David Thompson profiles Islamic apologist Karen Armstrong:
In my review of Robert Spencer’s The Truth About Muhammad, I wrote: “In his book, Islam and the West, the historian Bernard Lewis argued: ‘We live in a time when”¦ governments and religious movements are busy rewriting history as they would wish it to have been, as they would like their followers to believe that it was.’ This urge to sanitise unflattering facts is nowhere more obvious than in biographies of Muhammad, of which, Karen Armstrong’s ubiquitous contributions are perhaps the least reliable.” I’ve since received a number of emails asking me to clarify why Armstrong is unreliable in this regard. To that end, here’s a brief catalogue of Ms Armstrong’s errors and distortions, a version of which was first published by Butterflies & Wheels. Some of her rhetorical airbrushing is, I think, quite spectacular.
“Armstrong would have us ignore what terrorists repeatedly tell us about themselves and their motives. One therefore has to ask how we defeat an opponent whose name we dare not repeat and whose stated motives we cannot mention…”
Karen Armstrong has been described as “one of the world’s most provocative and inclusive thinkers on the role of religion in the modern world.” Armstrong’s efforts to be “inclusive” are certainly “provocative”, though generally for reasons that are less than edifying. In 1999, the Muslim Public Affairs Council of Los Angeles gave Armstrong an award for media “fairness.” What follows might cast light on how warranted that recognition is, and on how the MPAC chooses to define fairness.
In one of her baffling Guardian columns, Armstrong argues that, “It is important to know who our enemies are”¦ By making the disciplined effort to name our enemies correctly, we will learn more about them, and come one step nearer, perhaps, to solving the”¦ problems of our divided world.” Yet elsewhere in the same piece, Armstrong maintains that Islamic terrorism must not be referred to as such. “Jihad”, we were told, “is a cherished spiritual value that, for most Muslims, has no connection with violence.”
Well, the word “˜jihad” has multiple meanings depending on the context, and it’s hard to determine the particulars of what “most Muslims” think in this regard. Doubtless countless Muslims would recoil from connotations of violence and coercion. But it’s safe to say the Qur’an and Sunnah are of great importance to Muslims generally, and most references to jihad found in the Qur’an and Sunnah occur in a military or paramilitary context. Aggressive conceptions of jihad are found in every major school of Islamic jurisprudence, with fairly minor variations. The notion of jihad as warfare against unbelievers is affirmed by Maliki, Hanbali, Hanafi and Shafi’i traditions, to which the majority of Muslims belong. And Muhammad’s own celebration of military jihad and homicidal “˜martyrdom” makes for interesting reading. How these ideas are reconciled by believers is not entirely clear.
Muslims who do commit acts of terrorism and intimidation do so, by their own account, because of what they perceive as core Islamic teachings. The jihadist movements in Indonesia, for example, refer to theological imperatives and the names they give themselves — jihadi, mujahedin, shahid — have no meaning outside of an Islamic context. Mukhlas Imron, the Bali bombing “˜mastermind” and leader of the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, explained his actions not as a response to Iraq, Bush or Blair, but as intended to advance the creation of a vast Sharia state covering Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines. Imron pointedly cited Muhammad as his inspiration: “You who still have a shred of faith in your hearts, have you forgotten that to kill infidels and the enemies of Islam is a deed that has a reward above no other? Aren’t you aware that the model for us all, the Prophet Muhammad and the four rightful caliphs, undertook to murder infidels as one of their primary activities, and that the Prophet waged jihad operations 77 times in the first 10 years as head of the Muslim community in Medina?”
In his book, Robert Spencer argues, “If peaceful Muslims can mount no comeback when jihadists point to Muhammad’s example to justify violence, their ranks will always remain vulnerable to recruitment from jihadists who present themselves as the exponents of “˜pure Islam”, faithfully following Muhammad’s example.” But Armstrong would have us ignore what terrorists repeatedly tell us about themselves and their motives. One therefore has to ask how we defeat an opponent whose name we dare not repeat and whose stated motives we cannot mention.
Read it all.