Widgets Magazine

OPINIONS

An ‘expert’ without expertise

On Nov. 14, Robert Spencer will speak at Stanford.

He believes Islam is “the only religion in the world that has a developed doctrine, theology and legal system that mandates violence against unbelievers and mandates that Muslims must wage war in order to establish the hegemony of the Islamic social order all over the world,” as he stated in an interview on C-SPAN in 2006.

Funny; I don’t recall Malala Yousafzai advocating for violence and world domination. Must have missed that headline.

Spencer is a blogger, author and director of the website Jihad Watch. He travels the country offering his “expertise” on Islam and jihad to universities, news channels and politicians. Except he is not an expert. He does not hold a Ph.D., master’s or bachelor’s degree in Islamic studies. He has not published any peer-reviewed academic papers, the most basic criterion to be a serious academic scholar. His opinion has been cited by numerous news outlets, but most of his work appears on his blog. That’s right: His blog. It’s true he has been featured on The New York Times bestseller list, but so has Snooki from MTV’s Jersey Shore. Popularity does not in itself make credibility.

Spencer is largely “self-taught” on the Qu’ran and Islamic history. He majored in religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with his master’s thesis on Catholic history.

He attributes “a great deal” of what he knows to his mentor, Paul Weyrich, who advocated for the resurrection of the House Un-American Activities Committee, claimed gays and feminists were sinners and believed “not everyone should vote.”

He has written 17 books that contain such gems as accusing President Obama of “doing the bidding of Islamic overlords” and the Muslim Brotherhood of having “a plan to … conquer the United States” and establish a global caliphate. Conspiracy theorist? I don’t know her.

Spencer cofounded Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) and the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), both of which have been designated as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a national watch group challenging media bias, ranked Spencer America’s second leading Islamophobe (second only to his boss David Horowitz).

Anders Behring Breivik, the Oslo terrorist who killed 77 people in 2011, cited Spencer’s work 64 times in his political manifesto.

Spencer has been banned from the United Kingdom. Yes, that’s right, this man has been banned from an entire country; that’s a little bit impressive, in a twisted kind of way. According to the U.K. Home Secretary’s office, Spencer “is not conducive to the public good.” Keith Vaz, chairman of the British Home Affairs Select Committee, says of Spencer, “the U.K. should never become a stage for inflammatory speakers who promote hate.”

And yet, oddly enough his book has been used as training material for the FBI. He has “led seminars” for the United States Central Command, the U.S. Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group, the Joint Terrorism Task Force and other various intelligence agencies. This is not a reflection of Spencer’s credibility or scholarship but of the U.S. agencies’ lack thereof. In 2011, the FBI apologized “for its offensive training materials,” and Joe Lieberman, former chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, called Spencer’s work “inappropriate” and “inaccurate.”

It’s curious, then, that Spencer is coming to Stanford. It’s curious that the students of a university that values scholarship and academic accuracy would invite someone devoid of both.

 

Contact Siena Fay at sienafay ‘at’ stanford.edu.