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An Analysis of Anti-Islamic Polemics
"A minority among these self-acclaimed experts claims to have studied Islamic history, but their work only proves their lamentable prejudice."
In a seminal essay on “Islam Through Western Eyes,” Professor Edward Said of Columbia University wrote, “I have not been able to discover any period in European or American history since the Middle Ages in which Islam was generally discussed or thought about outside a framework created by passion, prejudice and political interests. This may not seem like a surprising discovery, but included in the indictment is the entire gamut of scholarly and scientific disciplines which, since the early nineteenth century, have either called themselves Orientalism or tried systematically to deal with the Orient.”
Truly, anti-Islamic polemics is older than the Crusades. Since the time of John of Damascus (c.675-c.749), Islam was depicted as a Christian heresy. In his book De Haeresbius, John claimed that the Qur'an was not a revealed scripture but was created by the Prophet Muhammad (S) and that he was helped in his task by a Christian monk Bahira to use materials from the so-called Old and New Testament. As the Islamic Empire defeated the Byzantine Empire of one after another of its far Eastern Provinces, the negative portrayal of Islam became quite wild. This view is echoed by Hichem Djait, the distinguished historian attached to the universities of McGill and Berkeley: “Over the centuries Christian tradition came to look upon Islam as a disturbing upstart movement that awakened such bitter passion precisely because it laid claim to the same territory as Christianity.” Nicetas, of Byzantium, wrote a "Refutatio Mohammadis" (Migne P.G. cv), and Bartholomew, of Edessa, a treatise "Contra Mohammadem" (Migne P.G. civ), which reflected more about the emotional health of these Byzantine Christians than anything of real value.
Then came the Latin writers (in fact, priests) of the Middle Ages who got their information mostly from the Byzantine accounts, and from the personal contact with Islam during the Muslim rule in the Iberian Peninsula and the Crusades. Alvarus Paulus (d. 861) was the first Latin author to transform Muhammad into antichrist. Making use of the reference in Psalm 89, he algebraically substituted seventy years for each of the three and one half "times" and calculated that the end of Islam would come after 245 years of Islamic rule, that is, as he figured it, in the year 870 C.E. His friend Eulogius of Cordova (d. 859) similarly depicted Muhammad (S) as the ‘anti-Christ,’ a ‘false prophet,’ the coming of which Christ had foretold to the apostles. These Latin priests’ preference for the meager, debased, and distorted Latin version of Muhammad's (S) life, which Eulogius found in Navarre, rather than from the fountainhead of the Qur’an and Muslim traditions is symptomatic of a xenophobic ignorance, which characterized early Spanish views of Islam in general. It would be an intriguing study to follow the development of the absurd fables that spread abroad in Europe during this period in which Muhammad (S) comes to be one of the three great idols - Mahomet or Mahound, Opolane and the third Termogond (in that order) - popularly supposed to be worshipped by Muslims.
Prof. Juan Cole of University of Michigan writes, “European civilization has long been perplexed and scandalized by Muhammad, who succeeded in founding a world religion that rivals Christianity. Most early Christian attacks on Islam actually depicted it as an idolatrous religion, one of the great black legends ever fostered. Islam is nothing if not single-mindedly monotheistic. The first Latin translation of the Koran, carried out in 1143 by Robert of Ketton, was incomplete and marred by sarcasm and even obscenity. Its motive was not understanding but refutation.”
Among the ecclesiastical writers of the Crusade period Muhammad (S) was looked on as the arch heretic, a second Arius, worse than the first, and his legend was molded on that of the great legendary heretics, Simon Magus and the Deacon Nicholas. Dominican Friar Humbert of Lyons (d. 1277), Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), Nicholas de Cusa (c. 1443) and others followed John’s footstep in portraying Islam as an inferior religion. Dominican Friar, for instance, said, “Nor did Mahomet teach anything of great austerity.”
The Italian scholar Professor Francesco Gabrieli puts it succinctly: “We find it in various versions, inconsistent in their content, but entirely consistent in their spirit of vituperation and hatred, in the writing of chronicles, apologists, hagiographers and encyclopaedists of the Latin Middle Ages; Guibert of Nogent and Hildebert of Tours in the eleventh century, Peter the Venerable in the twelfth, Jacques de Vitry, Martinus Polonus, Vincent of Beauvais and Jacobus, a Varagine, in the thirteenth, up to Brunetto Latini and his imitators, and Dante and his commentators.”
Karen Armstrong tells us that during the Crusades, “... biographies of Mohammed by Christians describe the Prophet's sex life in a manner that reveals far more about their own sexual problems than about the facts of the Prophet's life.”
As Christendom started losing ground to expanding Islamic empire, the vilification of Muhammad (S) became more vicious. To quote Montgomery Watt, “It is easy to see how this has come about. For centuries Islam was the great enemy of Christendom, for Christendom was in direct contact with no other organized states comparable in power to the Muslims. The Byzantine Empire, after losing its provinces in Syria and Egypt, was being attacked in Asia Minor, while Western Europe was threatened through Spain and Sicily. Even before the Crusades focused attention on the expulsion of the Saracens from the Holy Land, medieval war-propaganda, free from the restraints of factuality was building up a conception of 'the great enemy'. At one point Muhammad was transformed into Mahound, the prince of darkness.”
The attitude of Protestants under Martin Luther (1483-1546) and John Calvin (1509-1564) was no less hostile from the Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians. Already the Ottoman Turks had established themselves as Muslim Caliphs ruling vast territories in Asia, Africa and Europe. On May 29, 1453, Constantinople had already fallen to the forces of Sultan Mehmed II. Twice, in 1529 and 1683, the Ottomans reached the gates of Vienna. So began a new period when the Church and the state cooperated, and "Muhammad, the prophet of the Arabs, came to be seen as the embodiment of Turkish monstrosity." Martin Luther's attitude towards Islam is reflected in the following words: “...[he] who fights against the Turks [Muslims]...should consider that he is fighting an enemy of God and a blasphemer of Christ, indeed, the devil himself....” He looked upon Muhammad (S) as "a devil and first-born child of Satan.”
The ignoble task of vilifying Muhammad (S) then was shouldered by people like Raleigh (1552-1618), Hottinger (c. 1651), Marraccio (c. 1698), and Humphrey Prideaux (1648-1724). Most of these early works were bitterly hostile, inaccurate and prejudiced, telling us more about attitudes to Muhammad (S) than about Muhammad (S) himself. As to Muhammad’s (S) marriage to Khadijah, Prideaux, for instance, in his work of "gross bigotry" - Vie de Mahomet - wrote, “Mahomet (Mohammad) married Cadhisja (sic) (Khadijah) at five, and took her to his bed at eight years old.” Sir Edward Denison Ross has rightly observed: “For many centuries the acquaintance which the majority of Europeans possessed of Muhammadanism was based almost entirely on distorted reports of fanatical Christians, which led to the dissemination of a multitude of gross calumnies.”
Then began the era of Orientalism, when disingenuous scholars, mostly passionate Christian polemicists, joined the fray to assassinate the character of the Prophet of Islam and demean his religion. As Roger Du Pasquier has rightly observed, “One is forced also to concede that Oriental studies in the West have not always been inspired by the purest spirit of scholarly impartiality, and it is hard to deny that some Islamicists and Arabists have worked with the clear intention of belittling Islam and its adherents.” The motivation seems to have come from John of Segovia who pointed out that the Islamic threat of Muhammad (S) could only be crushed by an intellectual assault. Consequently, the Bibliotheque Orientale of Barthelmy d’Herbelot (written during the end of the 17th to the beginning of the 18th century), which was used as the most reliable reference on Islam in Europe until the beginning of the 19th century, made the most disparaging remarks about Muhammad (S). The first Encyclopaedia of Islam depicted ‘Mahomet’ as ‘Author and Founder of a heresy.’ In his book “History of Saracen Empires” (London, 1870), Simon Ockley (1678-1720), the celebrated English Arabist, dubbed him as ‘a very subtle and crafty man, who put on the appearance only of those good qualities, while the principles of his soul were ambition and lust.’ George Sale (c. 1734), the translator of the Qur'an, titled The Koran (commonly called the Alcoran of Mohammed), called Muhammad (S) a monster. In his essay Les Moeurs, Voltaire (c. 1740) said that even those who regarded Muhammad (S) as a great man knew that he was an impostor.
Only when Christians were able to defeat Muslims militarily and colonize their vast territories did this vilification get somewhat muffled, and apologetic writings in favor of Islam and its Prophet surfaced. In his work "de Religione Mahommedica" (Utrecht, 1704), the Dutch scholar Reyland sought to break away from the hostile attitude to Muhammad (S), and strove for a just appreciation of his historical significance. His work was followed by H. de Boulainvilliers’s "Vie de Mahomed" (London, 1739), which was a laudation of Muhammad (S), while belittling Christianity. Such a conciliatory attitude towards Muhammad (S) (and hostility towards Christian teachings) was offensive to Christian orientalists; Snouck Hurgronje called it ‘an anticlerical romance.’ Gagnier’s "Vie de Mahomet" (Amsterdam, 1748), and Edward Gibbon's (1737-94) account of Muhammad (S) in his "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" (London, 1776-88) were, therefore, aimed at shifting the scale once again towards Christian prejudice. Gibbon argued that Muhammad (S) had lured the Arabs to follow him with ‘the bait of loot and sex.’
The ‘colonial spirit,’ driven by a belief in racial superiority, and a mission to civilize the barbaric native inhabitants of the conquered territories, characterized the 19th century. After the French Revolution, Islam continued to be seen as ‘the opposite of us.’ The European authors concluded that in the Qur’an there was ‘neither a principle for civilization nor a mandate that can elevate character.’
This ‘colonial spirit’ was reflected in the works of bigoted missionaries and Orientalists like Sir William Muir (1819-1905), D.S. (David Samuel) Margoliouth, Stephen Zweimer, Leone Caetani, and Henri Lammens (latter a Jesuit and Church pastor). Most of these Christian polemicists only proved how ignorant they were in their understanding of Islam and of the veneration of its Prophet (S) in the Muslim psyche. Caetani [who often adopted Lammens’s portrayal of Muhammad (S)], for instance, maintained that Muhammad (S) was not a Hashimite or a Qurayshite, but rather an orphan of unknown origin who had been taken into the family of Abu Talib, and that Abdullah b. Abbas (RA) was the one who invented the fake genealogy. Caetani, thus, called Ali (RA) as the ‘alleged’ nephew of Muhammad (S) and Abbas as the ‘alleged’ uncle of the Prophet (S). Interestingly, despite their prejudice and ‘holy contempt’ for everything Islamic, these discredited and unreliable Orientalists were (and still are) assumed by many Europeans and Americans who studied Islam to be objective and unbiased researchers. The explanation is provided by Prof. Edward Said, “… Orientalists use the authority of their standing as experts to deny--no, to cover--their deep-seated feelings about Islam with a carpet of jargon whose purpose is to certify their ‘objectivity’ and ‘scientific impartiality.’”
Speaking about Western slander of the Prophet (S), Thomas Carlyle (d. 1881) said, “Our current hypothesis about Mahomet, that he was a scheming Imposter, a Falsehood incarnate, that his religion is a mere mass of quackery and fatuity, begins really to be now untenable to any one. The lies which well-meaning zeal has heaped round this man are disgraceful to ourselves only... A silent great soul, one of that who cannot but be earnest. He was to kindle the world, the world’s Maker had ordered so.” Speaking about Islam, he also said, “To the Arab Nation it was as a birth from darkness into light; Arabia first became alive by means of it. A poor shepherd people, roaming unnoticed in its deserts since the creation of the world: a Hero-Prophet was sent down to them with a word they could believe: see, the unnoticed becomes world-notable, the small has grown world-great; within one century afterwards, Arabia is at Grenada on this hand, at Delhi on that; -glancing in valor and splendor and the light of genius, Arabia shines through long ages over a great section of the world . . . I said, the Great Man was always as lightning out of Heaven; the rest of men waited for him like fuel, and then they too would flame." The admiration of Muhammad's (S) achievements visible in this writer, as Prof. Juan Cole points out, marked a turning point in Western culture, away from narrow religious bigotries and toward a humanist ability to appreciate the best in world civilization.
Montgomery Watt after examining the various charges heaped on the Prophet (S) similarly concluded: “In his day and generation Muhammad was a social reformer, indeed a reformer even in the sphere of morals. He created a new system of social security and a new family structure, both of which were a vast improvement on what went before. In this way he adapted for settled communities all that was best in the morality of the nomad, and established a religious and a social framework for the life of a sixth of the human race today. That is not the work of a traitor or a lecher.”
So, for a brief period, we fancied that we had probably seen the last of such vilifications against Islam and its Prophet. But we were wrong. Prejudice dies hard. With the emergence of the OPEC and the Islamic Revolution in Iran, situation again worsened. The late Prof. Edward Said of Columbia University echoed this understanding: “Even when the world of Islam entered a period of decline and Europe a period of ascendancy, fear of 'Mohammedanism' persisted. Closer to Europe than any of the other non-Christian religions, the Islamic world by its very adjacency evoked memories of its encroachments on Europe, and always, of its latent power again and again to disturb the West. Other great civilizations of the East - India and China among them - could be thought of as defeated and distant and hence not a constant worry. Only Islam seemed never to have submitted completely to the West; and when, after the dramatic oil-price rises of the early 1970s, the Muslim world seemed once more on the verge of repeating its early conquests, the whole West seemed to shudder."
For all these years, anti-Islamic polemics were essentially a Christian phenomenon. The contribution in this sector by non-Christian zealots was marginal. This, in spite of the hatred spread against Muslims by Christian missionaries in colonized territories (e.g., in India among the Hindus). The media to disseminate such polemics were limited to speech and printing. Now we have radios, films, TVs and Internet to give a more lasting expression to such polemics. The first Intifadah and the radicalization of liberation movements in the Occupied Territories of Palestine and Indian Occupied Kashmir, respectively, opened the floodgate for Likudnik Jews and Hindutvadi Hindus (of the Sangh Parivar), each with its own political agenda, to join the rank and file of Christian bigots. It became all too politically expedient to castigate decades of resistance movement against occupation as ‘terrorism.’ And with the al-Qa’eda attack against America on 9/11 all hell seems to have busted loose. The attack was described by President Bush, a born-again Christian, as a ‘war’ against (American) ‘freedom’ and ‘way of life.’ Borrowing religious jargon, he called his war ‘a monumental struggle between good and evil.’ In his speech of declaration of war, speaking of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qa’eda, Bush said, “They want to kill all Jews and Christians” and that they wanted to establish their form of government in every country. Despite the Defense Department’s dumping of the name “Infinite Justice” for its invasion of Afghanistan and Bush’s apology for use of the term “Crusade,” the aura of Christian fundamentalism could not be mistaken.
Mr. Bush’s support for war and Israel comes mostly from 60 million strong Christian fundamentalists who identify themselves with the neo-Crusading Religious Right movement. They now represent the single most powerful voting block in U.S. history. It is a twist of fate that brought these fanatics of Christian Right and the so-called neo-conservatives together in the U.S. to find a common platform under Bush presidency, thanks to Karl Rove, to push the country towards American unilateralism, redrawing the map of the Middle-East, and unquestioning support of the Jewish state of Israel. Many of these neocons are Jewish, who have long-awaited the backing from the Christian Right – many of them Southern Baptists – who believe that Jews of the world must be assembled in Israel a priori to facilitate the second coming of their Messiah (Jesus); those Jews who convert to Christianity will be salvaged, the rest slaughtered. Many of these Christian fanatics are, therefore, proud of their new identity as ‘Christian Zionists.’
In the days following 9/11, Attorney General John Ashcroft (who starts his official duty everyday with a Christian prayer with his staff members) would be seen behaving as if it were his personal Crusade to ridding the nation from the menace of ‘Islamic terrorism.’ As if to reassure his support base among Christian evangelists, he was unequivocal in his bigotry when he was quoted as saying that “Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your son to die for Him. Christianity is a faith in which God sends His son to die for you.” [Under his direct supervision, hundreds of Muslims, including American citizens, would end up detained (some in solitary confinement), either on suspicion as ‘terrorists’ or as (the so-called) ‘material witnesses,’ indefinitely incommunicado. While in detention, they were beaten, deprived of shower, mattress, blanket, and (even) toothbrush, and were verbally abused. Some detainees were stripped naked and physically tortured by both guards and prison inmates. Within days of early detention, one died as a result of physical torture suffered.]
With such high-pitch sounds of official Crusade against Islam and its adherents emanating from the powerful members within the Bush Administration (despite Bush’s claim that his war was against terrorists and not against Islam), it was all too natural for Christian Evangelists like Jerry Vines (of Southern Baptist Convention), Pat Robertson (of 700 Club), Jerry Falwell (of Christian Moral Majority) and Franklin Graham (of Samaritan’s Purse), all known for their bigotry, to join the choir. Armed with centuries of myths and mendacities from the Middle Ages by belligerent crusaders, both inside and outside the church, and the sophisticated mass communication tools and gadgetries of our modern time, these neo-crusaders (Christian-Jihadists) of the 21st century sang the chorus that Islam is “a very evil and a dangerous religion.” These Christian preachers seem to suffer from selective amnesia about the fact that if they want to find violence preached in the name of religion, they need not look beyond the Bible. The medieval Crusaders got their inspiration from Leviticus 26:7, e.g., “And ye shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword.” Pope Urban in his fiery speech at Champaign, France, promised his Christian soldiers who lost their lives while slaying Muslims remission from all their sins and a direct ticket to paradise. We also find verses like: "Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who teaches my hands to wage war, and my fingers to do battle" (Psalms 144:1); "A curse on him who is lax in doing the LORD's work! A curse on him who keeps his sword from bloodshed!" (Jeremiah 48:10); "But for these very enemies, who did not want me to be king over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence" (Luke 19:27); "Do not think that I have come to send peace upon the earth; I have come to bring the sword, not peace" (Matt 10:34).
Let me here also quote Stephen Schwartz who wrote, “Notwithstanding the preaching of peace by Jesus, Christian rulers were brutal in the imposition of their faith, as well as in their treatment of Jews and Muslims. With the European conquest of the New World, the Christianization of the Caribbean islands and Central and South America encompassed the massacre of whole peoples. But conversion at sword point to the faith of Jesus did not begin with the age of Columbus. At the end of the first Christian millennium, Germans, Nordics, Slavs, and Baltic peoples were forcibly baptised and given new names by order of their rulers. Those who resisted were murdered or driven to flight. The persecutions and expulsions of Spanish and Portuguese Jews and Muslims were notable examples of Christian intolerance, including public burnings of alleged heretics and secret Jews and Muslims. Rage at the Jewish refusal of Jesus produced centuries of bloodshed and enduring bitterness between the two older branches of the Abrahamic tradition.”
The spiteful Christian preachers preached that Muslims want to kill all infidels, because the Qur’an commands such. The verses of the Qur’an that were revealed against the Arab polytheists of Muhammad’s (S) time were twisted to give a more generalized application. Inaccurate translation of Arabic words like “auliya” were used to justify that Muslims are forbidden to have friendship with non-Muslims. And the worst possible attacks were reserved for the Prophet of Islam. Even as recently as in December of 2003, Pat Robertson said in Israel that today's world conflicts concern "whether Hubal, the moon god of Mecca known as Allah, is supreme, or whether the Judeo-Christian Jehovah, God of the Bible, is supreme." From his remarks he has again proven that negative stereotypes about Islam almost never die. This, in spite of all the resources that are now available at the tip of our fingers to learn the fundamental beliefs in Islam. Never mind that Hubal was actually a pre-Islamic pagan god that Muhammad (S) rejected. Robertson's comments, like those of General Boykin, illuminate a widespread misconception — one that the news media has inadvertently helped to promote. Just as it is accepted today that if the Crusaders knew as much about Muslims as Muslims had known about them, the sad event probably would not have happened. It is clear that the situation has not improved.
These preachers of hate also forget that a person is best judged by the people who lived with him, and not by someone (let alone a bigot) who comes centuries later. From the authentic reports we have, we can say that during Muhammad’s (S) time even his worst enemies were unanimous in their praise of his character. The poem below by Hassan ibn Thabit (RA) shows how Muhammad’s (S) companions felt about him:
By God, no woman has conceived and given birth
To one like the Apostle, the Prophet and guide of his people;
Nor has God created among his creatures
One more faithful to his sojourner or his promise
Than he who was the source of light,
Blessed in his deeds, just and upright.
-- Sirat Rasulallah by Muhammad Ibn Ishaq
`Aa'ishah (RA), the wife of the Prophet (S), described him as, "His character was just (a reflection of) the Qur'an." (Muslim, Abu Dawood, Ahmad) The Qur’an described him as, "Verily, You (Muhammad) are on an exalted standard on character." (68:4)
The renowned historian Lamartine, when speaking on Muhammad’s (S) greatness said: "If greatness of purpose, smallness of means and astounding results are the three criteria of human genius, who could dare to compare any great man in modern history with Muhammad? The most famous men created arms, laws and empires only They founded, if anything at all, no more than material powers which often crumbled away before their eyes. This man moved not only armies, legislation, empires, peoples and dynasties but millions of men in one-third of the then-inhabited world; and more than that, he moved the altars, the gods, the religions, the ideas, the beliefs and souls.... his forbearance in victory, his ambition, which was entirely devoted to one idea and in no manner striving for an empire; his endless prayers; his mystic conversations with God; his death and his triumph after death; all these attest not to an imposture but to a firm conviction which gave him the power to restore a dogma. This dogma was two-fold: the unity of God and the immateriality of God-the former telling what God is, the latter telling what God is not; the one overthrowing false gods with the sword, the other starting an idea with the words. Philosopher, orator, apostle, legislator, warrior, conqueror of ideas, restorer of rational dogmas, of a cult without images, the founder of twenty terrestrial empires and of one spiritual empire: that is MUHAMMAD. As regards all the standards by which human greatness may be measured, we may well ask IS THERE ANY MAN GREATER THAN HE?"
Obviously, we cannot expect a bigot to agree with Lamartine. What we notice, instead, is the resurrection of old hatred. Signs are too many these days to discount the wicked marriage between the church and the state, jointly bent on demonizing Islam under the pretext of combating al-Qa’eda, ‘radical Islam’ or the so-called ‘Islamism.’ It is intellectually dishonest and morally reprehensible for a Christian (or a Jew) if he bases his representation of Islam on its worst examples while carefully shielding both Christianity (or Judaism) and the West from comparable critique. As much as Menachem Begin, Rabbi Meir Kahane and Dr. Baruch Goldstein are not moral representatives of Judaism; and U.S. Presidents Truman and Ronald Reagan, and rev. Jones of Jonestown, Guyana and David Koresh of Waco, Texas are not moral representatives of Christianity so is Osama bin Laden when it comes to Islam. As Prof. Ziaudddin Sardar puts it, Osama is a product of the history of American aggression that places no value on Muslim lives. He is motivated by a sense of outrage against all those who caused so much misery and injustice to the Muslim people.
When someone judges Islam and Muslims through the prism of 9/11- event it is travesty and sheer dishonesty on his part. Unfortunately, in these days, such an intellectual dishonesty or debauchery sells, and sells big time, with lucrative book deals, profitable consultancies and frequent TV and radio appearances to all the ‘experts’ vying to present their ‘discoveries’ about ‘real’ Islam.
In recent days, it is, therefore, not surprising to find that many bookstores and public libraries in the West display new books with screaming titles about Islam and Muslims, each purporting to present the ‘truth.’ Sadly, very few of these books are written by either qualified Muslims or western non-Muslim scholars who possess good knowledge of Islam and its rich history. And then there are scores of hate websites that feed hate literature to demonize Islam and its Prophet (S).
A closer scrutiny into the background of these self-styled experts reveals something, which is very troubling. A majority of them are just pen-pushing, anti-Muslim fanatics - some affiliated with hate groups, some with missionary groups, some have clear political agenda, and some purely to maximize the sale of their books (characterizing Capitalism 101 at its worst) – all working towards demonizing Islam. Very few of them had ever visited any Muslim country, and even if they did so, they could not communicate in the language of the people visited or had studied Islam as part of their academic curriculum. It would be ludicrous to be taken seriously as an expert on Russia, Latin America and China, without knowing the requisite languages, but not for "Islam" where linguistic knowledge is deemed unnecessary! The only recourse to their Islamic knowledge seems to be either the works of Orientalists or readily available translated work on hadith and fiqh, thanks to the Internet.
A minority among these self-acclaimed experts claims to have studied Islamic history, but their work only proves their lamentable prejudice. They have mastered the art of ‘cherry-picking’ passages from the Islamic sources – the Qur’an and hadith – without the framework of 3P’s (people, period and place), as if moral imperatives (e.g., rahmah or mercy, ‘adl or justice, ihsan or kindness, and ma’ruf or goodness that are the overall moral thrust of the Qur’anic message) and historical context were irrelevant to their interpretation.
Some of these disingenuous individuals, especially those with political agenda, are basically serving the ‘old wine in new glasses’: resurrecting or recycling the works of the likes of Lammens, Caetani and Muir. Truth is not their motivation, but sensationalism is. Every Muslim is portrayed as a ‘sleeper terrorist’ – a potential Mohammad ‘Ata or a John Allen Muhammad. These messengers of hatred preach that Islam - is not a religion of peace, does not promote sound moral values, debases women, and is incompatible with both democratic pluralism and science. These delusional and mendacious writers preach that the world of Islam ought to be confronted now, and defeated both militarily and culturally, before it triumphs over and imposes jizyah upon western non-Muslim citizenry, lowering them to the status of dzimmis, and takes away all their rights and privileges. In short, they confirm every fear one may have ever had about Islam. These books tell us more about the mental health of their authors than they do about Islam or its people. They are truly the drumbeaters of fascism and perpetual war.
What could be more disquieting than to read in Richard Perle’s book (co-authored with Bush’s former special assistant David Frum) “An end to evil: How to win the war on terror,” the remark made about Muslims, “The roots of Muslim rage are to be found in Islam itself. There is no middle way for Americans. It is victory or holocaust?”
As was argued by Prof. Edward Said in one of his last essays “Orientalism: 25 years later,” without a well-organized sense that Muslims were not like ‘us’ (westerners) and that they didn’t appreciate ‘our’ (western) values – the very core of traditional Orientalist dogma – ‘there would have been no war.’ Just as there were paid professional scholars enrolled by the colonial conquerors to justify their savagery in former colonies against the natives, there are today American advisers to the Pentagon and the White House who use the same clichés, the same jargons, the same dehumanizing stereotypes, the same justifications for violence against the Muslim world.
So, what is happening in the western world in post-9/11 era of disingenuous expertise, Islamophobia and neo-imperial arrogance or unilateralism is a very distressing phenomenon: the spread of the worst form of anti-Muslim hate literature that tries to demonize Islam and dehumanize one quarter of humanity who calls themselves Muslims. It is ironic that many of those who cry out foul with books like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (or are paranoid with anti-Semitism) are not losing their sleep over this development. Why should they when they know perfectly well that such demonization legitimizes unilateral, lawless violence against Muslims that otherwise would not have been condoned?
By now there is no dispute that the West has ‘discovered’ in Islam a viable ‘demon’ to replace the ‘evil’ Soviet Empire. The question is: how long will we have to wait before a new ‘demon’ is found? Or, would we have to wait for the Armageddon to settle the perennial question – who’s the ‘real’ demon?
by courtesy & © 2004 Habib Siddiqui
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