Getting to the Root of Understanding Islam – by David Swindle


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.

  • Proxywar

    I own, The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran, alot of the info in his book can be found on spencer's site. But if you don't want to search for it then just buy his book. Personally like books better than I do reading material on the internet because I get headaches from looking at the screen too long. Not to mention, Spencer has compiled this info into a coherent thesis. It was a light-hearted yet quite informative analysis of Islam. It was actually quite fair to Islam compared to what Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Oriana Fallaci have written about Islam.

    If you don't have the money to buy it you should at least check it out at the library.

    It's a simple yet fantastic guide.
    I will have to read Bart Ehrman's book as well.

  • goosebumps

    Do the people at FPM stay in touch with the folks at Act for America? Has everyone at FPM signed the petition to force Congress to investigate CAIR? FPM is the informative hand and Act for America is the grassroots organization that actually tries to do something about this Islamic mess, Has everyone who reads this web site joined Act. If not please do so, or at least sign their petition. It just takes a couple of minutes. If you have read this then you have time to do that.

  • Proxywar

    Yes I am a member of ActforAmerica. I'm also a member of

    Sir, you will not find a more proactive and knowledgeble person on this site than myself (outside the authors and few other die hards) when it comes to the bill of rights, the constitution, the founding fathers beliefs, our countries actual origins, and Islam.

    For christmas I suggest you ask St.Nicholas for:

    1.) Reading Orientalism: Said and the Unsaid.
    2.) The faiths of the founding fathers.

    Two great books.

    I also have been helping others put up pictures of claire mccaskill as Obama's Joker all over the St.louis. My plan is to turn their world upside down and make it rain hell. Anthropomorphically speaking of course.

  • tlwinslow

    Spencer's book is good, but retro, since it doesn't make use of the Internet and hyperlinks. Maybe he will eventually publish it online with links and not worry about making any more royalties in the name of the cause. No need to wait. Check out the Historyscoper's free Quick History of Islam for History Ignoramuses and expand your mind fast at

  • 080

    I find the discussion about the correct interpretation of the Koran fatiguing. The discussion is for the Muslims to have. I don't object to such discussions but they are for Muslim theologians and other such. We know for certain that there are Muslims who say that they want to wipe us out. We also know that there are Muslims who have taken steps in that direction. That is sufficient for me. I don't have to enter into abstract discussions of the Koran. GET THEM NOW!!!!

  • DemocracyFirst

    He's not Jewish.

  • Proxywar

    Why not? It's a learning experience. Your job is what can you prove. What we can prove is older sources than what they can prove thus your sources are sound and that is the true face of Islam regardless if they accept it or not. The evidence speaks for itself historically and theologically. Don't mentally given up that is exactly what they want. Continue learning about Islam, because they know everything about you.

  • Proxywar

    Even if he was who cares.

  • DemocracyFirst

    True. But many Muslims subscribe to all kinds of nutbar Jewish conspiracies and hold to the insane view that Jews control the world. So, in whatever small way, that Spencer is not Jewish confronts Ahmed's rationalized world view.

  • steven L

    Christopher Hitchens/Richard Dawkins. It is hig time for these 2 guys (and many others) to focus their attention on Islam.

  • 080

    In reply to proxywar. I have no objection to you devoting the rest of your life to studying Islam. I have no ;intention of arguing with the twelvers or Iminadinnerjacket or ransomjohnny about the meaning of the Koran. It's what they do and what they say that concerns me. We have more than enough evidence of both. So: GET THEM NOW BEFORE THEY GET YOU!!!!!!