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Locking Horns in Debate: The 'Vice List' Symposium

Over at FrontPage Magazine, I participated in a Symposium on The Iranian Mullahs’ “Vice List” with Robert Spencer and Dr. Nancy Kobrin. It got a little hot in the exchange and we at times seemed arguing apples and oranges.

At Jihad Watch, Robert Spencer complains that "for the umpteenth time someone assumes I am saying something that I am not saying."

Now, why is that? Could it be the crux of my entire argument and sole point throughout: Tone?

Look, there is no question that there must be reform from within Islam and the faith repossessed from the jihadiyun interpretations and narrative, among other things. But it must come from within.

And there are over 1 billion Muslims in the world. If the reasonable among the ummah are to feel encouraged and emboldened to take the initiative of any reform, feeling the pointy finger of Western non-believers - such as myself and Robert Spencer - on their chests is not going to inspire them to agree with us but rather to disagree and part us even further. And that lands us dangerously closer to what bin Laden, Ahmadinejad and the rest want to create: A true war between all Muslims and all non-Muslims.

At the end of the day, with respect to the argument that took place at FrontPage, Robert Spencer today makes my point for me with his own words. When he says "for the umpteenth time someone assumes I am saying something that I am not saying," if so often people are assuming something that he is indeed not saying, there is a distinct pattern of miscommunication.

Spencer himself acknowledges a trend. With all due respect to Mr. Spencer, are the "umpteen" consistently misinterpreting him because they are all dolts, or is it perhaps that Mr. Spencer is failing to articulate what he is indeed trying to say? Is his tone perhaps causing misperception?

In business, if the employees are all misunderstanding your direction, is the most effective corrective measure to berate the employees or to adjust the delivery? For at the end of the day, what matters is that the employees understand the directions or requests, not that the employer bends the employees to understand his language. Results matter.

Sadly, I expected the discussion on Iran's 'Vice List' to descend into an "everything that is wrong with Islam" discussion. It did that in short order.

Read the FrontPage Symposium for yourself and draw your own conclusions on whether I am an apologist for radical Islam or Mr. Spencer's tone pushes away otherwise reasonable Muslims from its outset.


Steve Schippert criticizes Spencer's tone, yet in Schippert's initial criticism of Spencer was not based on Spencer's words, but rather a construct of what Schippert either believed or desired Spencer's words to be.

The vice-list Symposium, and Schippert's criticism of what he deemed it "descended" to is most egregious. There is no reason to discuss a particular ailment of an Islamic theocratic regime without discussing Islamic theocracy itself.

It is akin to desiring to put a dormer on a house without a foundation. The current Iranian regime will ultimately at some point be replaced by another, distinctly similar in nature. The root-cause must be identified and acknowledged for any meaningful change to occur.


Your first paragraph is a fair criticism. I understood his points, but chose to address the tone I perceived.

The thing is, Robert Spencer brings up very important points, and does so regularly. And I have in no way meant to suggest that he is necessarily wrong about X or Y. I simply think he turns so many off that he intends to reach that it is counterproductive. What I don't want to see is a point in time where the entire Muslim world truly believes as bin Laden and his ilk do, that it is Us against Islam.

Could I have used a different tone or manner of communicating that? In hindsight, perhaps so.

But I don't think anything I said was 'egregious' at all.

I am curious about your last comment, that when the Iranian mullah regime goes the way of the dust bin, that it will "be replaced by another, distinctly similar in nature." I think you lack a bit of faith in the Iranian people. For if they finally bring an end to their own repressive dominators, they most certainly will not usher in yet another of the same. 1979 was a long time ago, and today's generation of the energetic seek more and better. They don't sneak Western music and movies because they so love the regime and it's societal flavor.

You might consider reading this with Amil Imani, or this with a Canadian Muslim, both courtesy of FrontPage Magazine and Dr. Jamie Glazov, with whom I also argued in the symposium, but who also remains a very respected and fondly considered friend.

At the end of the day, you again are correct, sir, in saying "There is no reason to discuss a particular ailment of an Islamic theocratic regime without discussing Islamic theocracy itself."

I do think in hindsight, however, that the symposium in question would have been better served if it included a reasonable and practicing Muslim voice. Because we can discuss exactly what you say needs to be, but at some point, it requires the engagement and participation of those who have the ability to affect change in certain practices, beliefs and doctrines taught within many sects of that faith.

I hope that makes sense and seems a more reasonable response.

Thanks for stopping long enough to contribute your thoughts.