Given half a chance, life is likely to imitate art. Often have you heard that told. And you don’t always believe it. But it’s true.
A few months ago, I was sitting quietly, re-reading a story last read thirty years ago: “Pierre Menard, author of the Quijote,” by Jorge Luis Borges.
In the second paragraph, I came across the following:
The Countess de Bagnoregi, one of the most delicate spirits of the Principality of Monaco (and now of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, following her recent marriage to the international philanthropist Simon Kautzsch”¦.)
My goodness, I said to myself. Here is a story in which a noblewoman leaves Monaco to marry an American and move to Pennsylvania. That’s art. And then, a few decades after the story was written, along came life, and a real, palpable miss who grew up in Pennsylvania, instead moves to Monaco to marry a prince and live quasi-happily in the pages of French and Italian magazines ever after.
Then I went back and read the rest of the story, beyond that little detail. And in it, a novelist and poet Ã ses heures, a European littÃ©rateur, with hints of ValÃ©ry, and more than a hint of Rilke’s rich and neurasthenic and generous female admirers (they don’t make them like that anymore), a habituÃ© of salons, a dabbler in amateur philosophical speculation, proceeds to produce his supreme achievement. His name is Pierre Menard.
This is how what was to be his crowning achievement came to him, to Pierre Menard, in a dream:
He did not want to compose another Quixote — which is easy — but the Quixote itself. Needless to say, he never contemplated a mechanical transcription of the original; he did not propose to copy it. His admirable intention was to produce a few pages which would coincide — word for word and line for line — with those of Miguel de Cervantes.
“My intent is no more than astonishing,” he wrote me the 30th of September, 1934, from Bayonne. “The final term in a theological or metaphysical demonstration — the objective world, God, causality, the forms of the universe — is no less previous and common than my famed novel. The only difference is that the philosophers publish the intermediary stages of their labor in pleasant volumes and I have resolved to do away with those stages.” In truth, not one worksheet remains to bear witness to his years of effort.
He doesn’t copy it out. He hadn’t memorized it. He does not even attempt to become Cervantes: “To be, in some way, Cervantes and reach the Quixote seemed less arduous to him — and, consequently, less interesting — than to go on being Pierre Menard and reach the experiences of Quixote through the experiences of Pierre Menard.”
And that is what he does.
The author continues:
It is a revelation to compare Menard’s Don Quixote with Cervantes”. The latter, for example, wrote (part one, chapter nine):
“¦.truth, whose mother is history, rival of time, depository of deeds, witness of the past, exemplar and adviser to the present, and the future’s counselor.
Written in the seventeenth century, written by the “˜lay genius” Cervantes, this enumeration is a mere rhetorical praise of history. Menard, on the other hand, writes:
“¦truth, whose mother is history, rival of time, depository of deeds, witness of the past, exemplar and adviser to the present, and the future’s counselor.
History, the mother of truth: the idea is astounding. Menard, a contemporary of William James, does not define history as an inquiry into reality but as its origin. Historical truth, for him, is not what has happened; it is what we judge to have happened. The final phrases — exemplar and adviser to the present, and the future” s counselor — are brazenly pragmatic.
The contrast in style is also vivid. The archaic style of Menard — quite foreign, after all — suffers from a certain affectation. Not so that of his forerunner, who handles with ease the current Spanish of his time.
Now this is where I was startled, yet again, and this time in a way that far outdid that earlier, Pennsylvania-Monaco-marriage-princess detail. For I realized that this is exactly what Robert Spencer had done. He had, unwittingly, imitated Borgesian art. He had written, not quite the Quijote, but a book that contained as most of its text the words, the very words, to be found elsewhere: in the Qur’an, and the Hadith, and the sira. He had written a book about Muhammad that, word for word, tracked the language of the most revered early biographers of Muhammad, such as Ibn Ishaq, and the most revered muhaddithin, Bukhari and Muslim. And in doing this, he had produced a text which, like the “Quijote” (or the “Quixote” — it’s a quixotic quibble) was subject to a completely different understanding from the original, or originals, which Spencer had managed to reproduce.
Here, for example, is how one of the Hadith tells the story of Muhammad’s marriage to nine-year-old Aisha, taken from Bukhari:
“Narrated Hisham’s father: Khadija died three years before the Prophet departed to Medina. He stayed there for two years or so and then he married ‘Aisha when she was a girl of six years of age, and he consumed that marriage when she was nine years old.” Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 58, Number 236.
And here is what Spencer wrote, on page 170 of his The Truth About Muhammad:
“According to ahadith reported by Bukhari, the Prophet of Islam ‘married Aisha when she was a girl of six years of age, and he consumed [i.e., consummated] that marriage when she was nine years old.'”
Note the difference in tone. It begins with a sly “According to the ahadith reported by Bukhari” and that phrase “according to” already reveals a sneer of doubt. “According to Bukhari” — as if Bukhari could be wrong, as if anything should be said about Bukhari other than indicating the volume, the book, the number of the particular hadith. “According to” is obviously meant to plant a seed of doubt, and the ideal Muslim mind must in all things having to do with Islam be stonily barren, kept free of all such seeds. There is no “according to” Bukhari. There is simply — Bukhari.
Another example of Spencer’s insidious technique. Here is how the earliest biographer of Muhammad describes what he said:
“The apostle said, ‘Kill any Jew that falls into your power.'” Ibn Ishaq, p. 369.
And here is how Spencer puts it:
After the murder of K”ab, Muhammad issued a blanket command: “Kill any Jew that falls into your power.”
By now the difference in tone should be obvious. In the one case, it is “the apostle” who simply, authoritatively, says (“the apostle said”). In Spencer, he is disrespectfully referred to as “Muhammad.” And there is an unpleasant association, one which Infidels should not be encouraged to make, between what Spencer calls, in such loaded fashion, the “murder of K”ab” (why not simply “the killing of K”ab”?) and the deliberate post hoc ergo propter hoc connection (that sly “after”) of that killing to Muhammad’s saying “Kill any Jew that falls into your power.” This is simply not acceptable.
And here is yet another example of Spencer’s insidious technique: Not content to having called into question Bukhari, he now appears to set the two most authoritative muhaddithin against each other. Muslim reports:
“I have been commanded to fight against people, till they testify to the fact that there is no god but Allah, and believe in me (that) I am the messenger (from the Lord) and in all that I have brought. And when they do it, their blood and riches are guaranteed protection on my behalf except where it is justified by law, and their affairs rest with Allah.” Sahih Muslim bk 10, no. 31
Compare that to this:
“I have been commanded to fight against people, till they testify to the fact that there is no god but Allah, and believe in me (that) I am the messenger (from the Lord) and in all that I have brought. And when they do it, their blood and riches are guaranteed protection on my behalf except where it is justified by law, and their affairs rest with Allah.” Spencer, p. 158
Now when he quoted Bukhari above, he carefully wrote “according to” (“according to Bukhari”). Yet now, when quoting Muslim, the other of the two greatest and most authoritative muhaddithin, he leaves out that phrase. He simply gives the citation as “Sahih Muslim bk 10, no. 31.” Why do you suppose that is? This is clearly a transparent attempt to compare Bukhari with Muslim, setting them off in the minds of readers one against the other, and thus attempting to sow dissension in the land, beginning with those who revere Bukhari above all others, and who will not take kindly to those who appear to favor Spencer’s rhetorical favoring of Muslim.
And if any further proof were needed of Spencer’s insidious attempt to split Muslims or call their faith into question, there is this:
“Allah’s Apostle in his fatal illness said, “˜Allah cursed the Jews and the Christians, for they built the places of worship at the graves of their prophets.– Bukhari, Volume 2, Book 23, Number 472
Now that is a perfectly good remark. Aisha, the favorite wife of the Prophet, simply quoted him during his last illness.
And here is how Spencer distorts beyond recognition Bukhari:
“He [the Prophet] added: ‘Allah cursed the Jews and the Christians because they took the graves of their Prophets as places for worship.'” Spencer, p. 165.
Note Spencer’s modus operandi. In his version, Allah curses “the Jews and the Christians.” We know what Spencer is up to. He is trying to cause Jews and Christians to be mistrustful of Muslims, to worry about their attitude toward them. And so he apparently feels he can just slip in that little phrase “Allah cursed the Jews and Christians” without anyone noticing. One can see at once how fast and loose Spencer is willing to play with the truth, in advancing his sinister goals.
Spencer is no mild-mannered innocent bellelettristic Pierre Menard.
Rather, he is an agent of Shaytan, who takes Islamic texts and distorts them beyond all recognition, and yet does it so subtly that many Infidels will be fooled into thinking that there is no, or scarcely any, difference between them.
Muslims have been too trusting. They have been too naÃ¯ve. They have been too innocent. They simply have no idea of the kind of thing that can be done to them when Infidels take their very texts, the texts that by right belong only to Muslims, and that only they, or people whom they have thoroughly investigated, should be allowed to examine, to study, to write about. No Infidel who has not received official Muslim approval should be allowed to publish any of the texts of Islam.
An Infidel who reads Ibn Ishaq, the biographer of Muhammad, uswa hasana, al-insan al-kamil, and does not at once revert to Islam, is a strange person indeed. He posses a mind that he has rendered inaccessible to the Truth. Should someone who remains inaccessible to the Truth be believed about anything? Should he even have the right to publish his own distortions and to fool the public?
Of course not. And that is why Muslims must ban The Truth About Muhammad, not only in Pakistan (where it was banned several months ago), but also in Sudan, and Egypt, and Iran, and Saudi Arabia, and everywhere that Islam dominates, and everywhere that Muslims rule. And if they can, they must force others to do so as well, in the temporary Lands of the Infidels. Everything belongs to Allah, and the Believers must not be shy, must treat what belongs to Allah as, naturally, belonging to them, as the People of Allah, the Sons of Allah, as well. Are they not, in the truest sense, the owners of everything, or rather, are not Believers, in a sense, merely possessors of successive life estates, while the fee simple to the universe is held by Allah? As for Unbelievers, Infidels, they possess, legally, nothing — and temporary possession gives them no permanent rights under the Shari”a.
Pierre Menard was free to write his own Quijote, that corresponded word for word to the Quijote of Cervantes. Or rather, Borges was free to create Pierre Menard, and to endow him with that ability. But when a real man, Robert Spencer, a fabulous creature but not a creature of fiction, does something of the same with the holy books of Islam, that is not allowed. No one can give him the poetic license for that. Not the Sheik al-Azhar. Not Al-Qaradawi. Not the Ayatollahs, grand and otherwise, of Qom. Not Tariq Ramadan or the Ikhwan. No one can.
Muslims don’t even have to read The Truth About Muhammad to know what a terrible book it must be. For no Infidel, no one who reads and rereads the words of the canonical texts, and yet remains un-reverted, can conceivably have understood those words properly.
A series of Muslim reviews can be found here.
“Just from reading the inside flap details I know this is slander on our Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) and not based on whole truths. As a new revert to Islam this is a book to avoid by anyone who is a Muslim. Get a book recommended by your Sheikh, Imam or Scholar in your Masjid. Doln’t get caught up with this book of partial truths and Allah knows best.”
“This book is factually incorrect and biased. Not worth the paper it is printed on. Don’t waste your time”
And a third:
“As for the book, the book has no valid refrences, and uses vague verses from the Quran and from sayings of Muhammed and intepets them in his own sick way, just like the bible many portions of the Quran leave much room for us to make or own interpetaions. There are assumnptions in the book that challenge historice facts and events that are documented, and have been previously proven.
Robert Spencer is a criminal; he is exploiting America’s fears and touching sensistive areas like 9/11 and then blaimg Islam!”
Here is a fourth:
No, I won’t give you the fourth, nor the forty-fourth, nor the one-hundred-and-forty-fourth. They are all the same.
The very same words, from the mouth or pen or computer of an Infidel, are completely different when from the mouth of pen or computer from a Believer. It is all in the identity of the writer, and through that identity, of gauging his intent. If a Believer quotes from Qur’an and Hadith and sira, he is doing it in a spirit of more than respect, but of mental submission. Every word he quotes, every word he uses to comment on the quote, is instinct with that submission.
Not Spencer. His quotes are not offered up in that spirit. He quotes from the texts in order merely to “edudate” us as to what those texts contain and what Muslims are taught to think. That’s not for him to say. That’s not for him to ever get near. A few Infidels have been allowed to do that. Karen Armstrong. Carl Ernst. John Esposito.
But they are special people. Robert Spencer is not special. He’s quite different from Karen Armstrong, and Carl Ernst, and John Esposito. And nothing proves that as well as his book-length venture in Pierre-menardship, The Truth About Muhammad.
He’s very different from Esposito, and Armstrong, and Ernst. You can be sure of that.