sense of humor had any sort of impact on jihadist “conspiracy paranoia and Crusade fantasies” one way or the other.

-“And yet, nowhere else does such religious bigotry [Mr. Spencer is referring to his unsupported claims about Islamic teachings; I assume he will provide support later in the book] take place almost entirely without comment, let alone condemnation, from the human rights community.”

Well that’s a very odd comment to place in his book. First, because he claimed in the introduction that the book was about relations between Islam and Christianity, not about the human rights community (here I am assuming he is referring to secular human rights organizations) not condemning or commenting on human rights violations in the Muslim world or by Islamic jihadist. Second, it’s a very odd comment because cites reports from Amnesty International (I only did a quick search for AI; I had planned on searching other human rights organizations, but I found enough evidence with AI) about such actions in at least 4 of his books (The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam, Stealth Jihad, Islam Unveiled, A Religion of Peace?), several of his articles (like- The Violent Oppression of Women in Islam, Muslim Persecution of Christians, The Persistence of Islamic Slavery, Blogging the Quran); as well as he himself or one of his employees citing Amnesty International in articles on his website. I also found similar citations of Amnesty International on websites that he writes for (such as FrontPageMagazine) by him and other writers on those sites.

Further, a very quick general internet search (i.e. google) and a quick search of Amnesty International’s and Human Rights Watch’s websites resulted in me finding more than enough results of reports and/or condemnation of religious persecution and specifically persecution of Christians to raise questions as to what exactly does Mr. Spencer mean by “almost entirely without comment.” It certainly doesn’t mean the same thing to the Taliban who accused Amnesty International of disparaging Islam due to their coverage of Afghanistan.

-“Emblematic of how the mainstream media, and in turn human rights organizations, gloss over the harsh reality of Christian persecution is a January 2011 Associated Press story. When machete-wielding Muslims brutally murdered six Christians in Nigeria in January 2011, AP’s headline was “6 dead in religion-torn central Nigerian region,” as if the cause of the problem was “sectarian strife” that was the equal responsibility of both sides.” Mr. Spencer then goes on as to how the attackers were only identified later in the story [the AP story is an epic four sentences long] and that this identification was only in context to them retaliating to prior attacks by Christians. He then states that Christians were fighting back, “but Islamic jihadists are the aggressors and created the conflict. One would never, however, get that idea [his claim that the prior attacks by Christians were just Christians acting in self-defense] from the Associated Press.”

Where to start? Well first, why exactly does this matter to a book which is, as he indicates in the introduction, about “the relationship between these two groups [Islamic jihadist and Westernized Muslims] of Muslims, and the relationship of Islam in general to Christianity and the Catholic Church.” How the “mainstream media” or human rights organizations “gloss over the harsh reality of Christian persecution” has nothing to do with what he professes his book to be preoccupied with.

Second, we have his allegation that the “mainstream media” and human rights organizations just gloss over Christian persecution. I’ve already shown that this is not true for human rights organizations, what about the “mainstream media”? (By the way, I looked I couldn’t find where Vatican Radio covered these murders at all) Apparently the “mainstream media” glossing over Christian persecution in this particular case is due to the title of the AP story not containing the word Muslim, that it didn’t mention Muslims in the first or second sentence of a four sentence story, and for it not indicating that the attacks were due to religion. At least that is what I gathered from the article on his website that covered this attack and the article on his close associate Pamela Geller’s website, which decided a proper title would include the term “Muslim hordes.” (link to the article on Mr. Spencer’s site- Not very surprisingly a similar quick internet search resulted in pages and pages of news reports from the “mainstream media” about Islamic terrorism and Christian persecution.

Now that I have covered the “not really connected at all to the claimed purpose of this book” topic of the “mainstream media” and human rights organizations we can move on to Mr. Spencer’s glossing over the murder of Muslims on their way to a wedding by Christians for simply being Muslims that he tries to explain away as simply Christians defending themselves and “but Islamic jihadists are the aggressors and created the conflict.” First, the Church’s teaching regarding the usage of self-defense is rather clear, and what happened to Muslims on their way to a wedding party doesn’t fall under what the Church would deem the just use of self-defense. Second, even if Islamic jihadists created the conflict, the victims of the Christian attack weren’t Islamic jihadists. Lastly, there is a curios absence of any coverage of the Christian attack on the wedding party that Mr. Spencer seems to think was justified on his website. I daresay there would no mention of it at all on his website if not for the fact the AP mentioned it in the story.

On to point four, the conflict in Nigeria and who started it. Well, that is actually more complex than what Mr. Spencer implies. To start with, there are really two different conflicts in Nigeria. The first is the friction between Northern Nigerians (Muslims) and South Eastern Nigerians (Christian) that dates back to the independence of Nigeria from the UK and includes 2 coups (1 each for each group), a civil war started with the SE trying to secede (which was not completely unjustified), discrimination and persecution of and by both sides, and tit-for-tat attacks and murders. A little research will even show that Jos (where both attacks mentioned in the article took place) is a natural friction point due to it sitting on the border between both groups; as well as having its own local issues that add additional tension. A little more research, particularly into the tribal structure of the Nigerian people, on Nigeria will show that contrary to Mr. Spencer’s claim, it is sectarian strife and both sides do actually hold equal responsibility.

The second conflict is more recent than the first and is being inflicted on the Nigerian people (yes, including Muslim Nigerians) by the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram (which means “Western education is sinful”). The Boko Haram constitutes a minority of the Muslim population of Nigeria, does its best not to actually associate with other Nigerian Muslims, wants to remove all Western influence from Nigeria, and establish its own Islamic state run under its interpretation of Islam. It also happens to attack and/or assassinate Muslims and Muslim leaders who oppose it or are too Westernized. The Sultan of Sokoto Sa’adu Abubakar (the spiritual leader of Muslims in Nigeria) has gone as far as calling the Boko Haram anti-Islamic. Mr. Spencer would be correct in claiming that the Boko Haram were the aggressors and “started it,” but the Boko Haram don’t represent the Muslims in Nigeria or, as indicated by the Sultan of Sokoto’s comments on them, don’t even represent Islam.

A long history of internal conflict between the North and the South East and an Islamic jihadist group waging its own war to create an Islamic state that the vast majority of Muslim Nigerians don’t actually want not complex enough? Well, there are also tensions in the Niger delta region of Nigeria, historic corruption and tribal favoritism in the Nigerian government, and additional tension due to long term discrimination against various tribes within Nigeria as well. But, complex doesn’t make for a good narrative; much easier to just gloss over the actual reality of the situation. Especially when one is throwing out a jab at the “mainstream media” and human rights organizations on a book that is supposed to be about the differences between and relations between Islam and Christianity.

Lastly, the implication in the book and the outright claim in the previously linked article that what is going on in Nigeria is religious and not due to sectarian strife. His Excellency Abp. Kaigama of Jos- “It is very convenient for those in authority to say that the whole crisis is about religion. Christians, Muslims are fighting. Yes, I don’t deny that. There is tension in that regard. But then, the factors that are fuelling that crisis are not certainly only religions. There are many deep-seated root causes that have to be dug out and probably solutions found. That is not done.”

That’s as far as I am going with this book. I’ve read enough of it to determine that while Mr. Spencer professes, claims, thinks he is writing a book about the differences between Islam and Christianity in order to discover if collaboration and cooperation is possible, I think he determined the answer to that prior to putting pen to paper and is constructing, poorly in my opinion, a work to vindicate his conclusion.

I’ll await responses from those who politely (thank you Living) asked me to read, and those who rather rudely dismissed my arguments because I hadn’t read Mr. Spencer’s books. I have. He’s not an expert on Islam. While I refuse to buy his books, I’m quite sure I can easily find articles he has written if you would like more commentary on his views. Good day.

Hi OldCatholicGuy, would you like to see this news segment, it’s about Sharia law in the UK, and the interview is between Michael Coren and Canadian Muslim Activist, Tarek Fatah:

The reason I posted this for you is because the Muslim Activist is someone who I believe is a credible and reliable source on Islam.

I’ll be happy to review the above and comment on it, but on a different thread (please start one, I’ll respond sometime tomorrow) as the above has nothing to do with the topic of this thread. I am currently eagerly awaiting responses from those who claimed I had to read his work in order to actually claim Mr. Spencer isn’t an expert on Islam.

But admittedly you are “assuming” thus an opinion based on assumption.

An assumption then based on the above assumption.

Sounds great if your conclusion wasn’t based on two assumptions.

“He seems to have missed. and, one would think?” I think its unwise to read the first page of Augustine and base my opinion of him, not on the content context, but on a very small portion. Its what the Church does? I don’t think so. How do you know what you think he missed isn’t in another chapter?

Was its Spender himself who makes this claim? I know you like to exaggerate so I’m just asking for clarity. You don’t mind right? Oh, one more thing. I think If my memory serves me right the quote was “one of the leading experts on Islam in the USA” and not by Spencer. I guess its another one of those gleaming Catholics opinions. LIke CAF and EWTN among a host of others which I still see “no-response” to. CRICKETS and on multiple threads now.

You sure, your not sure what your assuming here? You said the opposite first paragraph.

BUT, your elaboration follows again with your assumption? And again as Augustine was mentioned, and we all thank God the Church actually read his work. Because most of us believe it is very rude and uncharitable to comment and conclude over a cherry picked area without considering the remainder of content and context. Just Saying you seem to present a double standard often encountered by those of us here who read Augustine. .

Course I could give you an articulated in depth response. But you long ago made up your mind and continue your one man crusade. Enjoy. :thumbsup:

BTW most of us who have commented on Spencer also suggested further reading and gave suggested reference to Catholic and Orthodox. So I think its rather uncharitable you present Spencer other than we have in this sense. The perspective is unbalanced and rather insistent on suggesting something never stated.

After pages of venomous ranting, I can’t see anything here “still” but bias. I’m sorry perhaps I’ll come back and discuss this in detail when I don’t have to begrudge you the information. Defamatory attack is all I see.

Oh and btw I’m glad you found the “need” to take the advice and actually read the book. Perhaps if you don’t find this suggestion too uncharitable, you should read the rest. Or is this where the expert opinion of yours is trotted out? One word “unverifiable” :wink:

As far as the Church point and Spencer being at odds with anyone? Rather a point that leads back to above with CAF and EWTN and many other Catholic’s mentioned. “Crickets”

Oh, oh, sounds like you’re angry. And, I don’t expect you to respond per se, i.e., I just meant for you to watch it (I believe he’s a valid source on Islam).

I think there are many better sources on Islam. Course this is taken from Front page. Which also endorses Spencer.

I also recommended Father Samir …,8599,1882857,00.html

But we have had the conversation on much of this and it was also just posted about Pope Benedict in Regensburg, the CCC-841 thread comes to mind also which a few of us here read and posted on including OCG. Point being there is a very real perspective in how we view Islam, and Spencer also. My point isn’t to raise Spencer higher than the cedars. I don’t see why he can’t speak and write though. I also don’t see where he is being disrespectful. He is interacting and posing thought provoking questions and speaking about “peace”. Its also very different to say he is not as qualified as others, then to say he shouldn’t be speaking or writing at all.


Not a religious debate issue.

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