Prof. Paul Eidelberg
Inasmuch as the title of this article contains the word “or,” I will not say another word about Fort Hood.
I’ve studied the Quran and an awful lot of books about Islam, many by prominent authors—French, English, German, American, Israeli, Hindu, and yes, Muslim. But I must confess, at the risk of appearing arrogant, that despite the excellence of these books, that contain a great deal of obscurantism, including those of the doyen of Islamic studies, Bernard Lewis, seven of whose works are included in my “Islamic library.” I see in many of these scholarly works the fear of giving offense to a so-called monotheistic religion.
Scholars are not supposed to say unflattering things about people’s religion—especially today about Islam. Candor could lead to law suits, imprisonment for a “hate crime,” and even untimely death. Witness Theo van Gogh.
Of course, there are exceptions in this era of “political correctness,” such as Robert Spencer (The Truth about Muhammad) and Serge Trifkovic (The Sword of the Prophet). Add the gallant Ayan Hirsi Ali, who was raised in a strict Muslim family, and who is under constant threat. Her book Infidel reveals some unpleasant truths about Islam.
But what about scholars who wrote during and before the nineteenth century, hence before the resurgence of Islam and the current worldwide fear of what guarded commentators misleadingly but conveniently call “Islamism,” or “radical Islam,” or “Islamic fundamentalism?" Consider what the following forthright commentators say about Islam:
● The eminent English orientalist Sir William Muir (1819-1905): “The sword of Muhammad and the Quran are the most fatal enemies of civilization, liberty, and truth which the world has yet known.”
● The world-renowned Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859): “I studied the Quran a great deal. I came away from that study with the conviction that by and large there have been few religions in the world as deadly to men as that of Muhammad. So far as I can see, it is the principal cause of the decadence so visible today in the Muslim world and, though less absurd than the polytheism of old, its social and political tendencies are in my opinion more to be feared, and I therefore regard it as a form of decadence rather than a form of progress in relation to paganism itself.”
● The distinguished French historian and philologist Ernest Renan (1823-1892): “Muslims are the first victims of Islam. Many times I have observed in my travels in the Orient, that fanaticism comes from a small number of dangerous men who maintain others in the practice of religion by terror. To liberate the Muslim from his religion is the best service that one can render him.”
Finally, the memorable 14th century historian Ibn Khaldun, who was more Greek than Muslim: “Arabs are people whose savagery has become their character and nature.”
Strange as it may seem, insight into Islam can be elicited from C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature, which makes no mention of Islam. Rather, Lewis writes about Medieval Christianity, which calls to mind the Quran:
Savage beliefs are thought to be the spontaneous response of a human group to its environment, a response made principally by the imagination. They exemplify what some writers call pre-logical thinking. They are closely bound up with the communal life of the group. What we should describe as political, military, and agricultural operations are not easily distinguished from rituals; ritual and belief beget and support one another….
Sometimes, when a community is comparatively homogeneous and over a long period, such a system of belief can continue, of course with development, long after material culture has progressed far beyond the level of savagery. It may then begin to turn into something more ethical, more philosophical, even more scientific; but there will be uninterrupted continuity between this and its savage beginnings.
Now ponder Israel’s first pre-state Chief Rabbi, Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook (1865-1935), who was also well-versed in philosophy. Rabbi Kook maintained that Israel alone affirms “undiluted monotheism.” He admits, of course, that there are in the gentile world pious men, philosophers, men of God, but there is not a nation—besides Israel—whose soul, whose way of life, whose raison d’etre, signifies the Divine Idea in the world.
Rabbi Kook also maintained that unlike Judaism, gentile religions remain locked in a persistent struggle with indigenous cultures. These religions, he sees, were imposed on pagan nations which often revert to barbarism. Note the frequent eruption of fratricidal wars of Arab-Islamic states. Note, too, that Christian Europe has been periodically drenched in rivers of blood.
I think the preceding goes a long way to explaining not only the title of this article, but also the superficiality and unrealism of politicians and political analysts who, out of ignorance of history and culture, offer solutions to deeply rooted civilizational conflicts.
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