As part of conservative activist David Horowitz's "Islamofascism Awareness Week," author Robert Spencer spoke at Brown University Thursday night to a crowd that was heated even before he took the stage.
Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch, and the author of New York Times bestsellers "The Truth About Muhammad" and "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam." Before Spencer's talk began, pamphlets including "The Violent Oppression of Women in Islam" and "The Islamic Mein Kampf," linking jihad to Nazism, were available outside the auditorium.
As soon as he took the stage, Spencer declared that the Islamofascism week was "an attempt to call attention to the reality and the magnitude of the oppressive character of a supremacist ideology that is routed in the teaching of the Islamic religion." The controversial term "Islamofascism" is used by some commentators, including Horowitz, to describe an association between radical Islamist ideology and 20th century European fascist movements. Spencer said he would have preferred to dub the week jihadism awareness week.
"I do not believe that Islam at its core is a peaceful religion," he said. "That doesn't mean I don't believe there are peaceful Muslims."
Pointing to examples of violence in the Islamic world -- spousal abuse, the threat of death to those who want to leave Islam, female circumcision practices in Somalia, the murder of homosexuals -- Spencer said he believes Islamofascists see these behaviors as consistent with and justified by the Quran's teachings. Discussing jihad, he cited terrorist leaders' use of verses from the Quran for "justification and recruitment" and their declaration that acts of terrorism are an "Islamic duty." Spencer said there have been over 9,000 jihad attacks since Sept. 11, 2001.
Spencer said he hoped to encourage dialogue, especially within Muslim communities.
"There are human rights issues and they need to be discussed by every person of goodwill. They need to be discussed without finger pointing, with an honest look at what is causing these things to happen," Spencer said.
He also opposed the U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia and supported the development of alternative sources of energy.
"We need to stop financing our destruction," Spencer said.
The question-and-answer session became heated, as students delivered rants instead of asking questions. Spencer repeatedly said that he, not they, had been asked to speak.
Ben Winkler '11 said the response misrepresented Brown students.
"I think every person who felt morally indignant was indulging their anger as opposed to directly probing his arguments," he said.
Students' questions expressed a desire for positive information about Islam and Islamic countries that Spencer acknowledged but said missed the point of his argument.
"At Brown, we pride ourselves on breaking down dichotomies, avoiding generalizations and using an 'us or them' mentality that overlooks nuances," Atena Asiaii '08 said. "In this spirit, can you provide us with some examples of tolerance, avoiding judgment and gender equality that are found in the Quran?"
But while Spencer answered Asaii's question with examples, when asked why he didn't discuss positive interfaith relations in Islamic countries, Spencer replied, "What is the cause of jihad violence? People being nice is good, but it doesn't explain the problem."
Other students expressed frustration that Spencer did not talk more about problems caused by fundamentalists of other religions. One student asked about evangelical Christians' opposition to gay marriage, to which Spencer replied, "Opposition to marriage is not the sae thing as toppling a wall (to kill homosexuals)," spurring applause from some.
Another student mentioned the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades as examples of Christian atrocities.
"There hasn't been a crusade since 1291," Spencer said quickly in response.
But Spencer did acknowledge that people of all religions have committed atrocities, repeatedly saying, "There is no monopoly on evil."
By the end of the question-and-answer session many students had left, some in protest. Stragglers' reviews of the event were mixed.
Osman Chaudhry '11 said he thought the lecture unfairly cast suspicion on the entire Muslim community.
Asiaii said she believed Spencer voiced a minority opinion.
"I think there is definitely some truth in the ideas that he expressed, but it's always really important to discuss historical context and acknowledge different interpretations and perspectives on those issues that the majority of Muslims adhere to," Asiaii said.
College Republicans President Mark Frank '09 said he was pleased with the lecture.
"It was great to get an alternative view. Where he was very provocative, he largely backed his arguments with solid evidence, and I do think a lot of people in this room, while (they) disagreed with him, at the minimum thought it was thought-provoking and worthwhile," Frank said.
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© 2007 Brown Daily Herald via U-WIRE