Are there facts in Turkey? A case study.

This NYT editorial on Turkey is fairly representative of just how poorly reasoned and fact-free commentary on Turkey can be in the mainstream Western press. Here are my thoughts on it (the editorial itself is in block-quotes).

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had many opportunities over the last three weeks to resolve the political crisis in Turkey peacefully and quickly. However, with almost every statement and directive he has made the situation worse, increasing concerns at home and abroad over his authoritarian tendencies and Turkey’s future as a democratic model in the Muslim world.

Actually the government met with protestors and agreed to a four point plan that included bringing the proposed plan through a judicial process and then to a referendum of Istanbul residents. The Taksim platform still refused to stop the protest. Why is this not this mentioned?

Instead of engaging with activists who opposed a plan to turn a park in Taksim Square in Istanbul into a shopping mall…

This is factually untrue. It was never going to be a shopping mall. The government publicly and repeatedly said it would not be a shopping mall. Where is the fact checking?

…the government cracked down on them with tear gas and water cannons, stirring widespread outrage over Mr. Erdogan’s arrogance and his infringement on free speech and other liberties.

The government, including the PM, almost immediately acknowledged that the initial response was excessive.

At least four people (three demonstrators and a police officer) have been killed and more than 7,500 people have been injured since the turmoil began. Scores of lawyers, journalists and medics have been detained. But Mr. Erdogan seems to have ruled out talks and compromise.

See previous comment on the meetings that have already taken place.

News reports said police on Wednesday were questioning more than 100 people in Istanbul, Ankara and other cities for alleged involvement in violent acts. The deputy prime minister has said that the Army could be called in to quell the unrest. Equally alarming, Mr. Erdogan has labeled the protesters as terrorists, a sinister term that could be used to excuse any form of government abuse.

It is not a matter of dispute that a small percentage of the protestors engaged in serious acts of violence and destruction of property. Why shouldn’t they be questioned? Should vandals get amnesty if it happens during a protest? Terrorism can be used as a form of abuse, but he didn’t refer to all of them in those terms. He consistently separates, at least rhetorically, the protestors into two groups.

Mr. Erdogan has worked hard to promote Turkey as a democracy aligned with the United States and Europe. Yet he is now intimidating the local news media, attacking the international news media, making veiled anti-Semitic remarks and suggesting that undefined “foreign forces” are behind the unrest.

Just what are these anti-Semitic remarks? I’m genuinely curious to know.  Can one can now accuse a world leader of anti-Semitism in a NYT editorial with no substantiation at all? And do serious people dismiss the idea that foreign private and public power can take an interest in the internal problems of Turkey and take advantage of a situation? Intelligence agencies for the last several decades have used protests quite cynically. How is it that anyone who mutters this possibility is immediately labeled insane? (See: Operation Ajax).

During his decade in power, Turkey’s economy has prospered, and he has positioned the country as a regional leader. His Islamist party has made important gains in health care, income levels and housing, and exerted civilian control over an Army once enmeshed in politics.

At least one factually correct paragraph.

But Mr. Erdogan has gone too far in pushing conservative views on a secular state and in suppressing dissent.

How has he done this? What conservative views? How are Turks coerced into being or acting more conservative because of Erdogan?

There is no expectation that he will be forced from office because he retains broad support. But the unrest has already shaken the economy, given Germany another excuse to keep Turkey out of the European Union and exacerbated divisions among Turks. Mr. Erdogan should consider what he wants his legacy to be.

Did the NYT suggest that David Cameron be pushed from office for the London protests a couple of years ago? Perhaps the NYT should consider their own legacy if they continue to write such badly researched editorials. All of this information is available in English.

Culture as an Extension of the Sunnah

A few months ago I gave a keynote address on the issues involved in developing an American Muslim culture at the Islamic Resource Group’s 5th Annual Building Bridges Awards event in Minneapolis, MN.

Some reflections on Hamza Yusuf’s critics

Hamza Yusuf has written a long post wherein he retracts certain statements he made in the past regarding the Lahori branch of the Ahmadiyyah. It is nuanced, complex, and edifying, so I will not attempt to summarize it, but I would like to discuss some more salient points and explore some ambiguities.

Sh. Hamza is subjected to a rather bizarre argument that, if you fail to say that a certain person is a disbeliever when that person is in fact a disbeliever, that makes you a disbeliever:

[S]ome brothers have declared me a kafir [disbeliever] based upon the argument “one who does not make takfir [declaring another a disbeliever] of a kafir is also a kafir.” Their reasoning is this: Lahori Ahmadiyyas are kafirs; Hamza Yusuf did not call them kafirs; therefore, Hamza Yusuf is a kafir.

There is in fact no absolute precept in Islam that states that failure to commit takfir in the right way makes one a kafir. Sh. Hamza points out that the origin of this bad argument is the misunderstood saying:

The scholars are harsh on a mufti who says that one is not a kafir who is a kafir. Indeed, disbelief is feared for one doing so.

He discusses the pitfalls involved in interpreting such a statement (there are many). In my view it is perhaps most dangerous → full article

What are Muslims supposed to think about insults to the Prophet?

This is a subject about which I hope to write at length in the future, but considering recent events it is worth considering just some of the complexity when it comes to the matter of insulting Islam or insulting the Prophet Muhammad. One has to account for, at a minimum:

  1. Islamic law as it applies to Muslims
  2. Islamic law as it applies to non-Muslims
  3. Laws governing Muslim -majority countries
  4. Laws governing Western countries

On the question of insulting the Prophet classical Islamic law distinguished between Muslims and non-Muslim treaty peoples, or dhimmis. By “treaty people” one usually refers to non-Muslim subjects of an Islamic sovereign (such as Jews or Christians in the Ottoman Empire) who existed as one of several communities (millets in the Ottoman case) autonomous in many civil and religious matters but under the political rule of Muslims.

In the case of a Muslim, to insult the Prophet by calling him a liar or saying he acted treacherously (to use examples from classical texts) → full article

My thoughts as an American Muslim regarding the Bacile film

(Updated below)

As a professor of Islamic studies I have a professional responsibility to stay abreast of incidents like those prompted by a recent 13-minute video containing footage by a certain “Sam Bacile” insulting to the Prophet Muhammad, but as a moral question why should I, as an individual, care what Egyptians and Libyans think about a film about which I was not consulted and which I could not have prevented by any legal means even if I had prior knowledge of it? American Muslims don’t owe anyone an explanation for what happened in Libya or Egypt, any more than they owe Libyans or Egyptians an explanation for how the film got made. We had nothing to do with it. (For background, see articles from WSJ, NPR, and helpful posts from Sarah Posner and Max Blumenthal, and commentary from Glenn Greenwald.)

As I write, many Muslims are making clear that the actions of the killers of Ambassador Christopher Stevens are not representative of Islam and that what they are doing is much more damaging to Muslims than the film which served as a catalyst to their actions. That is true, but so what? → full article

Making it rain mud on Muslims

In recent years not a single American Muslim leader has been able to avoid being subject to some brand of fear mongering or mud slinging from the professional agitators and paid propagandists we usually call “Islamophobes.” Respected figures with religious and intellectual authority such as Hamza Yusuf, Ingrid Mattson, Zaid Shakir, Sherman Jackson, and many others have all been tarred as “Islamic supremacists” or as fronts for the “Muslim Brotherhood” or “apologists for terror” and the like. In fact any Muslim at all in a position of prominence receives similar treatment, not only those whose main public profile is related to religion. Sheila Musaji at The American Muslim has an excellent rundown of how universal this mudslinging smear operation really is.

A recent example is the reckless and cynical smear by Michael Rubin in Commentary against Seyyed Hossein Nasr, one of the most prominent and influential → full article

Yerushalmi exposes himself (again)

In a recent post Daniel Luban describes a trend among some conservatives against the contrived anti-Sharia hysteria. A recent back-and-forth on the pages of National Review Online was sparked when Matthew Schmitz, editor of the conservative religious magazine First Things, wrote a sane and thoughtful post on anti-Sharia legislation which sent Andy Bostom, David French, and Andrew McCarthy into action.

But most interesting is the response of David Yerushalmi, the author of the model anti-Sharia legislation which is worming its way through many state courts. He does not seem to understand that if the constituion protects something, one does not need a law to protect that protection. Speaking of relationship of the so-called American Laws for American Courts legislation to constitutional rights, he says:

These are baseline constitutional protections ALAC seeks to protect.

Does he not see how ridiculous that statement is? He unwittingly affirms one of Schmitz’s fundamental points:

At best, they’re a legislative tautology with no immediate effect, and so no immediate harms; they declare illegal what is already illegal and unconstitutional what is already unconstitutional.

Any close observer of Yerushalmi and his colleagues knows what they are up to. I looked closely at the legislation Yerushalmi authored for consideration by the Tennessee legislature. Its plain sense would have criminalized nearly every practicing Muslim just for observing mainstream ritual practices such as fasting. That is, Yerushalmi authored a law whose wording could have enabled the prosecution of any Muslim who fell short of renouncing Islam completely.

Moreover Yerushalmi has already told us what the legislation is for, and why it is better for the legislation not to pass rather than pass easily:

“If this thing passed in every state without any friction, it would have not served its purpose,” he said in one of several extensive interviews. “The purpose was heuristic — to get people asking this question, ‘What is Shariah?’”

So we now have two statements from Yerushalmi telling us that his legislation serves no real legal purpose. But let’s pretend for a moment that Yerushalmi is serious. He says:

In every state you can find appellate court decisions making clear that the state legislature must define the parameters of what the state public policy is. Courts should only tepidly step into this arena. ALAC takes up this judicial invitation to have the legislature make clear that any foreign law, religious or secular, that violates a parties constitutional liberties is void as a matter of public policy.

Do state legislatures really need Andrew McCarthy and David Yerushalmi to help them define public policy as the avoidance of anything that “violates a parties [sic] constitutional liberties”? These benighted state legislators, I’m sure, sit at their desks wondering whether their public policy should violate basic constitutional rights. When Yerushalmi arrives to tell them they should not, they must feel incredibly relieved and edified.

Did the Muslim Brotherhood invent the term “Islamophobia”?

(Updated below)

Today in NRO Andrew McCarthy writes:

“Islamophobia” was coined by the Muslim Brotherhood and seamlessly adopted by its Western confederates.

One of the common means by which the anti-Muslim agitators like to undercut attempts to expose them is to pretend that the term “Islamophobia” was invented by nefarious Muslims. In so doing they hope to create the impression that the actual phenomenon is simply imaginary.

The term was used by the Runnymede Trust in the U.K. back in 1992, in a report entitled A Very Light Sleeper, which then led to a report, also by Runnymede, entitled, Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All, in 1997. Christopher Allen points out that it was used in the U.S. in Insight in 1991, but somewhat differently from the way the term is employed today.

The single piece of evidence that Islamophobes cite that “the Muslim Brotherhood” coined this term comes from the personal recollection of one Abdur Rahman Muhammad:

Muhammad said he was present when his then- allies, meeting at the offices of the International Institute for Islamic Thought (IIIT) in Northern Virginia years ago, coined the term “Islamophobia.”

Muhammad said the Islamists decided to emulate the homosexual activists who used the term “homophobia” to silence critics. He said the group meeting at IIIT saw “Islamophobia” as a way to “beat up their critics.”

That quote comes from CT huckster Stephen Emerson‘s website. Let us assume that this account is completely true. Even on this man’s account, IIIT decided to make use of the term “Islamophobia”, like many have in the last decade. Note the absence of a date, or any kind of corroboration. Also note that IIIT is not the Muslim Brotherhood. And note that the term pre-dates 9/11 by almost ten years.

Claire Berlinski gave this myth some life in 2010, and bears some responsibility for it.

Of course, it is only one small detail in the overall paranoia-inducing fantasy that all (that is, every last one) of the mainstream American Muslim organizations are “fronts” for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Update (May 21):

Some have sent me notes indicating even earlier usage in English and also in other languages such as French (though I don’t see these as being exactly continuous with the use of the term these days). My point was not to determine the first usage of the term, but simply to point out how phony it is to pretend it was invented by “the Muslim Brotherhood”. I put the latter in scare quotes because as used by Islamophobes it’s not meant to be precise or to refer to some actually existing organization with a discernible structure. It is meant to sound ominous and scary.

Dear National Review: Stop Embarrassing Yourselves

Matt Duss and Eli Clifton and others have rightly called out National Review’s Rich Lowry for continuing to publish anti-Muslim bigots and provocateurs. On that note:

In a new review of Robert Spencer’s new book, Daniel Pipes tells us that the revisionist history which posited a relatively late date for the composition of the Quran and which casts doubt on the existence of the Prophet Muhammad was a “secret” whose existence Spencer (and author Tom Holland, reviewed here) has “ended”.

This revisionist history has remained a virtual secret among specialists. For example, Patricia Crone and Michael Cook, authors of the synoptic Hagarism (Cambridge University Press, 1977), deliberately wrote obliquely, thereby hiding their message.
But never fear:
Now, however, two scholars have separately ended this secrecy: Tom Holland with In the Shadow of the Sword, and Robert Spencer with Did Muhammad Exist?

Two points: First, the idea that Cook and Crone (or any other scholar) meant for their work to be somehow hidden from general scrutiny is so fantastical I hardly know how to even address it. Second, Cook himself  has moved on from that book, which was from earlier in his career. He is a major historian of the Islamic intellectual tradition, so perhaps Pipes should drop him an email and ask him if Muhammad existed. He won’t like the answer.

Robert Spencer writes an extended book report on the work of Wansbrough, Cook, Crone, and others, and Pipes sells it as a brave unveiling of some shrouded history which previous scholars were too timid to proclaim openly. This is what passes muster at a flagship conservative publication?

And just to add a dose of creepiness Pipes ends his review with:

May the revolution begin.

Dear Tablet: Is this a review of Bernard Lewis or Robert Spencer? (updated)

While reading a fawning review in Tablet of Bernard Lewis’ autobiography by David Goldman, I was struck by a sudden turn regarding the origins of Islam:

It is a career-killer (and perhaps a killer of more than a career) to challenge the authenticity of the Quran and the received story of the Muslim conquests, yet a vast body of research over the last several decades makes it impossible for a rational observer to accept the Muslim account at face value.

Not one example is given of a person whose career has been killed for being non-Muslim (and hence by definition challenging the Quran’s divine origin). Take a look at the tenured faculty of any major Islamic Studies program in this country and then talk to me about killed careers. So, Harvard and Yale and Princeton Islam scholars are all Quran authenticating Muslims?

Then, Goldman suggests that the scholars working on the Corpus Coranicum, an effort to create a critical edition of the Quran, are in engaging in “an enterprise … fraught with personal risk to the researchers.” Has a single researcher on this project expressed that view? Does Goldman know the history of Muslim study of the Quran, including cataloguing of textual variants and alternate readings going back over a thousand years? Clearly he does not. It is for some reason more useful to him to repeat things like, “The fragility of Islam … lies in a sudden realization of the ambiguity of the text of the Koran.”

This is followed by:

If the critics are correct, then Islam cannot coexist with rational inquiry and has no future in modernity.

Hear that Muslims? Please believe us when we say that we have no objection to Islam as such, except that you have no future if you continue to be Muslim.

And I am genuinely perplexed by the following:

Muslim girls who complete high school breed like Europeans. Modernity’s great precondition, namely education, leads to a demographic tailspin in the Muslim world, which appears to jump from infancy to senescence without passing through adulthood.

Let’s just imagine a theoretical reviewer who wrote something like, “Jewish Haredi girls breed like Mexicans.” I’d be offended by that. How about you?

I bet Goldman will love Robert Spencer’s new book.


I just noticed that Martin Kramer decorates the comment section with praise: “Fine review.” Good to know. Hey, how is Kramer’s career? Is it killed?