A piece published last week in the New York Review of Books and written by the formerly respectable Islamic scholar Malise Ruthven is so full of errors, false claims, and inaccuracies that it is surprising that the New York Review of Books published it at all. On the other hand, as the mainstream media increasingly abandons all pretense of objective reporting and becomes ever more a propaganda arm for the Left and Islamic supremacists, it isn’t all that surprising after all.
In it Ruthven expatiates at length about what he thinks is “hate speech” directed at Muslims. Invoking Salman Rushdie’s criticism of the crude video of Muhammad that was recently blamed for riots and murders all over the Islamic world, Ruthven says: “On the motives behind the film Rushdie is surely right: researchers have revealed close connections between Nakoula, a militant Coptic separatist, and out-and-out Islamophobes such as Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer. (Indeed, even as people in the Middle East were rioting against the film in late September, Geller was sponsoring a controversial anti-Muslim advertising campaign in the New York subway, raising questions about hate speech in the United States.)”
This is actually false in every respect. Pamela Geller and I have no connections whatsoever, close or otherwise, to Nakoula, who may not be a "militant Coptic separatist" or a Copt at all. Geller's advertising was not "anti-Muslim," but against jihad attacks against innocent civilians. Ruthven's use of the manipulative and inaccurate media slogans "anti-Muslim" and "Islamophobe" is unworthy of him as a scholar, as is his willing propagation of the spurious concept of "Islamophobia," which Islamic supremacist groups use nowadays to intimidate people into thinking that there is something wrong and "racist" about resisting jihad.
After that, Ruthven’s piece gets really risible. “Matthew Feldman, a political scientist,” Ruthven notes, “has used the term “Christianism” to describe ultra-right-wing anti-Muslim polemicists such as Geller and the Quran-burning pastor Terry Jones, who also supported the film, in order to highlight their similarities to their Islamist enemies. Both rely on religious feelings to mobilize much larger groups because of the esteem for their respective religions in the broader cultures in which they reside.”
This is even more of a howler than Ruthven's claim that we were behind the Muhammad movie: Pamela Geller, who is deeply proud of her Jewish identity, is now a "Christianist" who is relying on "religious feelings" to "mobilize larger groups"? It is astonishing that Ruthven would have the audacity to write about people that he clearly knows nothing about. In reality, the American Freedom Defense Initiative that Pamela Geller and I head up is not a religious organization, but is dedicated to defending the freedom of speech, the freedom of conscience, and the equality of rights of all people before the law. Clearly these are "ultra-right-wing anti-Muslim" goals!
Ultimately, after a great deal of long-winded chatter that doesn’t get much of anywhere, Ruthven calls for the criminalization of criticism of Islam as “hate speech”: “These contrasting responses suggest the possibility of a two-pronged approach to the free speech issues raised by images of the Prophet. ‘Insulting’ the Prophet with the intent of stirring up hatred might be categorized as a form of ‘hate speech’ comparable to anti-Semitism, racism, flag desecration, or Holocaust denial, which are forbidden by law in many countries (though not the US, where a proposed amendment protecting the US flag failed to pass by a single Senate vote in 2006), because the sacred image of the Prophet has become a fundamental part of how Muslim communities have come to define themselves. While in practice it may be difficult to draw the line between ‘insult’ and ‘criticism,’ if there is a distinction it must lie in intention.”
Who will judge intentions, once Ruthven's authoritarian law is passed? What will Malise Ruthven do if someone in power decides that something he has written about Islam was actually intended to “insult” Muslims, rather than to provide reasonable “criticism”? And why is the New York Review of Books publishing this invitation to the suicide of the free press?
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and author of the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is Did Muhammad Exist?.