Over the past two years, I have chronicled the ongoing travails of my intrepid colleague Lars Hedegaard, the Danish journalist and historian, most recently, his narrowly surviving an assassination attempt by a likely Muslim assailant.
Hedegaard's plight, and his voiced (and written) opinions on Islam whetted my curiosity about what the profound 19th century Danish writer and polymath, Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), may have opined -- if anything -- on the Muslim creed. Kierkegaard, although renowned as the "father" of existentialist philosophy, produced a vast, highly original output, as summarized by the venerable Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which transcended
... the boundaries of philosophy, theology, psychology, literary criticism, devotional literature and fiction.
Kierkegaard brought this potent mixture of discourses to bear as social critique and for the purpose of renewing Christian faith within Christendom. At the same time he made many original conceptual contributions to each of the disciplines he employed. He is known as the "father of existentialism", but at least as important are his critiques of Hegel and of the German romantics, his contributions to the development of modernism, his literary experimentation, his vivid re-presentation of biblical figures to bring out their modern relevance, his invention of key concepts which have been explored and redeployed by thinkers ever since, his interventions in contemporary Danish church politics, and his fervent attempts to analyze and revitalize Christian faith.
In the wake of the Danish cartoons debacle, Carlin Romano interviewed then 94 year old Kierkegaard scholar Howard Hong (the interview, entitled, "What Would Kierkegaard Do?," was published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 5, 2006). During a career of more than 60 years, Hong edited and translated with his wife, Edna, the complete works of Kierkegaard (co-founding the Howard V. and Edna H. Hong Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf College, Minnesota, the largest Kierkegaard research library in the world). However, Romano's discussion with Hong (reproduced in full here) yielded only suggestive, rather thin gruel on Kierkegaard's views of Islam.
Undaunted, I sought out the recent (2007) academic English translation, Kierkegaard's Journals and Notebooks: Vol. 1 -- Journals AA-DD, published by Princeton University Press, and described thusly:
The first of an eleven-volume series produced by Copenhagen's Søren Kierkegaard Research Centre, this volume is the first English translation and commentary of Kierkegaard's journals based on up-to-date scholarship. It offers new insight into Kierkegaard's inner life. In addition to early drafts of his published works, the journals contain his thoughts on current events and philosophical and theological matters, notes on books he was reading, miscellaneous jottings, and ideas for future literary projects. Kierkegaard wrote his journals in a two-column format, one for his initial entries and the second for the marginal comments he added later. The new edition of the journals reproduces this format and contains photographs of original manuscript pages, as well as extensive scholarly commentary. Translated by leading experts on Kierkegaard, Journals and Notebooks will become the benchmark for all future Kierkegaard scholarship.
As it turns out, Kierkegaard took a rather dim view of "Islamic monotheism," relative to Judaism. Moreover, Kierkegaard was also forthright about Muhammad's -- and his Islamic votaries' -- perceived mandate for global conquest via military means (i.e., jihad), which he compared to the violent, late 18th to early 19th century Napoleonic land grab.
June 8, 1837: Judaism develops in the first books of Moses, where God appears more in his omnipotence as lawgiver (Moses steps completely into the background); then in Job the detached individuality appears in a kind of opposition to God, and in the Psalms finds peace in the thought that God is after all God the Almighty against whom man must not strive. Mohammedanism develops a caricature; God's omnipotence becomes arbitrariness, and his guidance becomes fatalism. [emphasis added]
September 12, 1838: [note: 155 years after the Ottoman jihadist siege of Vienna was broken] It occurs to me that Napoleon much more resembles Mohammed than do any of the great generals of the past. Napoleon felt himself to be or at least played the part of a missionary, as one who brought along with him and fought for certain ideas...Napoleon's expedition went in the opposite direction to Mohammed's expansion, but through the same countries -- Mohammed from East to West, Napoleon from West to East.
Kierkegaard's overarching sentiments on Islam were echoed by America's first, and arguably still pre-eminent scholar of comparative religions, James Freeman Clarke, in his 1871 treatise "Ten Great Religions -- An Essay in Comparative Theology." Clarke sees in Islam's conception of Allah -- "that which makes of God pure will . . . divorced from reason and love" -- a regression from the Judeo-Christian God. Comparing Islam to Judaism, Clarke observes,
Goodness does not consist in obedience to divine will, but in conformity to the divine character. This is the doctrine of the Old Testament and one of its noblest characteristics. . . . Mohammedanism is a relapse [from Judaism] . . . for it makes God only an arbitrary sovereign whose will is to be obeyed without any reference to its moral character.
Clarke further notes that Islam's Allah was "abstracted from matter, and so not to be represented by pictures and images; God withdrawn out of the world, and above all -- in total separation." In contrast, Judaism conceptualized God as being "with man, by his repeated miraculous coming down in prophets, judges, kings; also with his people, the Jews, mysteriously present in their tabernacle and temple."
Clarke maintains that Islam's alternate "central idea concerning God" -- its conception of Allah -- has not been salutary for Muslim societies. He concludes with these remarkably compendious assessments of Islam's liberty-crushing essence, rooted in abject submission to the unrelenting autocracy of Allah:
Islam saw Allah, but not man; saw the claims of deity, not the rights of humanity; saw authority, failed to see freedom -- therefore hardened into despotism.
Its governments are not governments. . . . It makes life barren and empty. It encourages a savage pride and cruelty. It makes men tyrants or slaves, women puppets, religion the submission to an infinite despotism.
Lars Hedegaard simply reiterates (here, here) the still eminently valid 19th century observations of his own compatriot Danish forbear, Søren Kierkegaard, and America's James Freeman Clarke, in a contemporary idiom:
We [at the Danish Free Press Society] have made no bones about the fact that we consider Islam -- as it is presently being preached by all influential clerics and ideologues -- a deadly threat to all our freedoms among which is freedom of expression. For this consistent stance we have been vilified and called every name in the book, but we will not budge. I'm aware that some of my friends think that Islam can be reformed, domesticated, and civilized. I welcome that day, but must relate to the fact that it hasn't happened yet -- though Muslims have had 1,400 years to complete the project.
In this country one is able to without the slightest risk stand up and pronounce that of course Sharia [Islamic law] will be introduced with everything that it implies in terms of barbaric punishment and repression. One can also, without anyone touching a single hair on one's head, state that immoral women must have stones thrown at their heads until they die, and that Muslims who turn their back on Islam of course must be killed. But if you say or write that this is what Islam is all about then you are guaranteed to be accused of racism, risk criminal prosecution, and -- as we have just witnessed -- attempted murder.
It is worth remembering that Hedegaard's views of Islam were independently validated by the modern research of Danish linguist, and mainstream academic, Tina Magaard. Dr. Magaard -- a Sorbonne-trained linguist specializing in textual analysis -- published detailed research findings in 2005 (summarized in 2007) comparing the foundational texts of ten major religions. Magaard concluded from her hard data-driven analyses:
The texts in Islam distinguish themselves from the texts of other religions by encouraging violence and aggression against people with other religious beliefs to a larger degree [emphasis added]. There are also straightforward calls for terror. This has long been a taboo in the research into Islam, but it is a fact that we need to deal with.
For example, in her 2007 essay "Fjendebilleder og voldsforestillinger i islamiske grundtekster" ["Images of enemies and conceptions of violence in Islamic core scriptures"], Magaard observed,
There are 36 references in the Koran to expressions derived from the root qa-ta-la, which indicates fighting, killing or being killed. The expressions derived from the root ja-ha-da, which the word jihad stems from, are more ambiguous since they mean "to struggle" or "to make an effort" rather than killing. Yet almost all of the references derived from this root are found in stories that leave no room for doubt regarding the violent nature of this struggle. Only a single ja-ha-da reference (29:6) explicitly presents the struggle as an inner, spiritual phenomenon, not as an outwardly (usually military) phenomenon. But this sole reference does not carry much weight against the more than 50 references to actual armed struggle in the Koran, and even more in the Hadith.
My own copiously documented The Legacy of Jihad describes the doctrinal rationale for Islam's sacralized jihad violence, and its historical manifestations, across an uninterrupted continuum from the seventh-century advent of the Muslim creed through the present. Consistent with Magaard's textual analysis, I cite the independent study of Australian linguist and renowned Arabic to English translator Paul Stenhouse, who maintained the root of the word jihad appears forty times in the Koran. With four exceptions, all the other thirty-six usages in the Koran and in subsequent Islamic understanding to both Muslim luminaries -- the greatest jurists and scholars of classical Islam -- and to ordinary people meant and means, as described by the seminal Arabic lexicographer E. W. Lane: "He fought, warred or waged war against unbelievers and the like."
Erudite, honest Danish intellectuals, and academics, spanning 176 years, from Søren Kierkegaard, to, at present, Lars Hedegaard and Tina Magaard, have openly expressed forthright truths about Islam. It is only now, in our sad era, that the free expression of such honest wisdom has been threatened by the mutually abetting totalitarian scourges of cultural relativism, and Islamic supremacism.