By Bruce Bawer
What would we do without Robert Spencer? In over a dozen definitive books, and on his invaluable Jihad Watch website, he has served as a one-man truth squad on the subject of Islam, providing readers with lucid, cogent accounts of the belief system itself, of the Koran, of jihad, and of the life of Muhammed. In Stealth Jihad (2008), he described the ways in which Islamic law is being forced upon America, subverting the nation’s constitutional freedoms in aggressive but peaceful and even, at times, seemingly reasonable ways. Now, in The Complete Infidel’s Guide to Free Speech (and Its Enemies), he looks at the same phenomenon from the other side – providing a compendious if not comprehensive history of the ways in which Western governments, media, and others in positions of authority have enabled stealth jihad and punished its critics.
Needless to say, it’s a depressing story. In my 2009 book Surrender, I told it up to that point – the Salman Rushdie fatwa, the murders of Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, the Danish cartoons. As it happens, Spencer kicks off his account with the cartoons, reminding us that the good guys (notably Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who refused to discuss freedom of speech with Muslim ambassadors) were outnumbered by the bad guys (the UN’s Louise Arbour and Doudou Diène, the EU’s Javier Solana, and – surprise! – Bill Clinton, all of whom condemned the cartoons). Spencer then takes a long leap back – not to Rushdie, but all the way back to Muhammed, who himself, Spencer points out, initiated the time-honored Islamic practice of eliminating critics tout de suite. After each of several poets – among them Ka’b bin a’l-Ashraf, Abu Afak, and Asma bint Marwan – publicly mocked Islam, Muhammed, prefiguring Henry II, asked aloud, “Who will rid me of [insert poet’s name here]?” Each of these versifiers was promptly dispatched by one of his faithful followers. And a beloved Islamic custom was born.
Spencer doesn’t just focus on Islam. By way of demonstrating to American readers that they shouldn’t put too much faith in the indelible, rock-solid nature of the First Amendment, he harks back to the 1798 Sedition Act – under which several individuals were imprisoned for mocking then-President John Adams – and the 1917 Espionage Act, under which Socialist Party leaders were jailed for opposing the draft. History, warns Spencer, “shows that First Amendment protections of free speech are most likely to be curtailed in a time of serious and imminent threats to the nation.” Have we reached that point now? After all, look at the procedural encumbrances that have been placed on the Second Amendment in many jurisdictions. Who’s to say that the same can’t happen to the First?
It’s not as if it such limitations haven’t been entertained at the highest levels. Spencer reminds us of a failed 2015 House resolution that decried “violence, bigotry, and hateful rhetoric towards Muslims”; of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 statement that “every constitutional right and amendment can be tailored in an appropriate way without breaching the Constitution”; of Hillary’s promise, in a 2011 Istanbul speech, to use “old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming” to silence Islam’s critics; of President Obama’s support for a UN Human Rights Council motion calling for the criminalization of “negative racial and religious stereotyping”; and of an Assistant Attorney General’s refusal “to affirm that the Obama Justice Department would not attempt to criminalize criticism of Islam.”
And of course Spencer revisits the Benghazi killings, every aspect of which, we’re reminded, was pure evil – Hillary’s mendacious attribution of the killings to an anti-Islam video; her promise to a victim’s father that its producer, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, would be “arrested and prosecuted”; Nakoula’s actual arrest and year-long (!) imprisonment (allegedly for a minor violation of probation); the cruelly cynical condemnations of the video by Obama himself as well as by innumerable administration flunkies, such as UN Ambassador Susan Rice. Every one of these actions, of course, was a betrayal not only of the First Amendment but of the dead in Benghazi, of the American people, and of the truth itself. Spencer quotes the estimable Kenneth Timmerman (whose 2016 book Deception: The Making of the YouTube Video Hillary and Obama Blamed for Benghazi I don’t think I’ve even heard of before) as calling Nakoula “the first victim of Islamic Sharia blasphemy laws in the United States.” During the presidential campaign, Democrats complained endlessly about conservatives’ supposed harping on Benghazi; in fact Hillary’s heinous conduct in this matter – forget everything else she’s ever done – should have been more than enough reason for a decent-minded electorate to repudiate her entirely. And to think that this wretch dared to call half of America deplorable!
There are details in Spencer’s book that will be familiar to some readers but new to others. For example, I didn’t know – or had forgotten – that on the very day after the massacre at that San Bernardino Christmas party in December 2015, then Attorney General Loretta Lynch, speaking to a Muslim group, focused not on that jihadist atrocity but on the purported danger of “anti-Muslim violence,” and instead of committing the Justice Department to enhanced anti-terrorism measures made comments that seemed to many to suggest that she was prepared instead to prosecute anti-Muslim speech acts. One of the very few politicians to call her on these reprehensible remarks was former New York Governor George Pataki, who, in a tweet, dared her to arrest him for wanting to see jihadists annihilated. (Similarly, when Terry Jones, an obscure Florida pastor, announced his intention to burn copies of the Koran, drawing protests not only from Obama and Hillary but also from Sarah Palin and General David Petraeus, the good guy was New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who instead of upbraiding Jones affirmed his First Amendment rights.)
Spencer reminds us that the FBI officials knew of Major Nidal Hasan’s terrorist contacts and pro-jihadist statements before he committed the Fort Hood massacre, but let him alone, for the same reason that British authorities kept mum for years about the systematic rape of children (ultimately over 1400 of them) by Muslims in Rotherham: because they didn’t want to be called Islamophobes. At the other end of the cowardice-to-courage spectrum, Spencer tells us how a terrorist plan to kill soldiers at Fort Dix was foiled by a young Circuit City clerk, Brian Morgenstern, whom the plotters paid to transfer jihad videos from VHS to DVD. When Morgenstern noticed the alarming contents of the videos, he hesitated to say anything to anybody for fear he was being “racist,” but overcame his fear, informed authorities, and saved lives. As Spencer notes, Morgenstern’s hesitation was a perfect example of the kind of “peer pressure” and “shaming” that Hillary Clinton celebrated in Istanbul.
“Americans,” laments Spencer, “are internalizing Islamic blasphemy law.” Well, that’s certainly the case with despicable Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau, who accused the murdered Charlie Hebdo cartoonists of “hate speech” and of having “brought a world of pain to France.” Another is the execrable novelist Joyce Carol Oates, who (along a couple of hundred other writers) criticized a posthumous award by PEN, the authors’ rights organization, to the Charlie Hebdo victims. Far from all of the dhimmis have been on the left: among those who objected to the 2015 Draw Muhammed event in Garland, Texas, were Bill O’Reilly, Laura Ingraham, Rep. Peter King (a leading anti-jihad voice in Congress), and, alas, Donald Trump. Spencer reminds us that in the midst of the Satanic Verses controversy, the Vatican denounced Salman Rushdie; that Pope Benedict, after causing a ruckus by censuring Islam in his 2006 Regensburg speech, quickly tendered a groveling apology; and that Pope Francis responded to the Charlie Hebdo massacre by calling for limits to the right to criticize somebody else’s beliefs, suggesting that if you “make fun of the faith of others” you should “expect a punch.”
One of this book’s big pluses is the attention it draws to unsung heroes – and villains – in the counterjihadist struggle: I’ve never heard of Natalie Merchant or her rock group, 10,000 Maniacs, but kudos to her for deciding to stop covering Cat Stevens’s “Peace Train” (which had apparently been a big hit for her) after he expressed support for the Rushdie fatwa.
Near the beginning of this work, Spencer quotes 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, who told the passengers on American Airlines Flight 11: “Just stay quiet and you’ll be okay.” Well, as we all know now, they weren’t okay. In the days and weeks after that fateful day, we should all have gotten busy learning things that would have entirely altered the grim history related in these pages. The tragic fact, alas, is that during the sixteen years since 9/11, the forces of ignorance and submission have on the ascendant in the West, aiding stealth jihad and squelching its critics. Atta’s seven simple words have become the refrain of the CAIR crowd and the pro-Islamic left – and tens of millions of men and women in the West have listened, held their tongues, and buried their heads in the sand. Atta’s promise – his assurance, his admonition – echoes throughout this book, in which Spencer, at appropriate moments, quotes it again and yet again, reminding us that it was, and is, nothing but a deadly lie. The cumulative effect is powerful, even haunting. As we reach the volume’s concluding pages – in which Spencer covers some of the latest acts of campus violence by the fascist anti-fascists known as Antifa and offers up sage advice for President Trump (who we can only hope will read this book) – we find Atta’s chilling words ringing in our ears. No: as Spencer has made abundantly, authoritatively, and illuminatingly clear, staying quiet will not make everything okay.