Recently Douglas Murray, a British writer and commentator, published Islamophilia: A Very Metropolitan Malady. In this book he describes how political leaders, celebrities, academics and others, are literally stumbling over each other, vying to heap the most praise on Islam as a religion.
We’re talking about a religion that, as I indicated in a previous article, is arguably at the furthest possible antipode from Christianity doctrinally and morally.
Doctrinally, Islam teaches that Jesus was the son of Mary, the daughter of Imran, the father of Moses and Aaron, and thus the sister of Aaron. Jesus, contrary to Christian belief, was not crucified, and did not rise from the dead, but rather preached the coming of the prophet Muhammad, and at the end of the world will come again to break all crosses, destroy Christianity, and bring about the Islamization of the world. (Most of this is unknown because Christians are using a “corrupted” version of the New Testament.)
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Morally, Islam allows for polygamy, child marriage, sexual slavery, wife beating, devaluation of women in legal standing and in ordinary life, female genital mutilation, the execution of Muslims who convert to Christianity, and the killing of Christians who refuse to pay special taxes or show deference to Islam in a majority Islamic country.
But such things present no obstacles to the resounding chorus of praise, almost adulation, coming to our ears often from Christians, or denizens of Christian culture.
Many of Murray’s examples are of British personages. Heir-apparent to the throne, Prince Charles, has only admiration for Islam. For example, in awarding a Royal Charter to the Oxford Institute of Islamic Studies, he extolled “those timeless, universal principles of harmony enshrined within Islam that the world needs so urgently to re-discover in the battle to preserve the future for our descendants.” The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, showed that the outreach of the Anglican church knows no limits, by supporting the implementation of Islamic Sharia law in England. Richard Dawkins, that fearless champion of atheism famous for excoriating the God of the Bible, when asked in an interview by the Islamic-oriented news channel, Al Jazeera, whether he had the same criticisms for the God of the Koran, modestly replied that he was not familiar enough with the Koran to answer that question.
In 2006, the BBC televised a series on The Miracles of Jesus, and chose as the commentator the Muslim Rageh Omar, who was, as one might expect, critical throughout concerning the historical facts. But for its series on the life of Mohammed no such criticism was brooked; Rageh Omar was once again the commentator, presenting a very positive word-portrayal (no images, since these are prohibited by Islam) of the prophet. Similarly, in 2008 the London Times, for its review of a book on Jesus’ resurrection by a biblical scholar, could find no more appropriate scholarly authority than the Muslim Ziauddin Sardar, author of Why do People Hate America? and memorable for comparing Rushdie’s “blasphemous” novel, The Satanic Verses, to being personally raped.
American examples of Islamophilia also abound. At the forefront has been President George Bush, who, a few days after 9/11, speaking of the Koran to the Islamic Center in Washington, declared that Islam is all about peace, and kept repeating that “definition” of Islam for the next eight years. Not to be outdone by a “born-again” Christian Republican, President Obama in his 2009 speech at Cairo University manifested his own “profile in courage” by officially supporting the right of women to wear the hijab. In 2012, the most senior commander of the ISAF in Afghanistan, General John Allen, reacting to a report that disrespect had been shown to the Koran at an American base, went on Afghan TV with solemn apologies and assurance that he had immediately intervened, and that he was conducting a thorough investigation to make sure that the Islamic holy text is never desecrated. The Director of the CIA, John Brennan, has also made it clear that here at home, as well as overseas, admiration for Islam is the official policy. At the Islamic Center of New York University in 2013 he castigated the misunderstanding of Islam by many who do not know that it is “a faith of peace and tolerance and great diversity.”
Hollywood has followed suit. In the movie version of Tom Clancy’s novel, The Sum of All Fears, Ben Afleck’s opponents turn out to be, not Islamists (as in the novel), but (you guessed it!) German neo-Nazis. In the movie, Kingdom of Heaven, which has to do with the Crusades, director Ridley Scott prefaces the film with: “It is almost 100 years since Christian armies from Europe seized Jerusalem. Europe suffers in the grip of repression and poverty. Peasant and lord alike flee to the Holy Land in search of fortune or salvation.”—As if the Christians weren’t trying to regain control of Jerusalem from the Muslims who had invaded the Holy Land! As the movie continues, Christians, on the way to the Holy Land, hear a preacher exhorting them: “To kill an infidel is not murder. It is the path to heaven.” Now, where have we heard that phrase before?
Exaggerated Claims of Islamic Achievement
But if a medal were awarded for “Islamophilia beyond the call of duty,” the accolades should go to an international science exposition, “The 1001 Islamic Inventions Exhibition,” which has been touring the world since 2010 at prestigious locations, including the London Science Museum, National Geographic Museum, New York Hall of Science, and the California Science Center. The exhibition is introduced by a film starring actor Ben Kingsley, who explains how enlightenment from Islam has been providing the world with inventions and discoveries since the Middle Ages, in contrast with the darkness pervading Christendom.
For those who may have missed the exhibition, a book was published in 2012, 1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization, along with a special illustrated version published by National Geographic Kids. In the first chapter, we are told how we Westerners are indebted to Islamic civilization for many things we take for granted in everyday life—including, for example, the camera, clocks, cleanliness, music, three-course meals, fashion, and even “Rubik’s cube.” As we proceed further, we find that
It is only thanks to the Islamic world that we have universities, libraries and bookshops. All disciplines, including mathematics, chemistry, geometry, art, writing and agriculture come from Islam. So do dams, windmills, the concept of trade, textiles, paper, pottery, glass, jewels and currency. All medical knowledge also comes from Islam, including, strangely, inoculation and not forgetting the toothbrush. In its attempt to show that there is nothing that Islam has not given us, the exhibition claims that Islam invented not just the countryside but the town as well, including everything about the buildings in towns, including vaults, spires, towers, domes and arches.
One of the most astounding feats memorialized in this compendium is that, prior to Orville and Wilbur Wright, “the first Muslim, and perhaps person, to make a real attempt to construct a flying machine and fly was Cordoban Abbas ibn Firnas in the ninth century.”
Such encomia surpass even the propagandistic reinterpretations of world history by the Soviets in the days of the Cold War.
According to a 2002 U.N. publication of a report on Arab Human Development, the entire Arab world “translates about 330 books annually, one-fifth of the number that Greece translates. The accumulative total of translated books since the Caliph Maa’moun’s time [9th century] is about 100,000, almost the average that Spain translates in one year.” So the external signs of intellectual ferment are obscure.
A reality-check is in order. According to Bernard Lewis, the Muslim Empire inherited “the manufacture of paper from China and decimal positional numbering from India [now called ‘Arabic’ numbers]”; but since that time external sources of scientific enlightenment have been cut off by ideological caveats. In Saudi Arabia, for example, according to a 2001 report by the U.S. Department of State,
The government censors all forms of public artistic expression and prohibits cinemas and public musical or theatrical performances, except those that are considered folkloric. The authorities prohibit the study of evolution, Freud, Marx, Western music, and Western philosophy. Informers monitor lectures and report to government and religious authorities.
It is in that sort of context that we can understand the 1993 edict of the supreme religious authority of Saudi Arabia, Abdel-Aziz Ibn Baaz, declaring that the world is flat.
Possible Reasons for Islamophilia
Douglas Murray’s book is basically a variation on the “Emperor’s New Clothes” tale. When we hear that tale, we wonder why no one in the crowd points out the fact that the Emperor isn’t wearing anything. If now we wonder why there is so much competition in expressing “wildly over-the-top praise or love of Islam,” Murray suggests in his Introduction that some do it because it makes them “liberal-minded, fair or otherwise decent”; others want to bolster the self-confidence of Muslim believers; but
quite a large proportion express an adoration of Islam that jars and comes across strangely because they don’t express it for any political or spiritual reason. Many … are Islamophiles because they don’t want to be thought to be Islamophobes. Or because of another reason: they are very, very scared and decide that the best way to avoid something scary is to praise it and hope it will feel satiated.
A major problem is that even the most educated among us—including professors, pundits, politicians and popes—know little or nothing about the history of Islam or the prophet Mohammed. For those with the time and the motivation to probe a strange religion that is making all manner of claims, a study of the Koran, those inspired pronouncements from the Messenger of Allah, would be in order; or the classic biography of Mohammed, revered by most Muslims, The Life of Muhammad by Ibn Ishak. For a more accessible, up-to-date and objective biography, one might read Twenty Three Years: a Study of the Prophetic Career of Mohammad, by Ali Dashti. I would also recommend Ibn Warraq’s recently published Why the West is Best: A Muslim Apostate’s Defense of Liberal Democracy, which offers a critical appraisal of Islam’s claim to be the major civilizing catalyst in history.
In the best of all possible worlds, one of the ideal ways of bolstering an understanding of Islam for the general populace would be to have a full-featured movie concerning Mohammed and the beginning of Islam. An initial attempt to do this was the 1977 hagiographic film, The Message, starring Anthony Quinn as the uncle of Mohammed (Mohammed himself, in line with Islamic prohibitions, is not physically depicted in the film). But recently I contacted the Iranian American, Ali Sina, concerning his article, “The Golden Rule and Islam,” and incidentally discovered that he is not only working on a biography of Mohammed, but has also completed a non-hagiographical, historically accurate script for an epic movie on Mohammed and the rise of Islam (see www.movie.alisina.org). I expressed an interest in this undertaking, and he sent me a copy of the script, which I have read with interest. At this point he has collected a substantial portion of the ten million dollars estimated, required for production, and is sifting through possibilities for a director and actors. To avoid the inevitable Islamic protests that would hinder the production of a movie about Mohammed shown in theaters, he envisages a digital production, e.g. through downloadable streaming video or DVDs.
Hopefully, endeavors like this will eventually make possible a true, factual understanding of what Islam is all about, and cure the epidemic of uncritical adulation.