Islam is intolerant – but so is the Old Testament

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 Mein Kampf, nor, for that matter, from the Quran or Islamic aḥādīth. Rather, it is a direct quotation from the Christian (and 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 Torah 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 Quranaḥādīth 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.[1]

However, the same is surely not true of Judaism

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.[2]

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 ChristiansJews and heathen secularists like myself.[3]

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).[4]

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). 

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

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?[5]

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.[6]

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: 13-14Numbers 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). 

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: 13-14Numbers 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. 

Who Fights? 

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 9:489). 

Spencer reports: 

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 9:4445)” (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).[7] 

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:

  1. Provide food, clothing and housing for his wife, and perhaps her retinue of servants as well (nafaqah); and
  2. 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.  

Proving Rape 

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.

Endnotes

[1] 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.

[2] 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).

[3] 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.

[4] 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). 

[5] 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 worldfemale slaves tended be preferred and to command a higher price 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.

[6] 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).

[7] 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).

References 

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 armyGuardian, 4 October.
Mehraspand A (2014) Indentured servitude for men in Iran: The myth of patriarchal oppressive divorce, A Voice for Men August 13.

2 thoughts on “Islam is intolerant – but so is the Old Testament

  1. 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 🙂

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