The mind and ‘scholarship’ of the charlatan Robert Spencer: Part One

by Omar Shtewi

Looks like a faculty photo, doesn't it?


The Mind

On August 13, I wrote to Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch, drawing his attention to the post that I wrote here in reference to his horrifying performance on Ezra Levant’s The Source programme on the Canadian Sun TV.  You can subject yourself to it here.

Here is the email I sent him:

Dear Mr Spencer

We have corresponded before, you may recall.

The point of this email, though, is to ask you one or two questions about your recent appearance on Ezra Levant’s The Source on Sun TV.

In the interview, you make a number of claims and I would be grateful if you could clarify them for me.

  • You refer to chatter that you are “picking up” from “jihadi websites”.  To which websites are you referring?
  • On your Jihad Watch blog, an entry published by Ms Marisol Seibold included an article entitled “In online forums, Islamic militants urge rioters in Britain to topple government”.  You will notice though, that Ms Seibold alters to the title in her post to “In online forums, Muslims urgeU.K. rioters to topple government”.  Is that acceptable, in your opinion?.
  • The article from the Associated Press and the one from Postmedia News (via the National Post of Canada, which you include in an “update“) includes no proof of its assertions.  You claim to be a scholar.  Is it fair to say that any scholar worth his salt would dismiss these claims as baseless, let alone go on a TV show to peddle these rumours?
  • After you admit, in the interview, that Muslims are indeed not to blame for the riots, you claim that the rioters are fromJamaica.  How do you know that?
  • How familiar are you with domestic British politics and social issues?  And, in hindsight, would it have been better for you simply to turn down Levant’s request to appear on his show because you simply do not know enough about the issue? There’s no shame in that, Bob.  

I have written at length about your appearance on Levant’s show at my blog here. If you feel that I am being unkind, please let me know.


Omar Shtewi BA, MSc

I received no answer from Mr Spencer, which I found puzzling.  Anyone who is familiar with his work will know that he prides himself on offering to ‘debate’ those who disagree with him.

I followed up with this second email and I received no response to that either:


You call those who will not debate you ‘cowards’.  I sent you an email some days ago in regard to lies told by Marisol Seibold and by you.

You are yet to answer me.

This is essentially a refusal to debate me, is it not?

– – Omar Shtewi

Why is Mr Spencer being so shy?  We know, for example that despite his total lack of any academic credentials whatsoever in the field of Islamic studies, he is able, without embarrassment, to call legitimate scholars with positions at leading universities pseudo-scholars and to complain that they do not debate him.

I would suggest that this is because Mr Spencer is safe in the knowledge that they would decline to lower themselves to his standard.  Juan Cole made that very clear when he wrote the following to a Jihad Watch reader:

“Spencer is a fraud with no academic credentials in Islamic studies. For me to debate him would bestow on him a level of legitimacy his falsehoods have not earned him.”

This must cut deep.  And who is Juan Cole?  He is a professor at the University of Michigan.  It is expected that any scholar of Islam will know the languages necessary to conduct adequate study.  Cole does.  He knows Arabic and Persian (Spencer knows neither and, in fact, gets the two mixed up, as I will show you in Part Two) in addition to Turkish and Urdu.  This, in addition to his publications, puts Professor Cole on a level so apart from Spencer that his refusal to debate the charlatan is probably appropriate.  One could argue that it would belittle the University of Michigan.

Spencer’s answer though, is staggering:

Manifestly, from what is below, it is Juan Cole who is the fraud, hiding behind the MESA ideological control of the academy to cover up his mediocrity and utter intellectual vacuity. He does not and cannot point out anything false in what I say, and smears me to hide the fact that he cannot defend his own positions and fears to debate me. In reality, if I were the “fraud” he says, he could debate me, win handily, and in doing so show me up. After all, he cannot deny that my work has influence — how many bestselling books has he written again? Isn’t it interesting that neither this coward nor any of his fellow academic poseurs, although their influence is far lesser than mine, will deign to do the world the service of showing me up publicly and thereby ending my baneful influence forever? Could it be that they can’t do it? Sure looks like it, as Cole cowers in fear, fashions excuses, and slings insults. All that is easy. Refuting my work is not so easy. [my emphasis]

I would argue, incidentally, that real scholars should debate Robert Spencer.  Even though it would indeed cheapen and lower debate about Islam. The game, in my view, changed completely when Anders Breivik attacked Oslo and the Labour Party Summer Camp on Otoya Island based on the writings of men like Spencer.  Now, Cole and others do, in my view, have a responsibility to answer Spencer directly.

There are, of course, certain people that Spencer is happy to debate.  They tend to be intellectually weak, more amateurish even than him and unable to counter his mendacious attacks.  This point is made very plainly here at the Loonwatch blog, in response to Spencer’s highly undignified crowing over his “defeat” of “Imam” Moustafa Zayed .

Spencer’s first tactic is to present Zayed as an important scholarly figure in Islamic circles.  He isn’t.  He’s just some guy, from some place in the US, who fancies himself as a scholar but doesn’t fancy putting in the necessary work (in this way, of course, he has a friend in Spencer).  He is, with all due respect to him, an accessory to Robert Spencer’s lies and falsehoods.

Loonwatch is worth quoting at length so that we know exactly why Spencer decided to debate Zayed at all.  Referring to a horrendous book written by Zayed in response to Spencer’s bizarre effort at exposing “The Truth About Muhammad“:

I have read about half the book [by Moustafa Zayed]. Sadly, it is very poorly written and the arguments are weak. Overall, the “refutation” was highly ineffective. In fact, I would go so far as to say the book is childish. It was painful to read, and was quite simply tiresome.

Waste of money in my humble opinion. Worse than that, the author’s failure to effectively refute Robert Spencer’s arguments will give the impression that Spencer’s arguments are strong. So in a way, this book does more harm than good. More likely, however, the book will simply be disregarded.

I was honestly skeptical of the book when I bought it, simply because I have seen so many “Muslim scholars” fail so miserably when debating Spencer. Even then, however, the author managed to surprise me by how poorly it was written.

I would suggest that Spencer chooses his debating partners very carefully.  Indeed, according to “Danios” at Loonwatch, Spencer has refused to debate him.  Why?  Is he not confident that he will “best”  him (he actually uses this verb)?

The real reason is quite evidently that Spencer only deals with weaker debating partners.  (This is a tactic similar to that which has been enshrined in policy at Fox News, by the way.  The producers at that bastion of truth insist that Republicans/Conservatives only be allowed to debate with weaker Democrats/Liberals.  Spencer is, along with Pamela Geller, a frequent contributor on that channel).

Obviously, in my emails to Spencer, I was not asking for a debate.  My request was far more modest.  I merely requested an email answering my queries with regard to unsubstantiated claims posted on his blog first by Marisol Seibold and then by Spencer himself.  He would not do that.  When wondering why, I remembered a previous exchange between Spencer and I which explains why he is shy in answering me.