Mehdi Hasan (like so many Islamic supremacist spokesmen) refuses to debate me, so I will debate his recent Oxford Union appearance, in which he argues that Islam is a peaceful religion.
Hasan begins by apologizing to Anne-Marie Waters, one of those who was arguing that Islam was not peaceful. He apologizes for the Bali bombing, the murder of Theo Van Gogh, and more, and then says, voice dripping with irony, “Yes, that was all of us, that was the Qur’an, that was Islam…” The camera cuts to Waters shaking her head, as she is apparently aware that Hasan is indulging in a common rhetorical trick that Islamic supremacists employ: to claim that those who point out that the Qur’an, Sunnah, and Islamic law teach violence against unbelievers are blaming all Muslims collectively for the misdeeds of a few. No one of any significance in this debate actually does this, but it is a slick diversionary tactic. It is, however, completely empty of any real substance. To see why, imagine if a Christian behaved in a way that was merciful and forgiving (hard as that may be to imagine for some), and someone pointed out that Christ taught mercy and forgiveness, so that the Christian’s actions accorded with Christ’s teaching — and then the Mehdi Hasan figure in this analogy said, “Oh, you’re saying that all Christians are merciful and forgiving.” What Hasan is saying here is equally absurd.
Hasan then invokes “the Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom,” who he says has declared “these views” to be “anathema.” He is apparently referring to Cameron’s statement that “there is nothing in Islam that justifies acts of terror.” But this is just another rhetorical trick, again devoid of substance. For surely Hasan would not argue that the office of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom confers upon one some special knowledge of Islam. And Cameron is not known for being a scholar of Islam: if a Prime Minister who had studied just as much about Islam as Cameron has, or more, were ever to say that Islam was not a religion of peace, Hasan would not be repeating his views as if they carried weight, but would condemn him for his ignorance. Consequently, this is just an argument from authority, which is the weakest of all arguments — particularly when the authority in question is not even an authority on the matter at hand.
Hasan then implies that Waters’ views would be welcomed by the openly racist British National Party — again retailing the numbingly familiar charge that opposition to jihad and Islamic supremacism constitutes racism. To that I repeat my numbingly familiar response: what race is jihad terror against innocent civilians again? I keep forgetting. Then we hear about the Muslim who discovered algorithms — yet another rhetorical trick, since inventions or discoveries by Muslims say nothing one way or another about whether or not Islam is a peaceful religion. Or can one not make mathematical discoveries if one adheres to a religion that teaches warfare?
Hasan also says that there would have been no Renaissance or Reformation (he probably means Enlightenment) in Europe without the role of the Muslim philosophers Avicenna (Ibn Sina) and Averroes (Ibn Rushd). Very well; then why wasn’t there a Renaissance or Enlightenment in Muslim countries with Avicenna and Averroes? Because they were condemned as heretics, and philosophical exploration withered in the Islamic world. Al-Ghazali in The Incoherence of the Philosophers argued that the philosophers were heretics who should be put to death. Averroes countered with The Incoherence of the Incoherence, but the damage was done, and it was left to the West to figure out what to do with the algorithms and philosophical discoveries of which Hasan is so proud, while Muslims largely ignored or condemned them. Hasan doesn’t touch on that rather obvious fact.
With a great flourish, Hasan then says: “Modern antisemitism in the Middle East was imported from — finish the sentence? — Christian, Judeo-Christian Europe, where I believe certain bad things happened to the Jewish people.” That Christian antisemitism existed and still exists in some quarters is undeniable. That Christians participated in the Holocaust is undeniable. But Hasan’s claim that Islamic antisemitism is an import from Christian Europe is false. The Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, didn’t live in Berlin during World War II, make broadcasts for the National Socialists, and raise up a Muslim SS division because he had been influenced by Christian antisemitism. He did all that and more because his Qur’an told him that the Jews were the worst enemies of the Muslims (5:82), were under the curse of Allah (9:30), had been transformed by Allah into apes and pigs (2:63-65; 5:59-60; 7:166); etc. He did it because he read in the Hadith Muhammad saying that the end times would not come until Muslims killed Jews and the Jews hid behind trees, and the trees would cry out, “Oh Muslim, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him!” (Sahih Muslim 6985). The Qur’an and Hadith are loaded with antisemitic material, and Muslims who believe in the Qur’an and Hadith have behaved in antisemitic ways throughout history. Hasan quoted Thomas Friedman as telling him that if Muslims had controlled Europe, the Holocaust wouldn’t have happened. That may be true. The chief drivers of the Holocaust, however, were not Christians, but Social Darwinist atheist materialistic relativists. Christianity doesn’t actually teach that mass murder is justified any more than Islam does. The six million might still be alive, however, not because of some Islamic belief in general human dignity — it has no such belief, but instead teaches that “Muhammad is the apostle of Allah. Those who follow him are merciful to one another but harsh to the unbelievers” (Qur’an 48:29). They would be alive in a Muslim Europe because they would be needed to pay the jizya, the tax that historically financed the great Islamic empires. Certainly this is preferable in all respects to mass murder, but it is not quite equivalent to an enlightened belief in the universal dignity of the human person.
Then we get the familiar tu quoque indictments of Christianity: the Crusades, the Inquisition, the anti-Jewish pogroms, etc. Again: even if Christianity were the most evil, hateful and violent belief system on earth, that wouldn’t establish anything either way about whether or not Islam is a peaceful religion or not. Of course, Hasan is trying to say that all religions, or at least Christianity, have followers that commit violence in their name, and so no judgments can be made on that basis. And it’s true: the question of whether or not Islam is a peaceful religion can only be established by an examination of the canonical texts and teachings of Islam, not by the behavior of individual Muslims (or Christians). That’s because one cannot be sure that any individual believer is acting in accord with the teachings of the religion without examining those teachings. When one examines them, one finds that Christians committing violence in the name of Christ were violating the teachings of Christianity, and that Muslims committing violence in the name of Islam were acting in accord with the teachings of the Qur’an and Muhammad. I am sure Mehdi Hasan would disagree with that statement, but he says nothing whatsoever in this video to disprove it. When he invokes the attacks on abortion clinics, he fails to note that there is not a single Church or Christian authority who supports such attacks. Yet some of the leading Muslim clerics worldwide, such as Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, endorse Jew-hatred, jihad violence, jihad-martyrdom suicide attacks, etc. Hasan, of course, does not mention that.
Hasan says that 113 out of the 114 chapters of the Qur’an begin by introducing the god of Islam as a god of mercy and compassion. He doesn’t mention that the one chapter that does not, sura 9, is the one that contains the verse of the sword (“slay the pagans wherever you find them” — 9:5) as well as the verse calling on Muslims to wage war against and subjugate Jews and Christians (9:29). He admits that Islam is not a pacifistic religion, and that the Qur’an contains verses that enjoin war and violence, and says that “a minority of Muslims” take those verses out of context. But he doesn’t explain what that context is; instead, he shifts ground to point out that the people who are arguing against his proposition are not experts on Islam, and invokes Robert Pape, who argued that most suicide terror is committed by non-Muslims. Not only is Pape wrong; he’s on the dole of Hamas-linked CAIR.
After that comes another familiar charge: that those who argue that Islam is not peaceful are agreeing with jihad terrorists: “Osama bin Laden would be nodding along,” he says, to everything that those who argued that Islam was not peaceful had said. This is yet another rhetorical trick, not a real argument. For without establishing that bin Laden is wrong about Islam, which Hasan hasn’t done, it’s just a kind of guilt-by-association tactic: This evil person believes what you believe, therefore your belief must be wrong. He goes on to say that mainstream Muslims don’t agree with bin Laden, but even if that is correct, truth isn’t established by a majority vote, either. The question of whether or not bin Laden’s actions accord with Islamic teaching can only be established by examining Islamic teaching, not by taking a vote among Muslims who, like all people when they vote, are influenced by a huge variety of factors — and those factors may not have anything to do with what Islam teaches. Hasan then tried to establish that Islam teaches peace by invoking several Islamic scholars. Embarrassingly for him, one of those whom he invokes is Sheikh Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, who has indeed issued a fatwa against terrorism. He is also a chief framer of Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws, which have been used to victimize countless Christians in Pakistan. Not exactly a shining example of a peaceful Islamic teacher.
Extrapolating from the teachings of the two scholars he invokes, Hasan says that mainstream Islam doesn’t teach that one should go out and “kill people willy-nilly in the high street, or anywhere else, on a bus or a mall, based on verses of the Qur’an that you cherry-picked without any context, any understanding, any interpretation, or any commentary.” He doesn’t address, however, the point that the Woolwich jihad murderer, Mujahid Adebolajo, made: that the Qur’an tells Muslims to fight those who fight them. He saw Lee Rigby, a soldier who had fought in Afghanistan, not as an innocent non-combatant — in other words, not as one of the people Hasan is saying that Islam says not to fight — but as one who was making war against Islam. Is this interpretation correct or not? Hasan doesn’t say. He doesn’t talk about it at all.
Hasan says shortly thereafter that there are different interpretations of what Sharia is, and that “you empower the extremists” by saying that there is only one version of Sharia. This is yet another familiar claim, advanced by the likes of Reza Aslan and others. It ignores the fact that wherever and whenever Sharia is implemented, be it Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, or elsewhere, it looks pretty much the same: stonings, amputations, death for apostasy, subjugation of women, etc. To claim that it is nebulous beyond definition reminds me of a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party whom I knew in college. She claimed that true communism had never been seen anywhere, not in the Soviet Union, not in Communist China, not anywhere. This was just a dodge in order to avoid having the atrocities of Communist regimes laid at Marxism’s feet. So also is Hasan’s claim here just a dodge to try to prevent the atrocities of Sharia regimes from being attributed to Sharia. The striking similarities of Sharia regimes across the globe, however, argue against him.
If Islam is what is motivating jihad terrorists, he concludes, “why aren’t the rest of us doing it?” This is the crowning point of his case: that “99.99% of Muslims” aren’t committing acts of jihad terror. If Islam isn’t peaceful, why aren’t the vast majority of Muslims behaving violently? But this is an absurd point. The Catholic Church teaches that contraception is sinful. Yet polls consistently show that the vast majority of Catholics use contraception. Does this mean that the Catholic Church doesn’t teach that contraception is sinful? No, it simply means that the vast majority of Catholics have other priorities and influences aside from Church authority. So also do most Muslims have other priorities and influences beyond Islamic teaching. Most people of all religions just want to live their lives and be left alone. This is ultimately irrelevant to what Islam teaches.
Hasan concludes by reiterating that to say that Islam is not a peaceful religion would be a manifestation of bigotry. No: the question of whether or not Islam is peaceful is a question of fact. If it is true, it is true. Calling it bigotry doesn’t make it any less true.
Mehdi Hasan in this speech has shown himself utterly bereft of any actual arguments to establish that Islam is a religion of peace. No wonder he won’t debate me.