Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Items: #1: Attack on Turkish judges #2: Nazanin case in Iran #3: Writer imprisoned in Iran #4: Book Review #5: Resources


On May 17, an armed attorney opened fire in the country’s highest court, killing one judge, Mustafa Yucel Ozbilgin, and seriously wounding four others while shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is most great) and “I am a soldier of Allah.” The perpetrator declared to police that he carried out the attack because the court had ruled that a woman who wore a headscarf could not be promoted to headteacher in an elementary school. Since the foundation of modern Turkey, the headscarf issue has been a constant source of friction, as Kemal Ataturk, the country’s acknowledged leader in the 1920s, had prohibited it as a symbol of the subjugation of women. The present government, under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is in large part Islamist, and appears to aim at weakening secularism. After the attack, tens of thousands of ordinary citizens and political leaders marched to Ataturk’s tomb, in defense of secularism. Turkey’s President, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, declared that “pressure and threats will not intimidate the Turkish judiciary, which will continue its constitutional duties bound to the secular and democratic republic.” The same assailant participated in an attack on the secularist newspaper Cumhuriyet. Messages of protest and solidarity may be directed to Prime Minister Erdogan at, and to President Sezer at Sources: Guardian, May 18, 19, 20, 2006; see also the English language edition of the daily newspaper, Zaman, at, and The Turkish Human Rights Association has been active in this area for the past 20 years; their website is, and they have a section on the site in English.


On January 3, 2006,

Nazanin Mahabad Fatehi, a young woman, was sentenced to death by a criminal court for murder in a case where she stabbed an assailant who with two others, had attempted to rape her and her niece. At trial she stated the act was a matter of self-defense, but unless the Supreme Court of Iran reverses the decision, she will soon be executed by hanging. While we have no information that Nazanin is a freethinker, we still encourage readers to protest such an unjust sentence. Messages should be directed to His Excellency Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader, Government of Iran, Soahada Street, Qom, Islamic Republic of Iran, e-mail Source:


In late April, 2006, security officers arrested scholar Ramin Jahanbegloo, and transported him to the notorious Evin prison. The minister of information told the press that he had ordered the arrest because of “his contacts with foreigners.” Jahanbegloo earned a Ph.D. at the Sorbonne in Paris, and is the author of 20 books in English, French and Persian on topics of philosophy and culture. Before his arrest, he was director of contemporary studies at Iran’s Cultural Research Bureau and an advocate of nonviolence and intercultural dialogue.” The April 27 issue of Le Monde newspaper printed remarks by this Jahanbegloo critical of current policies of the Iranian government, and this was the likely cause of the arrest. Letters or messages of concern and protest should be directed to Supreme Leader Khamenei, details in #2 above. Source: New York Times, May 21, 2006


Robert Spencer.
The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). Regnery Publishing, Inc., One Massachusetts Avenue, Washington, DC 20001. 2005. 270pp. Paperback. $19.95. Future historians of this book should consider that soon after its publication in the autumn of 2005, it quickly rose to a place on the New York Times bestseller list, before a single review ever appeared. Indeed, as of this date (late November, 2005), the only reviews that have appeared are in a few conservative on-line sources such as Front Page. How could it so quickly have been a success? One factor was the author’s position as director of Jihad Watch, a valuable website ( which daily publishes short notices on current developments in the rise of militant Islamic fundamentalism. Another was that Spencer had the good fortune of being invited to various radio programs around the country. Not least is the simple fact that such a book was needed; that is, it is timely, and pulls no punches in its exposé of this variety of fundamentalism. For not only were there the infamous attacks of September 11, 2001, but a multitude of terrorist events which followed: bombings, mutilations, and the like, continuing in many countries. As the title suggests, the book is divided into two complementary sections, the first on Islam as such, and the second on the Crusades. Unlike many “liberal” commentators, Spencer argues that we cannot really understand the Crusades, or indeed, contemporary history, without understanding the origins and character of Islam itself. And also unlike most liberals, Spencer insists that from its beginning, Islam was militant, expansionist, and predatory. The first chapter takes up the life of Muhammed, “Prophet of War.” Here we read a dreary chronicle of assassination, deceit, and revenge. The emphasis is on the role of Muhammed “the raider.” When his own Quraysh tribe of Mecca rejected his prophecies, his “frustration and rage became evident. When even his uncle, Abu Lahab, rejected his message, Muhammed cursed him and his wife in violent language that has been preserved in the Qur’an.” The text (Qur’an 111:1-5) runs thus: “May the hands of Abu Lahab perish! May he himself perish! Nothing shall his wealth and gains avail him. He shall be burnt in a flaming fire, and his wife, laden with faggots, shall have a rope of fiber around her neck!” Subsequently, other tribal warriors in Medina accepted him as a prophet, and launched a series of raids which “kept the nascent Muslim movement solvent and helped form Islamic theology.” Indeed, one could cogently argue, as Spencer does throughout this book, that from its origins, Islam arose as a series of daring raids by desert nomadic peoples against such cities as they encountered. Time and time again, hundreds, then thousands of such warriors would appear as if out of nowhere, proclaiming to the astonished inhabitants of an encircled city that they would be spared if they immediately submitted to Allah and his Prophet. Heavily outnumbered, they usually submitted; those who did not were duly put to the sword. Women and children were sometimes killed as well, but on other occasions were “merely” enslaved. As Islam proceeded with such conquests, extending within a century across many thousands of miles of territory, the victors realized that they needed some local survivors to provide even a minimal form of government. This gave rise to the concept of the dhimmi—the people of “the book,” Jews and Christians who were given a subordinate status on the condition that they pay a heavy tax called the jizya. Such “latitude” has given rise to what Spencer calls the PC myth of tolerance. Forcing Jews to wear a distinguishing Star of David was one of the milder forms of submission. One historian cited by Spencer states that “restrictions of all kinds, unlawful taxation, forced labor, persecutions, violence, imprisonment, death, abductions of girls and boys and their confinement to Turkish harems, and various deeds of wantonness and lust” were the fate of the dhimmi in 19th century Greece under the Ottomans. Such harsh measures, such as assassinations, torture, mutilation and destruction of churches continue today, all carefully documented with extensive footnotes. Muslims often argue that their religion respects women, whereas “western” societies degrade them. Spencer cites numerous passages from the Qur’an stipulating that women are forever to be subordinate to men, including physical punishment for the unruly. Thus verse 4:34: “Good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them.” Given such postulates, horrendous practices such as female circumcision are a logical conclusion, justified by leaders like the grand sheikh of al-Azhar in Egypt, “the highest spiritual authority for nearly a billion Sunni Muslims.” Spencer establishes that these ideas and practices are not an aberration within Islam, but are intrinsic to it. Of course, not every Muslim follows these precepts, and there has been resistance throughout history to them, including from women themselves, then as now brutally suppressed. Well, some have argued, even so, Islamic societies have produced science, culture and art comparable to those of any advanced civilization. Spencer’s answer to this is that “there was a time when Islamic culture was more advanced than that of Europeans, but that superiority corresponds exactly to the period when Muslims were able to draw on and advance the achievements of Byzantine and other civilizations.” Jews and Christians within Islamic societies were often the source of achievements in science, philosophy and medicine inaccurately attributed to Muslims. Of course, Muslim scholars began to participate in fields such as mathematics and optics, but the record was mixed insofar as the reinforcement of religious orthodoxy by figures like al-Ghazali (1058-1128) prevailed. In his influential work The Incoherence of the Philosophers, al-Ghazali attacked the “denial of revealed laws and religious confessions” and “rejection of the details of religious and sectarian [teaching], believing them to be man-made laws and embellished tricks.” The result was a many-centuries-long stagnation of Islamic societies. In other words, Spencer charges Islam not only with psychological brutalization, but with philosophical and cultural repression, all of which continue abated to the present day. The second section of the book takes up the Crusades, and here Spencer’s discussion runs into real problems. He cogently argues that in some degree, the Crusades, which began out of contests and disputes with Byzantium over territorial control in the 10th century, were an attempt by Christians to “take back” what the Muslims had seized. Spencer is too honest to just ignore the various horrors carried out by the Crusaders, such as the pogroms against Jews in Germany, but he argues that these were more or less incidental to the broader enterprise. If, however, he has successfully argued that predatory war was “essential” to Islam, how can he argue the same for the abuses by the Crusaders, which included the slaughter of everyone in Jerusalem in 1099. “The Crusaders’ sack of Jerusalem was a heinous crime,” Spencer admits, “particularly in light of the religious and moral principles they professed to uphold. However, by the military standards of the day, it was not out of the ordinary.” What is “ordinary” then? The “rivers of blood” in contemporary accounts, says Spencer, are but “a rhetorical flourish.” Rather lamely, he suggests “there weren’t enough people in Jerusalem to bleed that much.” Citation of other contemporary slaughters of Christians by Muslims doesn’t exactly help his case. The fact is, much of history is filled with horrors perpetrated in the name of religion—whether Muslim, Christian, or Jewish (read the Old Testament for details of the latter). The motto at the beginning of Spencer’s book is Deus Vult!—“God wills it!—the famous (or infamous) battle cry of the Crusaders. Searching the Internet for information as to Spencer’s own personal religious affiliation, I learned that he is a Melkite Christian (Catholic Report, September 22, 2005, at Thus he has, if we may use the expression, a personal ax to grind here. Any author is of course entitled to have such a perspective, but readers should be clear that Spencer’s view is that of a conservative Christian. It is thus that his book drew advanced publicity praise from conservative and neo-conservative writers such as Michelle Malkin, Bat Ye’or and Serge Trifkovic. This does not at all mean that Spencer’s book can be ignored. Indeed, writers from this perspective have arguably been more perceptive about Islam’s political trajectory than more blinkered liberals. The great value of Spencer’s book is its marshalling of a great deal of information of which the general public and even scholars are ignorant. His publisher, Regnery, is a venerable conservative house, notable for a long list of stolid and rather boring titles. With this series of “Politically Incorrect Guides,” some of which have been rather harshly reviewed previously, they embark on a new course. This book’s virtues, aside from its main arguments, are attractive sidebars (including some splendid quotations from such as John Quincy Adams and Winston Churchill), careful documentation, and clear, accessible design. While Spencer’s book ignores or minimizes the depredations of Christianity (consider the position of women in that religion!), it is still a relevant and valuable contribution to the field of Islamic studies. (Reprinted from Brave Minds journal, #10/11)


Robert Spencer’s website,, not only follows current developments concerning militant Islam, but has a subsidiary site for which a link is supplied, called dhimmiwatch, which follows controversies concerning accommodations to Islam in the West. There are links to numerous other websites, of varying quality, with conservative ones predominant. I have been a regular reader of postings on jihadwatch, and have noted that while the main viewpoints are conservative, Christian and “western-centric,” the focus is on evidence rather than simple name-calling or bigotry. A website that publishes a regular online “magazine” every two months is under the direction of Azam Kamguian in London. Also based in London is Houzan Mahmoud, one of the leading figures of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI). Her blog is another good way to keep up with regional developments, at The International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) operates out of Toronto, and since 1992 has defended “those who have the courage to insist upon their fundamental human right to free expression” when they are “censored, brutalized or killed.” The IFEX has campaigns, spotlight reports and an enormously helpful set of links to related sites. On the links I found the Beacon for Freedom of Expression, supported by the government of Norway, with an informative short account of the great ancient libraries and research centers of Alexandria, as well as special reports on the history of censorship in Norway itself, and a list of the books included on the Index of Prohibited Books of the Catholic Church, which was promulgated on its claim of authority for 400 years. For IFEX, go to, and for the Beacon, go to We have now received “An Introduction to Reality”—a CD-ROM produced by the remarkable and diligent Emmett Fields of Louisville, Kentucky. Among many other Freethought works on this disk are Joseph McCabe’s 40 volume set “Key to Culture,” originally published by E. Haldeman-Julius in Girard, Kansas. McCabe presents the basic facts of physics, astronomy, geology, biochemistry, paleontology, botany, zoology, comparative anatomy, anthropology, philology, embryology, psychology, history, literature, political science, economics, art, and philosophy, which in times past would have consisted of a good high school education in America, but now would approximate the first two years of college if not more. I read through a large part of the volume on Logic, and found it a masterful exposition. McCabe moved from being a Catholic to a status as “the world’s greatest scholar” and a dedicated Freethinker. The same disk includes McCabe’s “Why I Left the Church,” and his 100-page book “The History and Meaning of the Catholic Index of Forbidden Books,” and more books by other authors—all this for $25 plus postage! Fields has also reissued Watson Heston’s hilarious collection of cartoons from 1892, “The Bible Comically Illustrated” in CD-ROM format. For details, go to or write PO Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201. For details on the journal of the ICPF, Brave Minds, direct an e-mail to, or write PO Box 41153, Elmvale, 1910 St. Laurent Blvd., Ottawa, Ont. K1G 5K9, CANADA. The journal has now reached several issues, and is a unique source for analysis and documentation of the contemporary defense of Freethinkers, and the historical context in depth. IF you do not wish to continue receiving this Bulletin, send a message to with FSB UNSUBSCRIBE in the subject box.


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