This is a back story, not a story, that I tell to bring my own perspective to an unfortunate episode involving Andrew Bostom and Robert Spencer, two major, if very different voices in the anti-jihad movement (such as it is). Bostom is a medical professor who brings a science-based rigor to his wide-ranging scholarly works, The Legacy of Jihad and The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism; Spencer is an expert author who brings such research to a broad audience in such best-selling books as The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and Religion of Peace? Both appeared on Geert Wilders’ initial list of Islam-expert-witnesses for his upcoming trial in the Netherlands (and both were cut by the court). The episode in question played out recently on their respective blogs.
Bostom, writing at his very small blog, cursorily charged Spencer with having plagiarized his work.
Spencer, writing at his very large blog, denied the charge and cited Bostom’s lack of “direct evidence.”
Bostom subsequently added supplementary information to his initial post that did not, in its presentation, clear up the dispute.
What was it all about, and who’s right?
Recently, University of Maryland professor Jeffrey Herf came out with a new book arguing that it was 20th-century Nazism that infected 1,400-year-old Islam with antisemitism. Such an ahistorical notion is easily debunked, which is precisely what Robert Spencer set out to do in the post (here) that Bostom took exception to. That’s because one of the main reasons the thesis is so readily debunked is that Bostom, in the course of producing his massive, academic work, The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism, amassed necessary research materials to do so.
These included, to convey a sense of the research involved in producing just a few pages out of the 766-page tome with hundreds of detailed footnotes, Bostom’s discovering and then commissioning the first ever English translation of Georges Vajda’s seminal 1937 work in French on the portrayal of the Jews in the hadiths. The process entailed additional Hebrew translation, which was further refined by a contribution from the noted Dutch scholar Hans Jansen.
One Vajda-sourced footnote (#202, pp. 259-260), a small essay in itself, quotes Maimonides on whether it is permisable for a Jew to teach Jewish law to a non-Jew:
It is permitted to teach commandments and the explanations according to [rabbinic] law to the Christians, but it is prohibited to do likewise for the Muslims. You know, in effect, that according to their belief this Torah is not from heaven and if you teach them something, they will find it contrary to their tradition, because their practices are confused and their opinions bizarre … What [one teaches them] will not convince them of the falseness of their opinions, but they will interpret it according to their erroneous principles and they will oppress us. [For] this reason … they hate all [non-Muslims] who live among them. It would then just be a stumbling block for the Israelites who, because of their sins, are in captivity among them. On the contrary, the uncircumcised [Christians] admit that the text of the Torah, such as we have it, is intact. They interpret it only in an erroneous way and use it for purposes of the allegorical exegesis that is proper to them … If one informs them about the correct interpretation, there is hope that they will return from their error, and even if they do not, there is no stumbling block for Israel, for they do not find in their religious law any contradiction with ours. (Emphasis added.)
It so happens that the text in bold (above) from Bostom’s book appears in a paragraph of Spencer’s recent post (below):
Notably, Maimonides directed that Jews could teach rabbinic law to Christians, but not to Muslims. For Muslims, he said, will interpret what they are taught “according to their erroneous principles and they will oppress us. [F]or this reason … they hate all [non-Muslims] who live among them.” But the Christians, he said, “admit that the text of the Torah, such as we have it, is intact” — as opposed to the Islamic view that the Jews and Christians have corrupted their scriptures. Christians, continued Maimonides, “do not find in their religious law any contradiction with ours.”(Emphasis added.)
Spencer does not attribute the quotation to either its English-language source (Bostom) or to to Georges Vajda himself, although he, of course, quotes Maimonides. This is one of Bostom’s complaints. Is he right?
Just the donkey-work alone that went into putting that Maimonides quotation within easy reach, I think, makes clear the case for attribution. But there is a compelling, broader context as well. When Spencer debunks Herf’s Nazified-Islam argument in 2010, he is critiquing an Islamic apologetic that first flared up in 2007 with the publication of Matthias Kuntzel’s book Jihad and Jew Hatred. (Indeed, Herf wrote the 11-page foreword.) Bostom thoroughly debunked Kuntzel’s Nazified-Islam argument in a powerfully packed review essay at frontpagemag.com in November 2007. Spencer’s site linked to it and ensuing controversy. With the Herf book there is an unmistakable sense of deja vu that readers would benefit to be reminded of.
For such reasons — the fact that the intellectual tides have once again thrown up an already-tried and proven-untrue apologetic, the academic digging involved in unearthing perfect quotations to debunk it — attribution is appropriate. Granted, it is Spencer’s role to streamline his material but a refererce to the academic basis for his quotations — something like, “as summed up in Bostom’s The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism” — is in no way reader-unfriendly.
Like any writer, Spencer is hardly averse to being sourced himself. See the following comment Spencer recently made in response to a reader who had noted that Bostom made reference to a quotation under question in 2009:
My April 21 article is a chapter from my 2007 book “Religion of Peace?” If Bostom used the quote from “Looming Tower” in a 2009 piece, he got it from me.
The April 21 piece has no footnotes. I don’t generally footnote blog entries. There is material sourced from Bostom in the original chapter from “Religion of Peace?,” and lo and behold, it is footnoted to Bostom. In fact, he knows this, as he and I discussed this material at the time.
Which fact makes his current attack all the more gratuitous and libelous.
Just for the record, here’s a chunk of the Wright quotation in question from Wright’s 2006 book, The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11:
Until the end of World War II … Jews lived safely — although submissively — under Muslim rule for 1,200 years, enjoying full religious freedom; but in the 1930s, Nazi propaganda on Arabic short-wave radio, coupled with slanders by Christian missionaries in the region, infected the area with this ancietn Western prejudice [antisemitism]….
Chokingly laughable. Anyway. I was curious about Spencer’s point so I checked his book Religion of Peace? Sure enough, on p. 125, there is the Wright quotation.
But wait. The Wright statement was footnoted, #80. I duly turned to p. 232 and found #80.
Source? Andrew Bostom, The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism.