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Debaters at EMU spar over whether Islam promotes violence

The Detroit News

August 10, 2013

By Lauren Abdel-Razzaq

Ypsilanti — Robert Spencer, the controversial director of the website Jihad Watch, said Saturday at a debate that violence is inherent in Islam.

“The highest authorities in Islam understand the Quran to be teaching warfare against nonbelievers,” said Spencer, speaking at a debate on “Is Islam a Religion of Peace?” Saturday at Eastern Michigan University. “This doesn’t mean every devout Muslim will commit violence against nonbelievers, but every devout Muslim who commits violence among nonbelievers is doing it because their God is calling them to in their holy book.”

Debating Spencer in the session was Shadid Lewis, a regional director of the Muslim Debate Initiative.

The two had differing opinions on nearly every issue during the almost two-hour moderated debate at the university’s student center.

“It is abundantly clear that Islam as shown by higher sources — the Quran — is a religion of peace and peaceful dealings,” said Lewis. “Islam warns us about listening to religious leaders because they can sometimes want power for themselves and power for the state and use the power of religion to garner support for earthly possessions.”

The debate was hosted by Ann Arbor-based Ave Maria Radio and moderated by its CEO, Al Kresta, who hosts a show on the traditionalist Catholic network. The center’s grand ballroom was full of attendees, at least 300.

The two men were part of a larger symposium featuring other speakers that included Richard Thompson, chief counsel for the Thomas More Law Center, which specializes in legal issues involving Christianity.

After following a point, rebuttal pattern for most of the debate, near the end, both Spencer and Lewis began to talk over each other, prompting Kresta to order the microphones to be lowered.

“This is an empirical question any jackass can clarify and answer and we don’t need to spend 15 minutes talking about whether there is a videotape somewhere,” Kresta told Spencer while he was answering a question on whether the Quran is used to justify acts of terrorism. “You’ve made your point.”

Spencer, whose writing has been called anti-Muslim, was quoted in a manifesto by the man accused of the Norway killing spree in 2011, the New York Times and the Anti-Defamation League reported. The British government this year banned Spencer from entering the country, according to BBC News, and a Southern Poverty Law Center report has listed him as among an “Anti-Muslim Inner Circle.”

Spencer addressed the ban in the debate, saying, “What I say is true and in the immortal words of Jack Nicholson in the movie whose name I forget, ‘You can’t handle the truth.’”

He continued, “they were kowtowing to intimidation.”

Spencer’s appearance at EMU promoted area Islamic leaders to urge other Muslims to stay away from the event.

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Michigan, said he supported Spencer’s free speech rights but urged Muslims to avoid the debate, saying Spencer’s views could provoke “animosity and enmity.”

“That’s not what we should be embracing coming out of Ramadan,” Walid said, referring to the holy month for Muslims.

A statement released by EMU said the university was not sponsoring, financially supporting or promoting any of the speakers.

“As a public institution, and under the freedom of speech protections provided by the First Amendment, we do not and cannot make determinations about access to our facilities based on the viewpoints being presented.”

The debate ended with Lewis saying that Spencer was trying to mislead listeners and Spencer claiming he speaks only the truth.


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