Robert Spencer, The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion. Regnery Publishing, 2007.
“But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth: But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee” (Deuteronomy 20: 16-17).
The passage quoted above represents a more overt call for genocide than anything in contained within the pages of Mein Kampf. Yet it comes, neither from Hitler, nor, for that matter, from the Quran or Islamic aḥādīth. Rather, it is a direct quotation from the Christian (and, of course, the Hebrew) Bible (Deuteronomy 20: 16-17).
The next book of that same Bible, that of Joshua, describes the titular character fulfilling this very command:
“He left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel commanded” (Joshua 10:40).
Meanwhile, another biblical passage from another book of the Old Testament or Tanakh, extends these sentiments to yet another ethnic group, strangely omitted from the previous passage:
“Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass” (Samuel 1 15:3).
In ‘The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion’, Robert Spencer argues that the teachings of the Quran, aḥādīth and Islamic law are barbaric, illiberal and intolerant – in short, wholly incompatible with contemporary Western values.
In this enterprise, he is entirely successful and, I believe, wholly correct.
Indeed, it is hardly surprising that the Quran and aḥādīth are wholly incompatible with contemporary western values, since these works were authored, not in the contemporary West, but rather in the Middle East some thousand years ago.
However, where I part from Spencer is in his implicit assumption that the Christian Bible is somehow any better.
On the contrary, as I see it, the Old Testament of the Bible is, if anything, even less compatible with contemporary western values than is the Quran and aḥādīth – again, unsurprisingly since it was written, again in the Middle East, long even before the Quran.
True, the New Testament of the Christian Bible is rather more pacifist in tone. So perhaps Christianity may have a claim for qualifying as a ‘religion of peace’ – at least if you regard parts of the Old Testament as somehow overruled or repealed by the New Testament or New Covenant.
I have a theory that this be attributable to the fact that Christianity, like the similarly peaceable religion of Buddhism, owes its global spread to the fact that it was adopted as a state religion by a pre-existing, long-established empire, namely the Roman Empire, after the conversion of the then-Emperor, Constantine.
The latter, already ruling over a vast empire, had a vested interest in producing a submissive and servile population, content with their lot and not prone to rebel against their Roman overlords. Such New Testament injunctions as ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘render unto Caesar what is his’, as well as the deferment of just deserts until the afterlife, functioned to promote this end.
Hence the Romans had an interest in encouraging conversion to Christianity among imperial subjects. This is, of course, a quasi-Marxist view of religion as ‘opiate of the masses’.
In contrast, however, Islam was spread, not through its adoption by a pre-existing empire, but rather through imperial conquest and subjugation. The founder of Islam, far from a pacifist, was himself a warlord, who spread Islam ‘by the sword’.
This might explain the rather more bellicose nature of Islamic teaching as compared to the Christian New Testament.
Yet the teachings of the Old Testament are rather closer in tone to those of Islam. The ancient Hebrews had their own tales of heroic imperial conquest and, although these may have been largely mythical, the Jews, as a people whose homeland was located in dangerous proximity to the mighty empires of both Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, had long had to inculcate martial and ethnocentric values simply to preserve their independence and very survival as a people.
Indeed, the Old Testament always strikes me as something akin to a racially-supremacist tract. The Jews, it repeatedly tells us, are God’s ‘Chosen People’ and everyone else is, at best, a second-class species of human, at worst, as seen in the passages quoted above, fit objects of genocide.
Yet these verses have not prevented Jews and Christians, many of them devoutly religious, some even self-described ‘Biblical literalists’, from living together peaceably in western polities without significant numbers among them feeling the need to regularly suicide-bomb one another or fly planes into buildings, or, for that matter, massacre Hittites, Canaanites and Jebusites.
However, there is clearly a difficulty in integrating Muslims into Western society, as various terrorist atrocities committed by citizens of the Muslim faith born and raised within the borders of western liberal democracies amply yet horribly demonstrate.
The problem is not simply that Muslims have, in general, not fully reconciled themselves with such ostensibly ‘progressive’ notions as feminism and transsexual bathroom rights. After all, the same is true of many Christians, Jews and heathen secularists like myself.
Rather the problem is that significant minorities of Muslims within the West (but certainly not of the West) engage in terrorism against the West.
True, terrorists represent only a small minority of the Muslim population. However, they are not so small a minority as not to be able to wreak considerable havoc, causing much injury, loss of life and economic cost.
Of course, historically, Christians and Jews have had their own share of ‘holy wars’ and religious bigotry, both against themselves, one another and outsiders.
There were the Crusades, the burning of heretics, blasphemers and witches, countless wars justified in the name of God, plus the persecution of Protestants by Catholics, of Catholics by Protestants, of Jews by both Catholics and Protestants and, today, of Palestinians (themselves the probable descendants of the biblical Canaanites) by Jews, not to mention that whole nasty business with the holocaust.
In short, liberal democracy and religious toleration came only relatively recently even to the West.
Moreover, it is surely no coincidence that increasingly liberal and tolerant attitudes and laws have arisen hand-in-hand with the process of secularization.
In short, liberal democracy and Western civilization have come about despite Christianity rather than because of it.
Yet, nowadays, Catholics, Protestants and Jews resident in most of the West, together with various assorted secular heathens and infidels like myself, all live together in relative toleration.
This holds out the prospect that, in the long-term, Muslims might learn to do likewise.
However, it is unlikely to be a rapid transition, and nor is it necessarily an inevitable one. Therefore, we have every reason to be cautious about admitting more Muslims into our countries as migrants or asylum seekers.
However, given that the holy books of both Christianity and Judaism contain passages that rival anything in the Quran or aḥādīth when it comes to draconian bellicosity, I contend that the reason for the current unassimilability of Muslim minorities in the West must be sought at least partly in factors external to the content of the Islamic scripture itself.
One factor is perhaps that Muslims have come rather late, if at all, to Western modernity.
Thus, whereas the ancestors of contemporary Ashkenazim and Sephardim settled in Europe centuries ago, and have therefore, like Christians themselves, been an integral (and, indeed, a disproportionately influential, and disproportionately secular and liberal) part of the secular, liberal West for at least as long as the West has had any claim to being secular and liberal, the presence of Muslim immigrants in Western polities is, to my knowledge, largely a recent phenomenon.
Women as ‘Booty’
Spencer condemns “the treatment of women as war prizes, with no consideration of their will” as “from a twenty-first-century perspective… one of the most problematic aspects of Muhammad’s status as ‘an excellent model of conduct’” (p133-4).
He likewise condemns the Quran for allowing Muslims to “have sex with slave girls (‘captives that your right hands possess’)” (p173).
There are three problems with this argument.
First, the practice is by no means restricted to Islam. Indeed, as Spencer himself acknowledges:
“This phenomenon has manifested itself to varying degrees in all cultures and societies” (p134).
Indeed, many evolutionary psychologists and sociobiologists would contend that the capture of fertile females for breeding purposes is the ultimate purpose of warfare and reason why warfare evolved in the first place.
However, Spencer nevertheless maintains that:
“In the Islamic world [this practice] is particularly hard to eradicate because of the prophetic sanction it has received” (p134).
Yet, despite his apparent background in Christian theology, Spencer seems blissfully unaware that the Christian/Hebrew Bible also sanctions the exact same practices. Indeed, the Christian/Hebrew Bible gives even more explicit sanction to the taking of women as booty during war than does Islamic scripture.
Thus, whereas Islamic teaching only gives implied “prophetic sanction” to forced concubinage by describing the Prophet himself as participating in such practices, the Christian/Hebrew Bible not only sanctions such behaviour, but explicitly commands it.
Take, for example, the following passage, taken again from the Old Testament:
“When the LORD thy God hath delivered [a city that has refused to surrender peacefully] into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword: But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the LORD thy God hath given thee” (Deuteronomy 20: 13-14).
This phraseology, taken from the King James Version, seems to be an only mildly euphemistic incitement to mass rape. Here, “the women and the little ones” along with “cattle” are explicitly equated with “the spoils”, and the Israelites are commanded to “take unto thyself; and… eat the spoil of thine enemies”.
Some prudish Christian apologists might affect to be blissfully unaware of what this passage alludes to, but I suspect all but the most naïve and innocent (or perhaps simply uneducated) among them would be being disingenuous.
Or take this verse:
“Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man” (Numbers 31: 17-18).
Again, one does not have to be a cynic with a ‘dirty mind’ to guess for what purpose one is being commanded to “save for yourself” all these young virginal maidens, and I doubt it is purely because one wants help with the housework.
After all, if it were for any purposes other than the obvious sexual ones, then why are only girls being taken as captives while the men and boys are being killed?
Who Gets Killed?
But let us look a little further at these decidedly ‘gendered’ Biblical commandments.
If female infidels are commanded to be taken as booty and possibly used as concubines or sexual slaves, then male infidels defeated in war were typically killed outright.
Therefore, far from evidencing the oppression of women under Islam as contended by Spencer, the practice of taking captured women as spoils is actually a prime example of female privilege.
Indeed, this represents a classic case of what Adam Jones aptly terms ‘Gendercide’.
Why, then, are we not talking about how both Christianity and Islam (and Judaism) discriminate against men?
Thus, just as the biblical passages quoted above (Deuteronomy 20: 13-14; Numbers 31: 17-18) order massacres of all adult males, but the sparing of women and girls, so Islamic scripture is similarly ambivalent regarding the treatment of enemy females.
Spencer mentions an Islamic ḥādīth that seemingly excuses the killing of females, at least in some circumstances:
“The Prophet passed by me at a place called Al-Abwa’ or Waddan, and was asked whether it was permissible to attack A/- Mushrikun [unbelieving] warriors at night with the probability of exposing their women and children to danger. The Prophet replied, ‘They (i.e. women and children) are from them (i.e. Al-Mushrikun)” (quoted at: p97; Sahih al-Bukhârî: 3012).
However, to my recollection, Spencer conveniently neglects to cite two other aḥādīth with a quite contrary message, namely Sahîh al-Bukhârî: 3015 and Sahîh Muslim: 1744.
Here, the killing of females is specifically forbidden by Mohammed. The prophet is described in these aḥādīth as finding the dead body of a woman after a battle and reproving those responsible.
In short, Islamic law seems rather contradictory on the question of whether women can ever be killed in war.
However, perhaps the different passages can be reconciled if female casualties are to be regarded as, to use two anachronistic contemporary terms, not ‘legitimate targets’, but nevertheless excusable incidental ‘collateral damage’.
Again, this is reminiscent of the Old Testament, which contains similarly contradictory prescriptions regarding female captives.
Thus, in the passage which I quoted at the beginning of this review, deliberate massacres of entire cities, women and children included, is explicitly commanded (Deuteronomy 20:16-17).
However, elsewhere, for example in the passages quoted in the last section of this post (Deuteronomy 20: 13-14; Numbers 31: 17-18), whereas Israelites are order to kill all adult males, they are advised to spare (or rather instead merely rape and enslave) certain classes of female captive.
Actually, however, Deuteronomy is not inconsistent; it is simply racist – in addition to being sexist.
In short, all non-Hebrews must be conquered, and all (non-surrendering) males of enemy groups must also be massacred. However, only among particularly objectionable racial and ethnic groups (“these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance”: Deuteronomy 20:16-17) must the women and children also be massacred.
In contrast, Mohammad’s justification for the killing of women and children (“they are of them”) actually seems eminently practical, especially in the context of modern warfare where, with the use of relatively indiscriminate weapons like missiles and bombs, let alone ‘weapons of mass destruction’ such as nuclear weapons, civilian casualties are almost unavoidable.
Yet, while nuclear escalation may be avoidable, to forsake the use of weapons like missiles and bombs altogether would be suicidal in any conflict with any enemy not willing to similarly handicap themselves.
Moreover, feminists in particular ought presumably to welcome those Islamic aḥādīth (and biblical passages) which advocate the killing of women alongside their menfolk, since this is surely the logical conclusion (or perhaps the ‘reductio ad absurdum’) of what feminists have for so long so noisily and incessantly demanded – namely, the equal treatment of men and women alike.
There is moreover another related form of sex discrimination implicit in so much Islamic teaching – namely, it is only males who are expected to sacrifice their lives in ‘jihad’ or ‘holy war’.
Spencer himself reports that, before a planned raid on Tabuk, a follower came to Mohammed asking to be excused. In response, “Muhammad granted him permission, but then received a revelation from Allah, counting people who made such requests among the Hypocrites” (p154: Qur’an 9:48–9).
“Allah even rebuked his prophet for excusing Muslims from the Tabuk expedition (Qur’an 9:43). He told Muhammad that true Muslims did not hesitate to wage jihad, even to the point of risking their property and their very lives. The ones who refused to do this weren’t believers (Qur’an 9:44–45)” (p157).
However, it goes without saying that these injunctions applied only to men.
I am reminded of the build-up to the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, when the British and American media sought to justify the invasion by telling us incessantly how terribly ‘oppressed’ women supposedly were in Afghanistan, because, apparently, they were forced to wear burqas and cover their faces.
Meanwhile, however, all able-bodied men in Afghanistan were being forcibly drafted into the Taliban armed forces, including the elderly, some dragged from cars or their homes, and every household expected to provide at least one male to sacrifice in the coming war (Harding 2001).
Yet, strangely, no one in the western media ever said anything about men being oppressed in Afghanistan.
Likewise, one heard little about the almost endemic and institutionalized sexual abuse and sexual enslavement of young boys in Afghanistan, known as ‘bacha bāzī’ or ‘dancing boys’.
Instead, it was women, forced to wear burkas, who were the only ones deemed to have been ‘oppressed’ – though I suspect it is precisely the enforced veiling, seclusion and other protections accorded women in Islamic societies, together with the effect of a polygynous mating milieu in denying reproductive opportunities for low-status males, that leads so many Afghan men to turn instead to young boys (‘bacha bereesh’, literally ‘boys without beards’) as an alternative sexual outlet.
Indeed, far from opposing the practice, US troops serving in Afghanistan were specifically ordered not to interfere with the systematic sexual abuse of boys, on the grounds that “it is a part of their culture” (Goldstein 2015).
Yet the wearing of burkas is also a part of Afghan culture – and indeed of Islamic culture in general. It is moreover surely a less objectionable part of that culture than the systematic and widespread sexual abuse of young boys.
Indeed, just how trivial and comparatively trivial and unobjectionable is the requirement to cover one’s face has been revealed to most of Britain, America and the west during the recent corvid hysteria, when we were all legally obliged to wear face masks when in public places.
Many people, myself included, thought that this requirement unnecessary and an overreaction. Nevertheless, it was, at most, a minor inconvenience and hardly a major violation of human rights and civil liberties. Those who protested the masking laws as a horrendous and tyrannical infringement of basic civil liberties were rightly ridiculed for their overreaction.
At any rate, even in Afghanistan, the requirement that women wear burkas to cover their faces when in public was paralleled by an analogous admonition that men also cover their faces, whether in public or not, by not shaving and instead growing a beard.
Yet both forms of sex discrimination are wholly trivial when compared to both the obligation to sacrifice oneself in war, and the sexual enslavement of boys.
In short, the idea that the right to wear high heels, short skirts, lipstick and sexually provocative clothing is a fundamental human right says more about the self-absorbed, overprivileged lifestyles of western women, feminists very much included, than is does about real oppression, which remains, in both Islam and the West, a largely male preserve.
Inheritance and ‘Mahr’
So are women oppressed under Islam as Spencer contends?
It is true that, under Islamic law, women are seen as possessions of their husbands, and commanded to be subservient and defer to them.
But, in return, men were expected to provide for their wives with food, clothing and housing. This is not a mere implicit assumption, but a specific religious obligation imposed on Muslim, known as ‘nafaqah’. There is no equivalent obligation imposed on wives.
Thus, Spencer rebukes the Quran for insisting that a son’s inheritance be twice that accorded one’s daughter (p273).
However, he neglects to mention two parallel forms of discrimination against males which also represent obvious rationales for the greater inheritance for males – namely the obligation that boys, if they wish to marry at all, must:
- Provide food, clothing and housing for his wife, and perhaps her retinue of servants as well (‘nafaqah’); and
- Pay the Islamic bride price (‘mahr’).
The latter is, ‘mahr’, is not a mere nominal formality. On the contrary, it is often extortionate and, unlike other forms of bride-price in other cultures, is payable directly to the bride herself, not to her family. Men in Iran are often imprisoned for failing to pay this sum on demand (see Mehraspand 2014).
Clearly it makes more sense to leave more money to your son than your daughter when your son is commanded by scripture to pay a bride-price should he wish to marry (‘mahr’), and is then expected to provide for his wife during marriage (‘nafaqah’), whereas your daughter is likely to receive such a payment on marriage and thereafter be supported, protected and provided for by her husband.
This, then, is rather analogous to the familiar complaint that, in Islamic societies such as Afghanistan, girls are not permitted to go to school. But this merely reflects the fact that women are not expected to earn a living in a traditional Islamic society, but rather expect to be supported and provided for by their husbands (‘nafaqah’), and hence have no need of education or vocational training.
Far from evidencing the oppression of women, it is therefore an indirect reflection of female privilege.
Indeed, even the infamous supposed requirement for four male witnesses in order to convict a man of rape is revealed as a myth.
Actually, this applies to other sexual offences, such as adultery – but not to rape.
Indeed, Spencer’s own account reveals that the requirement of four witnesses was actually introduced by Mohammed to protect women in general, and his own wife in particular, from allegations of adultery (p66-7; Quran 24:11-13).
Moreover, this requirement of four male witnesses also made adultery a dangerous crime to accuse a woman of – since any man who made such an allegation without the requisite four male witnesses was himself punished by eighty lashes.
In contrast, women could evade punishment for adultery by claiming to have been raped, positively incentivizing false allegations.
Indeed, given that sexual relations usually occur in private, and adulterous sexual relations in some secrecy, the requirement of four male witnesses actually made allegations of adultery almost impossible to prove in practice, unless a devout Muslim wife were foolish enough to shoot a porno or attend an orgy.
Who Then is Oppressed?
Are women oppressed in Muslim societies? Despite what I have written, the answer remains very much a ‘yes’ – albeit with one important caveat, namely that men are oppressed in Muslim societies as well.
Islam is oppressive of all humans, male and female alike.
Indeed, oppression is virtually the defining principle of Islam, the very word ‘Islam’ famously translating as ‘submission’, which is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “The action of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person”.
Again, however, much the same is true of Christianity and Judaism. In both religions, adherents are expected to worship, obey, prostrate themselves in the presence of and sing songs in praise of, and sometimes even offer sacrifices to, or sacrifice themselves for, an allegedly almighty God.
This is, of course, directly analogous to how a subject under totalitarianism or despotism is expected to bow down before, obey and pay homage to an absolutist monarch or dictator.
‘Heil Hitler’ and ‘Praise be the Lord God’ are, as I have written before, essentially analogous forms of salutation.
So all Judeo-Christian religions are oppressive. However, when men and boys are expressly singled out for massacre in holy scripture, while women and girls are spared, and when men are expected to fight and die in holy wars, if not martyr themselves with suicide bombs, for the glory of Allah, while women happily sit at home, perhaps wearing a burka, then there is no doubt whatsoever which sex is getting the better deal.
 Interestingly, various different heretical Christian sects, including the Marcions, Gnostics and Cathars, have converged in rejecting the authority of the Old Testament altogether and regarded the God of the Old Testament as a malevolent deity, different and lesser than that featured in the New Testament. This view would seemingly reconcile the very different tone of the two collections of texts. However, it is a view held by few Christians today, and obviously introduces no few additional theological problems of its own.
 It ought to be noted that many modern religious Jews, and Jewish ‘apologists’ (in the religious sense), insist that the notion of the Jews as God’s Chosen People’ does not entail any connotations to racial supremacy, but rather actually involved the imposition of greater responsibilities and obligations on Jews, hence the familiar notion of the Jews as ‘a light unto the nations’. Judaism certainly does purport to impose greater obligations and responsibilities on Jews, and many contemporary religious Jews may indeed interpret the concept of ‘chosenness’ in this way. However, reading parts of both the Old Testament and the Talmud, it is clear that there was also an element of supremacism in the notion of being ‘chosen’. Indeed, even today, many Haredi Jews are quite overt in their Jewish supremacism (see for examples Israel Shahak’s co-authored Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel).
 Indeed, when confronted with such absurdities as feminism, critical race theory and transexual activism, one is well able to understand the hostility of many Muslims to contemporary western culture, and perhaps even capable of envisaging Islamic fundamentalism as a preferable alternative. Thus, today, the ostensibly secular pseudo-religious faith of political correctness arguably demands of its adherents beliefs quite as preposterous those those of any religious fundamentalist.
However, it must be noted that Islamic fundamentalism is not necessarily incompatible with such preposterous ‘progressive’ notions as the right of transexuals to be considered as the being of the opposite ‘gender’ to their biological sex. On the contrary, in Iran, while homosexuals are famously persecuted, transexualism is strangely tolerated, even perversely promoted. Indeed, it is even claimed that gay males are forced to undergo surgery in order to escape persecution as homosexuals. This may be why Iran is, somewhat surprisingly, said to have the second highest rate of sex change operations relative to population size behind only Thailand.
 This pattern is cross-culturally recurrent. Thus, Jared Diamond writes:
“The wars of the Greeks and Trojans, of Rome and Carthage, and of the Assyrians and Babylonians and Persians proceeded to a common end: the slaughter of the defeated irrespective of sex, or else the killing of the men and enslavement of the women” (The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee: p265).
For example, Thucydides in the ‘Melian Dialogue’ reports that, on conquering Melos, the Athenians “put to death all the grown men whom they took, and sold the women and children for slaves”. Similarly, in his recent comparative biography of Alexander the Great and his father, Philip II of Macedon, author Ian Worthington reports that on capturing the Greek city of Sestus:
“[His troops] killed all of its male citizens and sold all of its women and children as slaves – one of the more gruesome punishments that civilians suffered in warfare” (By the Spear: p57).
 If, for example, the captives were to be enslaved and used for non-sexual purposes, then presumably it would be the male captives who were of greater value to the conquerors, since men, being generally bigger and stronger than women, are superior at most forms of manual labour. During the period of the transatlantic slave trade, for example, male slaves were preferred and commanded a higher price, whereas, in the Islamic world, female slaves tended be preferred and to command higher prices because of the greater acceptance of concubinage in the Islamic world as compared to puritanical America. Thus, although the Old Testament of the Bible certainly approves the sexual exploitation of female slaves, puritanical eighteenth and nineteenth century North American culture certainly did not. Nevertheless, it certainly occurred, as is apparent from the genetic composition of contemporary African-Americans. Indeed, according to Pierre van den Berghe in The Ethnic Phenomenon: which I have reviewed here):
“Concubinage with slaves was somewhat more clandestine and hypocritical in the English and Dutch colonies than in the Spanish, Portuguese and French colonies where it was brazen, but there is no evidence that the actual incidence of interbreeding was any higher in the Catholic countries” (The Ethnic Phenomenon: p132).
Van den Berghe does not directly compare the prevalence of “concubinage with slaves” in the Muslim world with that in Christian colonies, either Catholic and Latin or puritanical North America.
 Edward O Wilson instead terms this recurrent pattern of conquerors massacring conquered males while mating with conquered females ‘genosorption’. The phenomenon is so widespread that it is even apparent in the DNA of contemporary populations. Thus, geneticist James Watson reports that, whereas 94% of the Y-chromosomes of contemporary Colombians are European, mitochondrial DNA shows a “range of Amerindian MtDNA types”. Thus, he concludes:
“The virtual absence of Amerindian Y chromosome types, reveals the tragic story of colonial genocide: indigenous men were eliminated while local women were sexually ‘assimilated’ by the conquistadors” (DNA: The Secret of Life: p257).
 Interestingly, I have subsequently discovered that Edward Dutton makes the same connection in his provocatively titled book, Why Islam Makes You Stupid … But Also Means You’ll Conquer the World. Here, like myself, Dutton argues that the widespread sexual abuse of boys Afghanistan and other Islamic countries results from the combination of polygyny and female seclusion, which leaves a glut of sexually-frustrated, horny incel-bachelors in need of some alternative form of sexual outlet. Thus, Dutton cites evidence that, despite the theoretical prohibition on all homosexuality under Islam:
“Pederasty [i.e. sexual relations betweeen an adult man and an adolescent boy] is effectively acceptable in many Isamic countries, though homosexuality between two grown men is strongly taboo and severely punished… [and] pederasty is far more common in Islamic societies where women are heavily secluded than it is in those where they are less secluded” (Why Islam Makes You Stupid … But Also Means You’ll Conquer the World: p121).
Similarly, Dutton suggests that the similar widespread practice of, and toleration for, pederasty in ancient Greece also resulted from the supposed seclusion of women in some Greek city states. By analogy, he observes that otherwise heterosexual males in other environments where females are either absent or unavailable sexually (e.g. prisons and boarding schools) also often resort to homosexuality (i.e. so-called ‘situational homosexuality’).
 In fact, rather to their credit, the Taliban had sought to eliminate the practice of ‘bacha bāzī’, seeing it as contrary to the tenets of Islam. Therefore, in seeking to overthrow the Taliban regime, and ordering their troops not to interfere with such practices, the US seem to have been promoting the practice, which was indeed said to have reemerged during the American occupation (Abdul-Ahad 2009).
Abdul-Ahad (2009) The dancing boys of Afghanistan, Guardian 12 September
Goldstein (2015) U.S. Soldiers Told to Ignore Sexual Abuse of Boys by Afghan Allies, New York Times, September 20.
Harding L (2001) Taliban forcing thousands into army, Guardian, 4 October.
Mehraspand A (2014) Indentured servitude for men in Iran: The myth of patriarchal oppressive divorce, A Voice for Men August 13.
13 thoughts on “Islam is intolerant – but so is the Old Testament”
I enjoyed this article, as I enjoy all your writing, but I think you’re wrong about these religions being inherently violent, oppressive, and anti-modern. It’s a common mistake I see a lot of people make: digging up some awful-sounding scripture verses, and concluding that that is what the religion is all about. This is kinda like what a lot of woke activists do when they point out that because many of America’s founding documents, including the constitution and declaration of independence, reference slavery, America is inherently white supremacist. But as more reasonable people would be quick to point out, things are more complicated than that.
There’s a pretty good book out about the history of Islam called ‘Destiny Disrupted’ by the Afghani historian Tamim Ansary. He too is interested in why Islam seems stuck in a barbaric past. In essence, he argues that Islam’s problems with modernity and secularization do not stem from the Quran, but from Muslims’ difficulty accepting the technological superiority of the West. You see, unlike the early history of Christianity and Judaism, the early history of Islam is extremely triumphalist: once Mohammad succeeded in converting enough Bedouin tribes, they exploded onto the rest of the Middle East with astonishing speed, pushing aside thousand-year-old empires like Persia and Byzantium with incredible ease. Surely God must be favoring such a force—which explains why so many of the conquered peoples quickly converted to Islam (who wouldn’t want to be a part of that incredible success?). The upshot of all this is that the early successes of Mohammad and his followers set the bar incredibly high for how things are supposed to work when you enjoy God’s favor. Christians’ early history is marked by persecution, and Jews’ by slavery in Egypt; but Muslims have no analog to the Christian suffering martyr, or to Jewish slavery and wanderings in the desert. To devout Muslims, when you enjoy God’s favor, you accomplish great things in this life; when you don’t, you can’t, period. Historically, this has set up a destructive cycle where secular Muslim rulers have faced rebellions, coups, and populist uprisings when progress seems to stall, or when they suffer big military defeats (since they have obviously fallen out of God’s favor somehow).
This helps explain why the Muslim world is in the state it’s in today: the infidel Western world has obviously eclipsed the Islamic world in every important way imaginable, which is not supposed to happen and is very at odds with the majority of Islamic history (when the Islamic world was without a doubt much more civilized than its neighbors). To people looking at the state of the world today from a devout Muslim perspective, the only possible reason why the Islamic world could be in such a funk is because they have fallen out of favor with God—which is why all of these back-to-basics fundamentalist Islamic sects started popping up right around the time European colonialism began. This is why Ansary’s book is entitled ‘Destiny Disrupted’: Muslims feel they had a theological destiny to dominate the world that has somehow been thwarted, and the only theological way they have to deal with this problem is to try to emulate the Prophet Muhammad’s teaching even harder than they were before. (Also, this documentary on the rise and decline of science in Islam is surprisingly good at explaining how the Islamic world slipped from being at the cutting edge of modernity and innovation, to being the backwater it is today: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60JboffOhaw)
Additionally, I take issue with your argument that Christianity and Judaism are anti-modern because of the objectionable passages in their respective holy books, and that the West modernized in spite of Christianity rather than because of it. Like you, I have no great sympathy with any of these religions, but I can’t ignore the influence they have had in shaping our modern sensibilities. You mention the practice of sexual abuse of boys in Afghanistan with horror, yet you seem not to notice that such things were common in the Greco-Roman world before the dominance of Christianity, and that our modern Western revulsion to child sexual abuse is totally rooted in Christian sexual taboos, and nothing else.
John Gray (whom I believed you have reviewed on this site), has written extensively about how much modern Western civilization owes to its Christian heritage: the entire project of humanism (on whose foundations much of liberalism is laid) was originally conceived as an enlightenment-era “religion of humanity” by people like Auguste Comte to replace Christianity. But all Comte really did was to take God out of Christianity, and replace it with “humanity”, so that henceforth, we would worship “humanity” instead of “God”. Otherwise, Christianity and humanism are essentially one and the same. Our modern ideas about “human rights” are essentially just re-jiggered Christian notions about the sanctity of life, and would have been both incomprehensible and laughable to the pre-Christian Greco-Roman world. Furthermore, as Gray argues in many of his writings, our modern faith that science will solve all our problems is just the Christian myth of salvation, with “science” and “technology” standing in for Jesus. Contrary to what you argue, modernity is thoroughly Christian and deeply religious, you just have to read between the lines a bit to see it.
But I totally agree with you that many of these religions are equally, if not much more, discriminatory against men, and that this is a huge blind spot in almost all academic treatments of the subject. In any case, I look forward to your next article 🙂
Thanks for your comment, and sorry for the delay in responding. I am very bad at responding to comments, especially thoughtful, intelligent comments which force me to reevaluate my own thinking and what I have written, though, in my defence, this is partly because I like to think through my answers before committing myself.
I certainly agree that the content of Islamic scripture alone is insufficient to explain the apparent incompatibility of Islam with modernity (as argued by Spencer), since, as I emphasize in the post, the content of the Old Testament is scarcely much different.
Tamim Ansary’s theory, as you describe it, sounds interesting.
However, I think the position of Judaism is a bit more complex than you make out. Certainly, the Jewish tradition emphasizes the suffering of the Israelites/Jews. However, this is usually explained by the Israelites’ failure to follow the law of God (i.e. uphold their side of the covenant). If the Jews were only to uphold their side of the bargain, then God will protect them. But, since, in any large community of Jews, inevitably some will fall short of the letter of the law, the theory is basically unfalsifiable.
In some ways, then, Judaism is similar to Islam. If the Jews suffer, then this must be because they have somehow incurred to disfavour of God.
In contrast, Christianity generally postpones the righteous getting their just reward until the next world (i.e. heaven).
(Admittedly, this is a simplification. Thus, Islam also incorporated the idea of the righteous getting their reward in the next world –e.g. 72 virgins for martyrs – and many Christian military leaders also believed that their faith in God would bring them victory in battle.)
“I take issue with your argument that Christianity and Judaism are anti-modern because of the objectionable passages in their respective holy books, and that the West modernized in spite of Christianity rather than because of it … The entire project of humanism (on whose foundations much of liberalism is laid) was originally conceived as an enlightenment-era ‘religion of humanity’ by people like Auguste Comte to replace Christianity. Otherwise, Christianity and humanism are essentially one and the same”
Yes, on reflection, I think you make a good point here. I have indeed discussed John Gray’s book Straw Dogs, of which I am a great admirer, on this blog, and I think he does indeed make a persuasive case that many aspects of the contemporary western worldview are an inheritance from Christainity. Your observation “modernity is thoroughly Christian and deeply religious, you just have to read between the lines a bit to see it” captures this very well.
On the other hand, I think most of the inheritance comes less from Judaism and the Old Testament than from Christianity and the New Testament, which explains the incompatibility of modern liberal secular values with many aspects of the Old Testament, as I emphasized in the post.
I wrote in the post “liberal democracy and Western civilization have come about despite Christianity rather than because of it”.
On reflection, I tend to agree that many aspects of western liberal democratic values are indeed an inheritance of, or at least developed from, Christian values and beliefs.
However, I would maintain that one particular, and one very important, aspect of western civilization did indeed develop despite rather than because of Christianity – namely scientific advance.
With its emphasis on ‘faith’ rather than evidence, and its efforts to suppress scientific theories/findings that contradict religious dogmas, religion has been at odds with scientific advance at least since Galileo.
“You mention the practice of sexual abuse of boys in Afghanistan with horror, yet you seem not to notice that such things were common in the Greco-Roman world before the dominance of Christianity, and that our modern Western revulsion to child sexual abuse is totally rooted in Christian sexual taboos, and nothing else.”
Yes, on reflection, this is a good example of the extent to which our current moral notions are indeed an inheritance from Christianity.
Actually, however, I would argue that it is not entirely, as you put it, “rooted in Christian sexual taboos, and nothing else”, even if it is rooted in Christianity. Thus, I would say there are at least three elements of the sexual enslavement of boys that contemporary westerners find objectionable, namely:
(2) Adult-adolescent sexual relations; and
Of these, only the last two relate to “sexual taboos”, but all three did indeed only became unacceptable as a consequence of Christian teaching and/or the campaigning activism of Christians.
Thus, slavery was famously abolished at the behest of campaigning Christians like Wilberforce. Similarly, while the age of consent was first upped, initially in Britain, then the rest of the (western) world, at the behest of Christian campaigners like WT Stead, Josephine Butler and the Salvation Army.
Ironically, it is only in respect of the last of the three, namely homosexuality, by far the least disagreeable of the three practices to the contemporary western mind, where the situation is more complex.
Thus, while the Judeo-Christian tradition famously condemns homosexuality, pre-Christian attitudes were, as I understand it, not entirely politically correct either.
(I think historians and anthropologists have a tendency to exaggerate the acceptability of homosexuality in some premodern and non-western societies in order encourage toleration in our own age.)
As I understand it, ancient pre-Christian western societies – the Romans, Greeks, Vikings – may have had no problem with homosexual sex per se, but they did strongly condemn adult men who adopted the submissive / ‘receptive’ role in homosexual relations.
(Interestingly, this is similar to attitudes within the hyper-masculine American prison system, where only the receptive partner is stigmatized, even if he is a rape victim and his victimizer a rapist.)
The Greeks famously made an exception for adolescent boys, who were permitted to adopt the ‘receptive’ role. Thus, homosexual sex was acceptable only between an adult man and adolescent boy – ironically almost the exact opposite of our own culture’s view on the matter.
I suppose my main point in raising this issue in my post/review was to point to the hypocrisy / double-standards of the western powers, the USA in particular, in condemning the supposed oppression of women in Afghanistan, while turning a blind eye to the sexual abuse of boys.
Interestingly, this links to another topic that Robert Spencer discusses in his book but which I don’t mention in my review, namely the allegation that Muhammed was a pedophile on the basis of his marriage to Aisha when the latter was aged six and the supposed consummation of this marriage when she was only nine.
Rather to his credit in my view (and despite his reputation as an ‘Islamophobe’), Spencer actually largely absolves Muhammad on this particular charge, on the grounds that (1) There is no evidence Muhammad habitually sought out girls of this age (i.e. had a preference for girls of this age) as is suggested by the proper psychiatric meaning of the much-abused word ‘pedophile’; and (2) Such an age of marriage and consummation was apparently not unusual in that time and place.
However, he does argue that Muhammad’s marriage to Aisha is problematic because, since Muhammad is regarded as a paragon of virtue, his example has been used to justify the continued practice of child marriages in the Islamic world to this day, something that he (Spencer) regards as very much a bad thing (though he doesn’t explain why but simply accepts this as given).
“I totally agree with you that many of these religions are equally, if not much more, discriminatory against men, and that this is a huge blind spot in almost all academic treatments of the subject.”
If you are interested, I have also written about this topic, in relation to the issue of genital mutilation, here: https://mensrightsreview.com/2018/01/04/the-many-manifestations-of-male-genital-mutilation-from-circumcision-to-sub-incision-and-castration/
Many thanks for the thoughtful response. It’s always refreshing to encounter someone who is not only very insightful, but also open-minded enough to change their mind.
I agree that there is certainly a tension between religious faith and scientific evidence as two distinct ways of seeking truth in the world, but I also think they interact in ways most people do not fully appreciate. For one thing, science itself cannot identify worthy objects for study, because science is only a tool for investigation, not a philosophy or religion. So science cannot tell us what hypotheses to investigate or what experiments to perform. Science is a bit like a calculator: it can only answer the questions we ask it; it cannot ask its own questions. So the questions we choose to investigate have to come from outside science, and as such, are provided to us by our culture, our appetites, our values, and our prejudices—which are all influenced by our religious inheritance. (It’s always been interesting to me how we’re happy to investigate possible medical benefits to male but not female circumcision, for example.) Additionally, so-called “scientific ethics” are, in my view, not scientific at all, but totally dependent on our religious inheritance from Christianity. For example, the Nazis’ infamous medical experiments on Jews may have been many things, but they were not unscientific. The modern regime prohibiting forced medical experimentation on humans, while mandating forced medical experimentation on animals, has nothing to do with science and everything to do with our Christian inheritance, which tells us that mankind was created in the image of God, but the other animals were not. (Indeed, I’ve often thought that the Nazi system may have been more scientific than ours, becasue we are mainly concerned with human health and physiology, so human rather than animal test subjects would presumably be the most ideal.) In other words, it’s hard to imagine how we could do science at all without the values and perspectives we inherit from religious faith. To my mind, the conflict you see between medieval religious dogmas and scientific advance is less of a conflict between religion and science, and more of a conflict between two different types of religious faith: the one traditionalist and literalist; the other liberal and modern.
I think you’re right about the sexual norms in the pre-Christian Greco-Roman world. Here’s a really interesting article you might want to take a look at that explains this in a lot of detail: https://www.academia.edu/544127/The_teratogenic_grid (something I didn’t know, but which I learned from this article, was the extent to which cunnilingus was viewed as a horrific abomination by the Romans, because it cast men in the passive pleasure-giving role, and women in the active pleasure-receiving role)
And thanks for the article about genital mutilation. I think one of the reasons I originally started following your work may have been because of your frank analysis of circumcision, which is so rare to find about this very taboo topic.
Agreed. we can’t derive values from facts. Science might tell us how to do something, but it can never tell us what we should (or shouldn’t) do. Even the decision to do science at all is, as you point out, a moral one.
Yes, that’s a good example.
Certainly it would be unthinkable to deliberately circumcize girls as a deliberate experimental intervention in order to determine the effects of this procedure.
However, some girls are already circumcised, and this opens up a possibility for research. Thus, at least two separate studies have indeed found that circumcised girls do indeed have lower rates of HIV than is found in the general population from which they are drawn (Kinuthia 2010; Stallings & Karugendo 2005).
Of course, the problem with such studies is that the women who are circumcised are not a random sample. Rather, they are self-selected (or at least selected by their families). Thus, it seems likely that the more religiously devout Muslim families are more likely to practice female circumcision, and one might expect individuals from more religiously devout families to be less likely to engage in activities (especially promiscuous sex – though Islam does allow polygyny) that present a high risk of HIV transmission.
However, both studies actually found that, even after controlling for factors such as number of sex partners in a given period, there was still an inverse correlation between female circumcision and HIV infection rate (Kinuthia 2010; Stallings & Karugendo 2005).
Thus, just as the persecution of Galileo by the Catholic Church did not prevent progress in astronomy and physics (though it likely slowed it down), I think scientific knowledge has a tendency to accumulate and grow despite cultural and institutional contraints. On this matter, you might even call me an optimist.
Thus, to take another taboo subject in which I’ve developed an unhealthy interest, namely race differences in intelligence, I recall Charles Murray, some seventeen years ago, suggesting:
At the time, however, because of the emotiveness of the subject, no one was willing to fund the research, perhaps fearful of what they might end up finding.
However, a decade and a half later, such research has become much cheaper to conduct, and at least two studies that I am aware of have been conducted along just these sort of lines, albeit both published in controversial fringe journals, probably because of the controversy of the subject-matter and findings (Lasker et al 2019; Fuerst et al 2021).
Agreed. But I don’t think they are called ‘scientific ethics’ because anyone ever claimed they were themselves scientific (if this is your implication), but rather because they were intended to govern science and scientists.
Well, that depends on which experiments. Some of them were, apparently, quite unscientific, at least if conducted as described in some historical accounts.
Certainly, in principle, you’re right: there is nothing scientifically wrong with doing cruel experiments on humans. (Whether it’s morally wrong is, of course, a different question.)
Indeed, if we are interested in the effects of a treatment on humans, then experiments on humans are obviously a rather more reliable method of ascertaining this than are experiments on non-human animals. Therefore, I agree you’re right that, in a purely scientific sense, such experiments are ‘better’ than experiments on animals.
Indeed, in casting aside moral considerations (or perhaps applying their own Nazi morality), Nazi scientists were provided with an almost unparellelled opportunity to conduct studies that could not otherwise be done, and hence make important scientific discoveries. According to this BBC article:
However, some of the reported Nazi experiments, at least if conducted as reported, certainly were unscientific. Thus, I recall reading, that Josef Mengele supposedly injected dye into subject’s eyes to investigate the causes and heritability of eye colour, which seems not only cruel, but also rather dumb.
On the other hand, Mengele had an impressive scientific background and credentials, which makes me suspect that, while he surely conducted many inhumane experiments, and perhaps some scientifically worthless experiments too, some of the stories of his scientific incompetence (if not his cruelty) may have been exaggerated by survivors.
This article in the Lancet suggests at least some of his research was ‘good science’ (again in a purely scientific, non-moral, sense).
However, a lot of Nazi science surely was bad science. After all, the Nazis had their own set of taboos and dogmas, just as we do. Indeed, many Nazi taboos concerned many of the same topics as modern western taboos, e.g. race differences.
I recall Hans Eysenck claiming in one of his books that the Nazis banned IQ testing. This does not appear to be true. However, I doubt they would welcome the finding that Jews have higher average IQs than ethnic Germans and other Europeans.
I didn’t know that either. Though, interestingly, I have heard a similar taboo exists in contemporary Jamaica for, I believe, much the same reasons.
Sorry for this overdue, overlong and sometimes somewhat pedantic reply.
Fuerst, Hu & Connor (2021) Genetic Ancestry and General Cognitive Ability in a Sample of American Youths. Mankind Quarterly 62(1): 186–216.
Kinuthia, RG (2010) The Association between Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and the Risk of HIV/AIDS in Kenyan Girls and Women (15-49 Years) Thesis, Georgia State University, 2010.
Lasker, Pesta, Fuerst & Kirkegaard (2019) Global ancestry and cognitive ability. Psych 1(1), 431-459.
Murray (2005) The Inequality Taboo. Commentary, Sept 2005.
Stallings RY, & Karugendo E. (2005) Female Circumcision and HIV Infection in Tanzania: for Better or for Worse? [poster] 3rd International AIDS Society Conference; 2005 24 July–27 July; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. International AIDS Society, 2005.