Thursday, June 28, 2007

Holy War: The Crusades by Karen Armstrong

I've been reading Armstrong’s book Holy War: The Crusades and Their Impact On Today's World. This book was written before her big success with A History of God.

I'm finding the same double standard as in all her works. Muslims sources are always to be taken as honest, and at face value. Any other source is viewed by her with (proper) skepticism. Early in the book she gives a short history of Islam and Muhammad. Her version is the most benign possible interpretation. Has she never heard that history is written by the winners? Muhammad in her version is a righteous fighter against the oppression of the poor by the wealthy and the instigators of all violence are the pagans of Mecca. Muslims at all times are merely fighting defensively to protect their lives. From beginning to end, the whole story is the Muslim version of events. No doubts of any kind are raised.

When she writes about the Western Christian Crusaders, however, suddenly she is able to see past their own propaganda about themselves, and write effectively about religious hysteria, hypocrisy, stupidity, cruelty, mass murder, etc. I cannot tell if she is consciously dishonest or if she is being simply human--that is, seeing what she wants to see.

The astonishing hypocrisy of her central thesis of the book is this: Crusading is not an old, discredited way of thinking. It is deeply embedded in the Western character, even after Christianity lost its iron grip. Much of the trouble in today's world revolves around modern Western Crusading attitudes. Deep inside every Westerner is a living Crusader, sword in hand, waiting to leap out.

On the OTHER hand, the jihad is irrelevant to Muslim identity. It belongs to the seventh century only. Jihad has been a dead letter for thirteen centuries and would remain dead if only Crusading could be eliminated. The early conquests of the Arabs did not really have anything to do with Islam, or the concept of jihad. The jihad as holy war, as imperial conquest, is nothing more than a Western phobia.

I'll give one example. She writes about the British empire thus:

In Britain the film Gandhi and the excellent television series Jewel in the Crown painted a very painful picture of the way the British behaved in India but the popularity of both films shows that people wanted to look at their old selves and come to terms with this unedifying phase of their history.

Here she is writing about the early Arab Empire:

The people who had been conquered by the Muslim armies...did not regard the conquests of Islam as a catastrophe. Quite the reverse was true; it was the start of a new and exciting phase in their history...Certainly their new masters had a different religion but many found that Islam was quite attractive. When the Muslims conquered a people, they did not attempt to force conversion...

So the British invasion and rule of India was painful and undedifying. But the Muslim invasion was exciting and new--it almost sounds like a barrel of laughs and good fun. I wonder how the Indians or Persians or Coptic Christians who read this react to it? I wonder if there are any Arabs who want to look back on the formation of the Arab empire, and come to terms with an "unedifying phase in their history?" All her other discussions of Muslims as opposed to Western Christians exhibit the same distortion. Muslims never convert anyone by force. Muslims respect other religions. The dhimmis receive full religious liberty at all times, and the jizya is nothing more than a contribution to the military defense of the country, and on and on, one distortion or dishonesty after another.

I want to say again that this book was written before her big successes; it was published first in 1988 in Britain, and a second edition in the U.S. in 1991. The copy I have was rushed out in late 2001 with a new preface Armstrong wrote just after 9/11. Instead of trying to analyze the whole book or give a review, I'll just point out typical Karenisms, examples of her distortions and prejudices.

Whenever Karen has a source that is from a Western Christian, and a competing source from a Muslim, she assumes that the Muslim is being honest and that the Christian is seeing things through his strange delusions. Here is a gross example:

The jihad remained a bogey in the West for centuries. When, for example, Sultan Abd Al-Rahman of al-Andalus made a raid into southern France in 732, he was defeated by Charles Martel at the Battle of Poitiers and this has been seen as a turning point of world history.

Of course, Karen knows better! She is about to explain to us poor Westerners with our tunnel vision why the victory of Poitiers was a trivial event:

Gibbon contemplated the consequences of an Arab victory with a shudder: the Rhine is not more impassable than the Nile or the Euphrates, and the Arabian fleet might have sailed without a naval combat into the mouth of the Thames. Perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Mahomet. From such calamities was Christendom delivered by the genius and fortune of one man.

There in a nutshell is the battle of Poitiers, explained by a great historian. But he's a Dead White European Male so Karen's going to set us straight:

This is a distorted and exaggerated view. The Sultan was not continuing the jihad and had no intention of conquering Europe. He had been invited into Christendom by Eudo, Duke of Aquitaine, who wanted his help against Charles Martel. Muslim historians scarcely mention "the Battle of Poitiers" except in passing, where they refer to it as an unfortunate but unimportant little raid. They had no designs on Europe...

Isn't it good to have Karen? She Explains It All For You. Why, the Sultan was just trying to help out a friend! He had no designs on the lands of the Franks! Why should he want to expand his power? And Muslim historians are much more reliable than some old dead white guy who is revered as a great historian by a biased society. A Muslim historian has no incentive to minimize or ignore one of the few defeats Christians inflicted upon them in the first hundred years after Mahomet's death. Gibbon is just an example of our 'buried phobia' of the jihad.

Personally, I think that we all owe a great deal to Charles Martel. I could be wrong. Hindsight isn't 20/20 and there's no way to know how the Sultan would have followed up a smashing victory over Martel. Would he have absorbed all of what is now France into the Arab Empire? Why the hell not? Isn't it a rich and valuable land? If he did not seek to take Martel's land and maybe Aquitaine as well, why did he go personally? (And get himself killed, much to my pleasure.) Perhaps he would not have wanted or would not have been able to conquer. But to state that because the Muslim historians say so, therefore Europe was in no danger, is astonishing hypocrisy. I am not arguing that Westerners don't distort history for their own gratification. Of course they do, humans do that. My problem with Karen is she doesn't accord Muslims their full measure of humanity, and admit that they tell lies to themselves about themselves

Saturday, June 10, 2006

While Europe Slept by Bruce Bawer

To read this book is to suffer near constant astonishment and anger. I usually could read a book like this in a couple days, two sittings, but instead I took eight days to read this one, because I just could not read an entire page without having to stop, either to wonder in astonishment or to try to calm my rage. The book is filled with such unbelievable and outrageous things, it's as if he had written that, if you went to Europe, you would find that there really was a Land of Oz, and there really was an Emerald City, and you could go there and have a chat with Dorothy if you wanted to.

It's difficult to enumerate the stunning facts of the book, so I'll just focus on the parts I found most angering. First, Karl Marx, Trotsky, Lenin, and all the other heroes of the Reds are still alive and well in Europe. Not in Eastern Europe, where they hate those guys, but in Western Europe! Hardly any Western European nation recognizes any limitations on the powers of the government. This leads to government intrusion into everything, accompanied by big government subsidies for nearly everything--most troubling, into media and religion. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are deeply compromised by government subsidy--not in the sense of forcing anyone to belong to any religion, but in preventing anything like a free and open debate about religion, or anything else. No one says anything that the government doesn't really want said, and the government especially does not want anyone to criticize anything that might lead to public disorder. Christianity can be assailed without much interference, since everyone knows that Christians mostly have lost faith and even the remaining faithful are not prone to violence. But any religious group that might be violently provoked has to be sheltered from public discussion, and since no religion turns to violence so quickly and happily as Islam, that means Islam, in all its aspects, is out of bounds for public criticism.

Second, Western Europeans are steadily commiting national suicide by refusing to breed. For every twenty adults, there needs to be twenty-one children, to keep the population steady, that is a birthrate of 2.1 per couple. Europeans don't manage anything near this. Sadly, Bawer buys into the theory that this means that Europe "needs" immigration. The more I hear this argument, and I've heard it from nearly everyone, Irshad Manji, Bruce Bawer, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and so forth, the more I feel like tearing my hair out. Why is it that the only solution to a declining population is to bring in a horde of people from the Third World? Isn't there another rather obvious solution to the problem? How about HAVING MORE CHILDREN? Plus what the hell is so horrible about decreasing our numbers? We have way too damn many people on Planet Earth already. We've hit 6.5 billion! That's six hundred thousand million, plus an extra five hundred million thrown in! We destroy species every year, chop down more forest, turn more land into desert, and all because we cannot control our breeding. Why is it that Third World nations cannot control their breeding? There's always this hue and cry about some nation or other--oh, they're poor, they're starving, we must send them aid--and then it turns out that their population expands four or five percent a year! If they're so poor and starving how the hell do they have so many children?

So, between immigration and falling birthrates, Europe is turning into a colony of Islam. Depending on how things go, sometime this century the ethnic French, Dutch, Swedes, and so forth will be minorities in their own countries. France will become North Algeria, the Netherlands will become North Morroco, Sweden will become North Somalia, Germany will become North Turkey, England will become North Pakistan. And the horrible fact is that these will become Islamic Shariah states, because the immigrants in no way are becoming Europeans. They do not integrate, they bring every ugly aspect of the cultures they fled along with them: forced marriages of teens, huge families, female submission and male domination, the regular beatings of women and children, honor murders of daughters, sisters, and wives, totalitarian religious law, female genital mutilation, the rule of armed thugs, religious supremacy, a murderous hatred of Jews, a complete disregard for the lives, property and persons of non-muslims, a fierce hatred and rejection of Western life, freedom, democracy, values, customs, secularism and so on and on. Chiefly, they openly look forward to the day when they have the power to sweep all this away and replace it with a "noble, moral Islamic state."

The question is, when that bright and happy day arrives, to what new land will their children flee?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Test Posting

This is a test posting

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Four Years On...

Four years since 9/11, four years in which I've tried to catch up and understand. It hasn't been a happy experience. I've read a lot of blogs, news, articles, books, and so forth. No one seems to really know what's going on. It's also difficult to get anything like rational, objective history or news. Everything seems to be either right-wing ranting, like Robert Spencer at Jihad Watch, or left-wing hand-wringing, apologetics and excuses, like Karen Armstrong, John Esposito, Juan Cole, and their ilk.

Here I'm going to post my ongoing, part-time, half-ass attempt to grok Islam, the Orient, terrorism. I'm just going to review what I read and see if it leads somewhere. I'll review some things I've already read and list what I'm going to read next...first up is What Went Wrong? by Bernard Lewis, which just happens to be the last thing I read and the first Lewis book I've read, though I did read an article of his about the roots of Islamic terror.

Some other books, omitting some authors whose names I don't recall just now:

Holy War by Karen Armstrong,

A Peace to End All Peace (subtitled: The Fall of The Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East) by David Fromkin

Islamic Government by Ruhollah Khomenei
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis 2
Lords of the Horizons, A History of the Ottoman Empire
A Short History of Byzantium
Why I Am Not A Muslim by Ibn Warraq
Among the Believers and Beyond Belief by V.S. Naipaul

Have a book or something worth reading? Leave it in the comments