Karen Armstrong Answers Right Wing Hatred Towards Muslims

Being on a number of conservative mailing lists is helpful for background information in writing posts here, but it also means receiving a steady flow of smears of Muslims, as conservatives have attempted to vilify them all after 9/11. Karen Armstrong, a former nun who has written extensively on religion, reviews a book I regularly receive email attempting to sell, The Truth about Muhammad, by Robert Spencer, in Financial Times:

Spencer has studied Islam for 20 years, largely, it seems, to prove that it is an evil, inherently violent religion. He is a hero of the American right and author of the US bestseller The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam. Like any book written in hatred, his new work is a depressing read. Spencer makes no attempt to explain the historical, political, economic and spiritual circumstances of 7th-century Arabia, without which it is impossible to understand the complexities of Muhammad’s life. Consequently he makes basic and bad mistakes of fact. Even more damaging, he deliberately manipulates the evidence.

The traditions of any religion are multifarious. It is easy, therefore, to quote so selectively that the main thrust of the faith is distorted. But Spencer is not interested in balance. He picks out only those aspects of Islamic tradition that support his thesis. For example, he cites only passages from the Koran that are hostile to Jews and Christians and does not mention the numerous verses that insist on the continuity of Islam with the People of the Book: ”Say to them: We believe what you believe; your God and our God is one.”

Islam has a far better record than either Christianity or Judaism of appreciating other faiths. In Muslim Spain, relations between the three religions of Abraham were uniquely harmonious in medieval Europe. The Christian Byzantines had forbidden Jews from residing in Jerusalem, but when Caliph Umar conquered the city in AD638, he invited them to return and was hailed as the precursor of the Messiah. Spencer doesn’t refer to this. Jewish-Muslim relations certainly have declined as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but this departs from centuries of peaceful and often positive co-existence. When discussing Muhammad’s war with Mecca, Spencer never cites the Koran’s condemnation of all warfare as an ”awesome evil”, its prohibition of aggression or its insistence that only self-defence justifies armed conflict. He ignores the Koranic emphasis on the primacy of forgiveness and peaceful negotiation: the second the enemy asks for peace, Muslims must lay down their arms and accept any terms offered, however disadvantageous. There is no mention of Muhammad’s non-violent campaign that ended the conflict.

People would be offended by an account of Judaism that dwelled exclusively on Joshua’s massacres and never mentioned Rabbi Hillel’s Golden Rule, or a description of Christianity based on the bellicose Book of Revelation that failed to cite the Sermon on the Mount. But the widespread ignorance about Islam in the west makes many vulnerable to Spencer’s polemic; he is telling them what they are predisposed to hear. His book is a gift to extremists who can use it to ”prove” to those Muslims who have been alienated by events in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq that the west is incurably hostile to their faith.

Be Sociable, Share!

16 Comments

  1. 1
    Terry Ott says:

    I just read Armstrong’s article and Spencer’s reply, openmindedly and with absolutely no axe to grind. All I care about is greater understanding, and I’m too rational and analytical (some say) for my own good.

    Spencer wins. Armstrong appears to have some good points at first, but they are comprehensively demolished by Spencer’s rebuttal, as much as I wish and hope Armstrong is more correct.

    What would help me come over to Armstrong’s point of view, more than any intellectual analysis, is this: An ongoing, vocal, and heartfelt disowning of the tactics of Islamist extremists by those so-called “moderate” or “modern” Muslims. Where ARE these folks’ pronouncements? Surely such leaders and their followers must exist, but if so they seem so quiet and invisible. Or am I just not tuned in?

  2. 2
    Jimmy the Dhimmi says:

    “It is easy, therefore, to quote so selectively that the main thrust of the faith is distorted. But Spencer is not interested in balance. He picks out only those aspects of Islamic tradition that support his thesis.”
    -Karen Armstrong.

    I would respond to this by quoting Mark steyn: “it’s a good basic axiom that if you take a quart of ice-cream and a quart of dog feces and mix ‘em together the result will taste more like the latter than the former.

    I wonder if Ms. Armstrong is a supporter of Hamas because they build schools and clinics, as well as murder innocent Jews. Balance.

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:

    Terry,

    Here in the US we see very little of other countries beyond the headlines. From time to time I have seen documentaries on the middle east which does interview people who are concerned about Muslim fundamentalism. These people seem quite a lot like people here, and therefore they don’t make exciting stories for the bulk of the media.

    Unfortunately, George Bush’s foreign policy has also made it more difficult for the moderate Muslims to be heard, and has radicalized many. Bush’s foreign policy promotes the very problems conservatives warn against.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    Jimmy,

    Your comment is an excellent example of the bigotry seen by the right wingers in this country, who are not much better than the Muslim fundamentalists you attack. I think the main reason you hate them is that on some level of your reptilian brains you realize that you really are one and the same and are jealous of the competition.

  5. 5
    Terry Ott says:

    I’m sure the US foreign policy in recent years has inflamed Muslim radicalism, as you say.

    I’m not buying the idea that reasonable/moderate/progressive (pick one) Muslims haven’t much of a voice because of media indifference. Two reasons for saying that:

    1. There are so many ways to “get that word out” even IF the major media organizations aren’t tuned in. Those of us with some intellectual curiosity and the time to stay updated about the world’s affairs are no longer highly dependent on the traditional channels.

    2. That said, it’s illogical to me that “the media” (in general) would ignore voices of moderation and conciliatory talk from the Muslim world. Bush & Company have tried to build up a perception we’re struggling for our very existence — the old “fight ’em there so we don’t have to fight ’em on Main St in the US heartland” stuff. And major media is NOT in his corner, philosophically or politically, and hasn’t been for a long time. So it wouldn’t it stand to reason that if there were a sustained (and potentially powerful) moderate voice in the Muslim world saying, “can’t we all just get along?”, the media here would be ALL OVER that as a way to deflate a main message from the administration that “they only respect strong shows of force”. Wouldn’t the US politicians who are highly oriented toward conciliation, coexistence, etc., be calling attention to that?

    Are you suggesting otherwise? Do you think that “60 Minutes” or CNN (for example) or NPR/BBC would shy away from covering the emergence of a “Muslims For Mutual Religious Moderance,Tolerance and Respect” movement? If there is such a voice, they are damned poor at PR.

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:

    Terry,

    This isn’t a question of PR or of getting the word out. This is about the daily reality in the middle east. For the most part, the struggle in the middle east isn’t about getting air time on the US media or even addressing this from an American perspective at all. Immediatley after 9/11 there was considerable support from moderate Muslims for the US and condemnation of the attack, and these were widely covered in the US media. The attack on Iraq shut down the pro-US talk, but the same struggle between radical and more moderate forces still persists.

    These differences are covered by the media, but you have to look behind sources such as CNN which both only deals with the headlines and which would also be far less likely to cover such a story which contradicts their conservative views. Such reports are heard on NPR and the BBC when they get into lengthy background stories, but otherwise the broadcast media rarely gets into such topics. I did see an excellent interview with a Syrian doctor last week which provided an interesting exception to the more prominent aspect of the report on the trend towards the radicals.

    For the most part it is necessary to read to the ends of newspaper articles in the better papers, in foreign newspapers, and magazines which provide more depth than the daily headlines. The March issue of Foreign Affairs had an article on moderate Muslims, and I’ve seen many other articles. More frequently such information isn’t in separate articles but in the lengthier articles which get into the background and present a balanced view.

    While most of the time this isn’t seen as “US News” by the media, there was the Secular Muslim summit held last month which did receive coverage by the US media. Once again, you had to look behind the headlines to read about this.

    If you are looking at who has the best PR and who makes the most noise, this will come from the radicals themselves, and from conservatives who promote just one side of the issue. If you look at it in terms of a debate, the conservatives will appear to win as they will scream the loudist and twist the facts as needed. This may appear to be the winning side in the debate, but if you are interested in the facts rather tha making political points, more balanced articles by people like Karen Armstrong are far more valuable.

    For the most part, the media has little on moderates because of their overall superficial coverage of international affairs. To the degree that this is influenced by media bias, the media remains quite conservtive and generally repeats Republican talking points on the “war on terror.”

    The media has become more critical of Bush on Iraq, but this works both ways on that issue. After the claims about WMD and a connection between al Qaeda and Iraq were no longer viable to justify the war, Bush’s argument has centered on spreading democracy in the middle east. He is going about it the wrong way, and has actually hurt the cause of spreading democracy, but there is validity to the overall concept. Bush couldn’t talk of spreading democracy if the issue were decided and they were all radicals and there aren’t any moderates to win over. There’s no point in staying in Iraq to build a government if they are all radicals and there are are no moderates to work with.

  7. 7
    Ron Chusid says:

    Here’s another twist on a push to reduce extremism:

    The Saudis are paying fundamentalists to change their ways. (It would also be nice if they would stop funding which goes to terrorist groops.)

  8. 8
    Ron Chusid says:

    We also have this protest against Islamic rule being reported in Turkey today.

    If you look, reports are all over which provide a more complex view than the conservative idea that all Muslims are radical fundamentalists. While this is too complex a story to get major coverage in the US media, there is news being reported which shows that the issue is far from being as black and white as conservatives portray it.

  9. 9
    Jimmy the Dhimmi says:

    Ron Chusid said:
    Your comment is an excellent example of the bigotry seen by the right wingers in this country, who are not much better than the Muslim fundamentalists you attack. I think the main reason you hate them is that on some level of your reptilian brains you realize that you really are one and the same and are jealous of the competition.

    So you don’t hate Muslim Fundamentalists?

    Let me ask you this: Do the actions of Biologists radicalize evangelical Christians into believing in 6-day creation, and teaching it in public schools? Imagine you are a Muslim as devoted to a fundamentalist interpretation of your Holy Scriptures as creationsits are to the Book of Genesis. Now go read Chapters 5 and 9 in the Koran. You will find your “root cause” there.

  10. 10
    Ron Chusid says:

    I never said I didn’t hate Muslim fundamentalists. I’m just noting one of the reasons there is so much hatred expressed by the right, which often extends beyond the violent extremists to all Muslims. You appear to be far more interested in playing the conservative game of misquotation and twisting the facts to “prove” your point than to engage in a real search for the truth. Such adherence to ideology over an honest look at the truth is one of the ways in  which the right wing in this country is similar, even if less violent, than the Muslim fundamentalists they attack.

    Fundamentalist Christians and Muslims both have extreme ideas which contradict science. There are also Christians and Muslims who are able to find ways to accept both science and religion. If we want to quote from the Koran to claim all Muslims are evil radicals, we could play the same game and quote many lines of the Bible. Both the Koran and the Bible can be used to justify quite different things, and it is common in all religions for many people to accept some teachings and ignore others.

  11. 11
    Ron Chusid says:

    Looks like I neglected to note the underlying reason for my low opinion of Jimmy following  his first comment. He ignores what Armstrong is really saying and throws out a nonsense line: “I wonder if Ms. Armstrong is a supporter of Hamas because they build schools and clinics, as well as murder innocent Jews. Balance.”

    This totally misrepesents what Armstrong has written. If you actually look at Karen Armstrong’s writings, she criticizes Hamas as committing “horrific attacks,” committing “further atrocities,” describes them as “virulently opposed the secularist ideology of the PLO, in order to undermine Arafat,” and  calls terrorists “wicked and abhorrent.” (And no, Jimmy, before you play your usual games, this does not say she is supporting Arafat.)

    Of course if you read the right wing blogs, or listen to people like Jimmy, she is a supporter of Hamas since they cannot handle an analysis which looks at causes of terrorism beyond the simplistic “they hate us for our freedoms.”

    Researching the causes of a problem is a necessary step to resolve the problem. Republicans who benefit from a state of perpetual warfare have no interest in such an analysis.

  12. 12
    Jimmy the Dhimmi says:

    …there is so much hatred expressed by the right, which often extends beyond the violent extremists to all Muslims.

    Is there really? I honestly don’t see it. I see hatred of Islam and Mohammad and the Koran, but I dont see it extended to all Muslims. Perhaps give an example.

    …You appear to be far more interested in playing the conservative game of misquotation and twisting the facts to “prove” your point than to engage in a real search for the truth

    How did I misquote you?

    …which the right wing in this country is similar, even if less violent, than the Muslim fundamentalists they attack.”

    As I see it, the major problem is that Muslim fundamentalists are violent. Also, I don’t see the “right wing” promoting the 7th century barbarity of Mohammad’s Laws. To quote the liberal, gay activist and author Bruce Bower, “Pat Robertson just wanted the government to not recognize my marraige. The Imams wanted to drop a stone wall on me.” Do you see those positions as morally equivalent?

    …If we want to quote from the Koran to claim all Muslims are evil radicals, we could play the same game and quote many lines of the Bible.

    I don’t want to do that, and I don’t know of anyone else on the “right wing” who does. Who is the one building straw men here?

    ..the Bible can be used to justify quite different things, and it is common in all religions for many people to accept some teachings and ignore others.

    I agree. Fortunately, the New Testament is much more benign than the Koran, and every school of mainstream Judaic thought has institutionalized a moderate and benign interpretation of Mosaic Law and the Tora. Unfortunately, every school of Islamic jurisprudence, every mufti of every major Islamic institution in the Muslim world, every Ayatolla, and millions of Muslims worldwide today advocate a strict, literal interpretation of the Koran. Don’t believe me? Well, it turns out that nearly 2/3 of all Muslims in Islamic countries desire the return of the caliphate with strict enforcement of traditional sharia law. I’d say this environment does more to radicalize Muslims and lead to violence than anything Bush can do in 8 years.

    …Of course if you read the right wing blogs, or listen to people like Jimmy, she is a supporter of Hamas

    You have a horrible sense for detecting sarcasm.

    …Researching the causes of a problem is a necessary step to resolve the problem.

    Agreed. Since we seem to have gone off-track regarding the origins of this post, which is the life of Mohammad, I will give you a few items for you to research: Abu Afak, Asma bin Marwan, Aisha, Khybar oasis, Banu Qurayza, Kinana bin al-Rabi. Do some research on these items, and then tell me if you agree with Karen Armstrong – that Mohammad is a “Prophet for Our Time.”

  13. 13
    Ron Chusid says:

    Just get on the mailing list from Human Events and other conservative publicantions to see this hatred.

    You took a comment out of context to claim something totally different was being said.

    It is not building straw men to say that lines can be taken from the Bible which could make it look as bad as the Koran when the worst from it is also quoted.

    The violence of the fundamentalists does meske them worse than the right wing, but religious right does far more than just fail to recognize gay marriage. Religious fundamentalism in this country are attempting to restrict scientific research and restrict what could be taught in the schools. Religious beliefs are used to intrude in individual’s lives in areas including birth control, abortion rights, and end of life decisions. Failure to recognize gay marriage leads to legal complications for those involved. Both Bush and Rumsfeld have claimed inspiration from God to go to war. At present the religious right is not violent in the sense that the Islamic fundamentalists are, but they have been at times in history. I also suspect that, if there power here is not checked, they will go to greater lengths to impose their views in this country.

    There are many sources for radicalism. While not the only source, both Saudi and Israeli studies have shown a considerable effect at radicalization as a consequence of the war.

    Rather than worrying about a single phrase such as “Prophet for out time” which can be taken in many ways, it is preferable to look at what she actually writes in the body. Titles are intended to grab attention, not to provide a full explanation of her views.

  14. 14
    Jimmy the Dhimmi says:

    It is building staw men when you claim that I believe “all Muslims are evil radicals.”

    Well, I see where this is going. At least you admit that Muslim fundamentalism is worse. I assume thats because a literal interpretation of the Koran is worse than a literal interpretation of the Bible.

    You keep calling me “right wing;” how do you know what my positions are on social welfare programs, public health care, abortion rights, gun control, ect… Why is criticsm of Islam a left/right issue? This blog is about liberal values, do you really think Mohammad was a liberal, or that Sharia law is left-wing? I suggest you use your basic cynicism of religion and church/state issues and appy it to Islam as well. Thats what I did after 9/11 when I wanted to learn what all this “Jihad” stuff was about.

    And please don’t be afraid of learning the truth about the life of Mohammad, Just google up those names I dropped in my previous comment. If anything, it makes for a fascinating read. You uphold “enlightened thought,” well, I respectfully ask that you get to know the other side of this Mohammad debate and become properly enlightened.

  15. 15
    Ron Chusid says:

    Jimmy,

    I do not need you to become “properly enlightened” as to the problems with Mohammad, and especially with the more fanatic supporters. I am quite aware of both sides of this issue. The point here is that there is more than one side to this, as opposed to the way Muslims are portrayed by the right.

    It is no strawman to say that some on the right portray all Muslims as evil radicals. While I could be mistaken about you presonally, you certainly gave the impression of being one of them by the way you mischaractrized Armstrong’s beliefs (regardless of whether you call it sarcasm).

    Criticsim of Islam is not a left/right issue. The generalized hatred of Muslims, and lumping them all together, often expressed by the right is a left/right issue.

  16. 16
    Amy Ruiz says:

    » Karen Armstrong Answers Right Wing Hatred Towards Muslims… http://tinyurl.com/yfbxqrc

Leave a comment