Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

Nothing to Do with Islam, Part 2

by Bruce Thornton // FrontPage Magazine

To read Part I, click here.

Photo via FrontPage Magazine

Photo via FrontPage Magazine

In his comments on the jihad being waged by the Islamic State in northern Iraq (ISIL), President Obama recycled yet again the shopworn false knowledge about Islam that continues to compromise our response to Muslim violence: “So ISIL speaks for no religion. Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just God would stand for what they did yesterday, and for what they do every single day.”

Over at the New York Post, a columnist rightly took the president to task by saying, “You can’t divorce the Islamic State from religion.” Unfortunately, the column is full of numerous misstatements that perpetuate the illusion that there is some peaceful, tolerant version of Islam that has been distorted and twisted by “extremists” or “fundamentalists.”

According to the writer, adherents of any faith can misread sacred texts literally in order to justify violence: “The problem isn’t just literalist interpretations of the Koran: The New Testament, the Jewish Torah and many other religious books contain explicit calls for disproportionate punishments and killing of nonbelievers.” Forget the false assumption that we are supposed to read all sacred texts allegorically rather than literally. I’d like to see the verses from the New Testament that explicitly instruct Christians to kill non-believers rather than try to convert them. On the contrary, Jesus preached, “Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5.38), and “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5.43).

Concerning other interactions with non-believers, Jesus instructed his disciples, “And if any one will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town” (Matthew 10.14).  Because there are no explicit commands to kill non-believers in the New Testament, over the ages Christians who have justified violence with scripture have had to engage in tortuous interpretations and misreadings that over time have not been able to gain traction among all the faithful. That’s why despite widespread persecution across the world today, there is no major Christian terrorist movement.

Compare, in contrast, the Koran’s explicit calls to violence against non-believers, such as Koran 4.76: “Those who believe fight in the cause of Allah, and those who reject faith fight in the cause of evil: So fight ye against the friends of Satan.” This is consistent with the famous command in 9:29: “Fight those who believe not in Allah.” If someone wants to argue that “fight” is intended metaphorically in these verses, and has been “twisted” by a “literal” reading to serve some fringe interpretation, consider 4.74: “Let those fight in the cause of Allah Who sell the life of this world for the hereafter. To him who fights in the cause of Allah––whether he is slain or gets victory––Soon shall we give him a reward.” Obviously in this verse and numerous others “fight” means physical battle in which people are “slain.” Contrary to Christian scripture, in traditional Islamic doctrine non-believers who are invited to convert and refuse the call are not left alone, but killed or, if they are Jews or Christians, sometimes allowed to live in humiliating submission under a treaty that Muslims can break at any time for any reason.

As for the Torah, the list of verses allegedly commanding death for non-believers that crop up on anti-Biblical and atheist websites has nothing to do with gentiles. A favorite is Deuteronomy 17, which commands death for those who, “transgressing his covenant,” have “gone and served other gods and worshipped them.” But this is clearly a reference not to gentiles, but to Hebrews who have betrayed the covenant between God and the Jewish people by violating the first Commandment. So too with numerous other verses produced to prove that the Hebrew God ordered the Hebrews to kill gentiles. On the contrary, all these verses describe capital punishment for crimes committed by Jews, such as apostasy, witchcraft, adultery, fornication, and the like. Nowhere is there a verse commanding, like Koran 9.29, wholesale warfare against all gentiles who refuse to become Jews.

As for the orders given to Hebrew kings in the Old Testament to destroy another town or tribe, these are specific to that particular time, place, and people, and reflect the brutal warfare universal at that time. They are history, not theology. We may find such draconian punishments or collective violence distasteful, but they certainly do not comprise the sort of theology of violence against all non-believers that is found throughout the Koran and Islamic doctrine.

Obama is half-right that killing innocents, more specifically women and children, is forbidden in Islam. But there are conflicting traditions of interpretation about this prohibition going back centuries. The most famous Muslim philosopher, the 12th century Ibn Rushd, known in the west as Averroës, discusses this controversy in his treatise Bidayat al-Mudjtahid. In contrast to the prohibition against killing women and children, Averroës writes, some interpreters quote Mohammed’s famous statement, “I have been commanded to fight the people until they say, ‘There is no God but Allah,’” which is consistent with Koran 9.5: “Then when the sacred months have slipped away, slay the polytheists wherever you find them.” As Averroës summarizes the controversy, “the source of their controversy is to be found in their divergent views concerning the motive why the enemy may be slain. Those who think that this is because they are unbelieving do not make exception for any polytheist,” including women and children. But even those who take the contrary view that only those able to fight may be killed make an exception for women who fight or who aid the enemy in some way, such as speaking against Islam or spying on Muslim warriors.

In short, many Muslims over the centuries have disagreed with Obama’s bald assertion that “no faith teaches people to massacre innocents.” Modern jihadists like ISIL, al Qaeda, Hamas, Fatah, and the numerous other groups thus have a foundation for their actions in a long tradition of Islamic theology. They see the outsized power and influence of the West, and the people who support it economically or politically, as a mortal threat to Islam. Thus destroying them is acceptable as a defense of the faith, for they are not “innocent” of aggression against Islam.

Many other practices of the jihadists likewise have justifications found in Islamic tradition and history, even if there are disagreements among Muslims about their validity. The jihadists’ penchant for beheading has its precedent in Koran 8.12: “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.” We have acted as though the filmed beheading of reporter James Foley is some unprecedented act of savagery by a Manson-like cult. But as Ian Tuttle reminds us, early in his career Mohammed beheaded the some 700 Jews of the Banu Qurayzah. In the 11th century Yusuf ibn Tashfin beheaded 24,000 Spaniards and, in a primitive version of YouTube, sent the heads to cities in North Africa and Spain. In the 19th century the Mahdist jihadists in Sudan beheaded their enemies, including the British war hero Charles “Chinese” Gordon. And Saudi Arabia today continues to publicly behead malefactors, 23 so far this August. There are few better ways to “cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve” or, as Obama said of Foley’s beheading, “shock the conscience of the entire world.”

Similarly, the indiscriminate bombing of people including women and children, whether through rockets or highjacked airliners, is argued as licit based on the fact that Mohammed used mangonels, a type of catapult, at the siege of al-Taif, even though such bombardment endangered women and children. Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has written an essay justifying al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks of 9/11 based on this tradition. So too with the prohibition against suicide, used by some apologists to argue that so-called “suicide-bombers” are contrary to Islamic doctrine. But in the Koran and hadith it is clear that killing oneself as an act of martyrdom while fighting for the faith is acceptable. For example, according to one hadith, Muhammad said, “I would love to be martyred in Allah’s Cause and then get resurrected and then get martyred, and then get resurrected again and then get martyred and then get resurrected again and then get martyred.” That’s why for 14 centuries jihadists have said they love death the way infidels love life.

Groups like ISIL or al Qaeda do not embrace “extreme religious views,” or “twist the overall message of religious texts,” as the New York Post has it. They act on a venerable tradition within Islam, one based on writings some Muslims have construed differently because of inconsistencies among various texts. But that doesn’t change the fact that the jihadists have within the faith long-established precedents for their actions, a tradition with millions of Muslim adherents worldwide, including the leaders of Turkey and Qatar who finance the vicious terrorist group Hamas, and the Mullahcracy in Iran, the world’s foremost supporter of Islamic terrorism.

We in the West correctly find such views “extreme,” or “savage” and “barbaric,” but they are not “fringe” anomalies conjured out of textual misreadings by an extremist cult. They derive from the history and sacred texts of Islam, the clear meaning of which is illustrated on page after page of Muslim history. And they are being acted upon today across the Muslim world, as evidenced by the nearly 24,000 violent attacks perpetrated by Muslim terrorists since 9/11. Contrary to Obama, ISIL does speak for a religion. It’s called Islam.

Copyright © 2014 FrontPage Magazine. All rights reserved.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

11 Thoughts on “Nothing to Do with Islam, Part 2

  1. Robert Klimek on August 27, 2014 at 9:08 am said:

    Mr. Thornton,

    One Koranic concept you have left out comes from verses 98:6 and 8:55; namely, that unbelievers are the “vilest of created beings.” If they are the “vilest of created beings,” then they are sub-human. Sub-humans can killed without remorse, much like killing a goat for halal meat, or stepping on a spider. Some Muslim men send their sons to the halal butcher where they can practice cutting throats of animals. When they grow up, these men can kill infidel “animals” in that fashion with skill and without any tugs at their conscience whatsoever.

    Another Islamic doctrine that relieves the Muslim killers of any remorse is Islamic fatalism. According to Islam, nothing happens unless Allah wills it. It is the Muslim’s’ duty to wage jihad by any and every means, to bring about the worldwide hegemony of Islam. So he must constantly plot attacks against the infidels. If he conceives of a clever plan of attack, that cleverness is considered a gift from Allah–Allah willed that he would have those thoughts. If the attack, when carried out, is spectacularly successful (like 9/11), the fact that it happened proves to the Muslim that Allah willed it to happen exactly that way (all shout “Allahu Akbar!”). That many infidels were killed is Allah’s will. That some Muslims were also killed in the attack is also Allah’s will. If they were pious and proper Muslims, they go straight to heaven as martyrs–a bonus! If they were not pious Muslims, they go to hell, which is their just reward for failing to live up to the commands of Allah.

    Thus, Allah’s will–aggressive Islamic fatalism–guarantees that no Muslim attacker will ever feel responsibility for the hideous consequences of his attack. His responsibility to Islam is only to conceive of, and to mount, endless attacks on infidel society–by any and every means.

    Robert D. Klimek
    Fort Smith, AR

  2. Theophilus on August 27, 2014 at 9:25 am said:

    Mr. Thronton is right on target, this article needs to be disseminated everywhere so Americans can learn and reflect!

    The red thread that runs through the Bible is the clear message of love and redemption from a loving God to the human race that is lost and is not innocent of its inherited sin. The red thread that runs through the Koran is the clear message of hate and condemnation from an unloving God to the human race that can never make amends with this wrathful God. Clearly the God of the bible and the God the Koran are NOT the same, contrary to what President Bush and President Obama and other unknowledgeable and misguided people wish it to be.

    I have observed that the actions of these Islamists (Islamism defined as the belief that Islam should guide social and political as well as personal life) appears to be taking their playbook from the actions of past Islamists called Moors (which lived up to the definition of Islamism to the tilt) who once conquered Spain and perpetuated a 700 year war with Spain which started in 711 and was finally ended in 1492. I would recommended that we Americans and especially our military and political leaders read the history of Spain occupation by these Islamists and draw lessons from that, I feared that if we are not careful, the same will happen to us, and we will end up engaging in a multi-generational war, unlike what Spain went through. The irony of this is that Spain appears to have forgotten or is ignoring its own history and appears at time to dangerously appease these Islamists.

    • Yes, Thoephilus & Yes, Professor Thornton…

      Further, our Western leaders (both civic and cleric) have yet to espouse the highest creed of the West:

      “Every leader-man has an angel and devil on his shoulder, and must check him or herself, and must be checked by every other means… else that leader’s passion lead us astray.”

      Talk radio won’t say this of itself… not yet, anyway. Even Tea Party candidates won’t say this about him or herself… not yet anyway.

      Yet, it is the way of our Founding Fathers. It is the way of the US Constitution. And here’s the fascinating thing: It is the way of the Hebrew/Christian God.

      Just before Moses received the 10 Commandments, God suddenly went seemingly wild with passion, and offered to kill the pesky, unconscionable Hebrews (over a million?) and make Moses the Father of nations.

      Moses got this high-level ploy of Father God. It was, in effect, God humbling Himself and showing Moses … what was in his (proto-Hilteresque) heart. It made Moses realize even he, yes, even he… could be a blood-thirsty, madman, genocidal maniac! When God humbled Himself and played that man, it was to teach all of humanity the great lesson of the West: “No man is an angel!”

      Right now, Evangelical Church despises this lesson, and won’t give it… because so many preachers kinda mesmerize and build up their income for, you know, the “seeker-friendly-Xanadu-Palace-Flophouse” church, so called.

      Right now, no political leader on the right will say that he has a devil on his shoulder, so vote for him, because at least he realizes it!

      But we need to vote for such a leader, a self-aware leader, just like troops might want a general who concedes having less than god-like powers, and needs input from all subordinates, including the army dishwasher… if the army dishwasher sees something that can prevent legions from being wiped out!

      So, talk radio is stuck with “we’re correct,” and pastors are stuck with “we’re correct” and politicians are stuck with “we’re correct”… and it is taking forever for audiences to applaud the highest lessons God gave man: Get yourself a leader who full-well knows and submits to operating systems that effectively stop the “devils-on-the-shoulders-of-leaders,” be they the one, the few or the many.

      Submit to this wisdom, as Americans did for 150 years PRIOR to the evil Progressive agenda based entirely against this idea…. submit to the sane idea leaders cannot ever be angels…. and America will prosper fantastically!

      On the other hand, keep building up the 100-year notion that leaders have no devils on their shoulders, and America will reap what is always reaped by leaders with devils on the shoulders… death, death and death times death, multiplied by infinity.

      That’s the choice, really: Life, as offered by our Declaration of Independence (very much opposed to Progressive evils!)…. or DEATH delivered in abundance by Progressive memes always insisting no leader of theirs ever can have a devil on their shoulder. Life, or Death…. our choice.

      • No, that’s not enough. 1. “army dishwashers VERY,VERY SELDOM see something that can prevent legions from being wiped out.” Read what Victor Davis Hanson says about George Patton.
        2. Your “either, or” mindset is way too simplistic. Troops want leaders that can WIN, not who “concede having less than god-like powers and needs input from all sub….”blah, blah. Clearly,
        you have not read much military history.

  3. John Lewis on August 27, 2014 at 7:54 pm said:

    The irrepressible desire of Americans to come up with an American Islam which is peaceful is one of the strangest phenomena of all time. I went to school with three Muslims front he Middle East, and one from Afghanistan, and I would never have insulted them by suggesting that they were peace loving. But the drive is incredibly strong. My friend RMH from central Pennsylvania is typical – in his infinite condescension he once opined that it was a real pity that al Quaida had ruined such a nice peaceful little faith. His wife, of Greek descent, will talk ad infinitum about the gruesome experiences of her forebears in Greece under the Turks, and then without a break switch over to the meme of peaceable Muslims.

    For myself, I read the Qu’ran (or rather an interpretation in English of the Qu’ran, as it is by definition written in Arabic and translation is impossible) about 45 years ago; and found that, immediately, the tumultuous recent history of the Middle East made sense. As I remarked once, “it is the Old Testament on steroids”.

    And Muslim culture makes the lessons of the holy works more severe. For instance, the institution of female genital mutilation does not come from the Qu’ran, and (I think) not from the Hadith; but is nonetheless widespread.

  4. Wolfgang Hebold on August 27, 2014 at 9:44 pm said:

    Simple and obvious truths about the devine Islam. Mohammed was a totalitarian military man and Jesus not. Thats the difference. Christians and Jews try to change the world beginning with the people; muslims aim for domination of all people. In a way the Islam is an ideology not a religion. There is not a single sentence in the Koran comparable to the first sentence of the Gospel of John in its philosophical deepness. But why are so many people ignoring those well researched and long known facts? A short look at what happens in these days in Syria and Iraq tells the answer: Many especially left wing intellectuels have a strong and deep affinity and sympathy with terrorists and totalitarian states. Islam is communism with an religious countenance.

  5. J M Abedi on August 31, 2014 at 1:02 am said:

    The brownshirts are taking over. US security has a clear and present danger target sitting right in front of them. Anarchy worse than authoritarian. Theocracatic with anarchy worse than both. Need responsible and sovereign governance reflecting power structure on the ground.
    Stability is the key to US security. Stability takes time. Nature of US democracy unreliable to give time. No one else to do the job due to envy or their own interests. Weapons systems: emerging biowarfare and cyberwar tools enabling emerging network, guerrilla tactics. Time is not our friend.

    Prevailing narrative of success ie soviet afghanistan; sustained through key assassinations and media events production. The heads have to roll to sustain narrative. Narrative equals recruits. More media events produced since 9/11 than current number of ISIS fighters. Recruiting out of pockets of Muslims worldwide ie social media. Ideological lense to view religion ie Nazism lense on Catholic members.

    9/11 produced psychic instability with the West amongst Muslims worldwide. From outside coming into the West amongst recently arrived groups mixed feelings, even sympathy prevails. Muslim tradition: elites fight it out for security, then Muslims content with the stronger willed player and enjoy resulting peace.
    The West views Christianity as Christianities. West views Muslims as Islam. Muslims view is of one Islam. Distortion: there are Islams in the same way there are Christianities. Interpretations of same scripture varies. Civil war brewing. US to back the interpretations in its interest and work with them to shape their political development mirroring local power structure (for stability) either authoritarian or democratic depending on which is more responsible and sovereign.
    I do not view it in our favor politically to publicly call Nazis Christian, as I do not view it favorable to publicly call ISIS Muslim: Though they are.

    No matter how near or far they are from theology, we must promote a many Islams divide and conquer card, in line with the emerging religious reformation on the side of individualism vs religious authorities (ie rabbinical vs temple Judiasm; more in line with Western institutions) ; protect and reward our friends with legal respect along Westphalian lines not on arbitrary borders written on the sand where sovereignty and responsibility do not exist (US to treat these areas as unoccupied territories- rules of the jungle; UN is for societal uses, but it is not Westphalian,full of non-sovereign entities, states need not comply but must serve security need of respective society); and get to the gritty work of rolling them back, narrative and all.

    We have to fight the good fight by having them fight the good fight between themselves to sort out their societies (can’t siege us when they have an opponent to their rear). Establish the killing lines in such a way that sides are picked instead of respecting everyone: that is society’s job, not the state’s. The one Islam card is a clear and present danger to our interests.

  6. Jim McCaffery on August 31, 2014 at 1:55 pm said:

    You say Obama believe that things will take care of themselves and evolve to what’s right and just. He believes people will all come to an understanding of what is fair and how everyone should act. I totally agree with that assessment; however he does seem to believe we (US citizens) must be told how to think, how to act, what to say, and what is best for everyone. He seems to believe he must change, the climate, tell people where to spend their money, and who should get to share in the wealth that others have earned.

    It seems to me he only believes in allowing things he doesn’t care about to evolve. If it were the other way around, we, the world, the nation, and all citizens would be way more better off?
    .

  7. J M Abedi on September 3, 2014 at 9:49 pm said:

    Like Fukuyama, this article takes the politics out of politics rendering it of little use. We have politics to do to protect and advance our interests & responsibiloties abroad with many non-ideal peoples. We do not stop at OUR interpretation of THEIR theology.

    One need only compare John of Leiden to this apocalyptic cult group to make clear comparisons. Middle East in a rebalancing of power vastly favoring Iran; neutering our traditional relationships in the area; and potentially defanging Israeli strategic advantage when Iran has the bomb. This is politics.

    Problem: general fundamentalizing of Sunni worldview starting with the Iran Rev ’79 (proved theocratic concept); Soviet defeat in Afghanistan (triumphalism); Saudi money 30 years (funds shift of Sunni view closer to theirs, Wahabi). It’s a political phenomenon lense on to scripture. Recall, 1950s,1960s,1970s ascendency of Westernization in the region.

    Hardened fighters were made during Soviet fight and Pakistan military funneled them into the Taliban in Afghanistan and other conflict theaters to this day to the point that Pakistan state itself is at risk itself and unable to contain it militarily. US priority: Pakistan (nukes) and regional collapse

  8. J M Abedi on September 3, 2014 at 11:01 pm said:

    Theologically, for those wishing to pursue, one thing is certain about Muslim Quranic methodology: that the words are the monologue of God and, as a result, one verse is bound one inextricably to every other verse. Thus, ceaseless debates over 14 centuries.

    Sunnis are more Protestant priest like in organization.
    The Shiites more Catholic cardinal like in authority structure to interpret.

    What’s new are those that want to pick and choose verses unbounded by the rest not too different then what the above article does. The article legitimizes ISIS’s view and justifies them which is what they want. Instead, the article should seek to undermine their view and clarify their break with nearly a millennia and a half of tradition.
    This emergence of individuals claiming personal authority to interpret as they see fit will likely continue virulently with ongoing breakdown of traditional authorities, mostly amongst Sunnis, and the empowerment of the individual via communications technology. Recall: Luther and the blood of the Reformation. In the Middle East, the violent rise of this reordering is likely to come out of surrounding tribal areas and verge on the cities, then consolidate new order harshly initially..letting up in time ie Iran 79-today. Movements like ISIS will come out of the woodwork from now on unless a state consolidates and projects authority. If no state is in our interest, we should back a movement ourselves and engage in crisis management in the meantime.

  9. J M Abedi on September 3, 2014 at 11:08 pm said:

    Diplomacy and military should be tied together much more strongly in the crisis management their or else we are like a plumber who plugs one hole only to have the pressure puncture another hole right next to it. Diplomatic militarism could buy us a lot longer than that in Iraq and Afghanistan/Pak. That is not what is going on: no strategy.

Leave a Reply to Robert Klimek Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: