The spirit of Jorge Luis Borges”s Pierre Menard hovers over the Muslim reaction to Spencer’s The Truth About Muhammad. Here is Robert, quoting the exact words of the Qur’an, hadith (carefully relying only on the most authoritative muhaddithin, Bukhari and Muslim), and Sira (relying just as carefully on early Muslim biographers of Muhammad and never on non-Muslim ones). But more of that anon.
And that is what maddens Muslim critics: that serene quotation from Muslim texts, Muslim authorities. When the very same texts and authorities are quoted, as they are all the time, by Muslim writers about Muhammad, they are fine, they are correct, no fault can be found by Muslims with them. What they cannot stand is that Infidels should dare to read, dare to quote, dare to write the exact same things, in a spirit not of blind and submissive worship, but in a spirit rather of inquiry into what Muslim texts teach Muslims about Muhammad — about what he said, and what he did, and what he wished for, and what he counselled Muslims. For Muhammad is the great figure of Islam, the Perfect Model of Behavior, the Perfect Man in Every Respect, uswa hasana, al-insan al-kamil. Whatever he did, was right. Whatever he said was right, is right. Whatever behavior he exhibited, is model behavior.
Most of us are by now familiar with his marriage to nine-year-old Aisha. He first spotted her, and was “betrothed” to her, when she was six. And yet if one brings this up with Muslims, many of them attempt to deny her age. They will claim such things as “oh, she was actually nineteen” or “oh, no one knows her exact age” or “the texts are unclear.” You can find all about this from the defectors from Islam — in such books as Ibn Warraq’s Why I Am Not a Muslim and at Ali Sina’s site www.faithfreedom.org. They attempt to distract attention — the Tu-Quoque part of the Taqiyya-and-Tu-Quoque, which long ago was alliteratively offered as a summary of Muslim propaganda techniques. Or they attempt to express amazement and surprise, and feign uncertainty (“I’ll have to check on that”). If, however, you are sure of yourself and you hold your ground, and even dare to quote from the texts (quoting, say, the part about the little girl playing with her toys), if you adduce the evidence, then that embarrassed attempt at evasion becomes, suddenly, the fury it always was. Your Muslim interlocutor will reveal, under the smiles and wiles, quite soon and quite often, a hysterical rage.
And then you will be told, as well, that you are bringing this up for no good reason, you are merely interested in attacking Islam. And then there is the one final attempt to undo you: you are told that the parts about little Aisha are, in fact, being “taken out of context.” And in this case the context is not words, but time: seventh-century Arabia. (Oh, there is plenty of “taking out of context,” but it is all by apologists for Islam, as when they, and their good students such as Bush and Blair, quote 5.32 but not 5.33, thus changing the meaning of the passage entirely.) We are told that “in the context of the time” Muhammad’s marriage to the nine-year-old Aisha conforms to generally accepted mating principles.
To this, of course, there are several answers. It is true that there were, and are, cases of child marriage outside the Western world. But these are cases, by and large, of arranged marriages (as in India). The “marriage” is between two children, and not consummated at once. And it is true that in the West, a boy in his late teens might be “betrothed” to a much younger girl — royal houses were known to do this — but the girl would be fifteen, or twelve, not six, and certainly not having sexual intercourse at nine years of age with a 54-year-old man. That was Muhammad’s age when he consummated his marriage to Aisha.
And furthermore, when it is implied that “that was then, and this is now,” then one has two replies to give. The first is that Muhammad is the Perfect Man. He is above criticism. What he did with Aisha is not merely for that time and that place. And second, Muslims now alive, or at least the truest of True Believers, have demonstrated this view most vividly. For when the learned Shi’a theologian Ayatollah Khomeini came to power, virtually his first act was to make sure the marriageable age of girls in Iran was lowered to nine years — the very age of Aisha. Khomeini himself had been married to a ten-year-old, long ago, before the Shah had raised the age — and he was determined to put it back in conformance with the practice of Muhammad.
The story of Aisha naturally sticks in minds, Muslim and non-Muslim. But there are so many other events in Muhammad’s life. There is the decapitation of the hundreds of bound and helpless prisoners of the Banu Qurayza. There is the attack on the innocent and inoffensive Jewish farmers of the Khaybar Oasis, attacked purely for the loot — property and women — that the attacking followers of Muhammad could help themselves to. There is the assassination of the sardonic Asma bint Marwan, who said things that displeased Muhammad. There is the assassination of Abu Afak. There are the tales of this or that Muslim murdering a friend or relative who had not followed him into Islam. There is Muhammad’s treatment of his uncle, who had been good to him. There are a dozen, two dozen, many dozens of examples.
And the scholars of Islam, that is those who wrote and studied before the great Curtain of Correctness Descended, knew all this and wrote about it. But the Thoughtcrime laws now being instituted in Europe and considered in America would make sure that the Curtain surrounded us on all sides, that we were enveloped in a Universal Darkness, unable to see things clearly, unable to fight for our own civilizational legacy. This would be a suicidal imposition of self-censorship that would go even farther than the voluntary self-censorship born of fear and confusion and a mistaken belief as to how to deal with what, some now realize, is a hideous problem created, quite unnecessarily, all over the Western world. For the political elites and the media, whose duty it is to instruct and to protect the populace, have instead been careless, almost criminally negligent — in France, in Great Britain, in Germany, in Spain, in Sweden, in Norway, in Denmark, in the Netherlands, in Canada, in the United States, everywhere. They have neglected and refused to investigate the nature of Islam, and have instead relied on pieties and Articles of Faith. The piety, in an impious age, is that Islam Is A Religion Like Any Other, and In Any Case, “Religion” Is a Good Thing. That is what George Bush appears to think. There is a variant on this: Religion Is Not A Good Thing When It Can Be Identified With, Say, the White Western World, But Otherwise It Is A Good Thing. And still a third version is this: Whenever Islam Appears to Clash With Any Other Faith, It Is The Fault Of That Other Faith. This last version is applied to Christianity in the Sudan, Nigeria, Indonesia, and all over the Middle East and North Africa, as well as in sub-Saharan Africa and in Europe. It is applied also to Judaism (or to Jews), or to Hinduism (or to Hindus) in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indian-controlled parts of Kashmir, India itself, parts of Indonesia, Malaysia, or to Buddhism (or to Buddhists) in Thailand, or with the few remaining Buddhists in the Chittagong Hills of Bangladesh, or even with those monumental witnesses to an evanished Buddhism of Afghanistan, the Bamiyan Buddhas. Whenever conflict occurs, the non-Muslim Western world has schooled itself to find excuses for, or even to take sides with, the Muslims as “victims” or as “misunderstood” or as “having a point.” Or, at the very least, everyone is too polite to notice that their behavior, in too many places, over too many centuries, has been too remarkably similar, from Spain to East Asia, over 1300 years, not to be based on the same promptings and ruled by the same laws — laws about Jihad, and the subsequent subjugation and mistreatment of all non-Muslims.
And now Everyone Has An Opinion About Islam: Ian Buruma, Martha Nussbaum, Christopher Hitchens, the local college president, the local congressman, the officer corps of the military, the staff of NPR. But very few wish to wait until they have studied the texts and the history. They prefer to utter their opinions which they have formed or half-formed or not really formed coherently at all, on the basis of hunch or emotional inclination, or a desire not to be seen as intolerant (the worst crime of all, the Crime which Cannot Be Forgiven), or simply of what must be, what has to be.
The Thoughtcrime Bill in America would undoubtedly have that famous chilling effect just at the moment when people are trying to wake up (putting one in mind of Milton’s “Methinks I see a puissant power….” from his great argument against prior censorship, “Areopagitica”). It must be vetoed. Bush has a lot to answer for, with his business about the wonderfulness of Islam, his entrusting serious matters to the “public diplomacy” of Karen Hughes, his beginning what one hopes is a short-lived “tradition” of Iftar Dinners, his ignorance about the nature of Iraq. Not least is the way in which many in his Administration allowed themselves to be misinformed and manipulated — early on by Shi”a in exile who were intent on having the Americans remove Saddam Hussein, and now, in the end game, by Sunni rulers in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan who are just as intent on having the Americans remain in order to protect the Sunnis and promote their interests in Iraq.
Those who oppose the policy in Iraq are weaker than they should be, because they are tongue-tied about Islam. Their case is overwhelming. How can they hope to point out that the expenditure of men, money, materiel, and morale in Iraq is in truth a hideous nonsensical squandering, because the goals set by the Administration would — even if they were attainable (and they are not) — do nothing to weaken the Camp of Islam and Jihad? Instead, they are based on remarks and views (such as Bernard Lewis”s atrocious “either we bring them freedom, or they will destroy us”) that do not withstand even cursory inspection.
Having made so many mistakes, the Administration still has not been paying attention to the need for pedagogy, the need to say things aright, or at least to asymptotically approach the truth. It has made mistakes of definition (not a “war on terror”) that have been prompted by, and have helped in turn to promote, mistakes of comprehension and mistakes of execution. Not that this or that mistake in Iraq would in the end have changed the essentials — which are, to wit, that the removal of the regime insured that power would be transferred to the Shi”a Arabs, that the Sunni Arabs would never acquiesce in such a loss of power, and the Shi”a Arabs would never give the Sunni Arabs what they demanded in their attempt to hold onto far more economic and political power than they have any right to claim. This is at the top. Lower down, in the military”s officer corps and especially among those who have served in Iraq, there is an awareness, however inarticulate it remains, that something is crazily wrong with how the Administration is betting on something happening in Iraq that will somehow ease the Jihad. Yet at the serene level of generals, the generals are so fixated on the “mission” that they do not dare to question the “mission” itself. They deem it ultra vires, beyond their pay grade, whatever that grade may be — when in fact it is only they who can stand up to the President and his hallucinatory advisors and tell them, or tell the public, or tell their colleagues, that the “mission” makes no sense if the goal is, as it should be, to weaken the Jihad.
The Jihad will not be weakened if, all over the Western world, thoughtcrime legislation is permitted to pass. It must not.