Here is a fine review of my new book Not Peace But a Sword: The Great Chasm Between Christianity and Islam, which seems all the more timely in light of all the naive, short-sighted and self-defeating calls for “dialogue” ringing out in the wake of the Boston jihad bombings. You can order the book here (Kindle edition here) and download a free sample chapter here.
“Christianity and Islam: Cooperation or Conflict? A review of Robert Spencer’s Not Peace But a Sword: The Great Chasm Between Christianity and Islam,” by William Kilpatrick in the Catholic World Report, April 21:
Robert Spencer has written a dozen books on Islam, as well as thousands of pages of commentary on Islamic law, scripture, and tradition, but this may be his most significant book yet because of its potential to alert Christians to a dangerous gap in their knowledge of Islam. Christian leaders are badly in need of a wake-up call about Islam and this is a wake-up call that is hard to ignore. Not Peace but a Swordasks questions about the relationship between Christianity and Islam that few others are asking, even though they are questions that beg for answers.
Coexistence or Chasm?
The main question is whether the differences between Christianity and Islam can be worked out or whether there is an unbridgeable chasm between the two faiths.Â Spencer is not saying that individual Muslims must necessarily be at odds with individual Christians but he is asking whether Islam’s doctrinal hostility toward Christianity can be overcome, or whether it is of the essence of Islam.
This hostility toward non-Muslims is abundantly evident in almost every country where Muslims are in the majority and even in many places where they are a sizeable minority.Â A few weeks ago in Pakistan, a Muslim mob attacked a Christian neighborhood burning down 180 homes and damaging two churches.Â In Egypt, Christian girls are routinely kidnapped and forced to marry Muslim men.Â In Nigeria, Christians are burned alive in their churches.Â Brutal attacks on Christians are a daily occurrence in the Muslim world, and in many instances, the hostility is fueled by Muslim clerics.
The hostility is much less in evidence in the world of Western academics and in the conference rooms where Muslims and Christians gather for dialogue.Â In these settings, Christian professors and prelates get along fine with their well-educated and friendly Muslim colleagues and dialogue partners, all of whom seem committed to the proposition that the values Christians and Muslims share in common are much more important than the differences that separate them. Many Christians in the West take it for granted that Muslims share the same values they do, but, as Spencer ably demonstrates, this assumption seems to be based largely on wishful thinking rather than on knowledge of Islamic doctrine and practice.
Spencer is not opposed to dialogue per se, but he suggests that Christians need to be more clear-eyed about it.Â Take the “Common Word” initiative. Begun in 2007, it was an appeal to Christians by 138 Muslim leaders and scholars for mutual understanding. The initiative was well-received by Christians and this resulted in an ongoing series of interfaith conferences and other undertakings. The Common Word website says that “the [Muslim] signatories have adopted the traditional and mainstream Islamic position of respecting the Christian scripture and calling Christians to be more, not less, faithful to it.”
This sounds promising but, as Spencer points out, in Islamic tradition the true and original Christian Gospel is considered to be congruent with the Koran.Â According to this staple of Muslim belief, the New Testament that Christians consult today is a corruption of the original gospel.Â In fact, Muslims look upon Christian Scripture in much the same way that The Da Vinci Code does:Â “Mainstream Muslim belief is that orthodox Christianity is nothing more than a subterfuge, a massive hoax designed to fool the believers and lead them astray.”Â Thus, when Muslim scholars call Christians to be more faithful to their scripture, what they have in mind is something quite different from what their Christian audience supposes.
Moreover, as Spencer notes, the Qur’anic verse on which the Common Word initiative is based suggests that the agenda is not dialogue but conversion or, at least, submission:Â “Say: “˜People of the Book! [Christians] Come now to a word common between us and you, that we serve none but God, and that we associate not aught with Him, and do not some of us take others as Lords, apart from God.– (3:64). Spencer observes:Â
Since Muslims consider the Christian confession of the divinity of Christ to be an unacceptable association of a partner with God, this verse is saying that the “common word” that Muslims and the People of the Book should agree on is that Christians should discard one of the central tenets of their faith and essentially become Muslims.
Good Muslims and Bad Muslims
Spencer’s book ends with an interesting epilogue””a transcript of a 2010 debate between Spencer and Dr. Peter Kreeft, one of the foremost exponents of the idea that Christians and Muslims ought to form an alliance against anti-religious secularists.Â The proposition of the debate was “The Only Good Muslim Is a Bad Muslim.”Â And, indeed, much of Spencer’s work over the years suggests that the more moderate Muslims are the ones who ignore their faith altogether or else don’t fully understand its obligations. On the other hand, the more closely a Muslim adheres to the core teachings of Islam, the more likely he is to be a danger to non-Muslims. Right now, the media is trying to come up with a reason to explain why two young men in Boston became heartless killers.Â Many journalists, pundits, and politicians are avoiding what appears to be the most obvious factor””Islam.Â The two Tsarnaev brothers had evidently become more aware of the religious obligation to wage jihad and being young they chose the path of armed jihad. From our point of view, this would mean they were “bad Muslims” but from their point of view they were “good Muslims.” In this regard, consider the explanation given by a world-be suicide bomber in Pakistan as to why he let himself be recruited by the Taliban to don a suicide vest:Â “They prayed all the time and read the Koran so I thought they were good people.”
There is abundant evidence that Islamic terrorists are not “misunderstanders” of their religion as the media likes to portray them, but that they understand it very well.Â For example, Umar Abdulmutallab, the “underwear bomber,” was president of the Islamic Society at University College London, and in high school he was nicknamed “the scholar” for his extensive knowledge of Islam.Â And anyone who closely follows the careers of extremist Muslim leaders such as Ayatollah Khamenei, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Mohamed Morsi will realize that they are well-grounded in their religion and take it very seriously.
Perhaps it’s time for those Christian leaders who are responsible for dialogue to take Islam more seriously, also””seriously enough to take a harder look at Islamic doctrine. It’s beginning to look like the real misunderstanders of Islam are the Christian academics and dialoguers who seem committed to a policy of “see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.”Â The urgent question they need to ask themselves is whether, in their desire for harmony, they are only succeeding in legitimizing and enabling a politico- religious ideology that endorses the subjugation of Christians and Jews.