Islam, Postmodernism, and Political Correctness
One of the most important tools humanity needs right now is frank speech about Islam. Unfortunately, in journalism, on campuses, and in politics, politically-correct speech codes demonize any analysis of Islam as "Islamophobia." Speech taboos are obeyed across a wide spectrum. In September, 2001, after the 9-11 attacks, President George Bush stated, "Islam is peace." In 2007, his fellow officers declined to take effective action against U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan, even after he exhibited to them a PowerPoint presentation that cited the Koran to predict and support his subsequent, 2009 shooting of soldiers at Fort Hood. As the Christian Science Monitor put it, the Army may have chosen to "ignore red flags out of political correctness." Hollywood is also wary. The 2014 Liam Neeson film Non-Stop depicts an attempt to hijack an airplane. A Muslim is suspected. In fact he is kindly. The real villain is a 9-11 family member and a member of the U.S. military.
The avoidance of analysis of Islam contrasts sharply with the excoriation accorded Christianity, Israel, and Western Civilization. The Catholic Church sex abuse crisis has received saturation coverage. Distinguished history professor Philip Jenkins, in a book published by Oxford University Press, claims that media coverage distorts the crisis and contributes to anti-Catholic bigotry. Israel's very right to exist is questioned and, in high profile media, at times denied. Western Civilization is depicted as imperialist, racist, and Orientalist. This politically-correct selective outrage that lambastes the Judeo-Christian tradition and Western Civilization while emphasizing positive images of Muslims only serves further to inoculate Islam from critique.
Selective outrage does not stand alone. Politically-correct speech codes consistently deploy three more tactics: cultural relativism, postmodern denial of objective definitions of terms, and the threat of mass hysteria.
The first tactic used to suppress speech about Islam, cultural relativism, has an honorable history. One hundred years ago, scientific racism dominated American elite thought. Inspired by Charles Darwin, American scientific racists like Madison Grant applied a hierarchy to human beings. Some cultures, those of hunter gatherers and peasants, were low and worthless; others were high and to be valued. Educated, atheist Anglo-Saxon males occupied the top of the human pyramid of value.
Franz Boas, the Father of American Anthropology, became a professor at Columbia University in 1896. Spurred by his own experience of anti-Semitism, Boas was determined to overturn scientific racism. Boas argued for the worth of all cultures.
The head-to-head confrontation between scientific racist Madison Grant and cultural relativist Franz Boas had high impact. Adolf Hitler declared that Grant's 1916 book, The Passing of the Great Race, was his "bible." Franz Boas died of a heart attack while speaking against Nazism. Today all American schoolchildren, whether they have heard of Franz Boas or not, are indoctrinated to repeat that to so much as question whether any aspect of American culture might be superior to any aspect of a Non-Western culture is racist and taboo. Even brilliant ideas from great men rot when they pass from the vivifying circulation of vigorous debate into the cloying closet of unquestioned dogma.
Objective realities do mark Islam as different from other religions. Among the five major world faiths, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, Islam is unique in its doctrine of jihad, stated clearly in this hadith, attributed to Mohammed: "I have been ordered to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah's Apostle, and offer the prayers perfectly and give the obligatory charity, so if they perform that, then they save their lives and property from me." This hadith is echoed by over a hundred jihad verses in the Koran, a book that is a fraction of the size of the Bible.
Jihad is established not only in Islamic texts. It is exemplified by action. Mohammed ordered at least forty-three assassinations and participated in at least one hundred militarized expeditions. Mohammed is the "perfect example worthy of emulation."
Islam spread by war, warfare that began in Mohammed's lifetime, and that has continued in the Muslim world, without significant relief, for 1,400 years. Mohammed died in 632. Muslims reached the Indian Subcontinent by 664 and Spain by 711. Islam's expansion was stopped only at the Battle of Vienna, September 12, 1683.
Abraham, the first Jew, was a nomadic herder. Abraham made no converts through war. Conquests of Old Testament warriors like Joshua at Jericho were time- and place-specific. Jews' command to conquer was limited to the land of Israel. The God of the Bible never ordered Jews to war on all humanity and conquer the entire earth, and Jews never tried. Judaism has a significant tradition of not seeking converts. Though Judaism rivals Hinduism as the world's oldest faith, it is the smallest of the top five. Approximately .02 percent of the world's population is Jewish.
Buddha, founder of Buddhism, was a celibate, nonviolent monk, meditator, and teacher. Buddha made no converts through war.
Jesus, founder of Christianity, was a teacher and healer. Jesus made no converts through war. Christianity was outlawed for its first three hundred years; early Christians were subject to public torture at the hands of the all-powerful Roman Empire. Christianity's greatest spread was and continues to be thanks not to the sword, but to the word.
Hinduism has no historical founder. Its most popular deity is Shiva, a god of meditation, cannabis use, and tantric sex. Hinduism's indifference to proselytizing is reflected on world maps. Hinduism is largely limited to the Indian Subcontinent where it was born.
Politically-correct speech code enforcers, using cultural relativism, insist that violent acts of jihad committed by Muslims are comparable to a predictable series of crimes that demonstrate that Christians are just like Muslims, and that Christianity is just like Islam. Christianity's crimes include the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and witch trials. One might hear, "Oh, sure, some Muslims are violent, but look at Catholics. They murdered millions in the Inquisition. As times goes on, Muslims will evolve to become peaceful, just as Catholics have evolved."
The charge that the Inquisition is just like jihad is fallacious for the following reasons.
First, while jihadis kill in obedience to Islamic scripture, the Spanish Inquisition occurred in defiance of Christian scripture, which does not counsel violence or forced conversion. A time-and-geography-specific historical series of traumas conspired to bring about the Inquisition. Spain had been invaded in 711 by Tariq ibn Ziyad, who, in a famous speech, promised his Muslim warriors Christian riches to loot and Christian women to rape. The indigenous people of the Iberian Peninsula fought back. This is called the Reconquista. Fighting lasted for seven hundred years, until 1492. Jewish converts to Catholicism were doing relatively well in the newly unified, post-Reconquista Spain. Ethnically Spanish Catholics were envious. The Spanish Inquisition was instituted in 1478. It was a xenophobic manifestation of a land that had been at war for seven hundred years over identity issues. Given human nature, the Inquisition's psychological, economic and political roots are all too understandable.
Compare the Inquisition's limitation in space and time to jihad, which is temporally and geographically coterminous with Islam. Wherever and whenever Islam has existed, it has been accompanied by the violence of jihad. Jihad is not a response to historical traumas. Economically and socially comfortable people have left placid lives in order to wage jihad. A prominent example is the multimillionaire, Osama bin Laden, who left the swank life of a construction magnate's heir in order to live in caves, eat swill, and pursue death.
Second, those making their case through cultural relativism often say things like, "A long time ago, Christians were violent, but they evolved; with time, Islam will evolve, too." In fact, the Inquisition was condemned by Christians not because time had passed and they had evolved; it was condemned at the time it was happening, and it was condemned because it defied Christian scripture.
On April 18, 1482, a critic of the Spanish Inquisition wrote, "In Aragon, Valencia, Mallorca, and Catalonia the Inquisition has for some time been moved not by zeal for the faith and the salvation of souls but by lust for wealth." This critic was Pope Sixtus IV.
Pope Innocent VIII also criticized the Inquisition.
Desiderius Erasmus (1469-1536), a Catholic priest, criticized the Inquisition. Estimates are that in some years between one fifth and one tenth of all books sold in Oxford, London, and Paris were by Erasmus; he was no lone voice crying in the wilderness. Regular clergy also criticized the Inquisition.
Christians didn't just verbally condemn the Inquisition. They offered refuge. Catholic Poland actively invited Jews to settle in Poland, and protected their rights in the 1264 Statute of Kalisz. These sentiments were restated in the 1573 Warsaw Confederation. Medieval Poland was internationally dubbed "paradisus Iudaeorum" or the paradise of the Jews.
And, of course, Catholics continue to apologize for the Inquisition, including Pope John Paul II's 2000 apology.
The voice of the Christian conscience in opposition to the Inquisition is reflective of a wider trend. Throughout the centuries, Christianity produced its own best critics, including famous examples like St. Francis, Teresa of Avila, Bartolomé de las Casas, and Dorothy Day.
One searches in vain for equally unambiguous condemnations of jihad from Muslims. Rather, one finds an opposite trend. Muslim Turkey, for example, belligerently denies that its 1915 genocide of Armenian Christians ever took place. Turkey arrested and convicted one of its most celebrated sons, Nobel-Prize-winning writer Orhan Pamuk, for briefly alluding to the Armenian Genocide during an interview with a Swiss newspaper. Turks have burned Pamuk's books and attempted to assassinate him.
When Muslims have critiqued other Muslims, it has often been to chastise them for not killing enough infidels. When the 8th-century Arab general Muhammad bin-Qasim defeated his opponents on the Indian subcontinent with craftiness, his superior, Al-Hajjaj bin Yousef, demanded that Qasim commit more massacres. In his next action, Qasim was sure to massacre thousands.
There are many examples in Islamic history of relatively tolerant Muslims being replaced by more draconian ones. In Medieval Spain, the more orthodox Almoravid Dynasty replaced previous more tolerant rulers, and, in turn, it was replaced by the Almohads, an even more fundamentalist Islamic dynasty. In Medieval Baghdad, the more liberal Mu'tazilis, who emphasized reason and argued that the Koran was created, were denounced and defeated by more strict Muslims. In modern Iran the more conservative Ayatollahs replaced the Shah. Today the more extreme ISIS is eclipsing Al-Qaeda, whom they assessed as too moderate. The hope that time will temper Islam lacks supportive evidence.
Even as Christians are driven out of their homes in Muslim countries, no Muslim country steps forward to invite refugee Christians to live, and no Muslim country offers Christians complete freedom of religion.
The third problem with the culturally-relativist argument that "Jihad is just like the Inquisition" is this. Modern scholars agree that the Inquisition's evils have been exaggerated for propaganda reasons, beginning with Catholic Spain's rival, Protestant England. This continues; one website cites ninety-five million victims killed in the Inquisition. In fact, between three thousand and five thousand victims were executed, and they were executed by the state, not the church.
This brief analysis shows why the cultural relativists' insistence on comparing the problem of jihad to the Inquisition is not valid. A brief essay cannot adequately address the fallacious, politically-correct, cultural relativist insistence that the Crusades and the witch trials are comparable to jihad, but the reader is advised to examine these claims with care. Rodney Stark's excellent, brief, and readable God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades shows that the Crusades were undertaken, not as PC would have it, to convert Muslims to Christianity by force, but rather to protect Christians in the Holy Land. Lyndal Roper's Witch Craze is one of several recent, revolutionary books that demonstrates that just about everything PC says about witch burning is wrong.
In any case, the above-listed paradigm applies. Christian scripture does not encourage killing people for the faith. Outbreaks of violence by and among Christians are most easily attributed to the kind of trauma that might cause any population to go to war, like the seven hundred years of identity-fueled war that preceded the Inquisition in Spain, or the social chaos caused by the Reformation, and the crop failures caused by the Little Ice Age that contributed to the witch craze. Christians in the past who lived contemporaneously with these violent outbreaks, including pontiffs, decried violence as a means to advance religious ends, and Christian individuals and nations not directly involved in conflicts attempted to rectify conditions to the extent that they were able to do so. None of these points apply to jihad. Jihad is coterminous with Islam, it is approved of, not condemned by, devout Muslims, and Muslim nations have no significant tradition of aiding the victims of jihad. Muslim reformers have agitated for a more draconian and violent interpretation of Islam.
A second tactic politically-correct speech code enforcers use to prevent analysis of Islam is the postmodern rejection of definitions of terms based on objective reality. The postmodern approach to definition might best be summed up as "words mean whatever I say they mean." Thus, PC spokespeople focus on model Muslims who insist that "jihad" means "inner struggle." They argue that one can interpret the Koran's numerous calls to violent jihad as referring only to Mohammed's lifetime, and having no application today. Imam Jihad Turk took this approach on March 15, 2012 at the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance. "I am instructed in the truth of my religion from people who are not Muslim," Turk protested. I am a Muslim, his argument ran. If I say Islam is peaceful and tolerant, then that is what it is.
The problem with this approach is that there is such a thing as objective reality. How can one know the essence, the objective reality, of a religion?
The following criteria might be used to assess the essence of any religion:
1) What does the critical mass -- not exceptional passages, but numerically representational ones -- of canonical scripture and interpretation say? What does the critical mass of practice based on that scripture look like?
Here is an example of numerical representationally in texts as reflected in behavior. Superstar Christian pastors Rick Warren, Tony Campolo, and Jim Wallis have repeatedly stated that over two thousand Biblical verses counsel care for the poor; they cite this statistic when spearheading charities that care for the poor all over the world. Christians and Jews are exceptional in the energy and resources they devote to care for the poor. Catholics invented modern hospitals, and the Catholic Church is the single largest nongovernmental provider of health care services in the world. Statistics show that American Protestants, Catholics, and Jews donate significantly more to charity than non-believers, or other populations.
The Koran's plethora of jihad verses has already been mentioned. The Koran also frequently mentions Hell. There is a threat of hell in every 7.9 verses; contrast this with the New Testament, where Hell is mentioned once for every 774 verses. It is not surprising that a violent text inspires violent behavior.
2) Difficult passages occur in every document. Is there a mechanism for interpretation?
Cultural Relativists insist that the Koran is just like the Bible. Muslims can interpret the Koran to be a peaceful book.
In fact, though, the Koran is not comparable to the Bible. The Koran is perfect. It is in Arabic, only in Arabic, never to be translated. The Koran is uncreated. It has existed for eternity. In his article, "The Uncreatedness of the Quran and the Unity of Allah," Sam Shamoun writes that merely suggesting that the Koran was created could earn the death penalty. Scholar Christoph Luxenberg has adopted his pseudonym and lives in hiding because he wrote a book suggesting that the Koran may have been first written, not in Arabic, but in the Syro-Aramaic dialect. That scholarly, linguistic observation was enough to earn him credible death threats. The belief in the near divine nature of the Koran, and the threats against anyone who studies it, leave little room for interpretation.
3) What are the facts on the ground?
Politically correct cultural relativists insist that Islamic gender apartheid is not significantly different from misogyny in the West. They attempt to make this point by referring to Christians in the West as "Taliban." For example, Hobby Lobby, an American chain store that sells arts and crafts material, has chosen not to cover abortifacients in the health coverage it provides employees. Opponents call Hobby Lobby the "Christian Taliban." Books like Michelle Goldberg's 2007 Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism and Chris Hedges' 2008 American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America describe American Christians as genocidal monsters hiding behind the innocuous, welcoming smiles of megachurch potlucks. In her book, Goldberg reports keeping her passport handy and her bags packed in case she needs to flee the United States at any moment.
The facts on the ground speak for themselves. Muslim countries are "high sex ratio" countries. They have more males than females. Females face of a gauntlet of survival-threatening customs, including sex selective abortion of female fetuses, the denial of health care to females, child marriage, subsequent early pregnancy, and honor killing. In Judeo-Christian countries, females tend to survive longer than males.
Facts on the ground, including sex ratios, female literacy rates, wealth distribution, publication of scholarly articles, degrees granted, holding of office and other indicators, give the lie to the cultural relativist insistence that there is no difference between misogyny in the West and in Islam.
In short, the postmodern refusal to define Islam according to objective criteria does not withstand analysis. If you stand in front of a moving train, you will be smashed, no matter how you interpret that train, or how invincible you tell yourself you are. There are multiple objective criteria that demonstrate Islam's differences from the world's other five top faiths. Statistics on gender are just one such objective criterion.
The final politically-correct roadblock to analysis of Islam is the paranoid, fear-mongering threat that analysis of Islam will immediately spark mass hysteria, lynchings and pogroms. For this threat to gain traction, it must be accompanied by a conviction that Americans are a mob of frothing-at-the-mouth, knuckle-dragging troglodytes. Only anti-American bigots believe this. Americans are to be commended for significantly not scapegoating Muslims after 9-11.
Nobel Prize winner Marie Sklodowska Curie said, "Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less." She is correct.
Scholars, journalists, and media personalities are wordsmiths. While others work with their hands, their eyes, and their endurance, wordsmiths' job is to use words to clarify issues, to comfort the afflicted, to expand minds, and to find solutions. The world needs wordsmiths right now. Their articulate analysis of Islam will comfort and enlighten, not inflame, the masses.
Now, when talking heads state simple truths, "Most Muslims are not jihadis. Most Muslims are peaceful. Most Muslims are just like you and I and most Muslims should not be the targets of our rage," many otherwise good people, rendered cynical, dismiss these words.
Free speech is the best friend Muslims have. In the current environment, unspoken suspicions rankle and conspiracy theories proliferate. We must protect innocent Muslims from rancor, every bit as much as we must protect innocent people of all faiths. The best way to protect the vast majority of Muslims who are innocent and who just want to live their lives in peace is to tell the truth about Islam, and to publicly, verbally, fearlessly, and communally hash out solutions to the challenges Islam presents.
Danusha V. Goska is the author of Save Send Delete.