Hugh Fitzgerald: Islam and the Propaganda War (Part II): The Debater’s Handbook


Jihad Watch, by Hugh Fitzgerald, February 11, 2017:

In Part I, I reviewed the propaganda war conducted by the American government during the Cold War, and lamented the lack of such a campaign against the forces of Jihad today. I discussed the need to reprint in full, and with a critical commentary appended, the Qur’an, and also to print intelligently abridged versions of the Hadith and Sira, again with critical commentaries appended, all for free mass distribution. I noted how important it was to have these works translated into a dozen of the major world languages and a half-dozen of the major languages of Islam, and to disseminate these texts not only through print publication (as was done during the Cold War), but also, and mainly, by posting them online, where they could be viewed by tens of millions of people. And I suggested reprinting another set of texts, by ex-Muslims such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Ibn Warraq, able to offer from the inside a critical view of Islam’s curious appeal. I discussed the continuing problem of why this hadn’t yet been done, because governments are chary of paying for such campaigns, fearful of being charged with Islamophobia (look at the hysterical savaging of the Trump Administration over the so-called “Muslim ban”), and why, therefore, private parties now have to do what, in a more self-confident and less confused age, would be done, straightforwardly, by the government.

Another part of this privately-funded effort to undermine the appeal of Islam — see Part I here — should be the training of a cadre of speakers well-prepared to take on, in a debate setting, the small army of Islamic apologists already deployed in this country: a cadre of well-trained people to whom we entrust the task of How To Debate A Muslim. The need for this training is great, given the widespread and systematic campaigns of Muslim apologists, especially on college campuses, and at mosques, where every week brings fresh news of outreach efforts to the non-Muslims who visit these mosques, mostly unwary innocents eager to Visit A Mosque, or Ask A Muslim Anything, or just Meet Their Muslim Neighbors, who will, of course, be just as accommodating and welcoming as all get-out.

These debaters willing to take upon themselves this important task, to attend these Mosque-and-Muslim Outreach affairs, not because they know nothing about Islam, but because they know a good deal, know perfectly well what is going on in this smilingly sinister meet-and-greet, and would like to upset the propaganda applecart before it become a juggernaut, deserve help. It may, for example, be useful for such people to have been given guidance as to which Qur’anic passages, especially those on violent Jihad and treatment of Infidels, are most telling in painting a true picture of Islam. Or a list of those Qur’anic quotes always relied on by apologists – as 2:256 and 5:32 and 109:1-6 – and how to answer them, might be supplied in advance. And then they might be given a short list of stories in the Hadith, about the very episodes in Muhammad’s life that Muslim apologists will most wish to avoid, and that can most effectively unsettle the Muslim speaker(s). And these stories will create unease, too, but of a different kind, among the non-Muslims visiting the mosque who are now confronted not with feelgood mental pabulum, but a real conflict, one that suggests all is not right with Islam. These Infidels will be hearing from this prepared cadre of anti-Islam speakers about aspects of Islam and of Muhammad that are rooted in the texts, cannot be convincingly explained away, and are deeply disturbing.

What is needed is something like a debater’s bootcamp, real or virtual, to supply those who want to prepare for such debates the most useful material (the Jihad passages in the Qur’an, the least attractive aspects of Muhammad’s life, from the Hadith and Sira) and to guide Infidels in how most effectively to marshal their arguments and evidence, so as not merely to hold one’s own against any apologist for Islam, but to demolish that apologist’s predictable defenses. This requires a basic knowledge of Islam, and an ability to deploy a few dozen passages from the Qur’an, Hadith, and Sira, in a convincing and winning manner. Some knowledge of the history of Islamic conquest, and of what happened to the many peoples subjugated by Muslim conquerors — who was killed, who converted, and who survived under what onerous conditions – should also be learned, and made quickly retrievable from a Smartphone, for use in a debate. Imagine the effect, for example, of being able to quote the Indian historian K. S. Lal on the tens of millions of Hindus killed in India under Muslim rule. Anyone who has heard Muslims defending the faith knows that the apologists keep going back to the same handful of arguments (the supposed need to know Arabic, the necessity of understanding violence in its “context,” Muhammad as “empowering” women), keep quoting the same misleading verses – e.g., 2:56, 5:32 without 5:33 – and keep insisting, wrongly, that the most disturbing passages are descriptive rather than prescriptive, that is, they try to argue that the most violent of verses are limited to the time and place of their original application. Non-Muslims can anticipate which passages and off-the-rack arguments will be used, and should be ready to respond with their own stock of selected texts that show Islam in quite another light. The series of mock debates with someone taking the role of a Muslim defending the faith, and using the same arguments and evasions that real Muslims do, will help polish the debater’s presentation.

Let’s run through some of the standard Muslim claims. First, there is the attempt to disqualify non-Muslims from discussing the texts in the first place because “you have to know Arabic to really understand the Qur’an.” Your reply is ready in the form of an obvious question: “80% of the world’s Muslims are not Arabs; very few of them know Arabic; aren’t they real Muslims? Are you suggesting that they don’t understand the Qur’an?” For this there is no plausible retort. Next is the usual business about Islamic texts being taken “out of context.” The debater must be prepared to explain how and why many of those 109 “Jihad verses” are not descriptive, as is the violence in the Old Testament, but prescriptive, that is meant to be applicable for all time. As Robert Spencer has noted, there are no Christian and Jewish groups around the world plotting murder and mayhem based on Biblical texts, the way Muslim groups are doing, basing their terror squarely on chapter-and-verse in the Qur’an. Transcripts of their statements or, even better, videos, of Muslim terrorists citing Islamic texts as prompting their actions, could be brought to debates, to be played on a laptop or a larger screen, with the killers gleefully describing how those texts prompted their gruesome killings — difficult to explain, impossible to defend.

Then there are two Qur’anic passages that more than any others are constantly quoted by Defenders of the Faith, and for which any Debater should be prepared. The first is 5:32 without its modifying 5:33. 5:32 says that “whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind.” This verse, lifted from the Jewish text of the Mishnah, sounds good. But it is the verse that immediately follows – 5:33 — that prescribes rather than proscribes killing, turning 5:32 upside down: “The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger and strive after corruption in the land will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land.” Who “makes war upon Allah and His messenger”? It’s the non-Muslims, of course, and it is they who should be “killed or crucified.” Both Presidents Bush and Obama respectfully quoted 5:32 to show the pacific nature of Islam; neither quoted 5:33. Were they attempting to mislead the public, or was it that they themselves were misled by their advisers on Islam whom, I suspect, were Muslims themselves, happy to supply them with apposite quotes to show that “Islam-means-peace”?

The other Qur’anic passage always quoted by Muslim apologists is 2:256: “There is no compulsion in religion.” But of course in Islam there is “compulsion in religion.” The compulsion is both for Muslims and for non-Muslims. For Muslims, there is the fear that keeps those who might want to leave the faith from doing so, for apostasy is punishable by death. Is that constant threat of death not the most extreme sort of “compulsion”? As for non-Muslims under Muslim rule, the stark choice offered them is either to convert to Islam, or be killed, or remain alive but be forced to pay a burdensome capitation tax, the Jizyah, as well as endure certain other disabilities. Doesn’t that kind of choice constitute “compulsion in religion”? Either you convert, or you die, or you pay an annual tax that can be crushing. You should bring home to your audience what this means in practice. How many of us, if we had to pay, say, $50,000 a year to Muslim rulers in order to remain Christians or Jews, would not, over time, decide in the end to convert? Wasn’t this exactly what happened in the lands that Muslims conquered, where many converted to avoid the Jizyah? That takes care of 5:32 and 2:256.

There are also quotes from the Qur’an that Muslim apologists use, knowing full well that Infidels will misinterpret them. When Muhammad says in Qur’an 109:1-6, “For you is your religion and for us is our religion,” this sounds good to Infidels: we will leave each other alone. That, of course, is preposterous, as we know, because Islam is determined never to leave Infidels alone, not until they surrender and choose death, conversion, or life as a Jizyah-paying dhimmi. The commentators on Qur’an 109 have written this: “When read in context, like many other verses misinterpreted for apologetic purposes, surat al-Kafiroon advocates the opposite of what is sometimes claimed. This surah is not a proclamation on religious tolerance and freedom or a recognition of religious pluralism. In fact, this surah unequivocally forbids inter-faith dialogue, expresses Muslims’ ‘total disgust’ of non-Islamic beliefs and advocates an ‘us versus them’ mentality between Muslims and disbelievers. This is how the surah is understood by mainstream Islam and the majority of its classical and contemporary scholars. Furthermore, if the historical context were to be ignored, it would still remain an abrogated verse superseded by ‘the verses of fighting.’ The verse means that ‘for us (Muslims) our (true) religion, for you – all the Unbelievers, who share the same falsity of belief – your (false) religion.’”

Another principle that needs to be clearly understood by debaters and explained to audiences is that of naskh, or “abrogation.” There are many passages in the Qur’an that are inconsistent with one another, and Muslims are taught that it is the later verses that “abrogate” (“naskh” literally means “removal”) the earlier ones. Why does this matter so much? It turns out that the earlier verses, which date from Muhammad’s time in Mecca, when he still had powerful enemies, and therefore had to be more accommodating, are “softer” and more “peaceful” toward the Infidels. So it is precisely these verses that apologists for Islam will quote. The audience of Infidels will most likely be unaware that the later verses, which are much harsher than those from the Meccan period, are held to “abrogate” the earlier ones, and come from the period when he ruled the city of Medina (Yathrib), was much more powerful than he had been in Mecca, and could now afford to be more severe with his enemies. The prepared debater will come armed with this understanding, explain it to the audience, and offer some examples of such abrogation. For example, Qur’an 9:5, the Verse of the Sword (“Slay the idolaters wherever you find them”), is held by Muslims to have “abrogated every agreement of peace between the Prophet and any idolater, every treaty, and every term.” And once again we can undermine the Muslim apologist’s reliance on Qur’an 2:256 (“There is no compulsion in religion”) which, as we have seen, mischaracterizes reality under Islam (ignoring the would-be apostate’s death sentence and the non-Muslim’s duty to pay the Jizyah, both forms of “compulsion”), by noting that 2:256 is also an earlier verse held to have been abrogated by many later verses from the “Meccan” period. Just a few such examples will be enough to discomfit your Muslim opponent, and shake the audience’s trust in his assertions.

What else should the debater on Islam ideally be ready to discuss? He should be ready to ask about not only what is written in the Qur’an and Hadith, but how Islam has been practiced, that is, how Muslims have behaved over 1400 years, as they conquered many lands and subjugated many peoples.

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2 thoughts on “Hugh Fitzgerald: Islam and the Propaganda War (Part II): The Debater’s Handbook

  1. Check out the propaganda on the Muslims sign over at
    ONE GOD, ONE MESSAGE…Abraham!!!!! Islam has no Abrahamic connection to Christianity!!

  2. I would be the first to sign up for the debater’s school! I read your articles voraciously but need to be challenged in testing what I understand to be debate ready.

    Cindy Stevens

    Rockton, IL


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