Despite the threats of violence from Muslims in her own country of England, and the fact that sharia law, in all its sexism and unfairness, is already being used to adjudicate cases there, Karen Armstrong wants us to refrain from criticizing Islam. In a new piece in the Guardian, “Prejudices about Islam will be shaken by this show” (the title refers to an exhibition at the British Museum about the hajj: the pilgrimage to Mecca), Armstrong argues that prejudice against Islam is severely misguided.
Ever since the Crusades, when Christians from western Europe were fighting holy wars against Muslims in the near east, western people have often perceived Islam as a violent and intolerant faith – even though when this prejudice took root Islam had a better record of tolerance than Christianity. Recent terrorist atrocities have seemed to confirm this received idea. But if we want a peaceful world, we urgently need a more balanced view. We cannot hope to win the “battle for hearts and minds” unless we know what is actually in them. Nor can we expect Muslims to be impressed by our liberal values if they see us succumbing unquestioningly to a medieval prejudice born in a time of extreme Christian belligerence.
Like Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Christians, Sikhs and secularists, some Muslims have undoubtedly been violent and intolerant, but the new exhibition at the British Museum. . .
Note the comparison of present-day Muslims with those of other faiths, who are not currently as violent as Islam. And “secularists”? Are we really beheading people lately? Buddhists? There should be a name for the fallacy in which faiths with drastically different levels of violence and intolerance are held equal so long as any of their adherents are violent at all. And does she really believe that if we are more tolerant of Islamic threats, and stop publishing criticisms of their fatwas, their violence, and their ridiculous calls for death to those who publish cartoons or name teddy bears after the prophet, that Muslims will be so impressed by our “liberal values” that the violence will stop?
Islam is a religion not just of proselytizing, but of formalized calls of death to apostates and heretics. Buddhists and secularists don’t do that. The calls for jihad and conversion of everyone won’t stop because we espouse “liberal” values.
Amstrong then extols Muhamed for his peacefulness, especially in making the hajj, which does indeed require peaceful behavior: Muslims must surrender their weapons, for example, before entering Mecca. Indeed, Muhamed is made out as an apostle of peace and nonviolence: a latter-day Gandhi. Odd for a man who himself laid siege to Mecca, killed many Meccans, and then turned against Medina. Armstrong, of course, doesn’t mention that the very city in which Muhamed made the hajj is the city he attacked.
As usual, Armstrong completely distorts the Qur’an to make it seem like a document of peace:
Clearly the Qur’an did not despise Jews and Christians; this affinity with “the people of the book” was also central to the Muslim cult of Mecca. The Arabs firmly believed that they, too, were children of Abraham, because they were the descendants of his eldest son Ishmael – a regional view shared by the Bible. . .
The Qur’an still urged Muslims to respect the people of the book and revere their prophets, but decreed that instead of facing Jerusalem when they prayed, as hitherto, they should turn towards the Ka’bah built by Abraham.
This is about as far from the truth as possible: the Qur’an calls Jews “apes” and “pigs” and condemns “followers of the book” (i.e., Christians and Jews) to hell. Here are a few verses from the Qur’an that I’ve published before, and there are many other verses full of hatred and bigotry. If you don’t believe that, see this annotated Qur’an.
(5:72) They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary. … Lo! whoso ascribeth partners unto Allah, for him Allah hath forbidden paradise. His abode is the Fire. For evil-doers there will be no helpers.
(9:29) – Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.
(9:30) The Jews say, “Ezra is the son of Allah “; and the Christians say, “The Messiah is the son of Allah .” That is their statement from their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved [before them]. May Allah destroy them; how are they deluded?
Armstrong ends up with a lachrymose call for comity:
But the British Museum’s beautiful presentation of the hajj can help us understand how the vast majority of the world’s Muslims understand their faith. Socrates, founder of the western rational tradition, insisted that the exercise of reason required us constantly and stringently to question received ideas and entrenched certainties.
I don’t see a lot of Muslims questioning their faith and approaching it through reason: if they did, they wouldn’t be Muslims, so pernicious, odious, and oppressive are the doctrines of that faith. And it’s vile for Karen Armstrong to not only whitewash that faith, but distort the very things it says about other faiths.
Here’s a kind face of Islam: a British Muslim, Abuz Zabair, calling for the execution of Usama Hasan, an imam and British academic who committed the horrible crime of questioning the existence of Adam and Eve and of asserting that evolution and Islam were compatible. (Hasan, mindful of his neck, has since retracted those views.) It is chilling to see someone who looks like a moderate Muslim, and is so soft-spoken and dressed in modern style, calmly mouth such calls for execution.
And here are some statistics on British Muslims; I can’t vouch 100% for their reliability:
- “The special poll based on a survey of 500 British Muslims found that a clear majority want Islamic law introduced into this country in civil cases relating to their own community. Some 61 per cent wanted Islamic courts – operating on sharia principles – ‘so long as the penalties did not contravene British law'”
- More from a poll of British Muslims, responding to the statement: There should be a new law to make incitement to religious hatred a criminal offence.Agree 81%
Don’t know 4%
- Despite the right to free speech, in Britain people who insult or criticise Islam should face criminal prosecution. Agree 58%
Don’t know 5%”
- “According to a new survey done at 30 universities in Britain, the young Muslim student body in that country is extremely radicalized. The poll asked 600 Muslim students and 800 of their non-Muslim peers about politically touchy subjects like killing in the name of Islam and Sharia Law—and the results were like night and day between the two demographics. While hardly anyone in the non-Muslim sample accepted killing in the name of religion, basically one-third of all Muslim students in Britain [32%] supported this.
. . . In an ironic twist, this survey and its shocking poll results were made available only through the Wikileaks leaking of Julian Assange. The poll was revealed as part of a secret, diplomatic cable that emerged from the US Embassy in London.Other results in the pro-Islamist survey results are also troublesome. For instance, more than half of all British Muslim students insist on being represented by a political party that is Islam-based. The clear-cut, overwhelming theme in this poll data from this leaked cable relates to the fact that many Muslims even in so-called civilized countries like Britain still want to relapse to the Middle Ages (or earlier, even) by making Islam central in all aspects of their true-believing lives.”
I don’t know about you, but 32% of British Muslims favoring execution in the name of Islam sounds like a lot to me, and perhaps something that Armstrong might worry about.
“Islamophobia” is becoming a pejorative word, smacking to many people of racism. But Muslims are not a race or an ethnic group: they’re adherents to a faith—an odious faith. Islamophobia—the fear and hatred of Islam—is the proper response to that faith.