Here at last is Jihad Watch Vice President Hugh Fitzgerald’s much-anticipated second part of “Islam for Infidels,” “A Lesson From Humpty-Dumpty.” You can read the first part here.
Hugh promises Part 3 will be posted next week, “delivered with alacrity by the same people who, some years ago, brought fresh installments of Nicholas Nickleby to eager crowds of print-hungry Americans, jostling one another on the wharves of Baltimore, as they waited for the ship from England, with its cargo of freshly-minted print, to arrive.”
II. A Lesson From Humpty-Dumpty
Taqiyya and Tu-Quoque are handy defenses should Infidels show some interest in a critical scrutiny of Islam. But, strangely, the major press, radio, and television, have not shown such an interest in the more than 3 years since the attacks of September 11, 2001. There have not been any programs on what is taught in madrasas, or spoken in the khutbas (sermons) at Friday Prayers. There are allusions to “fundamentalist Muslims” and, of course, to “moderate Muslims,” but no discussions of what these terms mean. Commentators have stayed well away from any discussion of what is actually contained in the Qur’an, the Hadith, and the Sira, the latter two of which, together, constitute the “Sunnah” or the customs and ways of 7th century Arabia that are held, by most Muslims, to be models for behavior today.
The Jihad that promoted and justified the conquest of vast territories in early Islam and subsequently led to the subjugation, by the Muslim Arab conquerors, of far more numerous, settled, and advanced populations of non-Muslims. In turn, this that led to the institution now known as “dhimmitude,” under which those non-Muslims, those who were not killed or forcibly converted, were treated as “dhimmis” (from “ahl al-dhimma” or “people of the Pact”). Their condition did not vary much either in time (over 1350 years), or in space (from Spain to East Asia). Yet when historians of the Middle East, manage to spare only a sentence or two, even in large books, for the dhimmis by reference just to the “jizya” or head-tax, or at most, by adding the phrase “and other disabilities,” one has reason to question the value of the entire work. The dhimmi is one of the most misunderstood and superficially treated of subjects, not just by Muslims themselves, but also by a certain kind of Western sentimentalist who refers to the wonders of the Abbasid court of Haroun al-Raschid, or to Cordoba as the “ornament of the world” where, as in the rest of Islamic Spain, a supposed “convivencia” among Christians, Jews, and Muslims is said to have flourished, or to the supposedly benign “pluralism” of the Ottoman Empire. What needs to be studied is the treatment of those once-vast non-Muslim populations that, over time, were largely converted as their own cultures and civilizations were subject to slow asphyxiation. Given the possible islamization of Western Europe, if forceful and systematic measures are not put in place, this matter has direct relevance today.
Islam is based on immutable texts. Muslims regard the Qur’an as the Word of God. The Hadith, those stories which purport to record the sayings, and deeds, and even silences, of Muhammad, are of great significance. For many Muslims, they serve as a kind of gloss on, and supplement to, the Qur’an, with almost equal significance. The Hadith number in the tens of thousands. To winnow the “strong” or most authentic Hadith, from the “weak” Hadith regarded as of less authoritative, or even doubtful authenticity, occupied many muhaddithin, or Hadith-scholars, in early Islam. They worked by studying the narration-chain, or isnad, by which these stories were related: A told to B told to C told to D. If A was one of the Prophet’s companions, and B and C and D were all known to be trustworthy, then the Hadith in question would be regarded as “strong.” If there were some problem along the way, the Hadith would be regarded as “weak,” and the size of the problem would determine the amount of the “weakness.” The collections of several of the mudaddithin, especially Bukhari and Muslim (a proper name), are believed to observe the greatest fidelity to the truth. The number, and “authenticity” of the Hadith, cannot now be tampered with.
And the Sira, or life of Muhammad, the man regarded by Muslims as the perfect model, al-insan al-kamil, simply cannot be rewritten to omit those unpleasant parts, in which he, as a successful military leader leading his troops against non-Muslims, behaved in a manner that would cause modern Infidels concern. Muhammad participated in 78 battles, he approved of the beheading of the prisoners taken among the Bani Qurayza, he ordered an attack on inoffensive Jewish farmers of the Khaybar Oasis in order to seize booty, he ordered the assassination of those who offended him, including a woman (Asma bint Marwan), and a 90-year-old man, he married Aisha, a 6-year-old girl, and consummated that marriage when she became 9. His behavior inspired the Ayatollah Khomeini to reduce the marriageable age of girls to nine.
When such contemporary would-be “reformers within Islam” as Irshad Manji (a flamboyant Canadian who, though born into Islam, does not by birthright possess a thorough grasp of Islamic tenets, or the history of previous attempts at reform), are given attention, and the admiring interviewer does not bother to raise the awkward question — just how does one “reform” a religion when all of its canonical texts, Qur’an, Hadith, and Sira, are immutable — then the listener is left in the dark, or misled as to the likelihood, or even possibility, of “reform” within Islam. In the modern history of Islam, the heyday of supposed “reformers” was the period 1900-1930. This corresponded to the revelation, to the most advanced people in the Muslim world, of the weakness of Islamic countries and societies, and the understanding, not always expressed, that this weakness, these political and economic and intellectual and social failures, were attributable to the tenets of Islam itself, and the attitudes, the atmospherics, they engendered. But there is no such recognition today. Islam is cushioned from its failures by the accident of geology that provides the oil wealth to some, by the solicitousness with which Infidel countries hasten to supply foreign aid, including military aid, to others, and by the attitude of extreme deference toward Muslim sensibilities that, if continued, will have catastrophic consequences, for the Infidels themselves, and for those who, within Islam, would like to create the conditions where Muslims themselves, no longer able to avert their eyes from such failures, will have to do something about Islam, whether to interpret away its literalism, or to constrain its practice in the manner of AtatÃ¼rk.
If there is no grounding in Islam itself, all discussion, argufying, opinion-making, about Islam and everything related to it (such as the Arab-Israeli matter, or the question of the future islamization of Europe, or the wisdom of the “Light-Unto-the-Muslim-Nations” Project that some in the American government have presented as a plausible, worthwhile, eminently doable undertaking in Iraq) becomes pointless. It is a waste of time, these words first uttered or written by an ignorant pundit for a trusting audience. If commentators, news broadcasters, columnists persist in presenting their views on Islam, full of clichÃ©s and slogans, and cannot be bothered to study either the tenets, or the history, of Islam, then the public, and the government as well, will persist in its ignorance, its naivetÃ©, its negligent attitude about the most serious of matters — those upon which the fate of peoples, countries, and civilizations may well rest.
The media have a duty to discuss the attitudes toward Infidels that Islam encourages, by offering the real contents of Qur’an, Hadith, and Sira, not sanitized or expurgated versions (such as Michael Sells’s Approaching the Qur’an) or carefully-crafted handouts of Qur’anic verses where, for example, Sura 9 is omitted entirely. Its audience should not be kept in the dark about the doctrine of “abrogation” (naskh), which will enable them to understand that Muslims do not receive all Qur’anic verses as equal. To do less or, as now, to do nothing, is intolerable. For neither the Iraq War, nor the likelihood of success for the Light-Unto-the-Muslim-Nations Project planned for Iraq (which for Infidels would result in their enhanced security), can be properly evaluated without understanding Islam.
The Arab-Israeli dispute, a topic obsessively discussed on every conceivable news program and guaranteed to receive sinisterly hypertrophied coverage around the world, is raised on every occasion by every Arab or Muslim spokesman whatever the ostensible matter at hand, and always discussed as if it had nothing to do with the promptings, or teachings, of Islam. But surely, in the Middle East, among Arabs who are almost entirely Muslims, the main subject to be analyzed is Islam. What does it teach? What are Muslims taught to think? Would it not be useful for listeners and readers, to come to understand that in Islam, no Infidel state, whatever its dimensions, can be permitted, for that would violate the essence of Islam. Islam, said Muhammad, is “to dominate and not to be dominated.” No land once part of dar al-Islam can ever fall under Infidel control again. The whole world belongs to Allah, and to his people, the Believers, but pride of place must go to the territories once conquered by the forces of Islam. The land on which Israel now sits, and other lands, including the Balkans, much of south-central Europe, much of Russia, most of India, and of course Spain, were once all part of dar al-Islam, and must be returned to it. But Israel, an Infidel sovereign state run by the despised Jews, and sitting smack in the middle of dar al-Islam, is particularly disturbing. If it remains a sovereign state, not only is land once Muslim not yet regained (as the whole world will eventually be either regained, or gained, for Islam), but the non-Muslims in it will not be living as dhimmis, subject to Muslim rule, and owing whatever rights they have to Muslims. And this is impossible under Islam. Infidels can be permitted to exist only as dhimmis, and in such a non-Muslim state as Israel they would no longer be dhimmis.
If the Islamic basis for Arab opposition to Israel were understood, then much that is otherwise undiscussed because it cannot be understood, and confuses and unsettles commentators with prefabricated and fixed narratives, would become clear. The hostility to Jews by the Arabs existed long before the state of Israel was declared. The Jews of Mandatory Palestine did not follow the script the Arabs both expected and demanded, and failed to recite their traditional lines as “dhimmis,” submissive to, and dependent on, Muslims in a world run by Muslims.
It was bad enough that the Christians of Lebanon in the post-Ottoman period did not always behave as dhimmis, for they were at least kept constantly on edge, especially when their traditional protector, France, showed it had thrown in its lot with the forces of Islam to curry petro-dollar favor. But the Jews declaring the state of Israel represented an even worse affront — for by inheriting the Ottoman state-owned domains, Israel possessed land that was supposed to remain Muslim land. Between dar al-Islam and dar al-harb a state of war exists until the final spread of Islam across the globe. In Israel’s case, it is irrelevant what its borders are; if it exists, it remains an affront, an outrage, a catastrophe, the greatest injustice in the history of the world (as Arab spokesmen routinely say). The very phrase a “final peace settlement” rings hollow to anyone familiar with the tenets of Islam. For there can be no “final peace settlement” between Muslims and non-Muslims, anywhere. The model for treaties between them is the agreement made between Muhammad and the Meccans in 628 A.D., the Treaty of al-Hudaibiyya. It was supposed to be a “truce” treaty that would last 10 years. It lasted scarcely 18 months, when Muhammad, feeling that his forces had grown sufficiently, breached the agreement on a pretext, and attacked the Meccans. As Majid Khadduri notes in War and Peace in the Law of Islam, this Treaty of al-Hudaibiyya became the model, and basis, for all future “treaties” with Infidel peoples and polities.
Public discussions about Arab-Israeli negotiations and assorted peace-processes, never devote attention to the long and grim history of agreements and treaties between Israel and the Arab states. The Arabs were not interested in any agreements with that Infidel state for, despite the Israeli victory in 1949, they thought they could, within a reasonable period, go in for the kill, this time with success. And so there were no “peace treaties” but, at Arab insistence, only agreements that did not recognize any final borders, just armistice lines. Despite the fact that those agreements included a cessation of hostile acts, more than 19,000 separate acts of terrorism against Israel took place between 1949 and 1956, from Egyptian-held territory alone. The Sinai Campaign was launched to end that terrorism; Israel won the entire Sinai. In the mid-1950s, the heyday of John Foster Dulles, Islam was seen not as a threat to the West, but only a much-touted “bulwark” against Communism. At the same time, it was believed that certain Arab Muslim states had to be bribed to keep from falling into the Communist camp. Both beliefs, though contradictory, led to American pressure on Israel to withdraw, for some flimsy guarantees, from the Sinai. It would have been perfectly appropriate for Israel not to have done so, for the aggression over 6 years certainly would have entitled any state to seize, and to keep, territory from which such aggression was launched.
Despite Egyptian propaganda, the Sinai was not historically part of Egypt. Even in the 19th century, the titles that Europeans gave to their books testify to the clear distinction between Egypt and the Sinai. The celebrated photographer Francis Frith produced a famous work of early photographs. It appeared, in 1862, significantly titled Egypt, Sinai, and Palestine. (Modern reprints of his book, just as significantly, bear the inaccurate title Egypt and Palestine — with the Sinai, apparently, swallowed up by Egypt). An Anglican cleric, Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, published in 1881 his famous Sinai and Palestine. The conjunction in both cases is telling. In the time of the Ottoman Empire (as for thousands of years before) the Sinai had always been regarded as a corpus separatum, as desolate deserts so often were, and not as part of Egypt. When, after World War I, the British managed to arrange for the Sinai to be assigned to Egypt, at least one well-schooled British officer on Allenby’s staff, Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, argued that, given its tenuous connections to Egypt, a good deal of the Sinai should have been assigned to Mandatory Palestine.
Nasser’s “good will” needed to be earned if he was to be kept out of the Soviet camp, and the Israelis were pressured by Washington when it should have urged the Israelis to keep the Sinai as a permanent buffer — for if it had, subsequent Arab-Israeli wars would have been far less likely. And had Islam been understood in 1956, the Sinai might even have been a place where permanent American bases might have been established, rather than where they have been positioned in the Muslim world. There was another chance in 1978-79, during the Sadat-Begin negotiations. Had Carter and Brzezinski any geopolitical sense, the United States might have pressured Israel to turn the Sinai over, not to Egypt, but to the United States for its permanent use, and billing it as a generous gesture of “peacekeeping.” The Egyptians might have protested, but only weakly, because they were desperate for American aid. American control of Israeli-built airbases in the Sinai, far from any population centers, smack in the middle of things, would have given the United States a permanent base for operations in the Middle East, North Africa, and even East Africa. Similarly, if the American government had understood Islam, it might have seized, during the past 21 years of genocide, the southern Sudan, set up a referendum on independence, and no doubt have been rewarded, by a newly-independent state in the south, with permanent bases. That could still be done.
When he was President of Egypt, Nasser broke every commitment he made to President Eisenhower about freedom of shipping in the Straits of Tiran, about allowing Israeli ships to pass through the Suez Canal, about terrorist attacks launched from Egypt. But this was not because Nasser was particularly untrustworthy or odious. No one who had bothered to study the rules set out for agreements with Infidels in Islamic jurisprudence should have been surprised. It should not have come as a surprise that Egypt broke its commitments under the Camp David Accords to end all hostile acts and hostile
propaganda (while quietly pocketing the entire Sinai, along with oilfields that the Israelis had discovered and developed, and airbases, and other infrastructure). That the Israelis continue to be surprised that the agreements they make with Muslim Arabs are eventually breached by the Arab side, testifies to their own remarkable insouciance, in failing to investigate what the law of War and Peace in the Law of Islam expresses in such crystalline fashion. It should not have been a surprise that the Palestinian Authority, under Arafat, would fail to keep any of its promises in various agreements with Israel.
And today Israel prepares to make “peace” based on some “road map, ” in order, it is hoped, to arrive at something called a “two-state solution.” This time there is a more plausible, milder-mannered “Palestinian” leader than the late Arafat. Yet the doctrines of Islam remain, for they came 1350 years before Ahmed Shukairy or Yassir Arafat or Mahmoud Abbas arrived on the scene, and those doctrines will continue to exist, and to fashion the deepest impulses and beliefs of Muslims, and will, whatever “leader” of the “Palestinians” (i.e., the local Arabs) on whom so much breathless attention is lavished, determine the real durability of any “treaties” with any non-Muslim polities or peoples. Whatever Arafat or Abbas or anyone else claims or feigns, and whatever any war-weary Israeli hopes, or whatever any useful Western tools or fools Muslims may exploit or manipulate against the interests of other non-Muslims in order to buy time, or a temporary peace, no real and durable peace can be made with any Infidel sovereign state. It is the duty of Muslims, mandated by Islam and the example of Muhammad, to renew conflict, whatever agreement has been signed, as soon as the Muslim side is stronger. This means that deterrence, and only deterrence, can keep the peace. The doctrine of necessity, or “darura” — i.e., the fact of an Infidel enemy possessing, or seeming to possess, overwhelming power, is the only thing that Arab leaders, or at least those reluctant to make war, can use as an excuse not to do so. This is why, if one were genuinely interested in preserving peace between Israel and the Arabs, one would be looking at every possible way to preserve, and strengthen, the perception of Israel as impregnable — and to do nothing which, to Muslims looking at a map, might make them gain a different impression.
The attitude of Muslims toward non-Muslims, which derives from the Qur’an, Hadith, and Sira, has been studied in detail by many scholars, with its fullest expression the book-length compendium by the Lebanese scholar Antoine Fattal. The history of dhimmitude is laid out by Bat Ye’or in a succession of studies, a history which, in turn, has relied on a great many other students of the subject whose work lay, unrecognized, uncollected, and underused, until she came along, made memorable use of it and, with her comprehensive grasp of detail, and of the psychology both of dhimmitude and of dhimmis, created her own memorable body of scholarship.
After World War II, it became harder to subject Islam to critical scrutiny. The Cold War demanded that the Western world find allies among certain Muslim countries; they were even praised for their Islamic beliefs, for those beliefs were seen as stoutly anti-Communist. And so they were. But unstated, because not understood, was that Islam is just as strongly anti-Western, opposed to the idea of the individual citizen and liberal democracy that depends for its legitimacy on the support of those citizens. Islam was against Communism not because it was Communism, but because it was not Islam. The enmity and rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union led to a bidding war for the affections of many, including Muslim states and peoples. If there ever was a connection between the policy objectives of Western countries, and the study of Islam by Western scholars, it was not, as Edward Said charged, during the period of Western colonialism. It was, rather, during the Cold War, when candid analysis of Islam became impossible, for reasons of unrealistic realpolitik.
A second reason for the silencing of critical study of Islam, has been the “anti-colonial” movement — as opposed to anticolonialism itself, that allowed certain Arab states to pose as victims of the same colonialism that so much of sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia, had endured. It was not noted that, except for North Africa (and there, mainly in Algeria), the Arabs had suffered hardly at all from classic colonialism. In the Arabian Peninsula, save for the entrepÃ´t of Aden, the small British garrisons along the coast were established for three reasons: to suppress the Arab slave trade with Africa; to prevent inter-tribal warfare (hence the “Trucial” states); and to guard the sea-route to India. There was no European colonialism in the entire Arabian peninsula; it was the British who freed the Arabs from the domination of the Ottoman Turks, in Arabia, in Mesopotamia, and throughout the Middle East. With the exception of the intrepid Captain Shakespear crossing the Rub al-Khali, or Empty Quarter, hardly an Englishman even set foot in the interior of Arabia before the 1930s.
Only in Algeria was there European colonialism, in the classic sense, for more than a few decades, with a settling of colonists from the mainland, and the exploitation of the land. But there was no wholesale removal of gold and diamonds as in parts of sub-Saharan Africa; rather, this “colonialism” consisted in the revival of agriculture by the French on land that the local Arabs and Berbers had allowed to go to ruin. Nonetheless, beginning with the Bandung Conference in 1955 (when it was still the “Underdeveloped World” and had not yet become “The Third World”), and at every Third World get-together since, various plutocrats of Arabia show up, pretending, despite their fabulous unearned riches, to be fellow “Third Worlders.” The farce is permitted to go on, because no one wants to spoil the game of those who are so free with bribes. When one could be rewarded so handsomely for keeping silent, why bother to speak the truth?
As a result of both the Cold War, and decolonization, the Arab and Muslim world entered a period when, as it happens, the Western world’s scholars of Islam, one by one, were retiring or dying, and were not replaced. Who replaced C. Snouck Hurgronje, or Leone Caetani, or Charles-Emmanuel Dufourcq, or the Rev. W. St. Clair Tisdall, or Professor Arthur Jeffery or Joseph Schacht? The answer
is: those who, less well-schooled in relevant languages, and lacking the kind of self-assurance that broad cultivation would bring, were more willing to dance to the tune of Western governments that wanted studies of the “Cold War and Islam” that ignored every aspect of Islam except that it was stoutly anti-Communist. And even that assertion proved, in the case of the less fervent Muslims, such as Nasser, insufficient to keep quite a few Arabs from playing off East against West.
The hatred of Infidels, especially of the Infidel West throughout the Muslim world, is not a new phenomenon. If the Arabs supported one Infidel power, Nazi Germany, it was mainly because that power was the sworn enemy of the countries seen as the traditional leaders of Western Christendom in modern times, England and France (and besides, Nazi antisemitism in Arab eyes was an additional attractive feature). And if they supported the Soviet Union, it was because that country was seen as the chief enemy of the new head of Western Infidels, the United States. Hatred of Unbelievers, or Infidels, is not tangential but central to Islam, mentioned throughout the Qur’an, the Hadith, and acted upon, by Muhammad, in the Sira. Such Islam-inspired hatred is inculcated with special fervor among the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia. What has changed is that the propagandists of ARAMCO (the Arabian -American Oil Company, which enjoyed the Saudi oil concession for many years), who once hid from view the reality of Saudi Arabia, are no longer around to provide those rose-tinted sunglasses for Infidel viewing of the burning fanaticism of the Wahhabi sun.
Furthermore, the events of the past few years have led to a brand-new awareness of what was always there, but that Westerners, and especially Cold Warriors, willfully refused to see.. Some of those Cold Warriors, prematurely congratulating themselves on that victory, seem incapable of grasping that another equally dangerous enemy to Western civilization, including its art, its science, its emphasis on the rights of the individual. Communism, like Islam, emphasizes the collective — the proletariat instead of the umma al-islamiyya, the Community of Believers, and was not about mental freedom but rather, about questions of economics and power. Though crude Marxist interpretations of art and science, as epiphenomena of underlying economic realities, was officially encouraged, the Soviet Union nonetheless managed at least to preserve the high art of the pre-Communist past; Islam has no use for most art (sculpture, painting, music) and all real science, and whatever could be associated with pre-Islamic or non-Islamic civilizations — the lands, and times, of Ignorance (“Jahiliyya”). Only one Western achievement seems to interest the Muslim world, and that is weapons technology. Though Communism was a mortal threat to the Western world, it was still possible to engage in certain cultural activities, certain modes of expression, even to preserve the artifacts produced under what the Communists saw as a wicked ancien rÃ©gime. Under Islam, there is, and has been, only Islam. When Arab Muslim intellectuals produced a report two years ago for the U.N., deploring the state of culture in Arab countries, they noted the tiny number of translations into Arabic. What they did not add was an explanation of why this should be so, what possible connection such lack of curiosity had with Islam itself. That is a subject that Muslims are understandably reticent about, but it is no reason why Infidels should ignore the Muslim contempt for all things non-Muslim, except when they can be of direct benefit in the contest with the Infidel world. Mahathir Mohamed, the former head of Malaysia, speaking a year ago to Muslim heads-of-state at a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Countries, offered a view of Muslim “progress” that consisted almost entirely in calling for changes that would permit the acquisition of weapons of war sufficient to meet, and surpass, the armories of Infidel enemies.
When it comes to free and skeptical inquiry, Islam does a much better job than Communism did in suppressing it — there are no Muslim dissidents equivalent to those in Soviet Russia. A Muslim Sakharov cannot exist, for he would, by definition, be someone who rejected Islam altogether, and he would be executed for apostasy, or forced to flee the Muslim world. And even then he might not be safe. There is no mechanism, for real dissidents to remain unharmed within Islam, if they go so far as to criticize, as Sakharov and Russian dissidents did with Communism, the basic tenets of the belief. And there is one more difference. Communism collapsed because too many of those who lived under it, including party members (some influenced by their liberal offspring), could not avoid seeing that it had failed, and in the very areas where it had promised to succeed. But it is almost impossible to force Muslims to see the political, economic, intellectual, and moral failures of Islam, for the system is one of thorough brainwashing that causes Muslims to dismiss almost everything that preceded the coming of Islam, or to fail to appreciate anything in the non-Muslim world beyond the goods it produces and that, with oil money, are so readily available. Even for those who did not attend a madrasa, and who never or seldom attend a mosque, Islam pervades the society, fashions the attitudes, and the atmospherics, in which they live. The cushion of unmerited oil wealth is so plump, that Muslims will be protected from recognizing the failures of their system until the Infidel world ceases to prop it up.
Geopolitics makes strange bedfellows. During the Cold War, the world’s leading liberal democracy found itself exchanging pillow talk with the primitive and fanatical Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia. They were not seen as either primitive or fanatical, but as fast friends, and stalwart anti-Communists, and what they did in mosque and madrasa was their own business. In the same way, the United States found itself offering all sorts of largesse to bribe Muslim states to permit the stationing of American troops at American bases. It happened everywhere, and everywhere it came to naught.
There was Morocco, whose king, a relatively enlightened despot, allowed the Americans to bribe him so that they might place an airbase or two. Rumor has it that the first nuclear weapons positioned abroad were at an American base in that country. The Moroccans not only received aid, but as happened so frequently, that American aid could be used to inveigle France into topping or at least matching the American offer. During the Six-Day War, when American bases all over the Muslim world were likely targets of attack (because Nasser concocted a story about American pilots being responsible for his losses rather than admit the Israelis had done it all by themselves), the King of Morocco announced with great sincerity to his own people that there were “no American bases” in his country, only “American instructors” training Moroccans at their own facilities. In the end, the American military were asked to leave.
In 1954, a year after Libya signed an agreement offering bases to Great Britain, it offered a similar deal to the Americans in return, of course, for economic aid. Wheelus Air Base just outside Tripoli became the most important American installation in Africa. But it was not to last. King Idris in 1968, on a trip to Europe for medical treatment, was deposed by Muammar Khaddafy, and the American bases were closed.
On the model of NATO, in 1955 a military alliance of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, and initially Great Britain (the United States came later) was formed. It was funded, and supplied by Great Britain and, with still deeper pockets, the United States. This Baghdad Pact did not last long. It came to an end in July 1958, when the government of Iraq was overturned in a coup, led by Major General Abdul Karim Kassem. The young king, Faisal II, was killed, and so was the Crown Prince (his body hung outside the Defence Ministry), and so was the famous “strong man” of Iraq, Nuri es-Said. A practiced plotter, Nuri es-Said ceased to be that “strong man” when he tried to escape from Baghdad in women’s clothes, was caught, killed, and his mutilated body dragged through the city streets for the delight and edification of the populace. In Iraq the old order passed. One man managed to have served both the ancient regime and the new one, and indeed to serve in every subsequent Iraqi regime — that Baghdadian Vicar of Bray, the clever and unscrupulous Adnan Pachachi, who is still in evidence, making sly trouble and looking, as always, after himself. [At the beginning of the 1970s, Pachachi found himself in exile, working for Sheik Zayed in Abu Dhabi town, assigned to help the British scholar J. B. Kelly, the great expert on the Frontier Question in Arabia, prepare Abu Dhabi’s case against the land-grabbing local bully, Saudi Arabia. Once Iraq withdrew from the Baghdad Pact, following the coup, that Pact looked very foolish indeed. It was quickly renamed the Central Asian Treaty Organization. Now its Muslim members were Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan.
In Iran, the Americans never understood the permanence and significance of Islam. How could they? They judged a country by the elite westernized members of the ruling class whom they met, and believed the assurances they received. Jimmy Carter toasted the Shah as “a pillar of stability” in January 1979, the very year the Shah fell, to be replaced by the Ayatollah Khomeini. And he, and Brzezinski, composed a letter to the Ayatollah, “from one man of faith to another.” For all his delusions of grandeur, and his role in OPEC”s quadrupling of prices, the Shah was the best Iran could manage, and certainly his attitude toward Infidels was benign. But he fell; Iran reverted to Muslim type, and the monstrous Islamic Republic of Iran was born. When that famous “pillar of stability” disappeared, other illusions went up in the smoke rising from the American Embassy, as secret files were being burned, in order to keep them out of the hands of the “students” who were in the process of their celebrated 444-day androlepsy at that same embassy in Teheran.
For decades Pakistan was the favored child of the Americans. The supercilious Indian prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, rumored to have been influenced, as a student in England, by all the wrong people (Beatrice and Sydney Webb, Bertrand Russell), and his intermittent anti-American foreign minister, Krishna Menon, left Americans cold. How much more likable were those straight-backed, straight-talking Pakistani generals, some of whom had even gone to Sandhurst, and who could be counted on to stand with America against Communism because, as everyone knew, Islam was incompatible with Communism. (Islam was incompatible with anything that was not Islam).
For a long time, in American eyes, Pakistan could do no wrong. It repeatedly abused American trust. In 1971, for example, it employed American military equipment to suppress the revolt in East Pakistan against the rule of West Pakistan. Pakistan has long supported terrorism, largely unreported in the West, against India. It did nothing to prevent the continued persecution of Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians throughout the country; Hindus fled and the Hindu population sank steadily from its 1949 level. The Pakistanis helped create the Taliban, and through the Taliban, gave aid and comfort to Al-Qaeda, two groups that brought death and so much woe to Afghanistan. Though everyone from Musharraf on down now rolls his eyes in mock-innocence, Pakistani generals knew about, and fully supported the amazing adventures of A. Q. Khan.
And after September 11, 2001, instead of reading Pakistan the riot act for its support of the Taliban and therefore, of Al-Qaeda, and threatening to cut off aid, stop Pakistani imports, and arranging for the total collapse of Pakistan’s economy, the American government chose to bribe Pakistan further. There was debt relief in the billions, more aid (also in the billions), more military supplies, in exchange for Pakistan’s promise to do what it should have done anyway, hunt down members of Al-Qaeda. Even that seems not to have resulted mainly to a lot of ostentatious rounding-up of just a few more than the usual suspects, while the Pakistani press and television continue to rant about Infidels, and Infidel Americans. Muslim Pakistan can never be relied on. And in the end, we are not their friend, no matter how much of our largesse they are happy to pocket, and ask for more.
This leaves one last member of Cento: Turkey. Turkey was stable. Turkey was reliable. Turkey was permanently secular. Turkey could be counted on. The Turks had fought bravely in the Korean War (and even had time left over to conduct Da”wa among the Koreans). Turkish officers were fine fellows, and got along swimmingly with their American counterparts. Kemalism was here to stay. True, in 1955 there were attacks all over Istanbul on the Greek Orthodox, but that was an aberration. True, the Turks have never admitted to the Armenian genocide — but perhaps they were just embarrassed, and needed time to come up with the right phrasing. Turkey offered airbases and listening posts right on the border with the Soviet Union.
But the Cold War is over, and Turkey is not quite so indispensable as it may still think. Kemalism, we are learning, is not quite so much a given as we were once led to believe. It requires eternal vigilance, for otherwise it is temporary; Islam is forever. Though like all Muslim governments that of Erdogan is happy to extract what it can from its American connection, it takes a much more malevolent view of Infidels, and its threatening behavior with the E.U., as its candidacy for admission faced its first hurdle, was telling. Telling, too, was the important member of the Turkish political establishment who described American treatment of Iraqis as “worse than Hitler.”
When the invasion of Iraq was being planned, those doing the planning confidently asked Turkey for permission to use bases in Turkey from which to launch certain attacks. They were surprised to be turned down flat. They should not have been surprised. Turkey will not cooperate with the United States when the object of that cooperation is to be another Muslim state — not unless that Muslim state is a sworn enemy of Turkey. Turkey wants to enter Europe, and has already shown how bullying it can be to obtain that goal. The American government continues to see Turkey not as it is now, but as it was, or as it was imagined, fifty years ago, when Kemalism was unchallenged. Islam keeps coming back, and the “reforms” demanded by the E.U. only help Erdogan weaken the power of the Turkish army, and hence weaken the power of those who are prepared to defend Kemalism with force. If the United States is engaged only in a “war on terror” then of course it has no grounds for opposing Turkey”s entry into Europe. Nor does it have any grounds for opposing the future islamization of Europe, through Da”wa (the Call to Islam) and demography, as long as terrorism is not employed.
Now, yet again, the United States has been seeking bases in the Muslim countries. In the Middle East, it has had success with the small sheikdoms — Kuwait, Qatar — because those countries, given their size, want some protection from potential neighborhood bullies, including Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. But they are not exactly cutting down on anti-Infidel attitudes. Qatar, for example, is the home of Al-Jazeera, a propaganda outlet for Arab Muslims that has been responsible, through its nonsense and lies, for the deaths of many American servicemen. But Qatar has not been told that it must shut down, Al-Jazeera, even though without the United States, Qatar could itself be the object of aggression from larger Muslim states.
Islam continues to be misunderstood by many in the American government. Even American generals with immediate experience of the Middle East, whom one would think might have looked beneath the surface of the apologetics offered by local interlocutors, were fooled. One in Iraq identifies the problem as “Salafist Jihadists,” which is hardly the whole truth. Islam itself, and not the beliefs of “Salafist Jihadists,” the otherwise inexplicable hostility of most Iraqis to Infidel Americans who rescued them from a monstrous regime, and now ask only that they be allowed to shower goods and services on Iraqis. When another general assigns books on Islam to his officers, books by the most misleading and blatant of apologists, such as Karen Armstrong and John Esposito, one is alarmed. Apparently the American government has not yet decided to allow critical scrutiny of what Islam teaches, and what its adherents believe.
Now, however, the policy of winning the “hearts and minds” of the “moderate” Muslims is the problem. By failing to recognize that Islam itself and not merely some subset of it, is the problem, false hopes are raised, and resources misallocated. Money is poured into Muslim countries (including Iraq). The United States feels it must constantly demonstrate to Muslims that it is not “anti-Muslim” and that this really is just a war on a particular means, terrorism, of conducting Jihad, a word which the American government is loath to use. But terrorism is neither the main, nor the most effective, instrument of Jihad. Conventional warfare, economic warfare, propaganda, Da”wa, and demography are all much more useful. In addition to the gigantic transfer of wealth to the mainly Muslim nations of OPEC, the Muslim states that do not have such oil wealth (and even some that do””such as Iraq), manage to extract a kind of foreign-aid “jizya,” whether it is the states of the Maghreb being bribed by France (and latterly, Spain), to keep their populations at home, or American aid to Egypt and Jordan and Pakistan. The recent huge sums sent by the United States to Indonesia after the tsunami, for example, were often described as a “chance to show the Muslims we are not against them.” But this is exactly the wrong rhetoric. It gives the Muslims precisely the wrong idea — that they can play on, appeal to, take constant advantage of, our misreading of the situation. The United States does not have any need to demonstrate its good will to Muslims. To express such a felt need is simply to signal our innocence and willingness to be further exploited. The American government has helped and rescued Muslims time and again.
And it is nonsense to depict American policy as “one-sidedly pro-Israel” (though, if the history of the area, and the nature of Islam, were sufficiently understood, it should be). In 1948 the Americans put a total arms embargo on all sides; the armies of Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan, well-equipped, and even resupplied by the British, were the most effective against the Israelis, who had a handful of guns, and eventually acquired five well-worn Messerschmitts from the Czechs. In 1956 John Foster Dulles put pressure on Israel to relinquish the Sinai for some flimsy promises by Nasser. In May, 1967, just like Britain and France, the United States could not “locate” the documents by which it had “guaranteed” to keep the Straits of Tiran open. In 1973, Henry Kissinger prevented Ariel Sharon from destroying Egypt’s Third Army, which he had surrounded. In 1979, Carter and Brzezinski, the former whining that he was “sick and tired of hearing about the Holocaust,” pressed Begin mercilessly to make concession after concession to the pre-lionized Sadat. The American government subsequently did nothing when Egypt, having pocketed the entire Sinai, failed to honor any of its solemn commitments under the Camp David Accords. The farce with Oslo, including Carter’s frequent meetings with Arafat, whose measure ought to have been taken long before, continued — and continues still, in the proposed “two-state solution.” Yet, by dint of constant repetition that “America is unfair,” the Arabs have managed to put some American policymakers in a position where they think they must do even more to “win Arab approval.”
Furthermore, the American rescue of Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo — and the general American indifference to Serbian fears of Izetbegovic, whose stated intention to bring back Muslim rule, and impose the Shari”a, was completely ignored in the American press and television, the vast amounts of aid America has given to Muslim countries, including more than $65 billion to Egypt, a country where 98% percent of the population claims to dislike or hate America, has amounted to a “jizya” — the Muslim tax imposed on Infidels — that we seem incapable of cutting off, so great is the fear of antagonizing people who, because of Islam, remain permanently hostile to us. Indeed, there is much evidence that when treated not kindly, but roughly, by Infidels, Muslims have responded by becoming, if only temporarily, a bit gentler themselves. The British phrase that was said to describe the Muslim Arabs was brutal — “They are either at your feet, or at your throat.” But it was not inaccurate.
Many of the American government experts on the Middle East, until recent years, were selected, as Robert Kaplan’s The Arabists reveals, from among American missionary families. It was enough to know some Arabic and to have lived in Beirut. But what these Arabists did not possess, or did not think they needed to possess, was a knowledge of Islam — of Qur’an, Hadith, Sira. They did not know what actually was said in the khutbas, and read in Muslim textbooks, and memorized in the madrasas. The dense web of Islamic allusion that thickens every conversation, every editorial, every satellite channel discussion, every turn of phrase and of thought, in Muslim countries was beyond them. They met important Arabs. They were told certain things, even “confided in” by those Arabs. The Americans were, and many remain, naÃ¯ve beyond belief about the Arab capacity for taqiyya, for religiously-sanctioned dissimulation. “War is deception,” said Muhammad. Deception, in Arab Muslim lands, is a way of life. . When Madeline Albright told a television interviewer that the “Arab leaders” were “just as surprised as we were” about what had been going on in Iraq under Saddam Hussein — all that mass-murdering, for example — one had to rub one’s eyes in disbelief. Here was the former Secretary of State, confidently asserting that the Arab leaders, too, had been completely in the dark about Iraq. But of course they never had been. Millions of Iraqi exiles all over the Arab countries conveyed perfectly the nature of the regime of Saddam Hussein. Everyone knew what he did, including his massacre of the Kurds. Nobody cared. He was a strong man, an Arab hero, the man most likely to avenge the Arabs against Israel and the West. The rest did not matter. But Madeline Albright’s innocence is not hers alone. It reflects an atmosphere of misunderstanding the nature of the regimes, and peoples, and above all, of how Infidels, including Americas, are regarded. Albright herself was a butt of the cruel and contemptuous jokes throughout the Arab world.
The perceived need for alliances with Muslim states thus limited, and continues to limit, the ability of the American government to see Islam clearly — or to produce a cadre of people who, in the army, the security services and the foreign service, who have studied Islam, without the “help” of John Esposito and Karen Armstrong, and are capable of understanding, then, that the continued islamization of Europe, even in the absence of “terror” as a tactic to promote it, is a mortal threat to the West, and hence to the United States.
One can see the consequences of such alliances even in the case of Turkey, the only Muslim state that, for a time, appeared to be genuinely, and permanently, on the road to secularism that might further reduce the political and social influence of Islam, though what has happened is the reverse. For the last fifty years, the Western world has participated in a whitewashing of Ottoman history. The treatment of non-Muslims — particularly Greeks and Armenians, but also of Jews — under the Ottomans has, in the West, not been examined with sufficient disregard for the possibly ruffled feelings of pleasant, charming, thoroughly congenial Turkish Ottomanists. The studies of Rumanian, Polish, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Serbian, and Greek scholars, not surprisingly, were less friendly in tone, and made use of sources, in the relevant languages of the Ottoman Empire’s European domains, to demonstrate the treatment meted out to Christian subjects, and to give the devshirme, and Balkan dhimmitude, its full due. Celebrated historians of the Ottomans sometimes had personal and professional ties to Turkey, and that may help explain their minimizing what dhimmis endured under Ottoman rule. When one such historian described the devshirme — the forced levy by the Ottomans on Christian (and sometimes Jewish) children, taken from their parents at a young age to serve as soldiers for the Sultan — as a “recruitment” and emphasized that, because these young victims were subsequently enrolled in the service of the Ottoman state the devshirme could be viewed as a “means of social advancement” that Muslim parents “envied.” Muslim parents might “envy” the position of those in the Sultan’s army, because if their children were taken it would not have required forcibly converting them to an alien creed. That fact, and the horror felt by the Christians at the prospect of losing their children, is recorded by a number of Balkan historians. The victim’s view of the devshirme seems to have escaped the notice entirely of at least one prominent historian known for his studies of Turkish history, both Ottoman and modern, and for the range of his studies in the field of Islamic history.
During the Cold War period, a number of historical hells were passed over. The full story of large-scale German involvement — including regular units of the Wehrmacht — in the Nazi mass-murders were inconvenient, at a time when West Germany was an important ally, and even those who had served the Nazis as intelligence officers, for example, were relied on, vainly, by the Americans. In the same way, the Armenian genocide was downplayed, for it would have been impolitic during the very years that Turkey was being courted as an ally against the Soviet Union. Only recently have Western scholars rediscovered that genocide, and the American government still prefers to remain silent and not to press Turkey to recognize what was done, not by “Turks,” but by Muslim Turks and Kurds, within Anatolia, against Christian Armenians for being “giavours” or Infidels. The Turks were Muslim, but our sort, just as King Saud was our sort — he would never tolerate Communism, and told Washington so, and no one thought there might be another matter to worry about, which was that he would never tolerate any Infidels whatsoever. Besides, the oil bonanza was not yet in full flood, and even Saudi Arabia did not have money, in those days, to spend on mosques and madrasas all over the Western world. No one could have imagined the OPEC bonanza, nor what uses that OPEC money would be put to.
In the same way, the Shah of Iran was America’s friend, a “pillar of stability,” as Jimmy Carter called it, toasting him at the beginning of January, 1979, the very year Khomeini would come to power. Oh, they were all splendid fellows. There was that nice Moroccan king, and good King Idris who took such care of Wheelus Air Base in Libya, and good King Saud, holding down Saudi Arabia, who had always been there for us, always stood foursquare with America, and didn’t we have a photograph of him with President Roosevelt on that destroyer to prove it?
After the 1958 coup, Iraq withdrew from the Baghdad Pact. After the Shah fell, in 1979, Iran withdrew from the Central Treaty Organization (formerly the Baghdad Pact). Pakistan was later revealed to be, not an ally, but a supporter of the Taliban and hence of Al-Qaeda. The organization fell apart. It had never been anything like the NATO it was expected to emulate; it had always been farcical and useless. But by 1979 things were different. Now it was seen to be farcical and nearly useless.
The Cold War has been over for nearly 15 years. More than forty years have passed since the French left Algeria, the only place, among all the Arab countries, where so-called “colonialism” lasted more than a few decades. (Everywhere else in the Arab Muslim countries, any “colonialism” that did exist cost the “colonial” power far more than it received in revenues from the colony.) But the study of Islam still has not revived from either the pro-Islamic atmosphere created by those anti-Communist illusions about Islam, nor from the glow of “anti-colonialism” that the Arabs managed to appropriate from the real victims of colonialism in Asia and in black Africa.
What happened was OPEC. Economic failures, as failures in everything else, suddenly became seen as success stories, not because there had been any burst of entrepreneurial activity and of hard work, the result of a deep work ethic, as happened in Japan, and South Korea, and Taiwan, and Thailand. What happened to the Arab and Muslim countries was that, through an accident of geology, they became the beneficiaries of the largest transfer of wealth in human history — some 5-6 trillion dollars, since 1973 alone — and before 1973, there had also been plenty of oil revenues. Not one of these states managed to create a modern economy. The GDP of the Arab states collectively is less than that of Finland. But the oil money was there, and it prevented the full scale of the failure of Islamic states from being recognized.
Still worse, that Arab oil money managed to stave off, for a few more decades, real scholarship on, and critical scrutiny of, Islam. For Arab oil money since 1973 has been carefully deployed to establish new “Centers” of Islamic or Middle Eastern studies, or to buy up pre-existing ones. This began at Bradford, Durham, and Exeter in England; it was extended to Georgetown, an obvious place to concentrate on, given its location and its role in training foreign service officers. Where centers were not established, well-upholstered chairs — the King Abdul Aziz II Chair of Islamic History, The Guardian of the Two Holy Places Professor of Islamic Law, and other academic thrones, with ornate arabesques, have also been positioned for maximum effect, hither and yon.
Overlapping with that careful deployment of Arab oil money was another phenomenon, this one coming not from the plutocrats of Arabia, but from the supposed anti-imperialist and therefore, of course, anti-Western school. It originated with Edward Said, who was neither a student of Islam, nor even a Muslim. But as an Arab, he felt that his “Arabness” gave him special insight into Islam, and he, unlike Maronites and Copts, but like many “Palestinian” Arabs, was quick to identify with, and to promote, Islam and the Islamic worldview. For this worldview fit — indeed, explained — the Arab opposition to the Infidel state of Israel, though for the non-Muslim Western world, quite different justifications were plausibly offered. Said’s Orientalism was, as Ibn Warraq has described it, an act of “intellectual thuggery.” Said deployed personal invective, and an entirely specious use of evidence, to call into question the meticulous scholarship of generations of Western Orientalists. What prompted his charges was, no doubt, that the targets of his fury had understood the tenets and history of Islam too well, and had written their scholarly works too lucidly, as they elaborated upon the main features of Islamic Jihad-conquest and treatment of non-Muslims. Said realized that this scholarship was dangerous, both for his own “Palestinian” cause, and for Arabs and Muslims generally. He was determined to stop it. He could not offer any scholarship of his own. He never was a student of Islam. He never demonstrated for readers in what way, for example, Ignaz Goldziher or Snouck Hurgronje or Leone Caetani or Arthur Jeffery or Joseph Schacht have been inaccurate, or prejudiced. Not a word, not a sentence, not a paragraph. He alluded, he attitudinized, he fulminated, but he never produced evidence that Western Orientalists were practically working for their respective colonial offices. Said further claimed that these scholars, most of them the most learned, and dry, of authors, depicted the Arabs as “fanatical” and “sensual” and as exhibiting every conceivable vice. In so doing, he often dismissed such important works as Edward Lane’s An Account of the Customs and Manners of the Modern Egyptians. Said was also highly selective; more than 95% of the most important Western Orientalists were not merely never discussed in his Orientalism, but never even received a passing mention.
In fact, while he insisted that the Western world had depicted the Arabs and Muslims most unfairly, it could be argued that the statement is true, but in a way opposite from that Said intended. In the last two centuries, where the Arab Muslims have been wrongly portrayed, it has been overwhelmingly to their benefit. One need think only of the alluring exoticism of the paintings of North Africa, and the orientalizing verse of the Romantic period, from Leigh Hunt’s “Abou Ben Adhem” (the humble Arab whose name, on God’s list, “led all the rest”), and Tom Moore’s passionate Persians in “Lalla Rookh,” and in the twentieth century, the glowering Sheik of Araby, Rudolph Valentino, and a host of popular songs and comic turns that treated the Muslim East not as fearsome, but as funny. The list of subject-matter for the Hasty Pudding Theatricals at Harvard, a useful guide to what tickled the fancy of American upper classes, in the 1920s and 1930s WAS full of Arabian subjects, with camels, and date-palms, and amusing Arabs who are depicted often as comic, but never as hate-filled, hysterical, or homicidal, as Said would have one believe.
All through this period, from about 1940 to the late 1970s, ARAMCO, as the chief Saudi hireling as well as the chief beneficiary of the oil concessions, kept Americans nicely misinformed about the nature of Saudi Arabia’s regime and its people. All those recent excited discoveries about what horrible things are written in Saudi textbooks, memorized in Saudi madrasas, made the subject of sermons in Saudi mosques, could have been made ten years ago, or thirty, or fifty. That they were not, and that many Americans worked in Saudi Arabia for decades without learning the truth about the country, or if they did stumble upon it, never shared that truth with a wider public, says something. It says something about the incuriosity of American journalists, the role of the government in promoting certain views of foreign countries that may bear no relation to reality but that support a predetermined policy or belief — in this case, the belief that since Islam was a “bulwark” against Communism, the Saudis must be wonderful allies of America indeed.
Said did not refute the quite varied and unusual men whom he lumped together, for the purposes of jejune denunciation, as Orientalists, because he couldn’t. What he could do was repeat his thesis: that the entire history of Western study of the Muslim East was always merely a handmaiden to imperialism. Bernard Lewis has pointed out that the study of the languages and history of the Muslim East began, in the West, centuries before Western “imperialism,” and that many of the greatest Orientalists were from countries that had no connection to Western “imperialist” ventures in North Africa and the Middle East, Lewis also noted a few of Said’s representative howlers, both historical and philological. In the historical vein, there was Said’s bizarre assertion that Byzantium succumbed to Islam before Spain, when Byzantium was islamized seven centuries later. In the philological vein, there was Said’s rage that, in Lewis”s sober disquisition on the Arabic noun “thawra,” a word which since the nineteenth century has been used in Arabic to mean “revolution,” Lewis had begun “with a brief look at the basic meanings of the Arabic root from which it was derived” and included the following: “The root th-w-r in classical Arabic meant to rise up (e.g. of a camel), to be stirred or excited, and hence, especially in Maghribi usage, to rebel.” Said found this mention of a camel to be, as Lewis notes, an “elaborate, hostile, and wholly absurd interpretation” which was being wantonly thrust –sexual overtones aplenty — “into a lexical definition of an Arabic root” quoted “from the classical Arab dictionaries.” The full reply to Said’s hysterical vituperation offers a memorable example of Lewis at his suaviter-in-modo best, and one particularly admires Footnote 6 in his “The Question of “˜Orientalism.–
Serious historians of the East and of Islam must have agreed with the distinguished British historian of India, Clive Dewey, when a few years ago he described the quiddity of Orientalism:
When Edward Said’s Orientalism first appeared in 1978, historian after historian must have put it down without finishing it “” without imagining, for a moment, the influence it would exert. It was, technically, so bad; in every respect, in its use of sources, in its deductions, it lacked rigour and balance. The outcome was a caricature of Western knowledge of the Orient, driven by an overtly political agenda. Yet it clearly touched a deep vein of vulgar prejudice running through American academe.
That “vein of vulgar prejudice” is now the main artery of Western academic life, pumping not blood but the poison of ressentiment, made permanent by that word-without-end of “postcolonialism” (but time, even “post-colonial” time, must have a stop) into unwary students who are brainwashed early. Some never manage to learn to consider the evidence, never manage to think for themselves.
Said also offered a Jobs Program, for the implication of what he said meant that one could trust only those who were themselves the “victims” of (Choose One): colonialism, post-colonialism, imperialism, Zionism, the American Empire. A Muslim Arab native of Baghdad would, for example, by dint of that fact, possess an insight and understanding into the 3000-year old artifacts of ancient Mesopotamia that, of course, had been denied such Western non-native scholars as Sabatino Moscati, Leo Oppenheim, and Henri Frankfort, though neither Italy, nor Germany, nor France had been colonial powers in Iraq. That Baghdadi native’s scholarship on Mesopotamian civilization of 3000 B.C. was entitled, in the crazed but fashionable logic of the age, to be given greater weight than that of these three, because it lacked the Original Sin of being tied to “colonialism, post-colonialism, imperialism, Zionism, the American Empire.” (Again, choose one).
Book after book is churned out by members of the Middle Eastern Studies Association of North America, but when it comes to the politics of Arab Islam, very few are not quickly obsolete. How many books, on the “creation of Palestinian identity” or “Agriculture in Tunisia, 1870-1913” or “Portable Seclusion: the Veil and New Muslim Feminism” now sit on groaning shelves, books that neither their own authors, nor anyone else, would wish to read. Meanwhile, the Islamic studies of Schacht and Margoliouth and Jeffery and Goldziher and Lammens are not dated but, written beautifully and lucidly, about significant subjects in the history of Islam, retain their value and transcend their time. Bookshelves groan with decades of “studies,” now quaint and utterly dÃ©modÃ©, on “The Development of Arab Nationalism” in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, Iraq, the U.A.E., Kuwait, Syria, Lebanon, Algeria, etc., all of them studies which never connect “Arab nationalism” to Islam, never interpret the former as simply a more modest subset of the latter, emphasizing the Arab supremacist idea both within Arab-ruled domains (where the non-Arabs, as the Copts and the Maronites and the Chaldeans, steadily lose population, influence, and significance). Several decades of books have been churned out that manage to overlook entirely, or to obscure, the permanent and overwhelming role of Islam in the lives and mental outlook of Arab Muslims, and even among some Arab “islamochristians” whose sense of Arabness is indelibly linked to Islam.
But now “Arab Nationalism” can be seen as both transient, and as a subset of, rather than opposition to, the traditional promptings of pan-Islamism. For “pan-Arabism” was the earlier, pre-OPEC version, of that “pan-Islamism” about which few Muslim Arabs, except of the most fervent Muslim Brotherhood school, dared, in the 1940s and 1950s and even 1960s, to dream. Now that those studies on “Arab nationalism” have run their course, the latest variant on ways to avoid talking about Islam have been modish “cultural studies,” with film festivals, and young faculty living with the Bedouin in Egypt or on the Libyan desert, or with tribesmen in Yemen. This tends to produce works which are a cross between the purely anthropological, such as Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa, and the appreciation of an “outsider” who tries to sink below the surface of things as did Lawrence Wylie in Village in the Vaucluse, but Ã l”arabe, with an updated version of Laurentian adoration of the leathered, weathered faces, and the ceremony of the zarf-and-kinjan coffee-drinking ritual, the comfort of a Cairene cafÃ©”s proffered nargilah, or hubble-bubble pipe, and of course the Arabian desert, and the Arab steeds, and the camel’s milk, and the eternal verities evoked by the night sky of Araby. But those picturesque illiterate Bedouin do not give one an understanding of what those in Fallujah, or Baghdad, or Riyadh, or Cairo, or Algiers, or Gaza, take in, read, talk about, when they read and talk about Islam. And unless one can exercise one’s imaginative faculties or even sympathies, one is likely to miss the most important subject of all — Islam, and the view of Infidels that it promotes.
Unlike the European “customs-and-manners” histories of yore, with such exemplars as Edward Lane, with An Account of the Customs and Manners of the Modern Egyptians, where Islam was always in view, for Lane realized just how important Islam was even to the “Modern Egyptians” of the early 1800s, academics today who write about the Middle East go out of their way, it seems, to avoid discussing, analyzing, understanding, reporting on, Islam There is everything else under the sun: the “Construction of Palestinian Identity” (good), and “the Construction of Israeli Identity” (bad), and Iranian cinema, and the Arab political novel, and Israeli “archeology as a colonial project” and “why non-Muslims cannot possibly understand Mesopotamian civilization of 3000 years ago” and “the construction of Arab-American Identity.” But it is possible, and indeed almost certain, that undergraduates and graduates who have taken courses in the Middle East will not have a thorough grasp of what is contained in Qur’an, Hadith, and Sira.
Islam itself – the subject without which nothing else in the Muslim world makes sense, is omitted, or willfully ignored, or de-emphasized, in what so often passes for scholarship on the Middle East. It may reflect the fact many current students and teachers of Middle Eastern matters in the Western world are now either Muslims themselves, or connected, by close professional and personal ties (including, in some cases, marriage), to Muslims, and naturally are keen not to offend Muslim colleagues who can help, or hinder, their professional advancement in a hundred sundry ways.
Those few scholars of Islam who, over decades, have come to understand the innate defensiveness with which Muslims, even those whose own faith is tepid, present Islam to non-Muslims, would do well to realize that the luxury they have permitted themselves, a luxury of reticence, of taciturnity, of oblique hints, does not meet the present case, where Europe itself has been threatened with possibly unstoppable islamization.
Many in the Western world have adopted an adversarial stance toward their own, messy, silly, and obviously imperfect civilization. There is much to deplore in the Western world, and in the United States. But, Islam is now the preferred vehicle of protest against that civilization, and hence, while Islam tends to be defended by Muslims out of belief or out of filial piety or out of a sense, on the part of Arab “islamochristians” (Christians who minimize the malevolence of Islam), that Arab ethnic identity, and Islam, are one, non-Muslims may defend it not out of real sympathy, but only because Islam is seen as the best current vehicle for fighting “the System, Amerika, Capitalism, the West” — you name it.”
It has been a difficult task, to depict Islam as a benign force for greater human freedom, but many have proven equal to the task. They must ignore Islam itself, a system in which the rights of women are severely restricted, where homosexuals can be murdered and sexual freedom does not exist, where all non-Muslims can be offered only three possibilities — death, conversion to Islam, or a life of permanent humiliation, degradation, and physical insecurity as dhimmis under Muslim rule. Islam emphasizes the collective and discourages, even punishes, individual freedom of conscience and other aspects of mental freedom, including artistic expression (sculpture, most painting, and music are prohibited in orthodox Islam), and free and skeptical inquiry is something to be prevented and punished. Muslims are not fighters for “social justice” or paladins of progress on the march to earthly progress. They are fighters against all Infidels, and their instruments are various, depending on what proves most effective. They are far less concerned with justice here below (and “justice” means, in any case, the triumph of Islam), than were Marxists. Only Paradise it seems, and the 72 houris, were Paradise enow. It is quite something, the spectacle of disappointed Marxists, as a sort of consolation prize, rushing to the barricades to defend Islam — that smacks so much of traditional Fascism — from its liberal democratic detractors.
But the study of Islam in the West, where unfettered intellectual freedom can be found, is again looking up. There are signs here and there, first with John Wansbrough, then with Patricia Crone and Michael Cook, and now with Christoph Luxenberg and others engaged in philological analysis of the early Qur’an and contemporaneous works, that important work on early Islam is being done. Such work, of course, can take place only if the Qur’an and Hadith and Sira are regarded as objects of study, and not just of veneration or adoration. New work on the condition of “dhimmitude,” based for the first time on testimony from the dhimmis, and from non-Muslim travelers, visitors, and diplomats, has changed much about the understanding of how vast lands, formerly peopled entirely by non-Muslims, were conquered by Muslims and then, over time, turned into lands that are now peopled almost entirely by Muslims. It was a complicated and lengthy process; one can see it happening in Iraq today, and in Egypt, as in Lebanon, Christians have fled.
Little of this important new work is ever mentioned in the American mass media, though Luxenberg did receive a single paragraph last year in Newsweek; the appearance of that paragraph caused the magazine to be banned in Pakistan and in other Muslim countries. The same scrupulous media that would never permit a doctor in the pay of Merck or Pfizer to shamelessly tout that drug company’s latest pill, without identifying who pays him, apparently thinks it has no duty to report on Middle East “experts” in the same way. But most of this media, unlike many academic departments, has not been infiltrated by Muslims or apologists who carefully keep out all those who would wish to study Islam without inhibitions or a desire to please. Its failure may simply reflect laziness, a belief that reporting – mere reporting — is sufficient, and that there is no need for any further study by members of its staff, for Islam is a “religion” and “all religions want the same thing” — AND, mimicking the assurance of President Bush — that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
Consider with what alacrity the phrase “Dialogue of Civilizations” has been taken up by the mainstream media. A way for Muslims to encourage continued Infidel inattention to the tenets of Islam to the history of Islamic conquest, and to treatment of non-Muslims, these “Dialogues” are for everyone. At the Grand Panjandrum Level, Jimmy Carter gets to trade views with his old friend and sometime host Prince Bandar, and Chris Patten of the E.U. gets to exchange a few bon-mots with Amr al-Moussa of the Arab League, and French deux-rivistes can meet with North African counterparts from that other rive, or bank, of the Mediterranean. Everyone solemnly concludes that Islam has been a much misunderstood, much undervalued, indeed practically indispensable contributor to Western Civilization.
At a slightly less luxurious level, high-powered bureaucrats in Christian and Jewish organizations are invited to participate in their own lesser “dialogues,” often involving an all-expenses-paid week at a luxurious hotel in Marrakech or Cairo. Here the promised discussion quickly metamorphoses into a presentation, by Muslim hosts, about the House of Wisdom in Abbasid Baghdad, or the Tolerance of Islamic Spain[it is de rigueur to mention Maimonides in Islamic Spain, but the fact that he fled Cordoba, and religious persecution in Spain as a teenager, will not] and, finally, the latest entry in the Muslim-Tolerance-and-Pluralism son-et-lumiÃ¨re, the Ottoman Empire, where the habit of the sultans, the padishahin, of employing Jewish doctors, will be mentioned to calculated effect. But the devshirme, or forced levy of Christian children in the Ottoman lands in Europe to supply the Sultan’s army, will not.
As Morocco is a favored site for the “Dialogues,” perhaps the palace of Mulay Ismail will be shown to those taking part. But the Infidel visitors will not learn what they might have picked up from a recent short review of White Gold, by Giles Milton in The Times Literary Supplement: “Between 1609 and 1616, 466 English trading ships were seized and their crews forced into slavery. The corsairs of Barbary also launched hit and run raids around the coast of England. By the end of 1625, the mayor of Plymouth believed that at least a thousand of his townspeople had been kidnapped. The men were most often put to work from dawn to dusk, toiling away under the blistering heat on the Moroccan sultan Mulay Ismail’s new palace – the largest construction project in history.”
At the lowest level, at local Mosque Outreach Programs, Christian and Jewish participants arrive, take off their shoes, and settle down for an evening of “Interfaith Dialogue” during which a handful of plausible and smiling Muslim spokesmen (with the few congregants who deigned to come; most stayed away, rather than endure the spectacle of Infidels defiling the mosque with their presence, even if it was all for a good, taqiyya-and-tu-quoque cause) explain everything, and then take a handful of questions that seldom present any real difficulty, and afterwards, the Infidels get to enjoy chicken, pita, and even baklava. And yes, of course, Mrs. Levine, take some home for your husband; sorry he could not be with us tonight.
Nothing could be more fitting for this alice-in-wonderland period than what Humpty Dumpty said to Alice in Through the Looking-Glass: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.” Recently, on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” a Muslim spokesman suggested that the word “jihad” is being used incorrectly, and gives Infidels the wrong idea. If, she suggested, it is simply impossible to convince Infidels that the word, in its primary meaning, is entirely devoid of any menace and threat, then she thought that it should be taken out of circulation altogether. This kind of linguistic defensiveness is supported by many non-Muslim commentators, news-hosts, and columnists. They are quick to hew to the mantra, “war on terrorism” but never come close to the subject of Islam. As another NPR news-show host insists, with self-assured illogic, negative comments about Islam or Muslims amount to “racism.”
That guest speaker on “All Things Considered” showed that she, and Islam’s large supporting cast, have not only learned something from Humpty Dumpty, but they have gone him one better in suggesting that his phrase be islamically expanded: “When I use a word, it means what I want you to think it means, neither more nor less.”