22 March 2009

The darkness can lift

Why I Am Not a Muslim, by Ibn Warraq (1995)

This book's title, of course, is a nod to Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian. Ibn Warraq, born to a Muslim family in India and raised in Pakistan, was certainly taught Islam, as many millions of others are. At 14, however, he was sent to Britain to further his education. There he eventually learned the kinds of critical analysis that Western scholars have been applying to Judeo-Christian texts and beliefs for generations; with these tools, he came to see Islam for what it is.

So, what is it? The answer to that has always been obvious to anyone who studies it without preconceptions: it is a fabrication, and a very dangerous one. It was Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa against Salman Rushdie that inspired Ibn Warraq to write, but of course we've seen many further examples of Islam's propensity to react with violence to even the most innocuous challenges. And unlike with Christianity and some other religions, it is impossible to dismiss such behavior as contrary to the letter or spirit of Islam. Both the Koran and Muhammad's own words and actions (as recorded in the hadîth and his accepted biographies) endorse and even command war and violence against unbelievers and against those who disrespect the prophet and his religion. One can find Koranic verses counseling tolerance, but these are mostly in the earlier chapters, and are abrogated by more aggressive later pronouncements (this is how Islam deals with the inevitable contradictions which crop up in a sacred text of any length -- when two statements in the Koran conflict, the earlier one is "abrogated", or canceled, by the later one).

Across several chapters Ibn Warraq lays out the case for Islam's fabricated origins. The majority of the Koran is plagiarized, with many crudely-obvious errors, from older sources -- mostly from the Old Testament, but also from other ancient Jewish texts, Zoroastrianism, the New Testament, and pagan Arab folklore. It contains many grammatical errors, unlikely in a perfect rendition of God's word. Many of the "revelations" received by Muhammad conveniently specified that he was permitted to do things that he happened to want to do at the time. According to Islamic dogma, the Koran is "uncreated" -- it existed, along with God, for all of eternity before the beginning of the world -- yet much of it is an as-it-happened narrative of events in Muhammad's own time. There is even a case to be made that "Islam" as we know it actually arose after the Arab conquest of the Middle East, under the Umayyad dynasty, and that the whole accepted history of Muhammad and the first four Caliphs is as fictional as the Gospels.

Is it really possible that Islam, this frenzied colossus from which whole continents shrink in fear, this ideology for which so many fanatics are willing to kill or die, is nothing but an astonishingly shoddy scam? Ibn Warraq's book, and the numerous scholarly sources it cites, seem to allow no other conclusion.

Aside from the fact that Islam explicitly endorses violence, the sheer flagrant shabbiness of the con may help explain the frenzy with which its adherents defend it. When growing knowledge reveals that a cherished belief is nonsense, there are two clear options: abandon the belief, or stick one's fingers in one's ears and yell loudly to drown out the voice of reason in one's own head -- because one knows all too well what it will say. The latter response can of course include violence against others whose words or example demonstrate that the belief is wrong and pernicious.

Ibn Warraq also devotes many pages to the advanced "Islamic civilization" which flourished during Islam's first four centuries. To summarize: that civilization did achieve great things, but that was despite, not because of, Islam. Neither state nor society in the golden age were rigidly "Islamic" as we understand the term today. Most of the great thinkers were non-Muslims or held beliefs far removed from orthodoxy; their world-view was derived from the rediscovered heritage of pagan Classical Greece, not from Islam, and the whole thing was really more a neo-Hellenistic revival than an "Islamic civilization". Some rulers were obvious unbelievers who paid as little lip service to Islam as they could get away with; others were true believers who persecuted thinkers and burned their books. Crediting the attainments of that civilization to Islam is as absurd as crediting the works of Galileo and Copernicus to the Catholic Church would be. And the triumph of rigid theological conservatism in the 11th and 12th centuries snuffed out that civili-zation just as surely as a full restoration of rigid Church dogma in 17th-century Europe would have snuffed out the Enlightenment.

The key point illuminated by Ibn Warraq's book, however, is this: Islam's grip on its adherents may be far more fragile than it appears.

20% of humanity -- some 1.4 billion people -- is Muslim, so we are told. The ferocious belligerence of Islamic belief is widely thought to make it an immutable trait, almost like race; once a Muslim, always a Muslim, with only freakishly-rare exceptions. This leads many Westerners to cling to the hopeful myth of "moderate Islam" -- the myth that Islam is, or can be re-interpreted as, a "religion of peace" which has been hijacked by "extremists" such as al-Qâ'idah and the Taliban. As I explain here, this is a delusion. In contrast to Christianity or Judaism, there can be no moderate, tolerant Islam; non-fundamentalist Islam is a contradiction in terms. Such a concept will always fail because it is inherently dishonest. The nature of Islam and its sacred texts explicitly rule it out.

Realists who grasp this point, ranging from bloggers to thinkers as sober as John Derbyshire, unwilling to indefinitely accept a world in which one-fifth of our species is brainwashed into a gigantic potential suicide weapon aimed at the other four-fifths, have gone so far as to speculate that thermonuclear obliteration of the whole Islamic world is the only way to guarantee civilization's safety. They are wrong because, while Islam cannot become other than what it is, this does not mean that Muslims must forever remain what they are.

Ibn Warraq was raised Muslim. When education and experience showed him the truth about Islam, he did not become a "moderate Muslim" -- he stopped being a Muslim entirely. Ayaan Hirsi Ali did the same. Many others have done so -- both in medieval times and today. Anecdotal evidence suggests that each year hundreds of Muslims (or likely far more) in each European country abandon Islam, either converting to Christianity or simply becoming non- religious like most native Europeans, though exact numbers are hard to pin down since Islamic law mandates death for apostasy and most ex-Muslims understandably keep a low profile. This is even more true in the case of ex-Muslims in Islamic countries. But as Ibn Warraq makes clear, they exist there, most notably among the educated. Thinker after thinker, no longer able to stomach the indoctrinated nonsense, concluded by casting it off, though some (like Copernicus) refrained from publishing anything until old age. One book denouncing Islam sold more than half a million copies in Iran during the early years of the Islamic Republic, despite being illegal and doubtless dangerous to possess.

It is here -- not in "religion of peace" fantasies or in nightmares of thermonuclear genocide -- that the real solution to the Islamic threat is to be found. Education seems to be the key. In the hard- core fanatics, as noted above, it leads only to violent lashing out against the sources of the terrifying doubt (this may explain why jihadism is largely the province not of illiterate peasants but of educated men like bin Laden); but in others -- hearteningly many others -- exposure to reason and to another way of life can defeat Islam altogether.

It follows that the best policy for western Europe would be the opposite of the one they have been following. Rather than allowing Muslims to encapsulate themselves in segregated, Islam-steeped cultural ghettos, Europeans must insist on integrating them into mainstream society and on uncompromising secular education for their children. In the Islamic world itself, too, everything possible must be done to further the spread of modern education and knowledge. Conventional missionary work has never met with much success among Muslims, precisely because it merely seeks to replace an old and established form of irrational belief with another, new and unfamiliar, one. Reason and knowledge are the antibiotics which have shown they can beat Islam.

Is this just a pipe dream? Is it really possible for whole Muslim populations to be de-Islamized? It has actually happened in one country: Russia. Most sources will tell you that today about 15% of Russia's population is Muslim. That 15%, in fact, consists of ethnic minorities which have embraced Islam for centuries, since long before their incorporation into the Tsarist Russian Empire. Yet today only 6% of Russia's population self-identifies as Muslim. The other 9% -- over 12 million people -- no longer do. They have not become "moderate Muslims" or "Muslims in name only" -- they are not Muslims at all, even to the extent of checking the "Muslim" box on a survey. How did this happen? Whatever the evils of the Soviet state, it did raise the educational level of its subjects from almost medieval to modern levels in a remarkably short time -- and the majority of the Muslims among them abandoned Islam. (Whether the explicit atheistic propaganda in Soviet schools helped or hurt this process is harder to assess.)

What happened in Russia can happen in Europe -- and the Islamic world itself. Our enemy is not 1.4 billion people, but an idea. It is a vicious, belligerent, deadly idea -- but one which, like a vampire, cannot long survive in the bright clear sunlight of reason.

15 Comments:

Blogger Zed said...

Excellent post! The more repressive an ideology, the more Human Beings push back against it. Blind, unthinking obedience is not natural to an educated person, hence the need for religious police in Saudi Arabia.
Large scale immigration of muslims to the West has greater long term consequences for islam than it does for the West.

22 March, 2009 21:07  
Anonymous Nick M said...

Infidel. I wish I'd written that!

23 March, 2009 05:02  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Good Morning Mr.Infidel!

Well...this person really done their homework it appear's. I know that the way that all these religion's pull in folk's is nailing the kid's while their young,most child psychologist's know that whatever you start teaching a child between the ages of say 4 to 7 is really going to impact them. I look at Islam (and this is me personally..I have no expertise in any of this...just hand's on dealing's)and it's age difference from christianity. There is a difference of several hundred year's, from when they actually got into full swing.I look at christianity back in the 16th. and 17th century for instance and see alot of real fanaticism, you know...all the torture,witch-hunt's,execution's and so forth. It is nothing like it is today,that's for sure,even a couple hundred year's ago for that matter.This is NOT good new's though...why? because this tell's me...for islam to mellow out some to the point of where christianity is today...it would take a few hundred more year's...even though it could be sped up a tad...simply because of technology... in other word's...people being able to access info much better and quicker than in the old day's. Many folk's like to have faith in something...especially the oppressed,weak,poverty stricken,etc.I think most human's do.I look at the big problem is what and how is taught. I dont believe I have ever met a person...whether what book or faith they claim to live by...that actually lived by the book/teaching's to a tee....never. Fear,obedience,dedication,culture, and the likes are all necessary to keep these mind's in chain's.It's wrong to question for instance in many belief's...that is a big problemo. I know 7 muslim's who are all immigrant's fairly well,..."well" being, I have ate in their homes with their families,drank with them,smoked hookah and had many in depth conversation's concerning islam and politic's.Jamal is Pakistani descent, but educated in London. Rasheed,Youness,Dal,Lotfi, and Nabil are all from Morocco and educated there...although their language is Arabic..then Sirose who was educated and raised in Iran.I dont have a "level" or "category" for them...in other word's are they moderate? and what level of moderation or whatever? I do know that none of them live totally by the teaching's...at least of what I read in the quran. But yes...they all have their cultural differences from the westerner's I know.Nabil is the "oddball" of the bunch,because he had fanatic's bully him in college back in Morocco, and he is very outspoken about not mixing politic's with religion, and has told fellow muslim's when talking aout islam...to shut up because he get's sick of hearing their crap. But there is this sub-mentality they have no matter how moderate they may be...that is cultural. The weird thing about these folk's is how warm and hospitable they are with me...they are very generous...at first I was suprised and thought it was some kind of "put-on" because...I just am not used to people being like that. I had to actually tell a couple of them...to just feel free and talk to my wife for instance, they thought it was disrespectful to me...just to talk to my wife without going through me first, even though these guy's are somewhat"moderate"...they do have some very strong values. Lotfi told me he didnt want to disrespect me for instance because he realizes that a woman is a man's property...he was only 25 at the time...I told him...first of all ... I do not believe that, nor have anything to do with having human property. Rasheed for instance...thought it was disrespectful to me if he answered the door wearing a pair of short's and a guy and gal kissing in public is disrespectful. So as you can imagine...they had more question's for me than I had for them about Ammerican's and our culture. The 5 Moroccan guy's nicknamed me the "Teacher", I asked them why they call me that? they told me because they learned so much about America and our way's/culture through me... because they are mostly isolated amongst themselves in their Richardson(North Dallas) community... and dont get to talk with many American's on a personal level.

I think communication,education, is the key to these problem's of religion, I have noticed that many of these folk's... never asked themselves key question's about many thing's...simply because they were taught not to, or there is nothing to question... all the answer's in other word's are in these book's. So, on many occassion's I have brought up point's that makes them stop and think for a moment ... as I told them .. there is nothing wrong with thinking...why do you think Allah gave you a brain? And Muhammed certainly didnt have to face the problem's that we have now either, times change... and so do folk's.

Enough said ... thank you Sir!

23 March, 2009 06:15  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Thanks for the comments, guys!

Nick, that means a lot coming from you.

23 March, 2009 06:50  
Blogger DB said...

I really liked this post/review/analysis. Your final point "Our enemy is not 1.4 billion people, but an idea" is spot on. The best way to fight this idea is through education, as you also pointed out. I think that these two concepts are universal to all relgions and superstitions as well. Even in the US, the more one is educated, the less likely thet are to believe in unfounded myths.

24 March, 2009 22:31  
Blogger B.J. said...

I commend you on your writing skills and command of the language. You’re one of the few persons on the planet who spells “canceled” correctly!

As for your post, the overriding premise is that one cannot be intelligent and religious.

Dum dee dum driftwood.

Don’t read anything into that; it’s just something I say when I’ve got nothing to say. LOL.

BJ

25 March, 2009 14:40  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

DB & BJ, thanks for the comments.

As for your post, the overriding premise is that one cannot be intelligent and religious.

Not sure how you got that out of it. At most, the conclusion (not premise) is that one who becomes educated is unlikely to remain Muslim, though even there I acknowledge the existence of exceptions.

25 March, 2009 15:50  
Blogger longhorn believer said...

I really enjoyed this post! I followed your link from Atheist Camel. Excellent information and analysis! I have long thought that the solution to the terrorist threat is education. We need more books in Afghanistan and fewer bombs.

BTW, I see Contact on your list of favorite movies. One of my favs as well

26 August, 2010 19:54  
Blogger longhorn believer said...

Infidel, can I follow you on facebook?

26 August, 2010 19:56  
Blogger Leah said...

Very well-written indeed!

This stood out to me: "the sheer flagrant shabbiness of the con may help explain the frenzy with which its adherents defend it."

The Mormon faith is on similarly rickety scaffolding, I had an "Aha!" moment as to why so many Mormons get so defensive when their beliefs are criticized, not (usually) violently, but certainly vehemently.

And similarly, it makes sense that proffering a new religion is not the cure for Islam. One thing I will say about fundamentalism is that it does employ logical arguments, flawed, but logical. It's very difficult to cross over from fundamentalism to symbolism. Very few disaffected Mormons join other faiths because they've been taught that their religion is infallible and logical, and when they can no longer deny that it's not, it doesn't make sense to join an even less logical religion. Almost all of them find themselves skeptics.

27 August, 2010 20:33  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Longhorn & Leah, thanks.

Unfortunately Afghanistan is a poor prospect for de-Islamization right now, precisely because its society is so primitive -- in marked contrast, ironically, to that of its neighbor to the west. In the long run education will get the job done, but I would expect that a few decades from now Afghanistan will be one of the last hold-outs of religion.

I admit I don't know as much about Mormonism as about Islam, but all that stuff about an ancient Israelite civilization in North America does seem rather embarrassing -- and Joseph Smith was a convicted con man and explicitly compared himself with Muhammad.

28 August, 2010 03:55  
Blogger Joseph Auclair said...

you wrote,

"In contrast to Christianity or Judaism, there can be no moderate, tolerant Islam; non-fundamentalist Islam is a contradiction in terms. Such a concept will always fail because it is inherently dishonest. The nature of Islam and its sacred texts explicitly rule it out."

But much time has passed.

Would you stand by that, now?

12 June, 2012 10:00  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

JA: Yes.

12 June, 2012 12:24  
Blogger Joseph Auclair said...

KOS and his team repeatedly insist the Christian right is to Christianity as the Taliban are to Islam.

That may be true regarding some points of comparison but I think it untrue with regard to, say, actual aims (total imposition of Shariah vs., at worst, a rollback of the sexual revolution in America) and punishments meted out for crimes (beheading for female rape victims, stoning of homosexuals, execution of apostates vs. nothing remotely comparable).

But I have the impression the KOS position is the PC line among liberal or progressive bloggers who purport to be in all things liberal or progressive.

And I find that most regrettable.

Do you?

13 June, 2012 09:38  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

First off, my views are my own and have nothing to do with Kos, which I very rarely read. Attributing views you don't agree with to being PC is just a way of avoiding the substance of them.

Yes, there's a difference of degree between the Islamists and the Dominionist / Reconstructionist / fundamentalist element in the US, but there are also important similarities. It's simply not true that there is "nothing remotely comparable" among the latter -- Rushdooney and his ilk do favor reinstating Biblical punishments like stoning homosexuals, for example. And some Islamists don't go that far. Again, yes, there's a difference of degree, but the similarities are more significant. Also, this analogy is useful for getting American liberals to understand the real dangers presented by Islamism in Europe, since American fundamentalism is at least a danger they're already familiar with.

These issues have been rehashed to death on this blog already.

13 June, 2012 10:56  

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