By Hugh Fitzgerald
March 23, 2017
Mother Jones is a left-wing publication that, while it seldom – and possibly never — has had a kind word for Christianity in its history, turns out to be a stout defender of Islam. How the Left fell so hard for Islam is a puzzlement, for a more retrograde faith — misogynistic, supremacist, homophobic, protective of slavery, one that severely restricts freedom of speech and thought, and even what kinds of artistic expression are allowed (for example, forbidding paintings and statues of people and animals because of what, according to various “reliable” Hadiths, Muhammad said about “pictures”) — can scarcely be imagined. Violent and aggressive, this is a faith whose adherents have a 1400-year history of conquering many different lands and subjugating many different peoples. None of this appears to have made an impression on the mickey-mockers at Mother Jones.
The magazine’s latest screed on Islam, by one Bryan Schatz, comes to the stout defense of that inexplicably maligned faith. According to Schatz, those who call Islam a “political ideology” rather than a “religion” must be wrong, not because he has himself made the attempt to see if it makes sense to define Islam, at least in part, as a “political ideology,” but only because the people who do so are President Trump’s loyal retinue, and therefore, in the logic of Mother Jones, whatever they say perforce must be false; there is no need for further discussion. If Lt. General Flynn (still a Trump adviser in spirit, if no longer in letter) says that “I don’t see Islam as a religion. I see it as a political ideology that…will mask itself as a religion globally….it can hide behind and protect itself by what we call freedom of religion,” that can’t possibly be true, because the right-wing General Flynn has said it. When Steve Bannon says that Islam “is a political ideology,” criticizes former President Bush for calling Islam “a religion of peace,” and suggests that there is an “existential war” between Islam and the West — statements that many thoughtful people who have studied Islam, or grown up in Islam only to reject it, agree with Bannon about – Schatz again dismisses this, because Bannon said it. And Bannon is part of some “right-wing,” “alt-right,” “hate- speechifying Islamophobic group” — we know this must be because it keeps being repeated — and therefore no argument needs to be offered against what he maintains. The Mother Jones writer describes Bannon’s as an “us-versus-them” argument; Schatz would have it that the war originates with “us,” Islamophobes, hostile to peaceful Muslims, and not as Bannon & Co. would have it, originating with “them,” the hatred of Muslims for Unbelievers mandated by the Qur’an and Hadith. No arguments, of course, are necessary. It’s all ad hominem; if Bannon said it, his reputation having been comprehensively and deliberately sullied by his political enemies, it must be false.
Nor is Samuel Huntington, the mild-mannered Harvard academic who died in 2008, spared for his views that the contemporary world could best be understood as now divided not among countries but according to eight “civilizations,” which he identified as: (i) Western, (ii) Latin American, (iii) Islamic, (iv) Sinic (Chinese), (v) Hindu, (vi) Orthodox, (vii) Japanese, and (viii) African. Huntington claimed that the most severe antagonism, the one that merited being described as a “clash of civilizations,” was that between Islam and the West. Schatz gives Huntington’s views complicated views only a one-sentence summary, and dismisses them for no other reason than that they have been echoed by “conservative evangelicals” and “the far-right fringe.” If Huntington’s views deserve criticism, it would surely be not that he was too hard on Islam, but too soft, that is he failed to see that Islamic civilization permanently “clashed” not only with the West, but with all seven of the other “civilizations” he identified.
Bryan Schatz goes after, too, those outside the government and universities, that is, the extremist, right-wing, Christian clergy, who spew their anti-Islamic rhetoric as such fanatical Christians always do (for Mother Jones, Muslims, funnily enough, are never fanatical), such people as the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who called Muhammed a “demon-possessed pedophile.” Mother Jones carefully refrains from mentioning why Falwell might have described him thus – the fact of Muhammad’s consummation of his marriage to little Aisha when she was nine years old. Readers are thus left with the impression that Falwell pulls these preposterous charges out of thin air, without any conceivable basis in fact (but it’s a fact clearly spelled out in the most respected collection of Hadith, Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 5, Book 58, 34 and 36). Then there is Pat Robertson, another “right-wing” Christian, who claims that Islam is “not a religion…but a worldwide political movement bent on domination of the world.” Now where could Robertson have gotten that idea? Possibly from the Qur’an, with its more than one hundred “Jihad verses”? But Pat Robertson said it, and therefore it cannot possibly be true. And Schatz reminds us of Lt. General Jerry Boykin, who believes that Islam should not be given First Amendment protection, because “those following the dictates of the Quran are under an obligation to destroy our Constitution and replace it with Sharia law.” Is there any evidence that the Sharia and the American Constitution flatly contradict each other on such matters as freedom of speech and the establishment and free exercise clauses? Shouldn’t Schatz have looked into Boykin’s assertions to see if there might be something to them, rather than treat them as self-evidently absurd to all right-thinking readers of Mother Jones, and thus not worth discussing?
As for Robert Spencer, who doesn’t quite fit into any mold, and certainly not that of a Trump-camp-follower or of the “right-wing” Christian-clergy, although he has written 16 books and many thousands of postings at several online sites, always copiously quoting from the Qur’an and Hadith, he is identified only as “the director of the Islamophobic site Jihad Watch,” without Schatz adducing a single sentence of Spencer’s as evidence of that claimed “Islamophobia.”
What is wrong with declaring Islam to be a “political ideology” — that is, only that and nothing more — is that one opens oneself unnecessarily to criticism that can easily be avoided. Why not concede that Islam is both a religion and a political ideology? Concede, that is, that the Qur’an establishes rules for worship for Believers, the Five Pillars of Islam, describes the characteristics of Allah and his relation to Believers, and also provides rules for Jihad, for the war against the Unbelievers that cannot end until the complete submission of everyone to the rule of Islam is attained, so that Islam everywhere dominates and Muslims rule everywhere. Having conceded that Islam is partly a religion, as ordinarily understood, we are then in a stronger position to insist, more in sorrow, that “unfortunately, Islam is also a political ideology, an ideology of conquest, and we have a responsibility to recognize this, in order to better protect ourselves and our own civilization. And we must remember, too, that this conquest need not take place on a battlefield. There are many instruments of Jihad. Terrorism, propaganda, the money weapon, and now, the newest and most effective and least understood weapon to spread Islam, demographic conquest, which Muslims discuss quite openly, for they assume that Europe, having opened itself up to millions of Muslims (there are now more than 50 million Muslims in Europe), can do nothing, at this point, to halt or reverse that human tide. And this we cannot ignore.” The tone is different, one of reason but also justified anxiety, and the information conveyed important.
Mother Jones can keep on with its mindless campaign of loathing and ridicule for all those who are dismissed as “right-wing” extremists, crazed Christians, or people who, like Robert Spencer, are pigeonholed as members of a “cottage industry of Islamophobic misinformation.” But not once in this article (or in many others that the magazine has published on the same theme) is there any attempt to rebut what has been said about Islam. The complacent dismissal of those whom “no one” can possibly take seriously is wearing thin.
Could any fair-minded person, having read and studied the Qur’an , fail to see how much of it is devoted to warfare against the Unbelievers? How could such a person not notice that Jihad is the supreme duty of Muslims, and that once conquered by them, Unbelievers are left with only three choices: to be converted, or killed, or required to pay the onerous Jizyah? Isn’t the uncompromising division of the world into Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb a political matter? Isn’t the duty of Jihad against the Unbelievers part of a “political ideology”? Aren’t the rules of warfare, set down in the Qur’an and the Hadith, including even how the spoils of war are to be divided among the victorious Muslims (with Muhammad taking 20%) more properly described as being part of a “political ideology” and not part of what we think of as a religion? Doesn’t commanding Muslims to avoid taking Christians and Jews as friends, “for they are friends only with each other,” belong to a “worldwide political movement, bent on domination of the world,” as Pat Robertson said? Doesn’t Islam set out rules for the conquest of Unbelievers, describe what varied methods can be used to conquer them, and focus on Jihad through armed conflict, including acts which “strike terror” in the hearts of the Unbelievers? Isn’t it true that of the 200 times the word “Jihad” appears in the Sahih Bukhari (the preeminent Hadith collection), 98% of them refer to “Jihad” in the sense of armed conflict? Does that seem to you to be part of a “religion” or is it, rather, part of a blueprint for world conquest?
Finally, how long can Mother Jones get away with the transparent strategy of listing the names of those it vilifies as being “right-wing” or “Islamophobic” in order to spare itself the bother of coming to grips with the assertion that Islam is indeed, for the most part, a “political ideology”? What happens when the reality of Muslim behavior around the world leads more Unbelievers, by slow degrees, to see the wisdom of those who, based on their knowledge both of Islamic texts and 1400 years of Islamic history call Islam a “political ideology”? And they will do so because, as any Believer (and Unbeliever too) can understand, Islam sets out a plan for conquest and rule over Infidels everywhere, describes the ideal of the Islamic state, governed according to the Sharia, and details how this is all to be achieved.
Particularly of note is how writers in Mother Jones appear to believe that opposition to Islam is a new thing, the result of a whipped-up hysteria from these dangerous people now in the corridors of power who have been allowed to promote what Mother Jones calls “a crazy idea that went from the fringe to the White House.” Actually, ever since the 7th century, the real “crazy idea” in the West was that Islam is only a “religion,” that it is “peaceful,” and that it is absurd to be alarmed over its territorial conquests and increase in both numbers and power. We have, after all, 1400 years of history to examine, and in the long history of Islam’s encounter with the West, the “crazy idea” that Islam’s adherents were hellbent on conquest was shared by almost every thoughtful person. Statesmen, writers, philosophers, theologians, scholars of Islam — none of them to be dismissed as “right wing”– understood Islam in a no-nonsense, and therefore highly critical fashion. Many of their statements have been repeatedly posted on the web, but none of them make it to the pages of Mother Jones, for they eloquently undermine that magazine’s narrative.
There was Winston Churchill, who drew his conclusions from observing Muslims in the Sudan in 1898-99, when he was a war correspondent with the 21st Lancers as they fought the Mahdists:
How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries, improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live.
A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement, the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men.
Individual Muslims may show splendid qualities, but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome.
For the kind of people who write for, and read, Mother Jones, no doubt Churchill can be dismissed — too “right-wing,” too much of a “colonialist” to be taken to heart. After all, didn’t Obama remove Churchill’s bust from his office? Doesn’t that mean Churchill need not be heeded? But can they deny that “Mohammedanism” was and is now a “militant and proselytizing faith”? Or that in Islam women are in all respects inferior to men, if not always, pace Churchill, their “absolute property”? Slavery is part of Islam, as Churchill wrote truly, for slavery remains permanently sanctioned by Islam and by the practice of Muhammad, who owned and traded in slaves. Slavery was outlawed in Muslim countries very late, and only under Western pressure. There was no Muslim William Wilberforce. There are still Muslim clerics today, as well as members of the Islamic State, who maintain that slavery is part of Islam, and who are especially pleased to make sex slaves of the Yazidi and Christian girls (in Syria, in Iraq, in Nigeria) they captured.
But let’s leave Churchill’s vivid impressions of the “Mohammedans” aside, and turn to our most scholarly president, John Quincy Adams, and his 70-page study of Islam. Adams was an early opponent of slavery, who famously argued on behalf of rebel slaves before the Supreme Court in the Amistad case. John Quincy Adams studied Islam at length, and his conclusion, long before Bannon and Flynn and Pat Robertson, was eloquent, severe, and grim:
…he [Muhammad] declared undistinguishing and exterminating war, as a part of his religion, against all the rest of mankind…The precept of the Koran is, perpetual war against all who deny, that Mahomet is the prophet of God.
In the seventh century of the Christian era, a wandering Arab of the lineage of Hagar [i.e., Muhammad], the Egyptian, combining the powers of transcendent genius, with the preternatural energy of a fanatic, and the fraudulent spirit of an impostor, proclaimed himself as a messenger from Heaven, and spread desolation and delusion over an extensive portion of the earth. Adopting from the sublime conception of the Mosaic law, the doctrine of one omnipotent God; he connected indissolubly with it, the audacious falsehood, that he was himself his prophet and apostle. Adopting from the new Revelation of Jesus, the faith and hope of immortal life, and of future retribution, he humbled it to the dust by adapting all the rewards and sanctions of his religion to the gratification of the sexual passion. He poisoned the sources of human felicity at the fountain, by degrading the condition of the female sex, and the allowance of polygamy; and he declared undistinguishing and exterminating war, as a part of his religion, against all the rest of mankind. THE ESSENCE OF HIS DOCTRINE WAS VIOLENCE AND LUST: TO EXALT THE BRUTAL OVER THE SPIRITUAL PART OF HUMAN NATURE [Adam’s capital letters]….Between these two religions, thus contrasted in their characters, a war of twelve hundred years has already raged. The war is yet flagrant…While the merciless and dissolute dogmas of the false prophet shall furnish motives to human action, there can never be peace upon earth, and good will towards men.
As the essential principle of his faith is the subjugation of others by the sword; it is only by force, that his false doctrines can be dispelled, and his power annihilated. They [The Russians] have been from time immemorial, in a state of almost perpetual war with the Tatars, and with their successors, the Ottoman conquerors of Constantinople. It were an idle waste of time to trace the causes of each renewal of hostilities, during a succession of several centuries. The precept of the Koran is, perpetual war against all who deny, that Mahomet is the prophet of God. The vanquished may purchase their lives, by the payment of tribute; the victorious may be appeased by a false and delusive promise of peace; and the faithful follower of the prophet, may submit to the imperious necessities of defeat: but the command to propagate the Moslem creed by the sword is always obligatory, when it can be made effective. The commands of the prophet may be performed alike, by fraud, or by force. Of Mahometan good faith, we have had memorable examples ourselves. When our gallant [Stephen] Decatur ref had chastised the pirate of Algiers, till he was ready to renounce his claim of tribute from the United States, he signed a treaty to that effect: but the treaty was drawn up in the Arabic language, as well as in our own; and our negotiators, unacquainted with the language of the Koran, signed the copies of the treaty, in both languages, not imagining that there was any difference between them. Within a year the Dey demands, under penalty of the renewal of the war, an indemnity in money for the frigate taken by Decatur; our Consul demands the foundation of this pretension; and the Arabic copy of the treaty, signed by himself is produced, with an article stipulating the indemnity, foisted into it, in direct opposition to the treaty as it had been concluded. The arrival of Chauncey, with a squadron before Algiers, silenced the fraudulent claim of the Dey, and he signed a new treaty in which it was abandoned; but he disdained to conceal his intentions; my power, said he, has been wrested from my hands; draw ye the treaty at your pleasure, and I will sign it; but beware of the moment, when I shall recover my power, for with that moment, your treaty shall be waste paper. He avowed what they always practised, and would without scruple have practised himself. Such is the spirit, which governs the hearts of men, to whom treachery and violence are taught as principles of religion.
That was John Quincy Adams, more severe on Islam than any of those accused by Mother Jones of “Islamophobia.” Has Mother Jones ever alluded to what that great liberal, and hero of the Amistad case, thought of Islam? Shouldn’t a decent respect for the opinions of mankind include the opinions of those who lived in the intelligent past? Were the texts and teachings of Islam in 1830 any different from its texts and teachings today?
Then there is Jefferson, who had dealings with those envoys of North African Muslims known to us as the Barbary Pirates, recording the words of Tripoli’s envoy to London:
In reference to the Islamic slave trade of Americans and Europeans by the Barbary states, Jefferson asked Tripoli’s envoy to London, Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdrahaman, by what right he extorted money and took slaves in this way. He answered:
The ambassador answered us that [the right] was founded on the Laws of the Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have answered their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.
And while Mother Jones seems to believe that it is fanatical Christians who are the most anti-Islam, it is that famous skeptic and freethinker, David Hume, an enemy to all organized religion, regarded by most of his contemporaries as an atheist and anti-Christian, who even harsher in his verdict on Islam than any falwell or robertson. To wit:
The admirers and followers of the Alcoran insist on the excellent moral precepts interspersed through that wild and absurd performance. But it is to be supposed, that the Arabic words, which correspond to the English, equity, justice, temperance, meekness, charity were such as, from the constant use of that tongue, must always be taken in a good sense; and it would have argued the greatest ignorance, not of morals, but of language, to have mentioned them with any epithets, besides those of applause and approbation. But would we know, whether the pretended prophet had really attained a just sentiment of morals? Let us attend to his narration; and we shall soon find, that he bestows praise on such instances of treachery, inhumanity, cruelty, revenge, bigotry, as are utterly incompatible with civilized society. No steady rule of right seems there to be attended to; and every action is blamed or praised, so far only as it is beneficial or hurtful to the true believers.
Another famous scoffer at Christianity, Mark Twain, thought even less of Islam:
When I, a thoughtful and unblessed Presbyterian, examine the Koran, I know that beyond any question every Mohammedan is insane; not in all things, but in religious matters.
George Bernard Shaw, who took whacks at both Islam and Christianity, clearly found Islam the more disturbing of the two:
Islam is very different [from Christianity], being ferociously intolerant. What I may call Manifold Monotheism becomes in the minds of very simple folk an absurdly polytheistic idolatry, just as European peasants not only worship Saints and the Virgin as Gods, but will fight fanatically for their faith in the ugly little black doll who is the Virgin of their own Church against the black doll of the next village. When the Arabs had run this sort of idolatry to such extremes [that] they did this without black dolls and worshipped any stone that looked funny, Mahomet rose up at the risk of his life and insulted the stones shockingly, declaring that there is only one God, Allah, the glorious, the great… And there was to be no nonsense about toleration.
And then there is Bertrand Russell, whom one would have thought Mother Jones would approve of, for writing Why I Am Not A Christian and for setting up a War Crimes Tribunal, with America intended to be in the dock for the war in Vietnam, and for his general latter-day left-wing take on the world. But they don’t care, or dare, to quote Russell on Islam:
Among religions, Bolshevism is to be reckoned with Mohammedanism rather than with Christianity and Buddhism. Christianity and Buddhism are primarily personal religions, with mystical doctrines and a love of contemplation. Mohammedanism and Bolshevism are practical, social, unspiritual, concerned to win the empire of the world.
Immediately after his [Muhammed’s] death the conquests began, and they proceeded with rapidity… Westward expansion (except in Sicily and Southern Italy) was brought to a standstill by the defeat of the Mohammedans at the battle of Tours in 732, just one hundred years after the death of the Prophet… It was the duty of the faithful to conquer as much of the world as possible for Islam… The first conquests of the Arabs began as mere raids for plunder, and only turned into permanent occupation after experience has shown the weakness of the enemy… The Arabs, although they conquered a great part of the world in the name of a new religion were not a very religious race; the motive of their conquests was plunder and wealth rather than religion.
Does this differ in any essential way from what Bannon or Flynn or Robertson or Falwell say today?
Then there is Oriana Fallaci. Even Mother Jones doesn’t dare to call her “right-wing.” She was for forty years the most famous left-wing journalist in Italy. As a teenager, she was in the anti-fascist resistance, which at the time also meant risking her life trying to prevent the Nazis from blowing up historic sites in Florence (they blew up all the bridges over the Arno – the Ponte Vecchio alone was spared). At seventeen she became a journalist. She spent time with the Viet Cong, and denounced the American war in Vietnam. She had a long-term lover, Alexandros Panagoulis, who was a one-man resistance movement against the Greek dictator, Colonel Papadopoulos. He died – was likely murdered — in a “road accident.” Fallaci wrote a book about Panagoulis, Un Uomo. She spent a lot of time reporting on Muslims in the Middle East, writing a book on women in Islam, The Useless Sex. She spent time with a PLO squad, coming under Israeli fire, and interviewed Arafat, Khomeini, and Qaddafi, among others. She came to detest, through living among and observing Muslims, the ideology of Islam and those who took it to heart. She was particularly disturbed as she saw Muslims entering and settling in Italy and especially in her beloved Tuscany, and busily building mosques, even in Colle Val d’Elsa, that most Tuscan of little hill towns between Florence and Siena.
She vividly describes how Muslim migrants would urinate and defecate on artistic treasures in Florence, including the celebrated bronze doors at the Baptistery – the “Gates of Heaven” by Lorenzo Ghiberti. Right after 9/11, Fallaci wrote a furious article about the behavior of Muslims in the West; it took up four full pages in the Corriere della Sera; she then turned it into a book, The Rage and the Pride, a full-bore attack on Islam and Muslims that does not mince words, and that has sold millions of copies. This biographical note is meant to show that it is perfectly possible to be politically on the left all of one’s life and also be furiously anti-Islam, a possibility which the writers for Mother Jones seem incapable of grasping. Perhaps if they read Oriana Fallaci, and saw how she out-bannons Bannon, or studied John Quincy Adams, who out-falwells Falwell, they might be persuaded to themselves read the Qur’an and Hadith with attention, to learn something of the history of Islamic conquest, and to treat with respect the views of so many of those in the intelligent past, such as Hume and Russell, Churchill and Shaw, Pascal and Twain, Montesquieu and Schopenhauer, who had nothing good to say about Islam. And one might ask the Mother Jones writers to take a look at the studied verdict on Islam of so many other distinguished students of Islam from the past. They might start here.
It would be interesting to see if the Mother Jones writers can come up with list of notable non-Muslims who were favorably impressed with Islam. How long and impressive would such a list be? Of course we all know one person who was deeply impressed by Islam. But I’m not sure Adolf Hitler ought to be used as a reference. And what did those who admired aspects Islam find to admire beyond the fanatical faith of the Believers that made them so willing to die? Try yourself to find anyone who praises Islam for something else.
And ask yourself, too, in the world today, which regime is now the most ferociously anti-Islam of all? It turns out to be Communist China, where worry over the Muslims in Xinjiang has led the Communist authorities in Beijing to impose a series of anti-Muslim measures much stronger than anything that has been done in the West. The Communist Chinese require that all restaurants remain open during Ramadan, and that fasting during Ramadan be banned. The same government requires that women be banned from wearing the burqa in public, and men with long beards prohibited from riding buses, the stated reason being that explosives and other weapons could be concealed behind burqas or beards. Muslim websites are unceremoniously removed from the Internet by the Chinese authorities. The Chinese leaders have denounced the Dalai Lama because he called for entering into a dialogue with the Islamic State. The Communist Chinese do not treat the Dalai Lama, whose remarks on Islam have become increasingly bizarre, with the automatic respect he gets, but no longer deserves, in the West. And in the last three months of 2016, the Chinese government demolished 5000 mosques, or 70% of those originally standing in Xinjiang. The stated reason was that of “public safety,” that is, the mosques were supposedly so dilapidated that they might collapse. No one in Xinjiang was fooled.
So what does Mother Jones think of the Chinese Communist view of Islam? Are the boys in Beijing just too “right-wing” and “alt-right” for the magazine’s taste? Is that what explains why the Chinese now prevent Ramadan from being celebrated, or why they recently demolished 5000 mosques in Xinjiang? Is it possible the Chinese know something about Islam, and the menace its adherents presents to Unbelievers everywhere, that doesn’t quite fit the world view of the mickey-mockers at Mother Jones?