Robert Spencer: Self-declared Scholar v. Real Scholar on the Fatimah Rifqa Bary Case
The Right-Wing anti-Muslim loonocracy and its minions in the blogosphere have secured a new cause to rally around, ironically enough it once again involves a Muslim minor, and in this regard, the anti-Muslim blogosphere really doesn’t have a good track record. As recent history has proved, the last time the anti-Muslim blogosphere got this riled up about Muslim minors they turned up with egg on their faces.
After viewing a picture online of a wedding in Gaza, with grooms holding the hands of their young female cousins and nieces, the Islamophobia hit epic proportions with accusations of pedophilia being flung about wily-nily without nary a fact check. Tim Marshall, who reported on the wedding wrote about the Islamophobic response to the wedding,
Our report on this put it into context saying that it took place just a mile from the Israeli border and was a message from Hamas about its strength confidence and future fighters. Oh and that the brides were elsewhere. Pretty straightforward.
It never struck me for a moment that the little girls might later be described in the bloggersphere as the brides! How naive I am.
Dozens, and I mean dozens, of websites took the video of the event and wrote lurid stories about Hamas mass paedophilia with headlines about ‘450 child brides’, and endless copy about how disgusting this was, how it showed how depraved Islam is, et al, ad infinitum. Site after site jumped on the story, linking from one totally wrong load of rubbish to the next.
Robert Spencer was amongst the bloggers that falsely reported the incident as an instance of pedophilia.
The Fatimah Rifqa Bary Case
This time the case involves 17 year old Fatimah Rifqa Bary the daughter of Sri Lankan immigrants who came to America in 2000 seeking treatment for her vision problems. And before you could say “expediency,” the typical hordes of vultures started cycling, not so much out of interest for the girl’s welfare or the facts of the story, but as what they saw as a golden opportunity to reaffirm their caricature of Islam and Muslims as a dangerous cancer lurking within an otherwise good and pure Western civilization.
Fatimah, a cheerleader at New Albany High School ran away from her Columbus, Ohio home and ended up at the home of a pastor in Florida named Blake Lorenz. The details on how she ended up in Florida are still murky but what is clear is that she is leveling some very serious allegations against her family, including that she will be killed if she is returned to Ohio. The Columbus Dispatch reports in a story titled Girl Brainwashed, Parents say:
With Lorenz holding his arm tightly around her, Rifqa told WFTV-TV in Florida on Monday that she would be killed if she came home.
“They love God more than me; they have to do this,” she said. “I’m fighting for my life. You guys don’t understand.”
The family disputes these allegations and believes their daughter has been brainwashed. They state quite categorically that she is free to practice whatever faith she wants,
“We love her, we want her back, she is free to practice her religion, whatever she believes in, that’s OK,” her father, Mohamed Bary, said yesterday.
“What these people are trying to do is not right — I don’t think any religion will teach to separate the kids from their parents,” he said.
The family is not the only ones questioning the young girls allegations, Sgt. Jerry Cupp, the Chief of the Columbus Police Missing-Persons Bureau has said that Mohamed Bary (the father) “comes across to me as a loving, caring, worried father about the whereabouts and the health of his daughter.”
Robert Spencer, however, without knowing anything about the family — or the complete facts of the case — believes there is a slow motion honor killing in the making. Starting from the pre-set conclusion that he derives from his personal study of Islam, he states that Islam requires the death penalty for apostates, and that it is a dead letter only “if no one cares or is able to enforce it in a particular case.” He writes this in response to Muslim scholar M. Cherif Bassiouni, a distinguished Law professor at DePaul University and President of the International Human Rights Law Institute, who wrote in 2006 that “a Muslim’s conversion to Christianity is not a crime punishable by death under Islamic law.”
Professor Bassiouni wrote this in 2006 when a man in Afghanistan was under the penalty of death for converting to Christianity. He wrote it as part of a document that was submitted to the court in Kabul. It has also been professor Bassiouni’s opinion as early as 1983. Professor Bassiouni responded to Spencer stating,
My position on apostasy has been expressed as early as 1983, namely that at the time of the Prophet it was not considered as only changing one’s mind but that it was the equivalent of joining the enemy and thus constituting high treason. In fact, at one time the Prophet had an agreement with the people in Makkah to return to Makkah all those who came from there, who wished to return after they had converted to Islam. I and a number of other distinguished Muslim scholars have long criticized the views of the four traditional Sunni schools…It is amazing to me how apparently little good faith and intellectual honesty you are displaying in your attack upon Islam and Muslims.
Professor Bassiouni’s position is pretty straight forward, he disagrees with those Muslims and non-Muslims who believe Islam legislates death for apostates and that his and many other distinguished Muslim scholars’ opinion is that it doesn’t. This is not so hard to grasp as LoonWatch contributor Barbel notes directly addressing Spencer,
In an obvious attempt to categorically associate this situation with all Muslims you wrote:
If she is sent back to her family, she could be killed, in accord with the death penalty that is prescribed by all Muslim sects and schools for those who leave Islam.
Surely, as a “scholar” you must be aware of this verse from the Muslim holy book, the Quran:
Those who believe, then reject Faith, then believe (again) and (again) reject Faith, and go on increasing in Unbelief,- God will not forgive them nor guide them on the Way.
How would it be possible to reject faith twice or go on increasing in unbelief if one was suppose to have been killed after the first rejection? Furthermore, what purpose would withholding guidance have if the person had a death sentence anyway?
Robert, regardless of what you might want us to believe, Islamic scholars are NOT in consensus nor have they ever been in consensus over the apostasy issue. Historically, the sentence of death was only applied to people who converted from the religion AND committed espionage. Consider what the 10th century scholar Shams al-Din al-Sarakhsi had to say:
The prescribed penalties are generally not suspended because of repentance, especially when they are reported and become known to the head of state. The punishment of highway robbery, for instance, is not suspended because of repentance; it is suspended only by the return of property to the owner prior to arrest. … Renunciation of the faith and conversion to disbelief is admittedly the greatest of offenses, yet it is a matter between man and his Creator, and its punishment is postponed to the day of judgment. Punishments that are enforced in this life are those which protect the people’s interests, such as just retaliation, which is designed to protect life.
I have been criticized about this in many countries. My view is the same as that of Sufyan Al-Thawri, an 8th-century scholar of Islam, who argued that the Koran does not prescribe death for someone because he or she is changing religion. Neither did the Prophet himself ever perform such an act. Many around the Prophet changed religions. But he never did anything against them. There was an early Muslim, Ubaydallah ibn Jahsh, who went with the first emigrants from Mecca to Abyssinia. He converted to Christianity and stayed, but remained close to Muslims. He divorced his wife, but he was not killed.
I know this is probably still not enough for you, so here are over a hundred more Islamic scholars who are against the death penalty for apostasy.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that this girl (or many others who are in similar situations) isn’t at serious risk. She very may well be. All it means is that the straw man version of Islam that you have created only serves to ignite more hatred and promote your own personal ideological agenda.
This highlights the absurdity that is Robert Spencer, an absurdity that projects an ominous pre-set conclusion on any heated situation that arises dealing with Muslims and castigates “all Islam” in the process without acknowledging the polyvalent interpretations that exist or the context.
Robert Spencer’s Hypocrisy on Religious Freedom
What further makes the Fatimah Rifqah Bary case one which exposes Spencer and his cronies is the hypocrisy of it all. This is being painted as a freedom of religion case, specifically the freedom to change one’s religion, but it seems in this department Spencer sounds like the pot calling the kettle black since he supports those who would restrict the freedom of religion of Muslims.
As we have written on extensively before, one of the close comrades of Spencer is neo-fascist European politician Geert Wilders. Spencer is on the record stating his admiration for Wilders who he sees as the only European politician standing up for Western Civilization.
Wilders is by all accounts an odious individual who calls for the out right denial of religious freedom to Muslims. He has called for the banning of the Quran which he compares to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, he has also stated that, “Freedom of Religion should not apply to Islam.” He is also working to end Muslim immigration and strip Muslims in Dutch society of their citizenship.
This is Spencers friend. Spencer has also participated in forums with Wilders, conferences, writes articles about him, has interviewed him and cites him often. In one article Spencer wrote in response to CAIR’s Ibrahim Hooper he says,
I didn’t actually have anything to do with that conference in Florida, but Hoop could just say straight out that I support Wilders. And so should anyone who holds dear the Western values that are threatened by Islamic supremacists.
So is the Fatimah Rifqah Bary case another instance of Robert Spencer jumping the gun or is her life legitimately under threat? The courts will resolve that question, but Spencer has shot his credibility in this department with a track record of obfuscation, innuendo and misrepresentation and is wholly unreliable.
Will Spencer also back track on his position that “all Muslim sects and schools of thought” legislates the death penalty for apostates and concede that there is a valid counter opinion such as the one articulated by Professor Bassiouni? Finally, will Spencer quit the charade that he is a democrat that cares for Freedom of Religion when in fact his position is to support those who would deny religious freedom?
It seems that per his practice, Spencer seized on this case to further his well-oiled agenda that Islam is evil and Muslims are backward. As the story of Fatimah Rifqah Bary plays out we will see more clearly that the anti-Muslims are not motivated by her welfare but rather to confirm their warped hatred of Islam and Muslims.