Bruce Thornton is a professor of Classics at Cal State Fresno and co-author with Victor Davis Hanson of Bonfire of the Humanities: Rescuing the Classics in an Impoverished Age and author of Greek Ways: How the Greeks Created Western Civilization (Encounter Books). His most recent book is Searching for Joaquin: Myth, Murieta, and History in California (Encounter Books). This review appears at California Republic.
Ambrose Bierce once quipped that war was God’s way of teaching Americans geography. He could have said “teaching us history,” for the enemy is emboldened by our ignorance not just of where he lives but of how he lives, his beliefs and values, and to understand these traditions we must understand their history. Unfortunately, in the current war against Islamic jihad we persist in ignoring the documented history of Islam and its beliefs, accepting instead the spin and propaganda of various propagandists, apologists, and Western useful idiots.
This imperative to know the enemy”s beliefs is particularly important for understanding the jihadists, for Islam is a fiercely traditional faith, one brooking no deviation from the revelation granted to Muhammad and codified in the Koran, Hadith, and the sira or biography of the Prophet. As Robert Spencer shows in his invaluable resource The Truth about Muhammad, in these sources Muhammad is presented as “an excellent model of conduct,” as the Koran puts it, his words and deeds forming the pattern for all pious Muslims to follow. “Muslims,” according to Muqtedar Khan of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, “as a part of religious observance, not only obey, but also seek to emulate and imitate their Prophet in every aspect of life.” The facts of Muhammad’s life, then, are paramount for understanding the beliefs that warrant and validate jihadist terror.
Presenting those facts clearly and fairly is precisely what Spencer accomplishes in his new book. Spencer has been for years a bastion of plain-speaking truth. Through books like Islam Unveiled, Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West, and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (And the Crusades), and as director of Jihad Watch, Spencer has courageously presented the simple facts of Islamic history and thought that too many Americans, including some in the current administration, ignore or distort. Spencer’s new book continues this important service of arming us with the facts we need in order to understand an enemy who wants nothing from us other than our conversion, death, or subjection.
Basing his description of Muhammad on the same Islamic sources revered by believers themselves, Spencer paints a portrait of the Prophet unrecognizable to any who have been deceived by the idealizations of apologists like Farida Khanam, whom Spencer quotes as claiming that Muhammad’s “heart was filled with intense love for all humankind irrespective of caste, creed or color,” or the British religious writer Karen Armstrong, who claims that “Muhammad eventually abjured violence and pursued a daring, inspired policy of non-violence that was worthy of Ghandi.” Such fantastic delusions cannot stand up to the relentless quotations and facts Spencer gathers from Islamic sources, all of which show us a Mohammad justifying and practicing violence in the service of the faith he invented.
As Spencer traces Muhammad’s life, we see the behaviors practiced by today”s jihadists, who continually site the Prophet as their justifying model. The arrogant intolerance of any other religion finds its source in Muhammad’s assertion to Muslims, “Ye are the best of peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah.” The rationalization of violence by invoking the hostility of unbelievers is also warranted by Muhammad: because of the rejection of him by his tribesmen the Quraysh, Allah “gave permission to His apostle to fight and to protect himself against those who wronged them [Muslims] and treated them badly.” Hence the various offenses fabricated by today”s jihadists to justify their aggression against the West. But Muhammad justifies not just defensive warfare but also violence in the service of the faith: –Fight them [unbelievers] so that there be no more seduction,” i.e., until no believer is seduced from his religion. “˜And the religion is God’s,” i.e. until God alone is worshiped.” We see here the jihadist’s hatred of the West and globalization, whose political freedoms and hedonistic prosperity “seduce” believers from the faith.
As Spencer concludes, “The Qur’an . . . commands much more than defensive warfare: Muslims must fight until “˜the religion is God’s–“–that is, until Allah alone is worshipped. Later Islamic law, based on statements of Muhammad, would offer non-Muslims three options: conversion to Islam, subjugation as inferiors under Islamic law, or warfare.” So much for the protestations of tolerance and co-existence constantly peddled by jihad’s Western publicists.
Every aspect of Islamic practice and belief finds its basis in Muhammad’s words and deeds. When Muhammad’s lieutenant Abdullah attacked a Quraysh caravan during a month when fighting was prohibited, Muhammad’s initial displeasure was changed by a “revelation” [i.e. from the angel Gabriel, who dictated the Koran to Mohammad] saying “persecution [i.e. of Muslims] is worse than killing,” and Abdullah was forgiven. “This was a momentous incident,” Spencer concludes, “for it would set a pattern: good became identified with anything that redounded to the benefit of Muslims, and evil with anything that harmed them, without reference to any larger moral standard. Moral absolutes were swept aside in favor of the overarching principle of expediency.”
As Spencer progresses through the Prophet’s life, the evidence for Muhammad’s model as the source of modern jihadist practice becomes overwhelming. The penchant for beheading enemies displayed by jihadists is validated by Muhammad’s decapitation of his enemy Abu Jahl after the battle of Badr against the Quraysh. A “revelation” after the battle codified this practice and linked it to the terrorizing of the enemy that would help Muslims prevail: –I [Allah] will instill terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them.” This because they contended against Allah and His Messenger: If any contend against Allah and His Messenger, Allah is strict in punishment.” Given that “contend against” can be defined as any activity that “seduces” believers or stands in the way of Muslim interests, the divine justification for the violence and terror perpetrated by jihadists from Indonesia to Africa, Israel to England is obvious.
So too with the practice of making tactical treaties and truces only to break them later. “If thou fearest treachery from any group, throw back (their covenant) to them, (so as to be) on equal terms: for Allah lovest not the treacherous,” a statement also revealing of the double-standard many Muslims take for granted when dealing with non-believers. Armed with this loophole, Muhammad moved against the Banu Qaynuqa, a Jewish tribe who had resisted Islam but with whom Muhammad had a truce. As Muhammad famously said, “War is deceit.” This precedent of deceit is obviously pertinent today, particularly for Palestinian Arab dealings with Israel. We have seen agreement after agreement signed by Arafat and others, only to be violated when circumstances seem to favor force.
The mistreatment of women, polygamy, child-marriage, stoning of adulterers, cutting off the hands of thieves, mutilation of enemy corpses, the sentence of death for apostasy, the subjection of dhimmi or Christians and Jews, even the killing of writers who displease the faithful—-remember the sentence of death against Indian novelist Salman Rushdie, still in force—-all have their precedents in the things Muhammad said and did. And as Spencer documents in his conclusion, this invocation of Muhammad is continually made by the jihadist terrorists themselves, who accurately link their violence to incidents and sayings from the life of Muhammad. To pretend that these devout Muslims are ignorant of their own religion’s traditions or are “hijacking” them is willful blindness.
Perhaps the most important precedent established by Muhammad, however, and one at the root of modern jihadist violence, is the demonization of Christians and Jews. Centuries before the existence of Israel, the actions and words of Muhammad legitimized the hatred of Jews. As Spencer shows, this disdain and resentment reflected the powerful barrier the Jews of western Arabia presented to Muhammad’s new faith and ambitions, not to mention the extent of Muhammad’s borrowings from Jewish scripture and traditions. But the continuing refusal of the Jews to accept that Muhammad was the “seal of the prophets” eventually led to his war against these potent rivals, including the Qurayzah of Medina, 600-700 of whom were beheaded. This hatred was justified by calling the Jews along with the Christians “renegades” who had turned against God and the true faith of their ancestors. Thus throughout the Koran one finds codified an intolerance and hatred of Jews still infecting the Islamic world today. The notion of apologists that Islam offers tolerant accommodation to Jews and Christians is belied by verses in the Koran such as, “Oh ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors,” and in Ibn Ishaq’s biography by comments about the Jews such as, “You brothers of monkeys, has God disgraced you and brought His vengeance upon you?”
Given all this evidence, as Spencer writes, “It is nothing short of staggering that the myth of Islamic tolerance could have gained such currency in the teeth of Muhammad’s open contempt and hatred for Jews and Christians, incitements of violence against them, and calls that they be converted or subjugated.” And this historical evidence is ratified by contemporary events that show modern Muslims following to the letter the example of Muhammad, from continuing persecution of Jews and Christians in Muslim lands, to the riots and calls for violence that attended (and validated) the Pope’s quotation of a Byzantine emperor’s observation that violence in the service religion is Islam’s sole innovation.
Spencer concludes with some common-sense suggestions, most importantly demanding that so-called “moderates” condemn jihad and teach against religious intolerance in their schools and mosques. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen, given the power of Muhammad’s example of enmity against unbelievers, and given the arrogant intolerance and unwillingness to compromise that typify too many Muslims. The anxiety about appearing “racist” and the sentimental idealization of the “other” dominating American society make it even more unlikely that any politician will challenge Muslims about the facts of Mohammad’s words and deeds that jihadists today use to justify their actions. Unless we heed people like Robert Spencer, it seems that only another graphic example of jihadist violence within our borders has a chance of teaching us the history of the enemy.