Part 1 of "Quantum Stupidity" was published the other day. If one had the inclination and time, while sunning oneself on the deck of our collective Western Titanic -- looking up occasionally from our laptop (great wifi reception in the north Atlantic...) to squint at the sunny skies over a horizon still more or less pleasantly dotted with distant spots of snowy white -- one could produce a thousand parts -- nay, tens of thousands -- to exemplify it.
Today's example showcases Frank Gaffney's gushing admiration for pseudo-reformer Zuhdi Jasser:
"There are truly few people whose intelligence, whose courage, whose tenacity, and whose leadership has meant more to me personally -- and I think in many ways to our country -- than a man we are very privileged to have with us for a full hour. He is Dr. Zuhdi Jasser..."
That's Gaffney, introducing the subject of a recent radio podcast (December 17th), in which broadly speaking he and Jasser discuss Jasser's new book, A Battle for the Soul of Islam: An American Muslim Patriot's Fight to Save His Faith, as well as Jasser's efforts in, as Gaffney puts it:
"...leading a very inspiring -- and I hope very promising effort -- A declaration of the Muslim reform movement earlier this month..."
As if that's not laying it on thick enough and setting the stage for a softball interview, Gaffney goes on to say:
"...it is my, as I say, honor to call him a friend as well as a person with whom we are very privileged to consult from time to time..."
-- and describes Jasser as "very active in this space of trying to counter the jihadists" -- thus effectively blessing him with induction into the Counter-Jihad (which, thanks to the fact that it remains an incoherent and disorganized movement, can't marshal any opposition to such a precipitously reckless blessing).
In light of this, consider the considered opinion of Eliana Benador (whom wikipedia describes as "a Swiss-American public relations consultant, global strategist, and a publicist for American and Middle Eastern neo-conservatives"):
People like Frank Gaffney, Steven Emerson, Brigitte Gabriel, Glenn Beck, and many others seem to have given into the Jasser charm, but sadly they are wrong.
Then we have the ever reliably suspicious Andrew Bostom, who recently tweeted a wonderfully incisive summation by Carl Goldberg of his debate in 2014 with Jasser:
Regarding the questions of "solutions", it is Jasser himself who has offered no solutions. Advocating a "pluralistic and liberty-minded Islam" is not a solution at all. Saying that Islam should get rid of some of its core tenets is not a solution. He did not say which verses of the Koran or Mohammed's sayings needed to be eliminated in order to achieve what he wants to achieve, or how to go about getting those sacred texts revised so that the Islamic religious establishment will accept them. A solution must get down to those details, and Jasser did not offer any at all... He has no solution at all, only hope. Hope is not a solution.
Bostom has also written some critical essays on Jasser (all seem to be a few years old), but Bostom, like Hugh Fitzgerald, seems to be stuck at a level of generously conceding sincere motives to Jasser -- characterizing him as "a decent man conflicted by what he wishes to be, and mainstream Islamic reality..." and his ongoing project of reform as "wishful thinking revisionism". This characterization, however, is not the most reasonable inference to be made based on all the data we have: Consider the following facts:
1) Zuhdi Jasser is a very intelligent man;
2) he has been studying Islam for years (and studying the problem of its reform and extremism for years);
3) he has been a practicing Muslim all his life; he grew up in a Muslim family that immigrated to the U.S. from Syria;
4) when discussing the problems of Islam, Jasser's rhetoric becomes a tissue of sophistry sometimes bordering on "disingenuous drivel" (as Bostom aptly not long ago characterized the sophistry of another up-and-coming Muslim on the career fast track of pseudo-Reform, Maajid Nawaz) as well as "double talk and deception" (as Diana West aptly characterized the same performance of Nawaz which Bostom heard).
When we put #4 together with #1-3, something does not add up. To merely characterize Jasser as a "decent" man who indulges in "wishful thinking" simply does not suffice, given the tortured sophistry his so-called wishful thinking exemplifies. The only way to salvage Jasser's reputation would be to consider him severely and strangely brain-damaged -- which, needless to say, would ruin his usefulness as an ally. The most reasonable inference, then, is that Jasser is trying to deceive us. And, tragicomically, he's succeeding with many in the Counter-Jihad (Exhibit A today, Frank Gaffney).
Now, of course #4 is a matter of subjective assessment. To detect it, one needs to be informed about Islam 101, which apparently eludes Frank Gaffney.
Let us then consider one particular segment of a recent podcast discussion Gaffney had with Jasser. I chose that portion that gets to the most important part of the problem of Jasser (which, naturally, is no problem for Gaffney, since he apparently has already vetted him with flying colors, without doing his audience the courtesy of explaining just how he managed this vetting process) -- namely, the part about Mohammed and the Koran, both of which Jasser, as a Muslim, reveres. Here follows some of the transcript, interspersed by my commentary bookended by rows of asterisks before and after:
Gaffney: ...the idea that the prophet was the perfect Muslim, which seems to govern so much of what has come down to us as, I guess, 'sharia'... Let me just ask: this was a man who was indisputably a very accomplished if very brutal warrior.
Would Gaffney characterize the ISIS Caliph as a "very accomplished if very brutal warrior" and not add in this regard that his bellicosity is grotesquely fanatical and ultra-violent and metastatically disturbing the peace of his surrounding society? For this would aptly characterize Muhammad. Consider, for example (just to pluck one example out of hundreds we could adduce from a head-towel), Bill Warner's pithy summation from the mainstream Islamic record of the Sira of Muhammad's conduct at the oasis of Medina where he oversaw the mass beheading of the Jewish tribe, the Banu Qurayza:
In Medina, Mohammed sat all day long beside his 12-year-old wife [Aisha, three years after he first fucked her] while they watched as the heads of 800 Jews were removed by sword. Their heads were cut off because they had said that Mohammed was not the prophet of Allah.
(Not to mention Muhammad's sex slavery consequent upon his violence at, for example, the Khaybar Oasis where, among the atrocities he committed there was to have sex with a female captive (Sufayya) whose husband (Kinana) he had, only hours before, had tortured and beheaded.)
Gaffney's way of putting it, on the other hand, resembles kitman, in that the phrase "very brutal" could conceivably, just barely, cover the deeper, broader pathology of Muhammad -- yet at the same time softens it with a vague coat of whitewash, thus granting on a silver plate a way for Jasser to finesse his way to obfuscation, as we shall see. Let us continue with Muhammad's résumé as Gaffney presents it:
Gaffney: ...This is a man who married a child bride...
Muhammad did not merely marry a child bride -- Aisha, at age 6 -- he fucked her when she was age 9, according to that collector of hadiths, Sahih Bukhari, considered most authoritative in the Muslim world. And since the hadiths form the heart of the Sunna -- and as Muslim historian of Islamic law, Chibli Mallat, noted, the Sunna is for Islam as important if not more important than the Koran itself -- this is no peripheral fact about Muhammad: it is a central, and profoundly ugly and disturbing fact about the man Muslims revere as an "excellent model of conduct" (uswa hasana, per Koran 33:21 and also see 68:4, not to mention the 89 other verses throughout the Koran lauding Muhammad).
Gaffney: ... this is a man who seemed to have countenanced beheadings and other harsh punishments and even in some cases for petty crimes and the like...
"who seemed to have" is a curious locution; much better would have been something like "who is recorded by mainstream Islamic sources -- the Sira and the Hadiths -- to have commanded various beheadings; etc." (including the mass beheading of the Jewish tribe the Banu Qurayza, as we noted above).
This reminds us of Jasser's paradox; he logically must rely on extra-Koranic tradition (which perforce relies on Sira and Hadiths) to whitewash Mohammed (unless he's fabricating his Good Mohammed out of whole cloth & thin air); yet he claims not to follow the Hadiths (or, at least, as he put it once, cagily and parenthetically, "those are the hadiths that we reject"); and Gaffney of course didn't think to confront him about the key question of whether he accepts the Sira, and if partly so, on what basis he cherrypicks from it... but we may revisit that problem later.
Gaffney: What does a reformer like you say about those aspects of the history of the faith and what you need to do going forward in light of them?
Jasser: Thanks for asking. It certainly is the elephant in the room if you will. The bottom line is that Muslims do not in any way worship the Prophet Muhammad -- we believe he was a man who was used as a vehicle for the message of God...
Notice how Jasser right out of the starting gate begins with a red herring flambé, wrapped in tasty kitman: Of course Muslims "do not worship" Muhammad. That's not the point nor the problem -- which is that Muslims unduly revere Muhammad. Jasser follows this with another bit of kitman:
Jasser: There are passages in the Koran in which God corrects Muhammad for errors that he made.
Let's take a look at those "errors" of Muhammad which Allah "corrected", shall we? In Koran 10:94-95, Muhammad is rebuked by Allah for having doubts. In Koran 33:37-38, Muhammad is rebuked by Allah for suppressing, out of fear of men's opinions, what Allah wanted him to do with the wife (Zaynab) of his adopted son (Zaid) -- to take her for his own sexual desire! But it has a happy ending: Zaid had such problems with Zaynab, he left her, and Muhammad was given special dispensation by Allah to fuck her without ceremony.
Notice, then, the sleight-of-hand Zuhdi Jasser is attempting here: by vaguely mentioning that there are "passages in the Koran in which God corrects Muhammad for errors that he made" without specifying the details, Jasser makes it sound like Mohammed's human fallibility, where bad, was corrected by God. But in fact, the Koran has no record of Allah correcting Muhammad for all the horrible things which Islamic tradition records about him -- the massacres, the beheadings, the tortures, the assassinations, the plunder, the underage sex, the sex slavery; and so on. It only corrects him either for unrelated, blandly generic things ("doubt") or, as in the case of his adopted son Zaid, for actually doing the right thing in at first counseling Zaid to stay with his wife and try to work things out! Jasser is hoping that his audience are none the wiser about these details which would expose his sleight-of-hand. And sadly, he's right -- at least about Gaffney and who knows how many others in and out of the Counter-Jihad.
Now what follows from Jasser is a submersion into what is almost tantamount to tortuous gibberish -- one reasonably assumes because Jasser is getting closer to the heart of articulating his impossible project of wresting (or rather, pretending to wrest) something salutary from the Koran:
Jasser: Now, ultimately, the inspiration for our moral example of how we live our life began with the Prophet's example and much of his life, so... but there's no doubt that in addition to being a Messenger he was the head of a military and also the head of State, so his acts... you can call it apologetics or whatever they may be, but ultimately, if we believe in the authenticity of the Arabic script of the Koran, we must also believe in the moral character of the man that God chose to give us that script; so just as we believe in the moral character of Abraham, of Jesus, of Moses, and of the Prophet Muhammad, then Muhammad had to have been a moral human -- we cannot then say that somehow we're going to reform Islam by condemning the Prophet and saying that he had immorality.
The circularity of this logic is attenuated only by the derangement its appendages twist themselves into. Basically, Jasser is trying to say (or trying not to spell out) that as a Muslim who reveres the Koran as the direct word of God, he must axiomatically assume Mohammed is God's Prophet and that anything in the Islamic record that indicates Mohammed was an evil psychotic must be either rejected as human corruptions in the record or be tortured away with sophistry (and of course Gaffney didn't press him on whether Mohammed is the last and greatest of God's Prophets, the "best model of conduct", matched only by Abraham when in Koran 60:4 Allah blessed him with that unique compliment after Abraham had pledged to hate the non-Believer forever).
Most of all, the garbage in Jasser's rhetoric here is self-evident, and it aggrieves to think that Frank Gaffney just sat there nodding his head sagely while hearing this welter of nonsense, and that he actually would need to have it explained to him why it's nonsense. The only indication that Gaffney has ever so slight misgivings about Jasser's sophistry is when, later in this portion of the interview, he ever so gently suggests that what Jasser may be doing is "picking and choosing" from the texts in order to construct an artificial Islam that not only doesn't exist, but which goes against the mainstream:
"...there are those -- and certainly those in the Muslim community, I need not tell you -- who consider this to be simply heretical and outrageous and probably a capital offense."
This is the Useful Idiot form of kitman (the Islamic half-truth): for, it is not merely "those in the Muslim community" who would consider this to be "simply heretical and outrageous and probably a capital offense" -- it is the entire mainstream Islamic establishment and the entire mainstream Islamic legal apparatus based on mainstream Islamic texts (Koran & Sunna). And, it is not "probably" a capital offense. It is a capital offense, according to mainstream Islam.
It gets worse.
Jasser: Now, certainly he [Muhammad] participated in wars -- and I participated in wars as an American Naval officer, and my generals, my admirals said that we wanted to go "kill the Taliban where we find them," and I think that's a very moral thing.
Notice Jasser's clever equivalence he makes between the Koran's "kill the Mushrikoon wherever you find them" (9:5) -- as though what the U.S. Military did in fighting the Taliban was equivalent to what Mohammed and his warriors were enjoined to do in the Koran's Verses of the Sword (infamously in chapter 9 of that unholy book). Does Gaffney even know that Jasser was alluding to Koran 9:5? Does Gaffney know that the enemy targeted in that verse, the Mushrikoon, denote all who practice Shirk and thus do not submit to Allah and to His Prophet? Does Gaffney know that one of the most authoritative mufassiroon (writers of tafsir, or Koranic exegesis), Ibn Kathir, has shown that the various verses of Koran's chapter 9 mandating truculent hostility against those who practice Shirk and against those who foment "disorder in the land" refer mainly to those who refuse to submit to Allah and to His Prophet (for in Islam, to fail to so submit is tantamount to generating the offense against which Allah enjoins Muslims to fight and kill)? If Gaffney knew all this, and if he didn't have an anxious need to swallow what Jasser was selling, he could have cornered Jasser on his outrageous equivalence of the U.S. Military's goals in fighting the Taliban with what is enjoined in the Koran.
Let us continue with Jasser's apology:
Jasser: So ultimately, the question is not that Islam is pacifist or not, but the question is, at the time is there an apologetic that explains the battles that existed -- the battle of Badr -- or whatever battles that are chronicled in the Koran as being justified because of the abandonment of treaties or whatever it may be, is there an apologetic that makes sense for 623, but then we as reformists say "you can't apply that from there on"...
Hang on, sloopy. First of all, Jasser is saying we should rhetorically ask if there is an "apologetic" that would whitewash & justify the battles which the Koran and the Sunna record Muhammad as waging. Well, duh. Jasser is here slyly trying to grease through the mere posing of the rhetorical question as an emollient by which he can ease into his status as a reformer; but the mere posing of the rhetorical question is only the beginning -- not a substitute (as Jasser is trying to sneak in here) for what needs to be unpacked therefrom. (There is likely a good reason why he's avoiding that necessary exercise of unpacking that rhetorical question: it would lead to the answer that there is no such "apologetic" upon which one could grow a "reformed" Islam -- any more than there would be one upon which one could grow a "reformed" Third Reich.)
Second, it begs the question of the extra-Koranic sources one would have to use to construct such an "apologetic" -- no one has pinned Jasser down on how he is not arbitrarily cherry-picking them to create an artificially benign Muhammad.
This is not to mention that Jasser must be relying on some extra-Koranic texts (the Sira and the Hadiths) in order to explain the Battle of Badr "as being justified because of the abandonment of treaties or whatever it may be" -- though he cleverly words this as a rhetorical question, not as a claim. Which extra-Koranic Sira would he be relying on, eh...? Ibn Ishaq, perhaps...? Ibn Ishaq, that is, who records that after the enemies from among the Quraysh tribe whom Mohammed's men had just killed:
Abu Jahl of the Quraysh was beheaded. The Muslim who severed his head proudly carried the trophy to Muhammad: "I cut off his head and brought it to the apostle [i.e., Muhammad] saying, 'This is the head of the enemy of God, Abu Jahl!' "
Muhammad was delighted. "by God than Whom there is no other, is it?" he exclaimed, and gave thanks to Allah for the death of his enemy.
[the quotes from Ibn Ishaq, 304, explicated by Robert Spencer in his book, The Truth about Muhammad, p. 106]
Jasser then glides on his wily oil onto his next specious point:
...is there an apologetic that makes sense for 623, but then we as reformists say 'you can't apply that from there on'...
But wait a second: I thought there the "apologetic" Jasser assumes is one that is supposed to exonerate Muhammad's warmongering (and apparently Jasser thinks there is, hence his equation of it with his U.S. Military service against the Taliban)... So why would he and his Reformers need to say they "can't apply that" after 623 A.D.? That's just one of many glaring inconsistencies one finds trapped, wriggling in the middle of Jasser's tortured intestines of a pseudo-argument.
Let us continue:
Jasser: ...we reject abrogation, for example, because abrogation is the way you reject all the other conflicting passages in the Koran to say that it's not peaceful because the last passages justified an act of war.
Jasser hasn't explained how he is not simply doing a "reverse abrogation" -- making the seemingly peaceful verses cancel out the bellicose & hateful ones -- and, of course, Gaffney is no help here.
Jasser: And then, do you call Christians 'infidels' when in fact God also allows us to marry them and allows us to have them be the mother of our children without conversion.
This is Jasser's way out of the seething hatred the Koran expresses for Jews and Christians? To offer the bone that Allah allows Muslims to "marry them" and "allows us to have them be the mother of our children without conversion"...? First of all, even taking seriously that this in any way suffices to offset the profoundly anti-Christian and anti-Jewish sentiments with which the Koran reeks, it remains a mangled piece of complex crap.
1) Notice how Jasser is indirectly conceding that the Koran presents the uncomfortable problem for Reformers like him of calling Christians "infidels", but he adduces no Koranic verse for the seemingly tolerant precept he is citing to offset that problem: That's because the Koranic issue is more complicated than he is implying. Two Koran verses (2:221 and 60:10) clearly forbid marrying any woman who is not a Muslim (see this detailed explanation). There is, however, one other verse (5:5) that seems to allow Muslim men to marry "women of them that were given the Book before you". However, Jasser makes it sound like this allowance is an unproblematic and clear-cut command from God for Muslims, which (without letting his audience know the complications I just explained) he is then using in order to circumvent the problem of abrogation -- by reverse-abrogating 2:221 and 60:10!
2) Notice how Jasser tries to slide past our attention the fact that this supposedly wonderfully progressive allowance from God is only one-sided: it only pertains to Muslim men marrying non-Muslim women -- not to non-Muslim men marrying Muslim women. I thought Jasser was a great reformer who deeply esteems modern human rights; and yet here, he is standing with the Koran's regressive view that forbids non-Muslim men from marrying Muslim women (unless, of course, the men promise to convert to Islam). This is not merely a matter of inequality, but also reflects the regressively misogynistic framework of Islam dovetailed with its religious supremacism: the man is the master of the household & family, not the woman (see Koran 4:34), and so Muslims do not want to allow non-Muslim men to have that much control over the families of the Umma, such that they could "corrupt" the children by leading them away from Islam. The family unit in Islam serves Islam, and anything that undermines Islam must be opposed -- whether blatantly and candidly, or cleverly and surreptitiously (as Jasser is doing).
3) Finally, notice how Jasser only mentions "Christian" women, not Jewish women. A curious omission when one would think he would want to express as much as possible (given his oily sophistry) the supposed magnanimity of the Koran.
Jasser: The issue of a child-bride: you know, listen, the apologetic I learned -- and I call it an apologetic because I have no way to prove it -- but the apologetic that I learned, is that there were marriages that happened to prevent wars, and that ultimately he may have married her, but the question -- 'cause pedophilia is a psychiatric disorder -- so the question is at what age did he consummate that marriage, and most Muslims believe that that happened when she was much closer to adulthood, at 17 and 18.
Again, so much subtly wrong with this. The worst of it is his blandly sweeping claim that "most Muslims" believe Muhammad consummated his marriage to Aisha when she was 17 or 18. We remind the reader of our points #1-3 above. There is no way Jasser doesn't know that his statement about the minds of "most Muslims" is massively, monstrously false. As we mentioned above, the most authoritative hadith source, Sahih Bukhari, representing the heart of the Sunna, records that Aisha was 6 when Muhammad married her, and 9 when he consummated that marriage. At this juncture, Gaffney ineptly fumbles with the ball:
Gaffney: Hm, so there is some tradition of it being 9, too, so I mean, I guess what, it comes down to... [hemming and hawing]
-- allowing Jasser to slide through for his touchdown:
Jasser: ...and ...those are the hadiths that we reject.
Naturally, Gaffney didn't press him on this by asking the screamingly reasonable questions such as -- Why do you reject Bukhari, the most authoritative muhaddith (collector of ahadith) in the Sunni tradition? You say "those are the hadiths" you reject -- does this mean you accept some hadiths? If so, which ones? And under what criteria such that you avoid the charge of arbitrary cherrypicking to build confirmation bias?
Instead, Gaffney mumbles:
Gaffney: Yeah. Well, and, and... I guess Zuhdi... I'm good with this, personally.
Good God. I look out over the railings of this ship of fools, this Titanic we're all on, and see ice storms brewing on the lowering horizon... The presage of a chilling rain: minute drops on my laptop screen. Better go in to the stateroom and drink this surreal nightmare away...
And Gaffney in the next breath reveals, unintentionally no doubt, the real reason why he's cutting Jasser so much slack:
Gaffney: Many of us who very much want to see Muslims, particularly in this country, but around the world as well, practice their faith in a way that is genuinely tolerant, genuinely moral, genuinely peaceable, genuinely aligned, really, along the very principles that you've laid out in this remarkable document -- your declaration of the Muslim reform movement.
I.e., he desperately wants this untenable, impossible reform to be true, and so he therefore helps Jasser promote it, no matter how flimsy and flawed it is, come hell or high water -- or deep iceberg.
Then Jasser has the grotesque audacity (how do you say chutzpah in Arabic...?) to assert that if Mohammed were alive today --
Jasser: ...if Muhammad were alive today he would tell us, "Listen, those applied to a 7th century pagan tribe that Muhammad [sic] was revealing his message to and it does not apply for equality of men and women, for all these other principles that we need to lift up, that there was the seed of the beginning in the 7th century, but now there is such clarity that that's a much better society and principle that we need to put a circle around those passages and say 'they just don't apply anymore today!"
What isn't an impossible dream, however, is hoodwinking key members of the Counter-Jihad (and counting on others -- such as Andrew Bostom, Robert Spencer, Diana West, et al. -- who may be skeptical but who don't think the matter is important enough to press, because, after all, he seems to be such a decent fellow and even though he's deeply confused, "his heart is in the right place") into thinking that innumerable Muslims like Jasser throughout the West are hopeful and benign, and that therefore we shouldn't promote any policies of self-defense that would unduly inconvenience them.