The darkness can lift
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 civilization 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.
Some who grasp this point, ranging from bloggers to 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.