My book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) has for the week of October 30 once again made the New York Times Bestseller List (paperback nonfiction). It is again number 16, in its tenth week on the list.
And that, my friends, reminds me of a story. I was asked by Middle East Quarterly to review a book: Jihad: From Qur’an to bin Laden by Richard Bonney. I hadn’t gotten very far along in the book when I came across this passage:
Enter a bookshop in the United States or the United Kingdom, and examine the shelves on contemporary history or current affairs, and what do you find? The array of titles portraying an inevitable conflict of civilizations, between “the West” and Islam, or depicting Muslim intolerance, fanaticism and violence is truly staggering. Titles such as Islam Unveiled, Preachers of Hate, The Two Faces of Islam, Onward Muslim Soldiers abound. Never have there been so many publications in English on the contemporary Islamic world. To the extent that these books serve to increase public understanding and awareness of the issues at stake between “the West and Islam”, and within the Islamic world itself, since 9/11 we should be grateful. But do these books actually achieve this purpose?
Regrettably they do not. Their purpose is to “sell copy”. Public alarm in the West at the phenomenon of suicide bombings has created an atmosphere of distrust against both Muslims and the faith of Islam as such. On the whole, the alarmist publications are written by journalists with an eye to a good storyline. They know how to fuel public alarm and succeed in doing so. Their characterization of Muslims and the faith of Islam is cast in apocalyptic terms, because apocalypticism “sells copy”. For every radical Islamist “cleric” (the credentials of such individuals to speak for their faith is in any case often open to question) who can be quoted in such books there may be dozens of mainstream Muslims who reject what is claimed on behalf of their faith. But their views do not count. The silent Muslim mainstream is a majority, but it is a majority that is shouted down by the violent Islamists on the one hand and those who do their publicity for them, the apocalyptic journalists of the West.
These journalists may not be Islamophobic themselves; but by using language such as “Islamofascism” they certainly create or perpetuate stereotypes which lend themselves to Islamophobia. These writings would not be quite so dangerous but for their effect on public opinion and because of the apparent credulity of some government advisers who are looking around desperately for a “quick fix” to what is perceived as the problem of the age. (p. 2)
Pardon the long quote, but since I am the dangerous man responsible for two of the books he names, Islam Unveiled and Onward Muslim Soldiers, I thought a reply from me would be appropriate — not out of some sense of personal score-settling, but because Bonney here articulates several principles that are widely held. There is great confusion today over who is a trustworthy voice on issues concerning Islam and terrorism. Bonney is certainly not the first to claim that I am not to be trusted on such issues; but he is the first to validate the truth of what I have said about Islam while simultaneously denying my veracity when I say it.
For in the same book, you see, Bonney states that “the traditional reading of the Qur’an outlines four ‘stages’ which arose from the historical development in which the Prophet found himself….The final stage came with the Divine command of Allah enjoining the Prophet and his followers to wage war against the unbelievers unconditionally.” (pp. 25-6) Although I distinguish only three stages (which are identical in substance to Bonney’s four), I discuss exactly the same traditional reading in Onward Muslim Soldiers. I show it presented by mainstream Qur’anic commentators of past ages, as well as in our own day by a former Saudi Chief Justice, a Pakistani military official, Muslim Brotherhood theorist Sayyid Qutb, and others.
So both Bonney and I show that the traditional Islamic understanding is that the Qur’an’s last word on jihad is unrestricted warfare against unbelievers. Is it sound scholarship when it comes from him and demagogic apocalypticism when it comes from me?
As for “selling copy,” I am quite sure that Richard Bonney is against it. I am convinced, from perusing his tome here, that he takes every precaution to write books in a manner designed to ensure that as few people as possible will actually read them. I am confident that if I approached Richard Bonney with ten quid in my hand and offered to buy his book, he would wave away my money and thrust a complimentary copy in my hands. But I, on the other hand, I confess it: I write books hoping people will read them. People who claim I am doing this just to make money evidently have such cramped imaginations that they cannot fathom any way to earn a living other than that which brings down opprobrium and death threats upon one’s head, and quite obviously cannot be writers themselves, or they would know what a non-lucrative profession it is — even when one reaches the lofty ranks of the paperback nonfiction bestseller list. But nevertheless, it’s true: I want as many people as possible to read my books. (My next book will be called Harry Potter and the Purpose-Driven Islam.) That’s why I write them. If they can bring in enough money to keep me from signing up for that job as a hotel clerk that I”ve had my eye on, so much the better. But nobody over here in the Jihad Watch Towers in Secure Undisclosed Locationville is getting rich. Richard Bonney is quite free to sniff with contempt at my book sales, so crassly larger than his own, but he is not free to make fast and loose with the facts “” at least without me calling him on it. For one thing, he has included in his list of books that spread “Islamophobia” The Two Faces of Islam by Stephen Schwartz, who is in fact a Muslim. For another, I am not now and have never been a journalist. Nor do I, as a rule, use the word “Islamofascism.” Good thing Bonney is here to protect the public from purveyors of inaccuracy like me, eh?
What I say about Islam and terrorism is true. The sooner people realize the truth the better able we will be to deal with it. Richard Bonney has confirmed the truth of what I say, even while consigning me to the Potboilers Purgatorio. The whole episode is an example of a much larger problem, which I have seen confirmed again and again ever since I began doing this publicly: the “experts” to whom government officials (yes, the ones Richard Bonney is afraid are listening to me — no worries there) and the mainstream media are listening are more often than not talking out of their hat, and the people on whom they heap contempt often know more about the subject than they do. The result is that most Americans and Europeans are fat and happy and have no idea what is coming down the pike.