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Spencer’s Radicalized Mosque Claim Gets Debunked

Reza Aslan debunks Robert Spencer's claim

Robert Spencer is still trying to peddle the myth that 80% of American mosques are radicalized. In a heated post on JihadWatch on March 19, Spencer said the following in reply to Reza Aslan’s claim that all of the studies Spencer cited to support the claim that 80% of American mosques are radicalized have been debunked:

In any case, Sheikh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani’s 1998 study was not based on his personal opinion, as Aslan claims. Kabbani actually visited 114 mosques in this country before giving testimony before a State Department Open Forum in January 1999 that 80% of American mosques taught the “extremist ideology.” Has Reza Aslan investigated 114 mosques in the U.S.? Then there was the Center for Religious Freedom’s 2005 study, and the Mapping Sharia Project’s 2008 study. Each independently showed that upwards of 80% of mosques in America were preaching hatred of Jews and Christians and the necessity ultimately to impose Islamic rule.

Let’s break this down one by one. Kabbani said in 1999 that extremists “took over more than 80% of the mosques that have been established in the US.” How did he come up with this number? He didn’t say in his testimony. After the testimony Kabbani began to feel heat from many who were curious as to how he arrived at this “figure” and that is when he finally decided to offer up some “evidence” for his claim.

An under-fire Kabbani explained in 1999 exactly what he meant when he told the State Department that 80 percent of American mosques had been taken over by extremists. His point, he said, was that a “few extremists” were taking over leadership posts, despite a “majority of moderate Muslims,” thus “influencing 80 percent of the mosques.”

Today, he sticks even closer to his guns and adds embellishing data: Kabbani visited 114 mosques in the United States. “Ninety of them were mostly exposed, and I say exposed, to extreme or radical ideology,” he said.

Kabbani bases his exposure conclusion on speeches, board members and materials published. One telltale sign of an extremist mosque, said Kabbani, was an unhealthy focus on the Palestinian struggle.

Alright – let’s be real here. This is not a “study” as Spencer claims. It’s an insult to actual studies out there to call what Kabbani did a “study,” it doesn’t even reach the basic standard of research, documentation or analysis. He conducted a subjective investigation of American mosques, plain and simple. Mosques he went to and where he found or heard things he didn’t agree with were labeled “extremist.” Just because there was a “focus on the Palestinian struggle” at a mosque doesn’t mean it’s “extremist.” What type of absurd methodology is that? It’s remarkable that Spencer would try to pass this off as a “study.” I know, it’s hard to prove that Muslims in America are bloodthirsty jihadists, but even Spencer should be ashamed of himself for trying to pass off Kabbani’s flawed investigation as a “study” to bolster his claim that 80% of mosques are run by extremists.

The next study that Spencer claims proves that 80% of American mosques are radicalized is from the Center for Religious Freedom. What is the methodology and scope of this study?

In undertaking this study, we did not attempt a general survey of American mosques.  In order to document Saudi influence, the material for this report was gathered from a selection of more than a dozen mosques and Islamic centers in American cities, including Los Angeles, Oakland, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Washington, and New York. In most cases, these sources are the most prominent and well-established mosques in their areas. They have libraries and publication racks for mosque-goers. Some have full-or part-time schools and, as the 9/11 Commission Report observed, such “Saudi-funded Wahhabi schools are often the only Islamic schools.”

From their own words, the Center for Religious Freedom says that it “did not attempt a general survey of American mosques.” The study itself was designed “to document Saudi influence.” They went to fifteen mosques to complete this “study.” Fifteen mosques! According to the Pluralism Project at Harvard University, there are at least 1,600 mosques and Islamic centers in the United States. This, too, is not much of a study.

Further eroding Spencer’s point, this study does not even claim that 80% or even a high percentage of American mosques are radicalized in any way. Let me repeat that – the study makes NO claim that 80% or some other percent of American mosques are radicalized. It simply does not say what Spencer claims it says. Spencer is making it up. He is lying. But LoonWatchers shouldn’t be surprised by that.

Spencer’s deception and lack of intellectual integrity in this instance is blatant, he not only cites the Center’s “study” as proof of the 80%-percent-of-mosques-are-extremists-conspiracy-theory, but he also fails to mention that the only semblance of what he claims in the study is a regurgitation of Kabbani’s (false and discredited) assertion,

Sheikh Kabbani, perhaps the U.S.’s leading moderate Muslim leader, says that a substantial percentage of American mosques have Wahhabi-funded Imams

Isn’t this interesting? What sort of credible “study” perfunctorily sites the non-evidentiary based assertions of a lone individual without questioning his methodology? The language in the above sentence is also cause for alarm, anytime a claim such as “the U.S.’s leading moderate Muslim leader” is made we should view it not only with caution but skepticism. This sort of heavily biased and subjective language is employed now by Right-Wingers and Republicans to describe “Zuhdi Jasser” the Islamophobes favorite Muslim.

Spencer’s last piece of evidence to back up his bogus claim comes from the Mapping Sharia Project led by the loony racist anti-Muslim lawyer David Yerushalmi, David Gaubatz and conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney. The only thing I could find on this “study” was a Jihad Watch link reporting the findings of the Mapping Sharia Project. The Jihad Watch article reports that “An undercover survey of more than 100 mosques and Islamic schools in America has exposed widespread radicalism, including the alarming finding that 3 in 4 Islamic centers are hotbeds of anti-Western extremism…”

Spencer relying on “undercover survey’s” by radical Islamophobes with pseudo-racist beliefs? Just par for the course.

Firstly, there is no web page allowing us access to examine the methodology employed by this study. When I went to the link to the Mapping Sharia Project, I was taken to the web site for David Yerushalmi’s organization, SANE (Society for American National Existence). To gain access, I had to become a member. I did not want to join this loony web site’s membership list, as I am spammed enough as it is. So Spencer’s third study does not even exist, at least out in the public. Even the link he places for the Mapping Sharia Project just takes you to another JihadWatch web page reporting the findings of the study. Guess we’ll just have to take Yerushalmi, Gaubatz, Gaffney and Spencer’s word for it that 80%… err, three out of four American mosques are radicalized.

Actually, we won’t. Spencer tried his best it seems to pass off these “studies” as evidence to support Rep. Peter King’s claim that 80% of American mosques are radicalized. None of these “studies” does that.

Kabbani’s “study” is based simply on his own opinions of the mosques and their leadership, not any objective metric gauging radicalism. If he did not agree with the viewpoints of the mosque, then he deemed them radical. That’s not a study. Spencer, someone who went to graduate school, should know better than that.

The Center for Religious Freedom study says itself that it “did not attempt a general survey of American mosques.” So how does Spencer cite this study as evidence that 80% of American mosques are radicalized? Because he’s not interested in the truth – he just needs something to cite to so he can bamboozle those who won’t actually check his sources. Sorry, Robert, but we did. And this so-called “study” does not even say what you claim it does.

The final piece of evidence Spencer clings to is the Mapping Sharia Project’s “study,” which apparently does not exist in the public domain. But considering its authors – David Yerushalmi, David Gaubatz and Frank Gaffney – I would venture to say that this “study” will not only not be very academic but thoroughly bigoted and prejudiced. Just consider some of the proposals Yerushalmi and his friends at (in)SANE have come up with:

WHEREAS Islam requires all Muslims to actively and passively support the replacement of America’s constitutional republic with a political system based upon Shari’a.

Whereas, adherence to Islam as a Muslim is prima facie evidence of an act in support of the overthrow of the US Government through the abrogation, destruction, or violation of the US Constitution and the imposition of Shari’a on the American People.

HEREFORE, IT IS RESOLVED THAT: It shall be a felony punishable by 20 years in prison to knowingly act in furtherance of, or to support the, adherence to Shari’a.

The Congress of the United States of America shall declare the US at war with the Muslim Nation.

If these “studies” and individuals are the evidence that Spencer claims back up the myth that 80% of American mosques are radicalized, then Spencer has no evidence. For a great source on the history of this myth, see Media Matters’ Zombie Lie: Right Still Clinging To Decade-Old Fabrication About Radicalized Mosques.

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  • Safak Ozgun

    @link182: thank you so much for that, i just wanted to watch a minute or two of the video but ended up watching the whole thing, sacrificing some work i had to do in the process 🙂 but it was well worth it… while spencer claims to be a scholar (how he does that without even a single peer reviewed article in any journal is another question), this scott atran guy uses empirical data and real studies to make his point. just a quick search on wikipedia reveals his substantial credentials and experience. why cant real scholars like him be seen more than the fake ones like spencer?

  • Safak Ozgun

    lolz spencer is such a failure… whats sad is the many many in the JW community that take his garbage as truth…

    one thing i dont get though: leaving aside the fact that kabbani’s so-called study is more than a decade old and is outdated today, leaving aside that it was based on his own personal opinion of what constituted a radical mosque, leaving aside the fact that the mapping shariah project & center for religious studies’ project was not a real & objective study, and assuming that everything spencer said was true and even assuming that all 114 mosques were indeed radicalized: how is 114 out of 1600 mosques an 80% majority????

    thats not even a 10%! studying just 7% of a sample and making a conclusion about the majority is just ignorant…

  • Ali Azizi

    If Spencer’s idiotic followers saw a picture of Kabbani, they would defecate in their pants being that they are all intellectual cowards who have a Pavlovian aversion to anything with a beard and/or turban.

  • I hope that eventually, for Allah (swt)/God to forgive him, he’ll redeem and apologize for his huge mistake.

    I agree. May Allah guide him.

  • Khushboo

    Marco, I totally agree with you. I know many christians and Jews who condemn the oppression of Palestinians and who condemn what Bush has done invading Muslim countries and are now unhappy with Obama’s foreign policies. Does that make them radical? NO, but when Muslims say the same thing, they’re considered Radicals. The double standard here boggles the mind!

  • Khushboo

    Andrew, you’re right and I hope Kabbani realizes the damage he’s caused. I hope that eventually, for Allah (swt)/God to forgive him, he’ll redeem and apologize for his huge mistake.

  • Khushboo

    Thanks Link but you don’t have to be an expert to know Islam has nothing to do with terrorism. You just have to read the Quran to know that it doesn’t allow terrorism. Spencer, whether qualified or not, has his own agenda. Even if he did believe Islam doesn’t allow terrorism, he would never openly admit it, otherwise he would have to find a less-paying job.

  • Link182

    The influence Islam in terrorism is an empirical question which Spencer is not qualified to answer. Turning to someone who is qualified, cognitive scientist and anthropologist Scott Atran has done massive research on this topic and concluded that religious education and mosque attandence is a negative predictor of being involved in Islamic terrorism.

  • Pseudo-Sufi? Shaykh Kabbani is a representative of the Haqqani branch of the Naqshbandi Order, which is a very old and traditional Sufi Order. Nothing pseudo about it.

    It does not matter what he says he is. We judge his actions. He has opened the door for Islamophobes to attack the entire Muslim community. He supports people like GF Haddad who is well-known for viciously attacking popular Muslim scholars he does not agree with. That is not the wisdom, good character, or knowledge befitting somebody who calls themselves “Sheikh” or an authentic “Sufi.” His ignorance and foolishness has dangerous consequences. Allah knows best.

  • RDS

    @TomThumb, I do support the name change, but not in a way that would invite Islamophobes to bash it from the name alone.

    …plus, the “other” Loonwatch from Google is a university program to watch…loons (birds, that is). Is it a sort of a conservation program?

  • marco

    His idea of radicalized is any mosque that supports the Palestinian cause and condemns Israels oppression of them. His idea of a radical is anyone who believes shariah law is part of the religion. His idea of a radical is anyone who criticises American foreign policy and says that is the reason why terrorism is come to America.

    You could go to any number of churches or synagogues in America and you’d find similiar hatred and bigotry being preached about others.
    Him and his fellow fascists are simply trying to silence the muslim population, and trying to criminlize their speech and thoughts. Its the 1950’s red scare all over again. Just another witch hunt agianst the subversive muslims

  • Haha, that’s true Anj, he does look like a stereotype Muslim 😛 And that is not a bad thing at all is it?

  • Anj

    It’s funny if you look at the above picture and you didn’t know who Spencer or reza were.
    You would think that the islamophobe is reza!

  • Terry

    Spencer is the one who is radicalized. He is a radicalized liar and a radicalized buffoon.

  • *Andrew

    Allahu A’lam

  • Whoa Andre chill out on the fake Sufi, putting Sheikh in quotes bit

    Allahu A’lam

    “This sacred knowledge shall be borne by reliable authorities from each generation, who will preserve it from the distortions of extremists, the plans of the corrupt and the false explanations of the ignorant.” (Narrated mursal by Al-Bayhaqi in Kitab al-Madkhal on the authority of Ibrahim bin ‘Abd al-Rahman al-’Udhri.)

  • TomThumb

    Is there anyone else out there who thinks maybe LoonWatch should consider a change in name? Since we are dealing with a very serious subject and LW’s articles tend to be scholarly and very professional, perhaps a more professional sounding name would be appropriate? I’ve noticed many debates taking place on various websites where objective people with no bias tend to cite LW’s articles in defense of a particular point they are making, but then start wondering about the site’s credibility. The following is a case in point:

    “I realize the website Loonwatch has a certain lack of credibility due to their name but certainly no less credibility than the picture of the crowd of what may be muslims from a site named samsonblinded.”

  • Isa

    Pseudo-Sufi? Shaykh Kabbani is a representative of the Haqqani branch of the Naqshbandi Order, which is a very old and traditional Sufi Order. Nothing pseudo about it.

    That said, this claim he made 12 years ago has gained him “fans” on the rightwing, including a neoconservative Muslim by the name of Stephen Sulayman Schwartz – who runs the “Center For Islamic Pluralism.”

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