The Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is protesting a speaker coming to the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, who has written that terrorism and extremism are intrinsic to Islam.
Raymond Ibrahim — whose books include “Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians” and “Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West" — is slated to speak at the Army War College on Feb. 26. His lecture is part of a discussion series examining “provocative military history” in the interest of academic growth, according to a spokeswoman for the Army Heritage and Education Center, which is sponsoring the event.
Those who oppose Ibrahim’s lecture state that the issue isn’t one of free speech, but instead one of fringe speakers being selected to promote discredited ideas.
Ibrahim, the son of Coptic Christian immigrants from Egypt, is a fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center includes on its map of hate groups. The center is affiliated with a blog called Jihad Watch, which Ibrahim contributed to between 2014 and 2018.
“If Muhammad cannot beat the infidels on the battlefield, he’ll outbreed them — literally,” Ibrahim wrote in a February 2018 article discussing the rise of Muslim birth rates in Europe. “Muslim women remain the primary incubators for the jihad.”
Rhetoric like that is at the heart of civil rights advocates’ complaints, according to Jacob Bender, CAIR-Philadelphia’s executive director and a Jewish man.
“This is the same type of language that was for decades aimed at the American Catholic community, whose churches were burned not four blocks from where I sit here in Philadelphia. They, like Muslims, were accused of having dual loyalty — in their case to the Vatican — and of being unable to assimilate to a democratic worldview," Bender said over the phone. “We see those same arguments recycled and now instead of Catholics, it’s Muslims.”
“It’s frankly an insult to the Muslims who have given their lives for this country," Bender added.
Ibrahim, though, said he always tries to differentiate between “Muslims” as subjective people, and “Islam” as a body of objective teachings, even if he hasn’t always drawn that distinction in every one of his writings.
“The former can believe and behave anyway they want — including as model American citizens,” Ibrahim said in an email. “The latter does, unequivocally, teach things that are ‘radical,’ including that Muslims must have ‘hate’ for non-Muslims, never be allied to them, except insincerely when needed.”
Ibrahim cited articles he has written on his website and a 2007 interview in which he drew this distinction to discourage bigotry. He added that he has been attacked by his own readers and Jihad Watch’s director, Robert Spencer, for insisting critics of Islam use words like “Islamist,” instead of “Muslim.”
The Army War College had a more mainstream speaker last month who CAIR-Philadelphia did not object to. John Voll, a professor emeritus of Islamic history at Georgetown University, lectured on Muslim-Christian alliances and conflicts in the modern era.
Voll does not agree with Ibrahim’s view that Christians and Muslims are almost inevitably at odds. Extreme advocates of this “Clash of Civilizations” hypothesis tend to deal with only half of the historical record of relations between the West and Islam, he said in an email.
“While the history includes many wars and conflicts, that history also includes many experiences of cooperation and alliances,” Voll explained. “To ignore the history of Muslim-Christian cooperations and only emphasize the conflicts is to present a misleading narrative that opens the way for dangerous misunderstandings of world history in general and current global affairs in particular.”
The viewpoints between the two speakers should not be considered equal, according to Bender. “On the one hand, you have a mainstream intellectually based scholar," he said. "On the other hand, you have a well-known bigot.”
Ibrahim maintains that the book he’ll be lecturing on is well-sourced using first-hand historical accounts translated from Arabic and Greek.
In July, the Army War College postponed a speech that Ibrahim was supposed to make after complaints were raised. Ibrahim pointed Army Times to op-eds that were written at that time defending him.
“This is deja vu — meaning I was in this same exact position last summer — and I, and others, responded," he said.
In a Washington Times piece, entitled “Global jihad’s information warfare campaign,” a retired Army officer wrote that Ibrahim’s arguments are worth hearing out.
“An important thesis of Mr. Ibrahim’s work is that the Islamic world has been in perpetual war against the West from its inception until the colonial era. And those wars were fundamentally rooted in Islamic religious dogma and drive," the op-ed reads.
A petition with roughly 4,000 signatories was submitted by the conservative-leaning National Association of Scholars to the White House in an effort to call on the Army War College to reverse its decision to postpone Ibrahim’s lecture.
“America’s present and future military leadership needs to be fully informed about threats to America — and they need to know the history and religious roots of Islamist opposition to Western military forces,” the nonprofit’s petition reads. "[The Army War College’s] deference to CAIR threatens American interests, and endangers the lives of American soldiers.”
Carol Kerr, a spokeswoman for the Army War College, denied that Ibrahim was disinvited over the summer.
“Because the original date for Raymond Ibrahim’s lecture event was ill-suited to the summer hiatus of war college classes, the event was postponed, not cancelled,” she said in an emailed statement.
During his speech at the Army War College, Ibrahim intends to discuss several portions of his 2018 book “Sword and the Scimitar,” that involve subjects like the Muslim rule of Spain during the Middle Ages, as well as various battles between Islamic and Christian armies during that time period.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include comment from John Voll, a professor emeritus of Islamic history at Georgetown University.