A significant part of Ibn Warraq’s growing and distinguished body of work, including his new Sir Walter Scott’s Crusades & Other Fantasies, is devoted to the valuable service of debunking entrenched and generally accepted historical myths.
In Koranic Allusions, Which Koran?, What the Koran Really Says, and The Origins of the Koran, he thoroughly and definitively eviscerates the Islamic apologetic claim (sometimes even repeated by supposedly credible scholars) that the Muslim holy book has come down to us through the ages unchanged, still in the same form it was in when Muhammad first emerged from his trances and recited his new revelations from Allah. In the monumental collection he edited entitled The Quest for the Historical Muhammad, he explodes the biography of Muhammad that is generally accepted by Muslim and non-Muslim historians alike.
A lesser writer might have been content to have achieved all that, but arguably even more enduringly significant are two books with radically different concerns: Defending the West and Why the West Is Best, which indelibly and impeccably make the case for a civilization that has lost its self-confidence and sense of its own identity. In Sir Walter Scott’s Crusades & Other Fantasies, these two strains of Ibn Warraq’s thought converge. In this spare and yet sweeping book, he traces the development of the conventional view of the Crusades as an unprovoked and imperialistic attack on Muslims who far more noble, intelligent and cultured than the invaders. Examining the works not just of Sir Walter Scott but of Edward Gibbon and numerous other historians and writers of fiction, he details the development of this idea, and how it superseded the general view of earlier historians that the Crusades were defensive and, for all their acknowledged enormities, generally justified.
This investigation is immensely relevant for today”s public debate, for underlying so much of Western foreign policy is the unspoken assumption that the conflict between Islam and the West is all our fault — including the violence and intolerance of Islamic jihadists — and that we can achieve reconciliation by means of various hearts-and-minds initiatives. Ibn Warraq shows here that that assumption is rooted in analyses going back centuries, burnished by the endorsement of some of the world’s leading historians. He notes, for example, that the great twentieth-century historian of the Crusades, Sir Steven Runciman (1903-2000), “seems to imply that it was the Christian Crusaders who alone were responsible not only for the “˜growing intolerance amongst the Moslems”, but somehow also for the fading away of Muslim intellectual life, and the subsequent stagnation of Islamic culture: “˜”¦an intolerant faith is incapable of progress”.”
Runciman, however, is not himself to blame: he was just following the crowd. His analysis, Ibn Warraq continues, “is no different from so many others that write of Islamic history and culture: what are seen as positive aspects of Islamic Civilization are ecstatically praised, even exaggerated, and all the negative aspects are imputed to the arrival of pestilential Westerners, and where the Arabs, Persians and Muslims in general are seen as passive victims, and they are certainly not allowed any autonomy.”
However, he concludes, “this will not do as history.” Speaking specifically of anti-Semitism among Christians and Muslims, he rejects the claim that Islamic anti-Semitism is an import from Christian Europe: “Even a cursory glance at the plight of Jews under Muslims before the Crusades would be enough to refute Sir Steven’s rosy picture of an earlier interfaith utopia. All the persecutions of both Christians and Jews stem directly from the precepts and principles enshrined in the canonical texts of Islam: the Koran; the Sira, that is, Ibn Ishaq’s biography of Muhammad; the Hadith, that is, the Traditions, the record of the deeds and sayings of Muhammad and his companions; and the classical Muslim Koranic commentaries.”
“Reputable” historians, however, today generally gloss over, ignore, or deny these truths outright. To state them would be to invite both death threats from Islamic jihadists and charges of “Islamophobia” and “bigotry” from their Leftist and “moderate Muslim” enablers. The latter portion of this book is devoted to that self-censorship. Ibn Warraq shows how historical myths such as those surrounding the Crusades are all too often propagated by people who have been intimidated into thinking that to question those myths would in itself be an illegitimate and unacceptable exercise in “intolerance.” He uses the threats against the creators of the cartoon South Park, and their subsequent removal of a cartoon of Muhammad, as the starting point of a disquisition on the need to defend our own values — particularly the freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
With so much public policy today built on fantasy and wishful thinking, Sir Walter Scott’s Crusades & Other Fantasies is a welcome antidote and reminder that no matter how often and insistently lies are repeated, they can never ultimately overwhelm or drown out the truth. Even if Sir Walter Scott’s Crusades & Other Fantasies is the last utterance of truth before a new Dark Age dawns, and it could well be, Ibn Warraq has given his example to future truth-seekers; such is human nature that someone, somewhere, sometime, will take up the torch.
In the meantime, he has done in this book and others what his contemporaries who were born in Western nations have failed to do: construct a clear, compelling case for the survival, defense and new flowering of Western civilization. We can only hope it will be heeded before the magnificent edifice he loves and admires so much, and writes about so eloquently, comes tumbling down.