Islam is an all-encompassing belief-system. It is quite different from those other monotheisms which, for obvious reasons while they are still a small group in the West, Muslims like to have “so very much” in common — that “three abrahamic faiths” pitch that once went over well, but nowadays appears to attract only the most muddle-headed or those who, while supposedly being Christian or Jewish clergymen, have brought their art of self-preening or cravenness to such a level that they become Defenders of the Faith, that Faith being Islam.
But Infidels can no longer be stopped. Once they begin to realize that the texts of Islam are not hermetic, and can be studied, they will study them. Once they realize that a knowledge of classical Arabic is not essential to learning about Islam, not least because 80% of the world’s Muslims know not a bit of Arabic, classical or otherwise, and that even many Arabs have difficulty understanding classical Arabic and certainly the text of the Qur’an (see Christoph Luxenberg on the 20% of the Qur’an that is inexplicable, in his view, until one recognizes an Ur-text of Syriac — that is, the Aramaic of Edessa), they will dare to open them. So Infidels are now free to read the immutable texts of Islam — Qur’an, hadith, and Sira — read, and reread, and study with growing understanding, but not necessarily growing delight or pleasure. They can find out about the interpretative doctrine of “naskh” or “abrogation,” by which — as in the common law — the texts deemed later cancel out, or abrogate, the texts deemed to have been set down earlier. And those later texts, presumably from the “Medinan” period of Muhammad’s existence, are far harsher than the softer, “Meccan” verses from the period when Islam was still weak.
Infidels can do so many things. They can find out, as apparently George Bush was incapable of finding out or being told, why Qur’an 5.32 cannot conceivably be understood without the context of the succeeding verse, 5.33. They can learn the real meaning, the meaning that Islam and Muslims assign to the seemingly benign Qur’anic observation that “there is no compulsion in religion.” They can find out what is Halal and what Haram in Islam. They can find out what Muslims are taught to think of sculpture, of paintings depicting living creatures, of music. They can find out what Muslims think of free and skeptical inquiry, and of the possibility of someone born into Islam being permitted to choose for himself whether to remain a Muslim, or to abandon that faith for another, or for no faith at all. They can find out. They can find out the details of Muhammad’s life, and consider what is the likely effect of those details on Muslims who are taught to regard Muhammad, a warrior who took part in 78 military campaigns, 77 of them offensive, as the Model of Conduct, the Perfect Man — uswa hasana, al-insan al-kamil — for all Muslims, and for all time. Consider the implications of that in light of the beheading of the bound prisoners of the Banu Qurayza, the attack on the inoffensive Jewish farmers of the Khaybar Oasis, the satisfaction taken when he heard of the assassinations of Abu Akaf and Asma bint Marwan, the “treaty-making model” of Al Hudaibiyyah, and of course the business with little Aisha.
The Qur’anic text is available online, a click away, with several different translations set out synoptically. Much of the Hadith is too, and so is the Sira. More and more studies by the great Western students of Islam, from the period of genuinely free and uninhibited study, roughly 1860 to 1960, are being gathered into sourcebooks or republished (especially in accessibly cheap Indian editions). More and more people have uncovered what the Great of the Past had to say about Islam, writing as they did in a period when no punches had to be pulled, and one could speak or write one’s mind. What did that great religious reformer John Wesley write about Islam? And the most learned of nineteenth-century American statesmen, John Quincy Adams? What did that wise student of men and events, Alexis De Tocqueville, write about Islam, based on his wide knowledge, including his observations in Algeria? What did Gladstone have to say about the Turks, and about their role in Europe, and about the Bulgarian Wars? What did Winston Churchill, with his knowledge of history, say about Muslims and Islam?
And above all, we know have the phenomenon of “defectors” from Islam, the apostates from Islam, who in the Western world are no longer fearful, and are willing to speak from their own lifetimes of experience of being born into Islam and then choosing to abandon it, some for Christianity (Nonie Darwish), and some to be resolute freethinkers, such as Ibn Warraq, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ali Sina, Wafa Sultan, and so many more. Some have been Iranians, some Pakistanis, some Arabs, some from still other backgrounds. Muslim spokesmen would prefer that you pay as little attention to these keen observers as possible, and attempt on every occasion to shut them up or shout them down. But up or down, those Muslim spokesmen and enforcers have not succeeded, for when someone such as Ibn Warraq writes Why I Am Not a Muslim and Ayaan Hirsi Ali writes her own stirring testimony in Infidel, or when Ali Sina, with a growing army of fellow apostates, conducts his own lucid campaign from the heights of www.faithfreedom.org, Muslims in this country cannot, as they would in a minute in a Muslim country, shut such efforts down. Thus we, the Infidels, are the beneficiaries of such valuable witnesses, such indispensable temoignage.
It seems a century ago that we were willing to engage in those phony “dialogues” which always end up being sinister apologies for Islam, with the non-Muslim clergymen willingly or unwillingly inveigled into participating into a farce of supposedly symmetrical fault-finding, a farce that relies heavily on Infidel ignorance of Islam, and willingness to assume that if some belief-system is called a “religion” then of course it must be a force for good, must be beyond criticism, and only that “handful of extremists” are not good. But “extreme” about what? If Islam is in its essence so unthreatening, so peaceful, so tolerant, so good, then why should someone who is fanatically in favor of that something good be a threat to Infidels?
Those “interfaith candlelight ceremonies” that were all the rage just after 9/11/2001 ring hollow today, especially with the list of all those Muslim clerics who appeared to utter all kinds of soothing words, and then were discovered in the past, or at the same time, or later on, to have been heard, even recorded, making quite different statements when they thought no non-Muslims were around. It has been quite a revelation, too, to discover the Islamic websites that counsel Muslims in how to talk to Infidels, telling exactly the things that should be said and the topics that should be carefully avoided, even explaining that one should “let the Sisters talk” if the subject is Islam and the Treatment of Women. And there are those Muslim websites that inform parents just how to wangle special treatment — prayer rooms and suchlike — from teachers and principals. It’s down to a science, all written out. And eventually someone is going to put all that advice for fellow Muslims together, and publish it, but as a warning to, and for the edification of, Infidels.
No Infidels need any longer accept the word of tireless apologists as to what those texts say, or what their “meaning” is, especially when we have all been treated to example after example of Tu-Quoque-and-Taqiyya, sometimes by omission, sometimes by deliberate misinterpretation for the limitlessly naive. Furthermore, we have the long historical record of Jihad-conquest, and the texts, written by Muslims themselves, on the subject of the necessity of Jihad, and the rules of Jihad. We have 1350 years of such a record, and are entitled to study that record, from Spain in the west to what is present-day Indonesia in the east. We can study how non-Muslim populations slowly or quickly were reduced in size: what happened to the Copts of Egypt? What happened to the Jews and Armenians under Shah Abbas II in Iran? What happened to the Christians and Jews of the Arabian peninsula? What happened to the Christians of North Africa, where Tertullian and St. Augustine once lived? What happened to the Hindus of India under Muslim rule? Was it all wonderful, or is there reason to think that K. S. Lal and other Indian historians are right in their claim that between 60 and 70 million Hindus lost their lives? What was the historical record of Arab Muslims and slavery in Black Africa? Splendid? A tale of Muslim Wilberforces, long predating the English one? When was slavery formerly abolished in Arabia, and why? And is there any evidence of the continuance of slavery in Arab Muslim countries? And is there any evidence that Muslim scholars today have written about the continuing, indeed permanent, legitimacy of slavery, because it was recognized and accepted by Muhammad?
And these are not the only questions that need to be examined, studied, discussed. One wishes to know what happened to the Hindus of Pakistan and Bangladesh. Why did their numbers in the populations of those countries drop so precipitously, while the Muslim population of India has gone up, both relatively and absolutely? What has happened to Buddhists in southern Thailand, and why? What happened to the Christians of East Timor under Muslim rule? What has been happening to the Christians of the Moluccas? Or Iraq? Or Lower Egypt? Or in Lebanon over the past fifty years? What has happened to the French peres blancs and the Italian monks who tried to help the Muslims of Algeria, and for their pains were murdered? What is that history all about? What happened to the Armenians, and why was it that when Turks and Kurds killed those Armenians, they took pleasure in calling them “gavours” (Infidels), and were delighted if Armenian priests and their wives were among the victims, as recorded by eyewitnesses?
And here is yet another question that needs to be considered, to be discussed, to be pondered and not only in the corridors of power. What are the instruments of Jihad? Bush has focused quite monomaniacally on “terror” — as if he cannot bring himself to see the use of the Money Weapon, carefully-targeted campaigns of Da’wa, and of course a demographic conquest that has been openly discussed by Muslims. It has been discussed by Boumedienne at the U.N. in 1974, and by mild-mannered Pakistani accountants in the letters pages of “Dawn” (see that for December 5, 2001 for example). There are Muslim websites where these developments are openly discussed — as they are by all kinds of Muslim posters at this (see “Naseem”) and other websites.
Is it illegitimate for inhabitants of the Western or larger non-Muslim world to study these matters, and to raise these issues? Why? Is it illegitimate to discuss the proposition that one has a perfect right to defend the legal and political institutions that one’s own society has received as a legacy, that others before one helped to create, over time, and that in every respect are flatly contradicted by what Islam inculcates? Is the individualism of the West, are our individual rights, those enshrined in the Bill of Rights, and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to be simply swept away, or to be subject to incessant attack by the adherents of a collectivist faith who do not believe in free speech, or in freedom of conscience, including the freedom to leave one faith for another, or to have no faith at all? Are these illegitimate questions?
And is it illegitimate to point out how frequently in history states and peoples have felt it necessary to expel others in their midst, and that it is a bit hasty to denounce all such efforts (though many certainly should be denounced), especially when one considers the reasons, the historical context, of the Benes Decree, which was adduced not as a model to follow, but as a case to study and ponder?
We in the West have an obligation to defend a civilizational legacy, even if many of us, individually, have not exactly proved ourselves worthy of it. And that includes considering measures that others have undertaken, to see if they provide lessons, any lessons at all, for us at this point in our endangered history.
And that is hardly illegitimate. It is the very least we should ask of ourselves, and of those who presume to “lead” us, or rather, in the cant of this cant-filled age, presume to “take a leadership role.” Many people in this country have gone far beyond their so-called leaders, Democratic and Republican, in their understanding of Islam. And that is a good thing. That is a necessary thing.