What’s in a Word?

Bruce Bawer is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center and the author of “While Europe Slept” and “Surrender.” His book "The Victims' Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind" is just out from Broadside / Harper Collins.


spenI’ve only just now caught up with a July 3 article from a newspaper called the Napa Valley Register (which, I must confess, is not a publication I ordinarily check out on a daily basis). The article reported on a lecture about Islam by Robert Spencer that had been scheduled to take place at a Roman Catholic church in Sacramento. The event, according to the Register, would still go on as planned, but the venue had been changed after orders came down from the Diocese of San Francisco that Spencer was not to be allowed to speak on church property. Plainly, diocesan officials did not wish to invite criticism – or worse – from those who might be offended by honest talk about Islam.

It was interesting to note that the church at which Spencer was to give his talk is called – of all things – St. Stephen the First Martyr Parish. The lesson being that some Christians, while more than glad to honor their martyrs, are desperate to do everything they can to avoid the slightest chance of becoming martyrs themselves.

Anyway, to get to the point: I couldn’t help noticing that the author of the piece in the Register, one Isabelle Dills, had a fondness for a certain word. In her first sentence, she described Spencer as “a controversial writer about the threat of Islam.” A few lines later she noted that he’s “the director of Jihad Watch, a controversial blog that focuses on terrorism and violence committed by Muslims.” And a bit further on, she observed that “Spencer’s writings about Islam — particularly on his blog — have stirred up controversy around the globe.”

The mot du jour, obviously, was “controversial.”

I certainly don’t mean to single out Ms. Dills for censure. She’s only playing by the current unwritten rules of respectable journalism. These days, after all, anyone who dares to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about Islam is by definition trafficking in controversy.

Controversy! Google the words “Islam”  and “controversial” and see what you come up with. As it turns out, it’s a highly instructive exercise. The main takeaway is that there are two distinct types of Islam-related activities that the media routinely label as “controversial.” Here are some examples of Type A:

• An article from last month about “a controversial speaker” who’d been “scheduled to address the upcoming annual conference of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies” in Britain. What makes the speaker in question controversial? Well, among other things, he’s called “for Allah to destroy the enemies of Islam” and said that anyone who “goes out to fight to uphold the word of Allah…is the one on the path of Allah.’”

• An Australian academic’s account of Tariq Ramadan, whom he describes as a “controversial moderate.” It will be recalled that Ramadan, who has presented himself as a modern-minded bridge-builder between the Islamic and Western worlds, has refused to condemn the stoning of adulteresses, among other illiberal acts enjoined by sharia law.

• An article from last February about the visit to Tunisia of a “controversial Muslim” named Nabil Al-Awadhi. The article didn’t make it clear why this individual was so “controversial,” but a quick Google search turned up a few quotations, of which the following was typical: “We Arab Muslims must start thinking of producing nuclear bombs….Our prophet Muhammad ordered us, ‘to prepare everything possible to fight the infidels.’ These people understand only the language of power. We’ll tell the world: either you submit to Islam, or you’ll have to die.”

• A Fox News video about a White House visit last month by a “controversial Muslim scholar,” Abdallah bin Mahfudh ibn Bayyah, who supports Hamas and, according to Wikipedia, has “urged the U.N. to criminalize criticism of Islam as blasphemy.”

OK, so when it comes to people who are “controversial” about Islam, that’s Type A. And Type B?

Well, to start with, several of the Google hits for “Islam” and “controversial” led to articles about Pamela Geller’s D.C. Metro and San Francisco bus ads, which – conceived in response to the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ “MyJihad” campaign (in which smiling Muslims are shown saying that their “jihad” is to “stay fit” or to “build friendships across the aisle”) – told the truth about what the word “jihad” really means. Geller’s ads, in these articles, were universally deemed “controversial.”

In addition, Google turned up several articles about the film The Innocence of Muslims, which, it will be recalled, was falsely claimed to have provoked the jihadist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi. The film, whose director is still in prison, consists of nothing but facts about the Religion of Peace. Yet the word “controversial” was attached to it everywhere.

Then there’s an Al Jazeera piece about the FBI’s “controversial Muslim manual” (which, you may recall, the FBI stopped using because it turned out to be too honest about Islam for some people’s comfort). Also, a Huffington Post item about “a controversial video” entitled Muslim Demographics that was screened last year at “a Vatican-organized synod of bishops.” Plus a rant on an Islamic website about Taslima Nasreen – a Muslim-bred gynecologist whose eloquent criticism of Islam was the product of her moral outrage over its treatment of women. The headline? “Taslima Nasreen: A Controversial Writer.”

And let’s not omit the article from last month about “a controversial anti-Islam professor” who’d been invited by the Pinellas, Florida, GOP to speak about “Islam’s Threat to America.” In response to an e-mail from a local GOP activist who protested that the party’s job “should be to encourage every voter…to vote Republican” regardless of religion, the Pinellas party leader “postponed” the talk, telling a local newspaper : ”I looked up the guy, I vetted him, and he has a point of view that perhaps someone may not appreciate. I understand that. That’s education.” (In other words: I’ve learned my lesson; I won’t invite critics of Islam to speak to us again.)

Finally, along the same lines, there was a piece about the “controversial screening” of a documentary, “Islam: An Untold Story,” that was cancelled last September by Britain’s Channel 4. Why? Because the program’s truth-telling (for example, it “examined claims that rather than Islam’s doctrine emerging fully-formed in a single text,” dictated by Allah to Muhammed, “the religion instead developed gradually over many years”) was too much for hundreds of angry callers who flooded Channel 4′s switchboard with complaints.

So let’s break this down – short and sweet. According to the media, two types of people are to be considered “controversial” when it comes to the subject of Islam. One type consists of those Muslims who have made crystal clear their ardent support for violent, murderous jihad against infidels and for the brutal, merciless punishments laid down by sharia law – in other words, Islamic orthodoxy. The other type consists of those non-Muslims who, often at the risk of their own lives, dare to spell out the plain fact that Islamic orthodoxy does, indeed, consist of the above.

One small difference, however, should be noted. “Controversial” is probably the strongest word that most mainstream media will ever apply to the likes of Nabil Al-Awadhi and Abdallah bin Mahfudh ibn Bayyah. When it comes, on the other hand, to people like Spencer or Geller, “controversial” is the closest some media organs will ever come to showering them with praise.

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  • toryu88

    The Catholic Church is a bankrupt organization run by gutless old men (I was going to say junkless, but that would be stating the obvious). The Church no longer even has the strength of its convictions. They are lying down with dogs and surrendering to their centuries old enemy and in doing awarding western civilization up as an offering to the vile group of heathens that go by the name of Islam. It is a sad day for the World.

    • Marcus Adams

      You forgot “Evil”.

      Any organization whose top members (Priests) rape small children (mostly boys) with impunity is EVIL.

      • defcon 4

        But is your characterization of the Catholic Church the exception or the rule?

  • John Rgood

    Controversial assessment you have published. I will do my best to note my own type A vs type B reading now.

  • LarrySingleton

    This is one of the best articles I’ve ever read. It absolutely nails it. I wrote something a while back. feel free to steal it. I hope this comment function isn’t screwed up. I’m finding Disquis is almost as big a piece of shit as Yahoo.

    About two years ago I ordered some reading material, including Taha’s “Second Message”, and a “study” Koran to find out what this “Islam thing” was all about. When I was sixteen I was chanting nam yo ho renge kyo to a piece of paper, (gahonzen?), having NO idea what I was doing. A few years later I hitchhiked cross country, got saved in Nashville Tenn. and went to live on a Christian farm in Mansfield Ohio. My gra’mom called me a “seeker”. As I said, there came a time when I wanted to understand this “religion of peace”. It was Humaid’s article on jihad I found in my Summarized Bukhari that decided “things” for me.

    If Islam is the “religion of peace”, where in Sheikh Abdullah bin Humaid’s article on jihad can I find the equivalent of “Love Thy Neighbor” and “good will toward men”? And explain its prominence, and significance almost as an “Introduction”, in a book that’s described as “the most authentic and true among the books of the Prophet”: My Summarized Sahih Al-Bukhari. Also address “jihad” as it’s defined in Reliance of the Traveller and answer the same question. (Chapter O-9.0: Jihad O: “Jihad means to war against non-Muslims, and is etymologically derived from the word mujahada signifying warfare to establish the religion.” And explain why the “greater” jihad is only mentioned once here and never seen again in this “Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law”.) Also compare Humaid’s “jihad” and Emmet Fox’ Sermon on the Mount and tell me which one best represents a spirit of Love and compassion. Lastly; would you pick Sheik bin Humaid to sit on a Human Rights Commission? (That’s a trick question by the way.)

    Maybe you can throw in an explanation of the Jews are “monkeys, pigs and rats” on page 656 and the part where Mo says, “if somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him” on page 613 in the chapter on Jihad.
    Also, explain why Humaid’s “jihad” shouldn’t be “Exhibit A” in refuting the “religion of peace” claim.

    Jihad in the Qur’an and Sunnah by ‘Sheikh Abdullâh bin Muhammad bin Humaid
    ummah.com/forum/showthread.php?233460-Jihad-in-the-Qur-an-and-Sunnah&s=4df3fc2e4e0596eb3b38115ef4b8f506 ),

    Subscribe to Jihad/Campus Watch and the Middle East Forum/Quarterly, Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) and read Raymond Ibrahim and others.

    Yep, It scrunched up my paragraphs into one solid comment. It’s official; disquis is a disfunctional piece of s***