More Delusional Apologetics for Islam

by Bruce S. Thornton // FrontPage Magazine

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Photo via FrontPage Magazine

It’s pretty embarrassing when the on-line comments about an article are more logical and knowledgeable than the article. Such is the case with a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week that argued Muslim violence does not reflect traditional Islamic doctrine, but is merely a case of arrested historical development. The whole argument is a tissue of logical fallacies and historical ignorance.

The author, a professor of history at Harvard, starts by explaining that Christianity was once violent and intolerant, but changed over time, and thus can provide an example for “modernizing Islam.” But most of his catalogue of Christian violence and persecution is little more than the tu quoque fallacy. It ignores the fact that Christian violence was typical of the whole pre-modern world, a sad banality of human existence like plagues, war, torture, and famine. The comparison of premodern Christian violence to today’s Islamic terror is as irrelevant as rationalizing modern torture and executions, like the mutilation and beheading regularly practiced in Saudi Arabia, by bringing up the hanging, disemboweling, beheading, and quartering the English used to punish traitors in the 14th century.

More important, such violence and cruelty were a violation and distortion of Christian doctrine, a reflection not of eternal theological imperatives, but of a fallen human nature prone to error and sin. That’s why even during bouts of cruelty and oppression, like the brutal treatment of the New World Indians, there were those who publicly based their opposition to such behavior on Christian belief. In 1511 the Dominican priest Antonio de Montesinos scolded his co-religionists, “You are in mortal sin and live and die in it because of the cruelty and tyranny that you use against these innocent peoples . . . Are these Indians not Men? Do they not have rational souls? Are you not obliged to love them as you love yourselves?”

Later, the anti-slavery movement was similarly grounded in Christian doctrine. In 1791, evangelical Christian William Wilberforce, the driving force behind the British abolition of slavery, preached to the House of Commons, “Never, never will we desist till we have wiped away this scandal from the Christian name, released ourselves from the load of guilt, under which we at present labor, and extinguished every trace of this bloody traffic.” No matter how often Christian ethics were violated over the centuries, they still provided the theological foundations for rejecting violence and intolerance, as happened during the Civil Rights movement in this country, which was led by a Christian minister. And today Christians know that their co-religionists who continue to act violently and intolerantly are being bad Christians.

This point makes the professor’s argument a false analogy, for there is nothing in traditional Islamic theology that provides a basis for making violence against heretics and non-believers un-Islamic. The professor wants to argue away these inconvenient truths about traditional Islam by arguing that the faith can evolve away from them, just as Christianity did. But again, whereas historical Christian violence could find no scriptural justification, and much to condemn it, Islamic violence and intolerance––and of course slavery and Jew-hatred––are not the result of fringe or extremist misinterpretations. Rather, they are validated in the Koran, the Hadith, and 14 centuries of Islamic theology and jurisprudence, all regularly and copiously cited by today’s jihadists and theologians.

Thus the doctrine of jihad against infidels––the notion that such aggression is a justified form of the defense of Islam and necessary for fulfilling Allah’s will that all people become Muslims––is the collective duty of those dwelling in the House of Islam. The Koran instructs, “Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Messenger have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth.” Nor can there be any “tolerance” or “mutual respect” for those who reject Islam, especially Jews and Christians: “O you who believe! Do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people.” The professor’s dream of a “broad-minded form” of Islam would require an extensive reinterpretation or rejection of some of Islam’s fundamental tenets.

That’s why one would be hard pressed to find a Muslim theologian in the 16th century scolding the jihadists rampaging through the Balkans, or seizing Christian slaves in the Mediterranean, the way Montesinos or Bartolome de las Casas criticized the brutalities of the conquistadors; or in the 18th century a Muslim arguing like Wilberforce that slavery, explicitly sanctioned by the Koran, was a “scandal” on Islam’s name. More typical are the words of the envoy representing the pasha of Tripoli, who in 1785 justified piracy and slaving in the Mediterranean by telling Thomas Jefferson that “it was written in the Koran that all Nations who should not have acknowledged [Muslims’] authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon whoever they could find.” So too today, many respected imams and theologians throughout the Muslim world sanction Islamic violence against non-believers, and textbooks in schools teach children the same beliefs.

The facts of Islamic theology and historical practice render delusional the professor’s statement that Muslims must learn “that religious texts arose in a particular context and must be reinterpreted in the new context of modernity.” But this reduction of spiritual truth and meaning to the material world of time and social change is a habit of modernity that finds no warrant in Islamic theology. Unlike the Christian Bible, which is the product of an ongoing spiritual inspiration of humans existing in time, the Koran is the pre-existing, uncreated, eternal word of Allah, dictated to Mohammed. It is perfect as written, just as the life and sayings of Mohammed provide the perfect, timeless guide for every dimension of life, including law, economics, politics, and family life. The role of interpretive exegesis or allegory in traditional Islam, then, is vastly less significant than it has been in Christianity. Any Muslim today who desires to reinterpret, say, jihad, or relations with non-Muslims, or illiberal shari’a law, will thus find it difficult, if not impossible, to change the plain meaning of the scriptures as understood consistently by Muslims for 14 centuries.

These problems leave the professor’s article an exercise in false historical analogy. Nor does it help that he makes misleading statements, like his claim that Islam can be reconciled with democracy, and that “such reformations have been institutionalized successfully in several countries with significant Muslim populations, such as Turkey and Tunisia.” Tunisia maybe, but this “reformation” is only a few years old, and has a long way to go before it can be called “institutionalized,” let alone “successful.”

As for Turkey, despite nearly a century of aggressive secularization and de-Islamizing of society, under Recep Tayyip Erdogan it has been moving away from reconciliation with modernity towards an Islamist state. Prime Minister of Turkey for 11 years, and now the new President, Erdogan has called democracy a “train” you “get off” once you reach your “destination,” has jailed more journalists than any other country, has said, “You cannot be both secular and a Muslim! You will either be a Muslim, or secular! When both are together, they create reverse magnetism. For them to exist together is not a possibility,” and was a follower of Necmettin Erbakan, the prime minister who founded the Turkish equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood and began Turkey’s turn away from Western liberal democracy and back to a more traditional Islamic view of the social-political order. The example of Turkey makes exactly the opposite point the professor wants it to.

Ignoring the theological foundations that militate against a “reformation” of Islam or even its coexistence with modernity is a form of myopia akin to Obama’s refusal to say “Islamic extremism” or his claim that “no faith teaches people to massacre innocents.” Nor does it help those Muslims who sincerely want to find some way to reconcile their faith with a world that these days is more intimately interconnected than ever. The tenets of Islam make their job hard enough, but we don’t make it any easier by indulging our “willful blindness,” as Andrew McCarthy calls it, to truths that offend our ideological prejudices or do not serve our political interests.

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21 thoughts on “More Delusional Apologetics for Islam”

  1. Wilful blindness is the order of the day in the West.

    In my personal life I have observed people respond to news of the latest murders committed by Islamic terrorists, by expressing concern about the impact upon Muslims. No concern was expressed about the actual, murdered victims or their loved ones.

  2. Thank you for this article, Mr. Thornton. It would be splendid if the President of our country, the political left and the dominant leftist media could spot the obvious as well as you do.

  3. Whereas the “Medieval View” of Jihadists shall consume the world’s money, time, power, families etc…

    And whereas the “Progtard View” of Elites shall consume the world’s money, time, power, families, etc…

    WITH… neither group ever fixing any problem, or ever fixing themselves, but only making more cohorts…

    BUT… the Spirit of ‘1776 “Tragic View” certainly solves humankind’s problems humanely, quickly at that, without subsuming all money, all time, all power, all families and all resources.. unto all debt.

    Curious that our press salivates over discovering only Republican candidates for president who are required to explain their worldview blend of an ounce of “Tragic View” and heavy tonnage of “Therapeutic View.”

    More curious still, that all press, all culture, all wise networks insist no human on earth may breathe that believes, nor dares to run for POTUS, in the wise “Tragic” worldview, and only in this worldview, which proved itself from 1776 until 1900, when Progtards took over and began the experiment in endless, unsolvable end-times idiocy. Holders of the “Tragic View” see problems’ answers as a kid stuck in a Chinese finger trap. Progtards believe themselves clever when they make a new one to Lord over some dumb-bodies.

  4. Kathleen Boldrick

    The ongoing attempt to explain away the evil of Islamism grows ever wilder. A recent interview by Cristiana Amampour with an escapee from ISIS has the man declaring that his captors were not Muslims but hardened killer Westerners! Probably an order of Franciscan friars.

  5. Craig S. Maxwell

    Great article. I was similarly aghast at the WSJ piece. Here’s what I sent them:

    The moral symmetry Kevin Madigan tries to draw between Christianity and Islam is hardly surprising; he is, after all, an academic and academics are, by and large, moral and/or cognitive relativists.

    Thus the special emphasis he places on the so-called “virtues” of tolerance and pluralism. Always a dead giveaway.

    But this presents problems.

    To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton (only slightly), “[tolerance] is a comparative of which we have not settled the superlative.” In other words, without the priorities of rank offered by higher, guiding principles and norms, tolerance becomes merely an indiscriminate stamp of approval for whatever one desires. In this scenario, to quote Chesterton again, “tolerance is” nothing more than “the virtue of the man without convictions.” To work, indeed to have any meaning at all, tolerance must be informed by the sort of moral and religious absolutes that were first acknowledged and then discussed by the ancient and medieval thinkers Madigan so obviously deplores.

    Nor does pointing out the barbarities of the latter periods require or offer any special insight. When have men not behaved atrociously? No fact is more readily acknowledged by Christianity. As Sam Johnson noted, “With respect to original sin, the inquiry is not necessary, for whatever is the cause of human corruption, mean are evidently and confessedly so corrupt, that all the laws of heaven and earth are insufficient to restrain them from crime.” In any case, please let us not cite, as does Madigan, the supposedly superior example of the West since the Sixties, since A) This is far too short a period to fairly compare with the breadth of time that spanned the Middle Ages, and, B) There is every indication the very tolerance and pluralism Madigan so reveres is, in fact, responsible for having robbed a sizable part of the West–Europe–with sufficient reasons for even procreating and/or defending themselves from deadly external threats.

    The even more basic distinction that Madigan seems to miss is the one that separates the bad that people do because of the precepts they live by, and those who do so in spite of them. Mohamed was a warrior who spread his faith at the point of a sword and commanded his followers to do the same. Violence is sanctioned by the prophet himself. Jesus, on the other hand, offers nothing similar, by way of either word or deed, to his disciples. In fact, the lives and messages of these men could hardly be more sharply opposed.

    1. Very well written and in regards to the excellent comment by Craig Maxwell I would only remind that Jesus never envisioned suicidal or foolish behavior by his followers in regards living and even surviving in this fallen world. Luke 22:36 “He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.”
      Further in Luke 22:38 “And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them, It is enough.” I am no theologian or biblical scholar so perhaps I misinterpret, but it seems that Jesus understood the reality of life, but even then he placed limits on the value and even restraints on the use of arms and certainly did not advocate or even imply using swords as a method of argument or persuasion to Christian faith.

  6. can we survive two more years of doing nothing? after centuries of islamic violence, people still are calling it a religion of peace. let’s send Jordan all the napalm it needs.

  7. Proudly Unaffiliated

    This article is so needed and right on target. Thank you Bruce Thornton, I am so glad that you wrote this, it is such an important contribution. Yes, it was precipitated by a foolish and misguided WSJ article but the WSJ article dovetails with how many — maybe most — people are erroneously thinking now. It is as if they think Christianity had its “bad” days and now Islam is having its “bad” days and will shortly grow out of it. I think this notion is completely erroneous.

    You have taken a good, first cut at the issue. But more is needed. Maybe it is out there and I am not aware of it.

    Not that I wish to make more work for you, but the world desperately needs a full description of the historical background of our current problems with Islam. And a very detailed and a comparison with Christianity (and perhaps other religions if you feel it is appropriate) can only help all of the world understand what we are really facing.

    Getting right to the root and origins of the Bible and the Koran is critical.

  8. When the scholars and quislings for Islam wheel out this lie about the wonderful potential for ‘reform’, there are 3 hard facts which they must be made to face, apart from the quick insult that they’ve had 1400 years to do it already, so how much more time do they want? I will get to those reasons.

    In fact, if you consider Islam objectively in a moral-free kind of ‘Ideological Anthropology’, it is actually very well crafted, and according to my criteria, superior to Western Secular Democracy, in its current form. (One of those objective criteria, is the Darwinian ‘Survival of the Fittest’).

    The particular ideological problem that the Warlord Mohammed addressed, is the problem of change. Change is a 2-edged sword, as the West is now finding to its cost. If you allow change, you can value-neutralise your ideology so far, that in the end you tolerate everything, but you have also lost your initial nature, and you have nothing left to stand for.

    But conversely, if you dis-allow change, you miss out on the Enlightenment, science, technology, commerce, and the use of open debate to revise your governmental structures. This is what the Ottoman Empire found to its cost, when it (and the Muslim Caliphate) collapsed before the industrially and organisationally superior, free Western democracies.

    Please ponder for a few moments, the severity of this problem, as the Warlord Mohammed may have done, 1400 years ago, and review ideology as if it were a piece of computer code, to be interpreted and enacted by human automata. If you make the definition of the ideology too tight, then you will not be able to adapt to new knowledge and circumstances, like, for example, the Copernican revolution in astronomy, and you will never get GPS to guide your cruise missiles. But if you are even slightly too flexible, your ideology could be changed over time until even its latest leaders become unrecognisable to its original founders – as Caesar Obama demonstrates nicely. Furthermore, as already mentioned, you could update and revise your ideology so far that in the end the people don’t know what it stands for anymore. For example, how many Europeans could say what their fundamental political beliefs are?

    So one way you risk becoming technologically and militarily backward. The other way you risk becoming ‘lost’, and no longer knowing what you are fighting for, and not having enough of your people ready to fight for your belief ‘cloud’. I used to think that the first is more dangerous, but current events with ISIS and the spread of Islamic terror (now 25,000 incidents since 9/11!) makes me think otherwise. There is a sense in which the Islamic choice of ‘no change’ is safer than our choice of allowing update and revision.

    So finally, I will give the 3 rules of application of the ideology in Islam that ensure that it stays rigorous, correct and pure (according the the mindset of the founders). I can point to the relevant Surah and Hadith, if people are interested. I think you have to respect the completeness of these 3 rules of application, even if you don’t like their effects.

    1. You are not allowed to change any of these commands.

    2. You are not allowed to revise any of the commands in the light of new knowledge or circumstances. As new circumstances come along, you must act in them in the way that corresponds closest to the original commands. For example, it would be a quicker strategy to quietly accept criticism of Islam in Europe until the demographics allows a complete take-over by Islam and the total imposition of Sharia Law. But the latter is illegal: any insult to the Warlord Mohammed must be cut down, whether it is politically the best move or not.

    3. You are not allowed to say that such and such a verse is metaphorical, and therefore can be ‘interpreted’ in various different enlightened ways. The interpretation must be literal. So when they talk about killing those who criticise Islam, they literally mean that, as 43 critics of Mohammed, including 13 poets, would tell us, if they hadn’t been executed by him.

    Now, humans are fallible and weak, so obviously, Muslims stray over time, and the core ideology becomes relaxed in different geographies and at different times. However because of these 3 rules, long term change is not possible, and in successive waves of enthusiasm – the current one started by Sayyid Qutb, Hassan al Banna and Abul Maududi at the beginning of the 20th century – Islam is returned to its orthodoxy.

  9. Thank you Mr. Thornton, you have written an excellent article on the stupidity of Mr. Madigan article on comparing the genesis of Christianity with Islam.

    Historically speaking there was no organized Christian religion until the 4th century AD, when the birth of the religion called The Roman Catholic Church began to rear its ugly head, and that organization began to start the process of committing violence against people, nations, other organizations that was against their view of Christian doctrine. Prior to the 4th century, we had 300 years where primarily people who were followers or disciples of Jesus Christ, live a simple life, where the teachings of Christ was paramount via the writings found in the various epistles and Hebrew’s scriptures before it was collated into what we now called the bible. Those followers who began to dabble in power politics were the ones who eventually ate the whole Roman integration thing into what is now the Christian religion. The Islamic religion from the start began in violence beginning with the atrocities of the prophet Mohammed. That my friend is a big difference!

    1. >> committing violence against people, nations, other organizations <<

      The church of Rome was one of the central institutions of Western civilization peopled by humans and at times fielding its own army. It is according to an exacting and unrealistic standard that you dismiss it. It was flawed — as it seems we must always announce about any Christian or Western institution — but as Thomas Sowell likes to ask, "Compared to what?" It met many needs in its history and often had to contend with powerful rulers much given to the exercise of their powers. Your view of the Church is more of a caricature of it than a generous and balanced view.

  10. This article sums up the simple fact that the Muslim religion read as written is totally incompatible with the Western philosophy of free will and freedom of action. It makes the politically correct term ‘Radical Islamist’ literally a lie. That means that terrorists like ISIS are simply Muslims acting on exactly what their holy books say.

  11. “Riley-Smith reminds his reader that on the matter of violence Christ was not as clear as pacifists like to think. He praised the faith of the Roman centurion but did not condemn his profession. At the Last Supper he told his disciples, “Let him who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me, And he was reckoned with transgressors.”

    St. Paul said of secular authorities, “He does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer.” Several centuries later, St. Augustine articulated a Christian approach to just war, one in which legitimate authorities could use violence to halt or avert a greater evil. It must be a defensive war, in reaction to an act of aggression. For Christians, therefore, violence was ethically neutral, since it could be employed either for evil or against it. As Riley-Smith notes, the concept that violence is intrinsically evil belongs solely to the modern world. It is not Christian.” Jonathan Riley-Smith, see

  12. Sorry, my second post just above cited the wrong author: It was from a review of a JRS book and written by Thomas F. Madden. The website is correct. I now want to read the book especially after President BHO so blatantly displayed this misinformed and frankly dangerous world view just yesterday.

  13. Pingback: Streetwise Professor » Get Off Your High Horse! Whatabout the Crusades?

  14. Marshall Keyes, MD

    Dear VDH,
    If what you say about Isalm is correct (and it would seem to be) is the only alternative available to living at war with it a Holy War to conquer and eradicate it. Or, is there some other “moral” compromise the West can make with Islam, despite the fact that it seems not to treat Christians and Jews very well and denies basic human rights to women and other minorities?

  15. If Mr. Obama believes that a document written just a couple hundred plus years ago is antiquaited and in need of revision, wouldn’t he be able to agree that another famous document written a couple thousand years ago that extols killing infidels might warrant some editing?

  16. So, is any attempt to present Islam in a more accurate manner by default a case of liberal apologia (because, after all, yo know the truth, right?)

    Let me get to my points.

    The author here states:

    “This point makes the professor’s argument a false analogy, for there is nothing in traditional Islamic theology that provides a basis for making violence against heretics and non-believers un-Islamic.”

    This statement is false on its face. What we have in all these (surprisingly redundant) essays about the “real” Islam is good old -fashioned cherry-picking; the same injunction to kill the non-believers (“the infidels”) is quoted in all of them. Consider the following Quranic quote:

    (Sura 5:8) “Be ye steadfast witness for Allah in Equity, and let not hatred of any people blind yy that ye deal not justly.”

    In fact, the Quran is filled with injunctions to “act justly” towards others. But before you say “but…”…let me acknowledge that there are many expressions in the Quran that are martial and warrior-themed…Muhammad took up the task of uniting the many tribes of Arabia (who had been warring with each other for generations)…a task that did indeed involve fighting and numerous battles. Muhammad returned to Mecca a “conquering hero” (but one who brought “peace” to the land, not unlike the Pax Romana “peace” that was entirely predicated on military might). Unlike Jesus, who (in the Gospels) is not generally depicted as a warrior (although at one point he says “Think not that I have come to bring a peace…I have come to bring a sword…” [ Matthew 10;34])…However, by the end of the third century, Christians were being urged to defend the faith by killing unbelievers and enemies of the Church (the theologian Eusebius was perhaps the main proselytizer of this new religious mission)…The two religions are not perfect mirrors of each other (despite many historical linkages, like Abraham)…each has it unique history.

    But one could easily go on and find numerous biblical injunctions to war and violence and revenge (in both testaments)…by I won’t belabor this point. If one is a Christian and has some degree of intellectual integrity, then simply conduct some research on the topic (“violence in the Christian religion’) to find sufficient evidence of my assertion.

    But perhaps the greatest error (or false assertion) here is the apologia for violence in Christianity as “premodern”…as if, post Enlightenment, violence by Christian religious groups rapidly diminished to practically nothing. The inherent violence (sectarian or Imperialistc) in Christianity never went away completely…perhaps was only sublimated or dissipated under pragmatic political labels (like “democracy”) and nationalistic institutions. The West embraced the nation state (its own invention) as the supreme political entity. In Islam, politics is still very much tribal; national borders mean little (especially when imposed by Western Imperialist powers like France and Great Britain)…this failure to establish states of equal power to Western States perhaps allowed Western powers to dominate most Middle Eastern (Muslim) peoples for over a hundred years…domination effected by periodic coups and/or installing ruthless dictators who killed hundreds of thousands (dictators we still fight today, as with Assad in Syria). Learn your history, Christians

    In America in the 20th Century (and continuing into this newest century), we have seen an explosion in (Western) religious-based hate groups, militant white supremicism (“Christian identity”), anti-semitism (some being “Neo Nazism”), anti-secularism…etc….and yes, anti-Muslim/Islamic sentiment (sometimes resulting in the murders of innocent Muslims). Right now, we have a great many people speaking of our conflict with ISIS in terms of a Holy War — the very same rhetoric utilized by ISIS leaders and ideologues (who, in fact, refer to Western armies as “Crusaders”).

    Indeed, following 9/11, a General William Boykin (undersecretary for Defense 2002-2007) was criticized for touring the country giving lectures calling for a “holy war” with Islam in the run-up to the Iraq invasion (an illegal war based upon several foundational lies/falsehoods [e.g., that Saddam was in league with Al Qaeda and responsible for 9/11])…even though at the same time, VP Cheney claimed that we would be greeted as liberators (presumably by the Muslims who we were not fighting in a holy war, or, who were not our enemies?). So, let us suppose that it was a ‘holy war’ waged by Christians against the evil Muslims…this invasion resulted in the killing of 300,000 Muslim people (not counting soldiers [note: this is the conservative estimate of casualties; the Red Cross estimate is vastly higher]…How do you excuse this religious violence committed by an allegedly (“modern”) and “Christian” nation?

    It is ironic that the author rejects the “apologist” claim of an Islam failing to embrace modernity (hence explaining some of the tension between Islam’s militancy and its desire for moderation and respectability in the modern community of nations)…And yet, the author excuses the horrific crimes committed in the name of Christ as being historically “pre-modern”. This is utterly disingenuous scholarship. Just one easy (domestic) example: the lynching of blacks and the burning of crosses (on the lawns of ‘negros’ or their defenders) by the KKK (domestic terrorists) was rationalized by members as being grounded in Christian principle…These actions (and other spontaneous massacres of minorities, racial or religious, in the 20th century) were certainly not “pre-modern”.

    Lastly, I will note that the author is not a Muslim, not even a scholar of Muslim scripture…if one cares about presenting a truthful and honest criticism of religion, perhaps next time, consider inviting (or interviewing) an Islamic scholar/ Imam to the debate…you might find it enlightening.

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