Robert Spencer vs. Mustafa Akyol

Can a Muslim who endorses the Jihad Flotilla be defined as a "liberal" Muslim?

[Editor's note: In our June 3rd issue of, we ran a piece by Robert Spencer: Another Moderate Muslim Joins the Jihad: Mustafa Akyol.  Below is a rejoinder by Mustafa Akyol, followed by a response from Spencer.]

I Support Justice, Not Jihad
By Mustafa Akyol

Recently Robert Spencer argued on Frontpage that I, once a “moderate Muslim,” have joined the jihad against “infidels” and especially the state of Israel.

Well, not really. If I ever join an armed struggle one day, I will tell you. What I actually did was to condemn a particular action of the Israeli government: their bloody raid on the Free Gaza flotilla, an international group of NGOs that tried to bring in humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, defying Israel’s blockade.

The incident has become a global issue, as nine Turkish activists on the flotilla were killed by Israeli commandos. The two sides, as you can expect, have their own versions of the events. Mr. Spencer seems to accept and defend the Israeli narrative, and that is just fine. I, for my part, don’t accept the Israeli narrative, and hope that a “credible, independent international investigation,” as a recent New York Times editorial suggested, will show us what really happened.

Meanwhile, I don’t think that the fact that some of the activists on board were “Hamas sympathizers” justifies Israel’s attack. In Turkey we have a few million “PKK sympathizers,” and although I regard the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) as a terrorist organization, I don’t regard those people as terrorists and thus legitimate targets. I understand that they just see the world quite differently.

I also don’t accept that Israel has a right to put a blockade on the Gaza Strip — a collective punishment on 1.5 million people — for the terrorist actions of the radicals in that destitute part of the world. I actually think that the radicalism on the Palestinian side is only exacerbated by such brutal and humiliating policies of Israel, which include the occupation of Palestinian lands since 1967 and the building of illegal settlements on them. The latter recently infuriated even Joe Biden, who does not shy away from describing himself as “a Zionist.”

I, on the other hand, am not a Zionist, but I certainly accept Israel’s right to exist, in its internationally acknowledged pre-1967 borders. I also strongly support a two-state solution which will, hopefully, give peace and security to both the Jewish and the Palestinian peoples.

The bottom line, I guess, is that I am not “pro-Israel,” as I believe Mr. Spencer is. I am rather trying to be pro-justice, and equally respect the rights of the both sides of the Middle Eastern conflict.

As for being a “moderate Muslim,” I never recall calling myself as such. The only political-sounding term I prefer to use is “liberal,” in the classical sense of the word. In other words, I do define myself as a “liberal Muslim,” for I uphold individual liberty, and criticize some elements within the Islamic tradition that contradict this value — things such as the ban on apostasy, the bans on “sinful” things, or the enforcement of certain religious practices.

I probably am “moderate,” too, for I always prefer dialogue to confrontation and diplomacy to armed conflict. But if being a “moderate Muslim” means being uncritical of Israel, or any other government, in order to enjoy flattery by them and their supporters, then let me kindly return the badge.

Spencer responds:

Mustafa Akyol, oddly enough, seems in his note to equate "jihad" with "armed struggle," and to ignore the jihad of the tongue, the jihad of the hand, the jihad of the heart, and the jihad against the lower self, all of which are abundantly represented in Islamic tradition. But for the record, I do not believe and did not intend to imply that Mustafa Akyol was going to blow himself up in a crowded restaurant in Tel Aviv, or hide explosives in his underwear and attempt to set them off on an airplane, or drive a bomb-rigged car into Times Square, or shoot soldiers on a U.S. Army base. I do not believe that he is ever going to take up arms in order to further the hegemony of Islamic law over the world -- but that doesn't mean that in endorsing the Jihad Flotilla, and accepting the Islamic supremacist Turkish government's fantastic version of events, that he is not siding with the jihad against Israel, and hence with the larger global jihad of which the jihad against Israel is just one of many fronts, albeit the foremost.

For the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians is indeed a jihad -- if it weren't, Mr. Akyol would have had his two-state solution in 1948, when the Arabs rejected a Palestinian state and went to war with Israel instead, motivated by the jihadist intransigence that demands all the land of Israel as an Islamic waqf. That line of thinking is also why the Camp David Accords, the Oslo Accords, the Road Map, and all other attempts to "solve" the Israeli/Palestinian conflict have failed, and why all future such initiatives will fail unless they involve the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state and its incorporation into an Islamic Sharia state. That is the stated goal of the Hamas movement that runs the Gaza strip that was to be the recipient of this "humanitarian aid."

The "radicals," as Mr. Akyol calls Hamas and its ideological kin, are supported by the overwhelming majority of Gazans, who voted them into power by a large margin. The society they envision is not in any sense "pro-justice" except in the eyes of Sharia supporters and sympathizers, and given that Mr. Akyol acknowledges that "some of the activists on board were 'Hamas sympathizers,'" it reflects poorly on the moral sense of the other "activists" that they made the trip at all in the company of such people.

Meanwhile, Mr. Akyol conveniently ignores the fact that what he characterizes as the "Israeli narrative," to which he generously grants me permission to subscribe, is abundantly established by video footage showing that the "activists" attacked the Israeli soldiers first, and by the photographs showing that the weapons they used were anything but the harmless "kitchen utensils" he earlier characterized them as being. But it has already been abundantly established that the world will not accept Israeli evidence no matter how compelling, while swallowing Palestinian propaganda (which they are very skillful in packaging for the mainstream media) with eager credulity.

So I do not, by any means, expect Mr. Akyol to break ranks with the dominant mainstream, the overall objectives of which he accepts anyway. I do wonder, however, what would happen to this self-professed "liberal Muslim" if he himself were to visit Gaza and proclaim publicly his opposition to the Islamic death penalty for apostasy. He might in that event not find too many of the oppressed, starving, but inexplicably obese (indeed, one of the most obese populations in the world) people of Gaza not quite as "pro-justice" as he might have hoped.