Hugh is moving, slowly but inexorably, toward establishing his own blog, but in the meantime, we are proud to feature his material at Jihad Watch. Here are his thoughts on the proposal from Canon Rob Morris to rename an ancient pub in Britain — the Saracen’s Head — so as not to offend Muslims.
Why does one harbor the suspicion that Canon Rob Morris has never, in his life, been troubled by such terms as “Jew’s harp” or “Jewfish” or lifted a finger to have them changed? As for questioning lower-school performances of “The Merchant of Venice” or the big sign at “The Swastika and Bells” that may still be visible just off St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin — well, my god, some people are hypersensitive, aren’t they?
Well, let us be charitable, and take Canon Morris at his word. If he is agitated at the name of his local “Saracen’s Head” pub, should he not be off equally agitated at the hundreds or thousands of similarly-named pubs, inns, taverns, coffeehouses, that dot the landscape of England? And Canada, and Australia, and New Zealand, and America. And then there are the hundreds, or thousands, of pubs, inns, taverns named “Turk’s Head” throughout the English-speaking world. (Even in Cambridge, Massachusetts there was recently a “Turk’s Head Grill”). Dickens mentions a “Saracen’s Head” pub in Pickwick Papers. And to make matters worse, one of the most memorable characters in that same Pickwick Papers, The Fat Boy (“I wants to make your flesh creep”) was based on an overweight boot boy Dickens noticed at a pub in Devon, in Exeter. And that pub was called — The Turk’s Head. Well, Mr. Charles Dickens, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.
Canon Morris is on to something. We need to rethink, and remove, words and phrases in books written in the cruel and careless past, words and phrases that now might offend the new Muslim populations of Europe. Just because the Jews have had to endure, for centuries, all sorts of truly unpleasant words — vide supra — that is no reason why Muslims should have to do the same, now is it? And what is so winning about Muslims is that they don’t just sit cowering meekly in a corner trying not to be noticed, like some other minorities I could name. No, they express their grievances forthrightly, with a refreshing candor and directness. For example, Muslims in Italy have called for the banning of Dante in Italian schools, because he wrote some mean things about Muhammad. That’s not chutzpah. That’s what I call courage. And when some Muslims noticed a fresco in Bologna that showed Muhammad in an undignified light, they subjected that fresco to severe art criticism, and realizing that the public display of such a piece was an act of deliberate provocation, they planned to remove, permanently, that offense to public order (being well aware that not all Muslims would be as well-behaved as they were). Their plans were caught on tape by the Italian police, who showed themselves to be singularly obstinate in refusing to view the whole problem globally and compassionately. For now, that offending fresco is still on display, still causing psychic wounds of the deepest kind, and still intact. Other offending statues have had to be dealt with summarily, as the authorities have been dragging their heels. In northern France, at Floing, a Jesus and Mary were both decapitated; clearly, these public displays offend many. The Muslims don’t put out their statues of Muhammad, do they? So why do we insist on keeping ours in places where anyone might walk in and be forced to see them? In the Piazza del Popolo, a week ago, three statutes had their noses, ears, hands, and feet cut off. But the torsos were left, and as we know from much Roman statuary, and from the famous Venus de Milo itself, much of that stuff isn’t necessary to appreciate the essential beauty of the figure. Again, I put it to you: if the authorities in the Western world, who know full well how many Muslims live in their countries, and how deeply offensive such displays are, refuse to act to remove those works of so-called art,what should Muslims do? Just accept the mental torture? Or do something about it, in as quick and painless a manner as possible? Aren’t human feelings more important than carvings in stone, or than oil on canvas?
And it is the same with words. In a world where different ethnicities and religious beliefs jostle one another, we have to learn to be acutely sensitive. We cannot fall back on the tired excuse that “this is art.” Art, like “truth,” is a culture-bound category. And boundaries shift, and change. The boundaries of dar al-harb, for example, are shifting and changing. And in all this healthy recognition of changes that have to be made, surely it is Shakespeare who presents the greatest obstacle to a new, more sensitive, healthier cultural environment. And this is because he is Shakespeare, and we have grown up thinking he is untouchable and immutable. No, he isn’t. And the Bible isn’t, as all those lovely new editions that keep coming out demonstrate. There is, of course, only one work in the history of the world that is immutable — and it isn’t by Shakespeare.
No, it is nonsense to think that Shakespeare just sits there, silently, and abides our question. He has to answer for his words, just like everyone else. Why, it was a famous Russian fighter for social justice in the nineteenth century who wrote that a good carpenter was worth more than all the works of Pushkin. Or maybe it was a shoemaker. Whatever. But he was right, wasn’t he? What is Pushkin worth compared to a good pair of slippers, or Timberland boots in winter time, or canvas boat shoes for a trip to Europe on the S.S. Naufragium? Surely, the higher good of creating a world where we can all get along must take precedence over treating like some sacred text a few words set down by a mere mortal — yes, granted, a damned great mere mortal — centuries ago, writing as furiously on foolscap as some of us type on a keyboard, posting into the ether. No, Shakespeare does not get a by, not if one cares about one’s fellow man.
Consider those famous lines in Othello:
Say that in Aleppo once,
Where a malignant and a turbaned Turk,
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by the throat the circumcised dog
And smote him — thus!
“Malignant”? “Traduced the state”? “Circumcised dog”? This will never do. Thomas Bowdler, by turns a Londoner, a Vectensian, and finally a resident of New South Wales, had his famous way with the classics in the 19th century, excising words and rewriting passages that might make a maiden blush. He is easily mocked, but it should be remembered that his Family Shakespeare appeared at a time when young girls and boys were reading Shakespeare at the same age that girls and boys nowadays read Garfield the Cat. Muslims may not blush like nineteenth century maidens, but they are sensitive people, and if we Infidels have a drop of decency left in us, we will want to emend the texts of those who in the benighted past of our own arrogant civilization, were insufficiently fair to Islam. Unlike us, with our modern communications, they just didn’t know enough about Islam to fully appreciate it.
It would be cruel in European schools, for example, to assign texts by Diderot, or Francis Bacon, or Montaigne (especially “The Apology for Raymond Sebond”), or Hugo Grotius, or Pascal, or Spinoza, or Montesquieu, or Jeremy Bentham, or John Stuart Mill. And it would be demeaning, and divisive, to assign works by such historians as Edward Gibbon, or Jacob Burckhardt (what he had to say about Islam is simply unfair, that bigoted cad), or Henri Pirenne. Why cause extra problems for students? Why bring to their attention the prejudices of the past that can only get in the way of real learning, anyway? A good teacher tries to establish a good learning environment, and a good learning environment may require that certain texts and writers should just be ignored, perhaps not even mentioned. If someone really insists on reading Spinoza, or Pascal, or Montaigne, or Gibbon, or Bentham, or Spinoza “”- well, there’s always graduate school. What’s the big rush?
No one should be off-limits to the need to rewrite or remove passages that can prove hurtful or wounding. No one is sacred, not even Shakespeare. Perhaps especially Shakespeare. So here’s a stab at turning that malignant Turk into a heartwarming easygoing innkeeper in Aleppo (Haleb). Just picture in your mind’s eye a kind of Muslim version of Fawlty Towers, a turbaned Basil Fawlty acting agreeably as Mine Host. In the off-season, when well-heeled Muslims make the hajj and business falls off, this Turkish Fawlty offers special rates to Christian tourists who, of course, will not go on the hajj, and will not offend any Muslims by staying in the same inn, because for that period there won’t be any Muslims at the inn.
And what a delightful surprise to see, in one’s mind’s eye, a group of intrepid Venetians spills out of its carriage, led by their Tour Guide, a youthful Othello, in his first summer job before he found his military calling, herding them firmly toward the Registration Desk. The Venetians are already bustling with excitement, ready to take full advantage of the advertised “Turkish Delight Great Getaways Package” (those were the early days of advertising, and the art of compression was still in its infancy) — just imagine their reaction when their Turkish Host announces to his assembled guests that, because they are the first to arrive from outside the confines of the Ottoman Empire, he wishes to give them a special discount.
Recalling that moment, that early example of kindnesses offered and accepted across the silly and essentially false barriers of culture and belief, remembering that perfect early exemplar of the “Dialogue of Civilisations,” Othello — instead of uttering the violent and hateful words that Shakespeare puts in his mouth — recalls that moment as anyone nowadays would recall the kindness, say, of an Arab in a souk, who has given one a special price because he loves you, he explains, effendi, more than he loves his father, more than he loves his mother:
Say that in Aleppo once,
Where a dignified and a turbaned Turk
Greeting Venetians, did reduce their rates,
I took by the arm my openhearted friend,
And hugged him — thus!
Yes, I know what you are going to say. It’s not enough that I managed to preserve the meter. You want to complain that the rewrite fails to preserve the sense of the original. So what? That “sense of the original” was cruel. You know that as well as I. What are you trying to do — make Shakespeare accessible, make him kindler and gentler, or just throw him in the face of tens of millions of European Muslims who did nothing to deserve that? I went in, located the diseased lexical tissue, cut it right out and put in a replacement, and sewed up the incision, quickly and cleanly. Not a line, not a word, in the rest of the play was touched. I don’t know about you, but at my graduation I actually listened to the commencement speakers. I took their sentiments to heart. I”m trying to make the world a better place. I”m trying to make a difference. I”m trying to give something back. But I can’t do everything. I”ve made a start at preparing a Shakespeare fit for the Age of Eurabia. The alternative is likely to be no Shakespeare at all. If you have a better idea, then go ahead.
And of course the problem doesn’t stop there. Even Mother Goose rhymes can cause trouble. Here you are, reading to your sleepy two-year-old, and the innocent mind of a he or a not impossible she takes in a phrase, just before the spider comes along to sit down beside Miss Muffet, about “curds and whey.” A young child might not understand, might take the phrase in the wrong whey, with the wrong Kurds. And even atlases pose problems, with their funny toponyms that don’t sound quite right in English. Surely I’m not the only one who finds that the “Shatt al-Arab” can be cause for misplaced merriment. Perhaps Canon Morris can lead devout toponomasiologists, in solemn conclave assembled, to invent new place-names to replace those likely to be objects of mockery in the o”erweening, arrogant, English-speaking world. No one should have to suffer because a perfectly respectable word or phrase or place-name in one’s native language or dialect serves as a source of amusement to speakers of another. Canon Morris is probably the man to do this — he should be saluted, for consistently displaying such spunk.
And please, in undertaking these Good Works that compensate for so Little Faith, national borders should be treated as irrelevant. In this new Europe, where so many are hell-bent on melting down and blending into one gooey mass market their past national histories, and languages, and literatures (perhaps to be traded in for a pidgin English more appropriate to the grunt-and-squeak of the two worlds of business and entertainment, which soon will be all we know on earth, anyway, and all we will need to know): One folk, one market, one world. It has a certain ring. Farewell narrow parochialism, and farewell parishes!
So Canon Morris, sally forth beyond the bourne of Kings Norton, and the diversity program at your church. Your light must not be left to shine under English unofficial bushels. Fresh fields, and pastures new. The Italians have an exclamative that expresses fright (at times comical fright): mamma, li turchi! — Mamma, the Turks (are here, or on the way). Not very nice, is it? And the word “Turk” here means a generic “Muslim,” which makes it worse; the phrase originates from the fears stirred everywhere in Italy by centuries of Arab raids, with local inhabitants killed or kidnapped, their women raped, thir houses and churches plundered and destroyed. Sort of like Darfur. But that was then, and this is now. We live in a new age, and everything is fine in Europe today. The descendants of those very raiders live smack dab among the descendants of the survivors of those raids, and there have been no raids, no kidnappings or killings, no burning down of churches, no seizing of hostages, as far as I know, anywhere in Europe. So bygones should be bygones. There is nothing to worry about. That nasty little phrase demands drowning in the lexical Lethe.
And history books need to be rewritten, with the new facts and new insights supplied by members of the Euro-Mediterranean Dialogue, or by the newly-established Anna Lindh Foundation, located in Alexandria, Egypt. Every age needs to have the past rewritten, so that the history one learns in school is fit to meet the challenges and requirements of the day. Did you know, for example, that the Renaissance was practically a Muslim invention? Jacob Burckhardt may not have agreed, but then, when was he writing? 1970? 1880? Did you know that almost all of modern Western science, Newton, Einstein, Watson and Crick and Rosalind Franklin, quantum theory and fractals and neurobiology and the structure of DNA, owes its flourishing to Al-Khwarizmi and Al-Rhazi a thousand years ago? Yes, it’s going into the textbooks right now.
I once believed that the most useful thing Muslims did for Western civilization in Europe was, over central centuries, to conquer Byzantium, and in the process driving out the Christian scholars of the Eastern Empire. They fled West, was how the story went, taking with them their books, and their manuscripts dating back to classical antiquity, and their own vast learning inside their heads. Old history books used to explain that this flight from Byzantium had something to do with the Revival of Learning and, therefore, with the Renaissance.
And they used to tell us that a second major achievement of Islamic (i.e. mostly Persian and Mughal) civilization was to act as a conduit between Europe and the East (since the former movement between the two was now blocked by Islam itself). Thus, paper-making invented in China (see Dard Hunter) came to Europe, as geographically it had to, via the Islamic world. The same was true for the Hindu zero, and algebra. We used to be taught that major credit for Chinese and Indian discoveries ought to be given to the Chinese and the Indians. But we were wrong; without Federal Express, the package is not delivered. Without the delivery truck of Islam, where would Europe be today?
And we were also told that certain Greek texts, above all those of Aristotle, were translated into Arabic, and somehow “preserved” for Western consumption and use. Yet history books used to point out that the translators, from Greek into Syriac and thence into Arabic, were mostly Christians and Jews, and that in any case Aristotle, though translated, was made much of only in the Christian world, not — save for Averroes — in the Muslim one.
Needless to say, all of these attempts to diminish Islam will have to be removed from the history books. And it might help, as well, just to give a little less attention to the Chinese (let’s get copies of Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilisation in China out of school libraries, shall we? They may embarrass Muslims) and the greatly overrated West itself. I”m certainly willing to admit I was wrong; I stand — corrected.
It must be hard to be a clergyman, nowadays, if in reality one falls within the category of “Ye of Little Faith.” In what some call the post-Christian era, one compensates for Little Faith with a superflux of Good Works, hoping no one notices the old switcheroo. And since even the Little Faith that remains is faith in a wan and etiolated brand of Christianity, instead of that muscular old-time religion (and that old-time religion need not be that of a holy-roller’s twists and shouts — John Donne, thundering from the pulpit at St. Paul’s, Jeremy Taylor, Lancelot Andrewes, the Mather boys of New England, George Whitfield of the Great Awakening — will all do nicely, with their King James Bible, and their mastery of rhetoric, and their passionate delivery — all of which could command belief, even from a non-believer).
Canon Morris may be one of those who spends his post-Christian hours Christianly meeting the needs, not of the Christians who are under assault from Muslims in a thousand places, and in a thousand waves, but those of his newfound Muslim brothers and sisters. One in doubt may find the exhibition of such certainty, even uncompromising rigidity, not frightening but heartening. Perhaps some admire the True Believer, no matter the substance of those beliefs. It is the strength of that Belief that some find impressive. And there is one way to be a super-Christian, and doing that “love your enemies” stuff one better. Just force yourself to believe, and try to get others to believe, that those enemies do not mean what they say, and thus were never your enemies in the first place.
Perhaps Canon Morris, or others like him, will find themselves thinking — does the path we take to God really matter? If Christianity will no longer work, then on the any-port-in-a-storm theory, perhaps we must take the path in the way of Allah. Tariq Ramadan, the propagandist for Da”wa sometimes referred to as a “Muslim intellectual,” thinks hapless Westerners secretly long to trod that path. He is not alone. Many Muslims insist that decadent West, as they see it, is confused and at the end of its civilizational tether. All they need do is to wait; the Call to Islam, and not Combat — da”wa not qital — will make the whole world one vast Islamic domain. And the pax islamica will reign, and the world will look like — well, like the Muslim countries today, such as Saudi Arabia, or Pakistan, or Iran, or the Sudan. Something to look forward to.
It’s true. The West may sometimes seem to have virtually no literature, no art, no philosophy, no wit or humor, no joy in Mudville. And unlike the world of Islam, art, literature, philosophy, wit and humor, and even joy in Mudville, are indispensable to the West. But the king of kitman, Tariq Ramadan, does not really know the West, despite having lived in it, or rather in a Muslim cocoon within it, where he has become adept at delivering himself of self-assured and soothing pronouncements designed for Western ears. His books, once examined, appear to be those of a mediocre graduate student in philosophy, gainfully employed through the fluke of being a Muslim, and no doubt having a genuine live Muslim on the faculty, lending an authentic air to the business of “dialogues” and “we all have so much to learn from each other” and so on, was just too good to pass up. Tariq Ramadan’s ultimate aims are the same as those of Osama Bin Laden; only their views of the most effective methods differ.
What could Ramadan tell us that has not been told, much better, much more piercingly, by others? William James, Ortega y Gasset, Nicholas Berdyaev, Lev Shestov, Wladimir Weidle, Josef Pieper, Christopher Dawson, Jacques Ellul, Raymond Aron, Jacques Barzun, Ian Robinson, Richard Hoggart, in the past century, have diagnosed various mental and cultural woes of the decadent West. The prescription of Islam, a belief-system that meets most of the criteria, as Ibn Warraq has said, to be considered fascism, is the disease for which it is supposed to be a cure. We”ve been there before, with Fascism; we really need not try it, in Italy or Germany or Spain or anywhere else, again. Some Muslims seem to believe that the European equivalents of “Access Hollywood” and “Entertainment Tonight” represent the West’s cultural level. Some of them consider Bernard Henri-Levy to be an “intellectual” (whatever that is). No wonder they underestimate the West. There is life in the old boy yet — that talented, exasperating, often silly old West of ours. But the survival of that West will depend on whether Europe further succumbs to the blandishments of the Euro-Arab Dialogue, and heeds the Euro-Arab siren song that plays variations on the themes of anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, and outright fear of the local Muslims, so as to encourage inattention and drift.
The inhabitants of the Western world can demonstrate the will, and the ability, to repel the attacks being launched, at every level, with every means, against it by the adherents of a belief-system that could not possibly have produced any of those who created that civilization. Over there, in that corner of the ring, in the white trunks, representing Western civilization — here list 500 or a 1000 names perhaps taken from the list in Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence, and over there, in the black trunks, representing Islamic civilization are — well, who would you list?
It may be time, Canon Morris, to trade your flaccid faith for something that will prove more satisfactorily rigid. For you, it may be getting close to Da’wa Time. It worked for John Walker Lindh, and Richard Reid, and Jose Padilla. And not just for them. It worked for Jemima Goldsmith after she married that good-looking Pakistani (from that family of squash players, wasn’t he?), at least she says so, and for that French physicist, Bruno Guiderdoni, and for a recent Italian ambassador to Saudi Arabia whose name I forget, and for Tim Winter (who when he claws at F. E. Peters in the pages of the TLS takes care to use his non-Muslim name). The Faith That Provides Everything. An Unshakeable Sense of Community, Exclusive Loyalty Given, and Taken, Unreservedly, To Muslims, From Muslims, For Muslims. An end to anomie. Unreserved Hostility Toward All Those Who Are Unbelievers. A scapegoat offered for every occasion. A Clear Set of Defined Goals. Just like a winning business plan. A Faith With a Lifetime Guarantee — your life is the guarantee of your faith. Certainty. A Total Explanation of the Universe, unlike some of those wishy-washy religions that at critical moments may seem to leave you in the lurch. Complete Regulations For Absolutely Everything, from bathroom behavior to bouffant hairdos to the do’s and don’t’s of beating your wife, all in one handy guide. No need for trying to find yourself, because you hardly matter. And if you can’t find the answer to something, you can always ask for a mufti’s fatwa. Do I pay taxes to an Infidel state? Can I inherit from an Infidel relative even if he can’t inherit from me? Can I marry an Infidel girl while I”m a student in the Bilad al-kufr, and dump her when my studies are done? Depends. Yes. Yes. No doubts, no uncertainties, no troubling directeur de conscience. Just the Holy Law of Islam. It’s all in the Rules and Regulations, the Believer’s Handbook. Wasn’t it Villiers de l”Isle Adam who famously said, “as for living, our servants will do that for us”? As for thinking, the the texts of Islam, and the muftis, are prepared to do that for us.
As a bonus, if you sign up for our comforting and attractive belief-system, we will include absolutely free in your Da’wa New Members Kit a special gift: a sheet of cream-colored bond, richly embossed in the center with a single word: The Name To Blame For Every Occasion. Think of it as a Special Answer to the Riddle of a Confusing Universe, the all-purpose hysterical shriek of fury when you confront That World You Never Made. Yes, it will be the centerpiece and aide-memoire of your very own Blame Game. It’s the Blame Game Name. Fun for the whole family.
Perhaps you don’t feel like waiting for that kit to arrive in the mail. You want to know that special name right now. All right, here’s a hint for all you lovers of old-fashioned charades: My first is where you go whenever you enter. My second is the name of the dictator of Cuba. My all is the source of every evil that has ever afflicted the world.
Entries must be received, postmarked no later than 12 o”clock midnight, Eastern Standard Time, on August 4, 2004. There may be a valuable, or invaluable, award, depending on the whim of the judges.
Get cracking, Canon Rob Morris. You too can play this game. But I forgot — you already are.