Harris Zafar and His Straw Man

Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and author of the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book, Arab Winter Comes to America: The Truth About the War We're In, is now available.


harrisOn January 10, FrontPage Mag published my article, “The Grand Mufti’s Sex Tape and Violence in Islam,” in which I noted, in conjunction with the sex tape scandal of Rakhmatulla-Hajji Egemberdiev, the Grand Mufti of Kyrgyzstan, that he was the sixth Grand Mufti of Kyrgyzstan to be replaced in four years – since, as al Arabiya reported, “recent grand muftis, who are elected to five-year terms, have resigned early amid corruption scandals and been kidnapped and beaten.”

This became my jumping-off point for a series of speculations as to why so much violence – kidnappings, beatings — surrounded the office of Grand Mufti of Kyrgyzstan, which led me to examine the fates of the four Rightly-Guided Caliphs (all murdered) and the violent exhortations of the Muslim holy book, the Qur’an. In the Huffington Post a week later, Ahmadi Muslim spokesman Harris Zafar said this amounted to my blaming Islam for the Grand Mufti’s sexual misconduct, and invoked Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker and Ted Haggart in constructing an elaborate tu-quoque argument: you see? Christian clerics get involved in sex scandals, too, so shut up.

The only problem with Zafar’s article was that I had not actually blamed Islam for the Mufti’s sex scandal at all. My article was an exploration into Islamic texts that might shed light on why so many Grand Muftis of Kyrgyzstan had been kidnapped and beaten, and why so much violence surrounded even some of the founding and most revered figures of Islamic tradition. Zafar’s entire article, with all its pious posturing about fostering mutual understanding instead of indulging hatred and bigotry, was based on a straw man: the false claim that I had attributed the randiness of Kyrgyzstan’s mufti to Islam.

This phenomenon is all too common: Islamic supremacist spokesmen never in my experience engage their opponents honestly, and deal with their arguments with the “maturity, integrity and dialogue” for which Zafar, tongue no doubt firmly planted in cheek, calls in his article. Instead, they (Zafar included), indulge liberally in ad hominem attacks, smear, defamation, and misrepresentation of their foes’ position, in an all-out effort to demonize them and intimidate people of good will into backing away from any association with such forces of “hate.”

That someone like Harris Zafar would engage in such gutter tactics is bitterly ironic, since he is a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community that is violently persecuted today by orthodox Sunni Muslims in Pakistan and Indonesia. Yet Zafar, rather than support those who decry how Islamic jihadists use the texts and teachings of Islam to justify violence even against his fellow Ahmadis, enthusiastically joins in attempts to marginalize such people, thereby aiding and abetting the program of those who oppress his people back home.

For example, a year ago Zafar wrote a Washington Post op-ed in which he offered a manifesto for the destruction of the freedom of speech worthy of a true totalitarian – and emblematic of the Islamic supremacist war on free speech and all criticism of Islam.

“The difference between Islam’s view on free speech and the view promoted by free speech advocates these days,” Zafar asserted, “is the intention and ultimate goal each seeks to promote. Whereas many secularists champion individual privileges, Islam promotes the principle of uniting mankind and cultivating love and understanding among people. Both endorse freedom for people to express themselves, but Islam promotes unity, whereas modern-day free speech advocates promote individualism.”

This glossy Orwellian language, “uniting mankind and cultivating love and understanding among people,” masked the insidious goal of the article, which became clear when Zafar decried “the most vocal proponents of freedom of speech,” who would “call us towards a different path, where people can say anything and everything on their mind. With no restraint on speech at all, every form of provocation would exist, thereby cultivating confrontation and antagonism. They insist this freedom entitles them the legal privilege to insult others. This is neither democracy nor freedom of speech. It fosters animosity, resentment and disorder.”

Note the sleight of hand: “With no restraint on speech at all, every form of provocation would exist, thereby cultivating confrontation and antagonism.” Zafar was implying that the Muslims who have rioted and killed because of perceived affronts to Islam were not responsible for their own actions, but that those who supposedly provoked them were.

This is an increasingly widespread confusion in the West, willfully spread by people like Zafar and his Islamic supremacist allies. In reality, the only person responsible for his actions is the person who is acting, not anyone else. You may provoke me in a hundred ways, but my response is my own, which I choose from a range of possible responses, and only I am responsible for it.

But having established that if someone riots and kills in response to someone else’s speech, the fault lies with the speaker, not the rioter, Zafar drove his point home: speech must be restricted in the interests of “world peace”: “Treating speech as supreme at the expense of world peace and harmony is an incredibly flawed concept. No matter how important the cause of free speech, it still pales in comparison to the cause of world peace and unity.”

In other words, speech considered to be not in accord with “world peace and harmony” will be outlawed, although Zafar then backtracked and claimed that “Islam does not prescribe any worldly punishment for unseemly speech. So people who insult should not be persecuted. Islam grants everyone the right to express disagreements with others. After all, the Prophet Muhammad called differences of opinion a blessing in society and never sought to censor or threaten those who verbally attacked him.”

Actually, according to a manual of Islamic law certified as reliable by al-Azhar, the foremost institution in Sunni Islam, Islam mandates death for non-Muslim subjects of the Islamic state who mention “something impermissible about Allah, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), or Islam” (‘Umdat al-Salik, o11.10).

This ruling is based on the example of Muhammad himself, who several times ordered people who had criticized him to be put to death. Thus the irony gets even thicker when in the Huffington Post article Zafar declares: “Let’s discuss the life and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, his rightly guided Khalifas and even the Quranic verses that are deceptively twisted to justify violence. Let’s combat immorality and intolerance through maturity, integrity and dialogue.”

I’ve written a book about the life and teachings of Muhammad as recorded in the earliest Islamic traditions: The Truth About Muhammad. I’ve discussed at length Qur’an verses that Islamic jihadists use to justify violence in another book, The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran. But instead of engaging in my actual arguments in either one, Zafar mischaracterizes my statements about the Mufti and dismisses me as an “anti-Islam blogger.”

The point here is not about me. It is about the unwillingness and apparent inability of apologists for Islamic supremacism such as Harris Zafar to engage in rational discussion and debate, even as they pretend to call for it. Twelve years have now passed since 9/11, and not a single self-proclaimed moderate Muslim has published an exegesis of the Qur’anic verses that are used to incite violence that would blunt the force of that incitement. Instead, ad hominem attacks against those who call attention to this use of the Qur’an, and crafty straw man arguments, are the only thing we ever get from Islamic spokesmen.

If Harris Zafar or any other Muslim spokesman is ready to abandon this ultimately self-defeating approach and recognize how it enables jihad terrorists, I stand ready with an open invitation to them to engage in genuine discussion, dialogue and debate, in which we discuss what really can be done to end Islamic jihad violence once and for all and establish lasting peace.

But I won’t be holding my breath.

  • Bamaguje

    “Islam promotes the principle of uniting mankind and cultivating love and understanding among people” – Harris Zafar.

    Really??
    With all the terrorism, honor killing, violent persecution of non-Muslims in the Islamic lands, Harris Zafar can brazenly lie through his teeth that Islam “cultivates love among people.” Does he even understand what love means?
    How is it that Muslim propagandists can shamelessly tell barefaced lies that are clearly at odds with reality?

    • Ken Williams

      Harris Zafar can “lie through his teeth” because he is a fanatic.

      • defcon 4

        Truth is transitive in islam. Today the lying muslime states: “…the Prophet Muhammad called differences of opinion a blessing
        in society and never sought to censor or threaten those who verbally
        attacked him.” Once the islam0nazis have power it’ll be death or incarceration for any who dare criticise islam or its holey prophet. All we have to do is look at the blasphemy and heresy laws enforced in any islamic state today to confirm that.

      • ObamaYoMoma

        All Muslims are fanatics since the first and foremost prerequisite of Islam is the total, complete, and unconditional submission to the “will of Allah” under the pain of death for blasphemy and apostasy. In other words, the freedom of conscience to choose not to believe is essentially blocked via the pain of death, and that makes Islam a totalitarian cult as opposed to being a faith-based religion.

  • TheOrdinaryMan

    These Islamic supremacists are incredible liars. When I was in college, I had a series of knock-down dragged out arguments with one of them. He was from Jordan. Trying to convince me that he was from a poor family, he told me his sister didn’t have enough to eat, and tried to make me feel guilty about “that piece of pie” I was eating. I later found out he was from a wealthy family; and that they had plenty to eat, and plenty of money to do whatever they chose. Don’t believe a word they say.

    • defcon 4

      I’ve had Iranian muslimes tell me that Christians are treated better than anyone else in Iran — all while a Christian pastor (pastor Saeed I believe), an apostate of islam, languishes in prison.

      • autdrew

        I had an Iranian tell me that there is a thriving Jewish community in Iran that is completely protected from all oppression, and therefor no need for a Jewish state

        • defcon 4

          That theory doesn’t jive well w/the stories of oppression a Jewish Iranian girl once told me she experienced, as a matter of course, when she lived in Iran.

      • TheOrdinaryMan

        Yes, Christians are treated better–one body at a time.

    • Bamaguje

      If he was from a poor family, how did he attend college in America?

      • TheOrdinaryMan

        I don’t know. How did Obama, also from a rather poor family, attend Occidental College and Harvard law school?

  • Tradecraft46

    Hey it is a revealed religion, just like the Lefty twaddle here; show some respect for the mad.

    • SCREW SOCIALISM

      Revealed by daily newspapers as the wellspring of terrorism.

  • Ken Williams

    excellent article; I as the author, will not hold my breath, but rather, I will hold to MY CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS to free speech, and especially the 2nd amendment ………

  • Sniper’s Blade – S.L. R .

    Rise of communism with Islamic Extremism may be the next World War front.

    • defcon 4

      I’m loathe to say it, but I’d almost rather live in a Communist state like the PRC than any islam0nazi state. At least the PRC is led by sane men, led by reason, rather than asinine ayatollahs, insane imans and mad mullahs.

      • Bamaguje

        Unlike the dhimmi West, communists have zero tolerance for Islamists.

        • Andrew

          Yeah just think of the “poor” Uighur Islamists rotting in Chinese prison camps that “pious” Liberals silently ignore.

  • Jeff Ludwig

    We are living in evil times Mr. Spencer. You see this so clearly. I wish more folks did.

  • Chuck Nichols

    Abu Bakr and Umar were not murdered. Uthman and Ali (famously) were murdered. I only have a BA in History (though focused on the ME) yet I know that. I expect more from Spencer

    • De Doc

      Umar was purportedly assassinated by a Persian slave in 644 CE. Abu Bakr’s death reportedly had two possible causes by Islamic accounts. The most commonly accepted version was that he died of natural causes (sickness and age), while a second claims he was poisoned by food that only killed him a year later after he consumed it. Better check your BA in History there dude!

      • Chuck Nichols

        Unconfirmed reasons for death are exactly that. Occam’s Razor is at play. Since we have two confirmed murders then it seems that there would be no reason not to admit the Murder of the first two Rashidun. I have no sympathy for Muslim radicals or the reintroduction of the Caliphate, but let’s not inflate rumors to facts in an attempt to prove our point.

        • De Doc

          Of the first four successors to Muhammad only Umar has any historical attestation. A curious inscription in Arabic found on a rock in NW Arabia was apparently penned by a traveller who noted the death of Umar referencing the mosArab Year 24. (http://www.academia.edu/3576977/The_Inscription_of_Zuhayr_the_oldest_Islamic_Inscription_AH_24_AD_644_). I use the term ‘purported’ to denote that it was Islamic tradition speaking and not independently recorded.

          None of the other so-called Rightly Guided Caliphs have any independent attestation other than hagiographic Islamic material, which is of dubious quality at best. To say that any lived as Islamic history paints them is a stretch, but if we only have the Islamic account to go by then three of the four were definitely murdered (last I checked assassination is a form of murder) with a possibility of all four. Occam’s Razor would argue that the successors of Muhammad stories were pious fiction rather than history.

          If you have independent, non-Muslim sources from the 7th c CE that say otherwise, you ought to share. The entire community of academicians who study Islamic origins will hail you for your groundbreaking discoveries.

          • Chuck Nichols

            So I suppose Bernard Lewis had been somehow cowed by Muslims into accepting that all four the Rashidun existed? In six years of collegiate study (second was in Poli Sci) I never once heard the existence of the Rashidun questioned. If only one Caliph existed, and we have to assume that it was Ali, then we have one caliph for a period of 30 years about whom palace intrigue and religious schisms were made up….again Occam’s Razor. An Umayyad conspiracy to delegitimize Ali’s claim? Though I suppose, if the only one who existed was Ali, then Spencer’s claim that they were all murdered is true.

            But you claim that it was only Umr (Umar) that existed when then beg’s the question. why were Abu Bakr, Fatima, Uthman, Ali, Hasan and Husain

            Why must a source be non-Muslim? Surely you don’t hold the same standard for other historical figures, such as non-Roman sources for Ovid, or Non-Christian references to Jesus.

            You are attacking me like I am defending Islamic radicals, yet my Wife is a Coptic whose family faced constant harassment at the hands of Egyptian Muslims. I am only defending the use of honesty, academic integrity, and even handedness. Attacking all Muslims is a sure way to make an enemy of all Muslims.

          • De Doc

            My apologies for seeming so heated – it was not my intention. I merely wanted to present the idea that Islamic history as told by its own traditions is a suspect source. Like any source that contains polemics, hagiography or theological baggage it must be carefully scrutinized before accepted as truth.

            While I respect much of Lewis’s work, he is not an expert in Islamic origins and thus prone to accepting many of the canonical accounts as verified history. However, we should not be asking what Lewis, Hoyland, Donner et al think, but what the oldest attested sources say. From the Islamic POV there are only vague hints – Muslims wrote the storied tales of the Rashidun long after their supposed timeframe, some 125+ yrs after the death of Muhammad. What do the 7th c. CE Byzantine sources say about the Rashidun? Nothing. That’s amazing considering that they lost most of their Near Eastern holdings to these Arabs by the mid 7th c CE (for the record Muawiah is the first historically attested leader of the Arab rulers at that time). This is problematic considering one of the linchpins of the Historical Method, which is the criterion of multiple attestation. Does this mean there is no historical core to the Rashidun motif? Of course not, but trying to figure out the real history has been a challenge ever since Islamic origins have been studied from an historical critical method.

            I would invite you to continue learning more about this by reading Spencer’s book ‘Did Muhammad Exist?’ for a start and follow his references or check out the works of Karl Heinz Ohlig, Gerd Puin, Christoph Luxemberg, and others who have been pioneering and reawakening this research for the last 25+ yrs now.

        • defcon 4

          Which muslimes are opposed to a caliphate again?

        • Drakken

          There are no muslim radicals, there are only muslims period, obviously that BA that was sold to you under false pretenses, wasn’t worth what you paid to get it. Islam is islam no matter the stripe, and where ever islam goes, the bloody always flows, without exception. There, I have added to your education.

          • Chuck Nichols

            have you known any Muslims? I have known quite a few, I even have one in my family who refuses to ever go back home due to the resurgent radicalism in Morocco.

            Are all Christians interested in a Theocracy? Are all of them Millenarianists? Are all Jews supporters of Israel or support “settlers” Why would Islam be any more monolithic, or is Islam just better at being cohesive than Christianity and Judaism.

            Perhaps it threats of violence that keep the non-radical Muslims in line, in which case not all of them are of the same intent or fervor, thus not all Muslims can be considered radical.

            This polarity is just bigotry peddled as Safety First.

          • Drakken

            Hmm lets see if I know any muslims, oh yes, of course, my over 25 years of being in Africa, the Middle and Far East have absolutely taught me nothing about these muslim savages and their absence of culture. The worst Christian on his/her worst day is still better than a muslim on their best day. Oh nice play with the race and bigotry card, in case you didn’t notice, that dog don’t hunt anymore. Islam one way or another is headed to a showdown with us westerners and nobody is going to give a rats azz how so called peaceful a muslim says they are, for it isn’t going to matter. Perhaps if you have gotten out of the US more often you wouldn’t have this all cultures, religions and people are equal utopian nonsense, and see the world for what it is. Get a bloody clue.

          • Chuck Nichols

            Congratulations, you win the internet.

          • defcon 4

            Christianity isn’t a jew hating death cult by decree.

    • defcon 4

      Yeah, and islam is really a religion of peace ain’t it?

  • De Doc

    Zafar is safe so long as he stays in nations that do not persecute his particular Ahmadiyyah version of Islam. In much of the Islamic world he would be refused entry into the country, persecuted by authorities or sentenced to death for any display of his heresy (per Sunni Islam). Other more ‘tolerant’ parts of the Muslim world would just see his derrière lynched by a mob of angry salafis aimed at administering street justice for his obeisance to Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s teachings.

    • defcon 4

      Ahamdiyyah have been beaten to death is “tolerant”, “moderate” Indonesia — while law enforcement officials looked on.

    • Drakken

      I say we throw this guy into the ring with other stripes of muslims and lets take bets on how long he lasts?