Karen Armstrong wants us all to love Islam

January 23, 2012 • 8:30 am

Despite the threats of violence from Muslims in her own country of England, and the fact that sharia law, in all its sexism and unfairness, is already being used to adjudicate cases there, Karen Armstrong wants us to refrain from criticizing Islam.  In a new piece in the Guardian, “Prejudices about Islam will be shaken by this show” (the title refers to an exhibition at the British Museum about the hajj: the pilgrimage to Mecca), Armstrong argues that prejudice against Islam is severely misguided.

Ever since the Crusades, when Christians from western Europe were fighting holy wars against Muslims in the near east, western people have often perceived Islam as a violent and intolerant faith – even though when this prejudice took root Islam had a better record of tolerance than Christianity. Recent terrorist atrocities have seemed to confirm this received idea. But if we want a peaceful world, we urgently need a more balanced view. We cannot hope to win the “battle for hearts and minds” unless we know what is actually in them. Nor can we expect Muslims to be impressed by our liberal values if they see us succumbing unquestioningly to a medieval prejudice born in a time of extreme Christian belligerence.

Like Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Christians, Sikhs and secularists, some Muslims have undoubtedly been violent and intolerant, but the new exhibition at the British Museum. . .

Note the comparison of present-day Muslims with those of other faiths, who are not currently as violent as Islam.  And “secularists”?  Are we really beheading people lately?  Buddhists?  There should be a name for the fallacy in which faiths with drastically different levels of violence and intolerance are held equal so long as any of their adherents are violent at all.  And does she really believe that if we are more tolerant of Islamic threats, and stop publishing criticisms of their fatwas, their violence, and their ridiculous calls for death to those who publish cartoons or name teddy bears after the prophet, that Muslims will be so impressed by our “liberal values” that the violence will stop?

Islam is a religion not just of proselytizing, but of formalized calls of death to apostates and heretics.  Buddhists and secularists don’t do that.  The calls for jihad and conversion of everyone won’t stop because we espouse “liberal” values.

Amstrong then extols Muhamed for his peacefulness, especially in making the hajj, which does indeed require peaceful behavior: Muslims must surrender their weapons, for example, before entering Mecca.  Indeed, Muhamed is made out as an apostle of peace and nonviolence: a latter-day Gandhi.  Odd for a man who himself laid siege to Mecca, killed many Meccans, and then turned against Medina.  Armstrong, of course, doesn’t mention that the very city in which Muhamed made the hajj is the city he attacked.

As usual, Armstrong completely distorts the Qur’an to make it seem like a document of peace:

Clearly the Qur’an did not despise Jews and Christians; this affinity with “the people of the book” was also central to the Muslim cult of Mecca. The Arabs firmly believed that they, too, were children of Abraham, because they were the descendants of his eldest son Ishmael – a regional view shared by the Bible. . .

The Qur’an still urged Muslims to respect the people of the book and revere their prophets, but decreed that instead of facing Jerusalem when they prayed, as hitherto, they should turn towards the Ka’bah built by Abraham.

This is about as far from the truth as possible: the Qur’an calls Jews “apes” and “pigs” and condemns “followers of the book” (i.e., Christians and Jews) to hell. Here are a few verses from the Qur’an that I’ve published before, and there are many other verses full of hatred and bigotry.  If you don’t believe that, see this annotated Qur’an.

(5:72) They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary. … Lo! whoso ascribeth partners unto Allah, for him Allah hath forbidden paradise. His abode is the Fire. For evil-doers there will be no helpers.

(9:29) – Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.

(9:30)  The Jews say, “Ezra is the son of Allah “; and the Christians say, “The Messiah is the son of Allah .” That is their statement from their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved [before them]. May Allah destroy them; how are they deluded?

Armstrong ends up with a lachrymose call for comity:

But the British Museum’s beautiful presentation of the hajj can help us understand how the vast majority of the world’s Muslims understand their faith. Socrates, founder of the western rational tradition, insisted that the exercise of reason required us constantly and stringently to question received ideas and entrenched certainties.

I don’t see a lot of Muslims questioning their faith and approaching it through reason: if they did, they wouldn’t be Muslims, so pernicious, odious, and oppressive are the doctrines of that faith. And it’s vile for Karen Armstrong to not only whitewash that faith, but distort the very things it says about other faiths.

Here’s a kind face of Islam: a British Muslim, Abuz Zabair, calling for the execution of Usama Hasan, an imam and British academic who committed the horrible crime of questioning the existence of Adam and Eve and of asserting that evolution and Islam were compatible.  (Hasan, mindful of his neck, has since retracted those views.)  It is chilling to see someone who looks like a moderate Muslim, and is so soft-spoken and dressed in modern style, calmly mouth such calls for execution.

And here are some statistics on British Muslims; I can’t vouch 100% for their reliability:

  • “The special poll based on a survey of 500 British Muslims found that a clear majority want Islamic law introduced into this country in civil cases relating to their own community. Some 61 per cent wanted Islamic courts – operating on sharia principles – ‘so long as the penalties did not contravene British law'”
  • More from a poll of British Muslims, responding to the statement: There should be a new law to make incitement to religious hatred a criminal offence.Agree 81%
    Disagree 15%
    Don’t know 4%
  • Despite the right to free speech, in Britain people who insult or criticise Islam should face criminal prosecution.  Agree 58%
    Disagree 36%
    Don’t know 5%”
  • “According to a new survey done at 30 universities in Britain, the young Muslim student body in that country is extremely radicalized. The poll asked 600 Muslim students and 800 of their non-Muslim peers about politically touchy subjects like killing in the name of Islam and Sharia Law—and the results were like night and day between the two demographics. While hardly anyone in the non-Muslim sample accepted killing in the name of religion, basically one-third of all Muslim students in Britain [32%] supported this.
    . . . In an ironic twist, this survey and its shocking poll results were made available only through the Wikileaks leaking of Julian Assange. The poll was revealed as part of a secret, diplomatic cable that emerged from the US Embassy in London.Other results in the pro-Islamist survey results are also troublesome. For instance, more than half of all British Muslim students insist on being represented by a political party that is Islam-based. The clear-cut, overwhelming theme in this poll data from this leaked cable relates to the fact that many Muslims even in so-called civilized countries like Britain still want to relapse to the Middle Ages (or earlier, even) by making Islam central in all aspects of their true-believing lives.”

I don’t know about you, but 32% of British Muslims favoring execution in the name of Islam sounds like a lot to me, and perhaps something that Armstrong might worry about.

“Islamophobia” is becoming a pejorative word, smacking to many people of racism. But Muslims are not a race or an ethnic group: they’re adherents to a faith—an odious faith. Islamophobia—the fear and hatred of Islam—is the proper response to that faith.

h/t: Sigmund

115 thoughts on “Karen Armstrong wants us all to love Islam

  1. Jerry — 

    Can you clarify this statement: “sharia law, in all its sexism and unfairness, is already being used to adjudicate cases [in England]”?

    AFAIK, this is not so in English courts of law. Am I wrong? Or, if not, where is it being used and for what cases?


    PS. What about Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

      1. There is nothing in principle against Sharia Courts. Where two parties have a dispute they have always been able to proceed to arbitration. Alrtenatives to Court hace been developed in other fiels: eg. Alternative Dispute Resolution in relation to debt. Judicial Mediation as an alternative to Employment Tribunals. Trade Federations in connection with consumer disputes. In all such cases both parties must be willing to use such fora. The problem with Sharia law and Courts is that the willingness of both parties cannot often be taken for granted, particularly where females and young persons are concerned. There may also be less transparent pressures on one or other party on account of kinship and clann relationships.
        It’s a development which needs to be carefully monitored.

      2. But Jerry, it seems clear that those “courts” don’t have the force of law, or at the ability to contradict established English law. As far as I understand it, these are more like private arbitration arrangements, whereby those of a particular culture agree to have their dispute settled privately by adjudicators of that culture’s tradition. (Take, for example, the case in the article you cite of a woman trying to divorce a husband who has several other wives — as far as I know polygamy is not legally recognized in Britain, so these “marriages” and such a “divorce” are not issues of British law, but of the traditions of Muslim culture.)

        That’s not to say that women in these situations are not horribly exploited — being trapped in a misogynous culture is terrible to endure. But that is radically different from saying that sharia is used as law in British society, at least given the usual understanding of the word “law” as having the approval and force of the state.

        Am I misunderstanding the situation?

        1. Yes, both you and veorxitatis misunderstand it. Here are a couple of clarifications:
          While these courts cannot impose criminal penalties (as would be the case for apostasy or drinking alcohol), their family rulings are as misogynistic as courts anywhere in the Islamic world. For example a husbands divorce application is automatically granted while the wife’s will be decided case by case. Or custody of children is granted to the father automatically regardless of their best interests. Etc.
          It cannot be claimed that this “mutually satisfactory” arbitration. For two reasons: 1) There is no telling how many women agree to such rulings under pressure from their families. 2) Children cannot give consent and rulings often affect them.
          That is why One Law for All is trying to end this kangaroo court system earning the wrath of Isalmists in the process.

          1. Yes, both you and veorxitatis misunderstand it. […] their family rulings are as misogynistic as courts anywhere in the Islamic world

            Neither Veroxitatis nor I argued these proceedings aren’t misogynistic, or that women aren’t pressured to accept their decisions. What is at issue is whether these are actually “courts” in any real sense of the word, or whether they are instead merely private arbitration, just like any private citizen could undergo. Jerry’s statement made it sound like these are officially part of the British legal system, instead of being just a private system like others that already exist.

            1. This system is disturbing, but one has to wonder why we don’t see similar campaigning against the analogs we see in many other religions- Scientology’s Committee of Evidence, Judaism’s Din-Torah courts, Roman Catholic canon law, Jehovah Witnesses’ judicial committees and Committees of Elders, etc. All of these have a very real capacity for affecting adherents in a negative way.

              What’s the difference?

          2. 2) Children cannot give consent and rulings often affect them.

            I don’t know about UK but that’s certainly the case in American courts.

      3. OK. So… you might want to reword that statement so that it’s clear that “cases” doesn’t refer to civil or criminal cases in a court of law.


        1. These Sharia ‘courts are now covered by the Arbitration Acts and as such any decision accepted by those attending is in fact binding. This is what the One Law For All campaign is about.

          1. Right, they function just like any other privately-agreed-to binding arbitration. Are you suggesting that individuals should not be allowed to participate in binding arbitration?

            1. Isn’t the objection here that women, in particular, would not be freely able to reject using Sharia as the basis for arbitration, because of social/religious/community pressure?

              I don’t think the same holds for any other basis for arbitration…


              1. Isn’t the objection here that women, in particular, would not be freely able to reject using Sharia as the basis for arbitration, because of social/religious/community pressure?

                Absolutely, and I think that is a very serious concern. I am profoundly sympathetic to those who find themselves trapped in such situations.

                However, I’m not sure the solution is for the state to mandate how private arbitrations are run, or which ones count, as that gets the government very deeply into issues of private contracts. If I agree to a contract that is grossly in someone else’s favour, should the government be able to invalidate it merely because it is unfair?

                I don’t think the same holds for any other basis for arbitration…

                I don’t think that’s true at all. Do you think that those who arbitrate disputes under Orthodox Jewish tradition are free to reject their decision? Do you think that families/groups/cultures in general do not exert pressure in many cases to settle agreements in ways that are objectively unfair?

                There is a very deep and serious problem here, but I’m not sure the solution is for the state to mandate that some private agreements don’t count. Instead it should perhaps make it easier for participants to argue that undue pressure existed in specific cases, or that certain outcomes (regardless of the process or cultural context) are not allowed.

              2. There is the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977, of course…

                And fair comment, but presumably the government did make a decision to allow Sharia (and other religious laws/traditions) to be used in the first place (if I understand the implications of Ian’s comments correctly)… ?


              3. presumably the government did make a decision to allow Sharia (and other religious laws/traditions) to be used in the first place

                As I understand this article, the government didn’t do anything — it was the tribunals that realized they could make decisions that would be legally binding under the existing Arbitration Act. Just like, as the article notes, Jewish-oriented tribunals have been doing for over a century.

                It’s a very tricky business for the government to figure out what kinds of private arbitrations are “kosher” (so to speak), and which should not be legally recognized.

    1. As far as I know it is used to adjudicate inheritance and divorce cases. In the UK the issue is that the majority of Muslims are from the particular cultural origins (they are mostly or Pakistani origin) that is associated with hard line fundamentalist version of Islam and Sharia (look at the murders of those opposing the blasphemy laws in Pakistan). That fact, and the fact that a lot of funding for Islam in the UK comes from Wahabi sources in Saudi Arabia means that there is a push (by hard line religious leaders) for a separate legal system within that community based on Islam rather than secular law.

      1. I was aware of that “push” (see my replies to Abbie on “A bad week for free speech”): I just wanted Jerry to be clear that that wasn’t already the case!


  2. Hmmm. Has she missed all the recent occasions of muslims using intimidation and violence to suppress dissent (in the UK of all places)?

    1. Her response would be:
      1. She is not talking about those kind of Muslims.
      2. There are such elements within other faiths as well (as Jerry notes in his post.)

  3. For a comment on the “32% of British Muslims favoring execution in the name of Islam”, see here:
    Question wording:
    “Is it ever justifiable to kill in the name of religion?”
    Yes, in order to preserve and promote that religion – 4%
    Yes, but only if that religion is under attack – 28%”
    The answer to Robbins’ question of ‘what would Christians say’ is available for ‘non-Muslim students’ (not quite the same as ‘Christian’, especially in Britain): 1% ‘to preserve and promote’ and 1% ‘if under attack’. Full poll results here: http://www.socialcohesion.co.uk/files/1231525079_1.pdf

    That raises the question of what the students would consider ‘under attack’ to be. ‘Genocide’ for followers, outlawing in the Hoxha Albanian style, restrictions on worship, cartoons or what?

  4. Karen Armstrong may not be right about ending terrorism with love, but rather it may help if we stop sending so much love (and money) to the Saudi regime. This is not really an issue of the dangers of Islam, as much as I know you would like it to be, but this is an issue of extremism. Their is a dangerous little fundamentalist cult being funding by the wealthy Saudi family, and the U.S. government and American consumers are the main ones fueling the flames. Wahabism is a puritanical version of Islam and among the people they are trying to “purify” are the moderates, or dare a say “accommodationists”.

  5. There should be a name for the fallacy in which faiths with drastically different levels of violence and intolerance are held equal so long as any of there adherents are violent at all.

    The Armstrong Fallacy?

  6. I think you’ll find that thise article on CiF, in the BTL comments the article is being savaged – basically pointing out KA’s haigography is nothing but an apologist puff piece, that has all the rigour of a politicians promise.

  7. It’s not too much to suspect that Armstrong is angling for the Templeton Prize, as no doubt is Michael Ruse.

  8. We cannot hope to win the “battle for hearts and minds” unless we know what is actually in them.

    Ms. Armstrong, one way to tell what is in someone’s heart and mind is to see if they’re carrying a bloody sword in their hand.

    If they are, then (regardless of sect or faith) their ideological justification for violence needs to be addressed. If they aren’t…welcome to western society.

    1. “…one way to tell what is in someone’s heart and mind is to see if they’re carrying a bloody sword in their hand.”

      In the USA religious extremists call for, say, the murder of doctors who perform abortions. But most really can’t be bothered to get up and do the actual work that would be required.

      I suspect that the Muslims are much more committed to their violence.

  9. I think Karen Armstrong might come perilously close to a point, actually. More often than not the invocations of Islam as uniquely violent are coming from Christians who are quietly papering over the horrifically violent parts of their texts that the secular tides have forced them to discard, and whatever heinous bits of social regression they tried to legislate the day before, and are expressing their naked panic by throwing their weight behind right-wing parties who believe that the symmetric response to the nonexistential-threatening, inevitable flare-ups of reactionary terror in a free society is to start deporting the millions of tinkers, tailors, and candlestick makers who take prayer breaks instead of smoke breaks.

    There’s no doubt in my mind that much of the rhetoric about the evils of Islam in Europe is just classical jingoism like we saw repeated in the US with every new wave of immigrants, from the Irish to the Chinese to the Mexicans, baffled by their habits and appalled at the ideas held by first and second generation immigrants, quietly omitting the fact that they are members of the initially-equally-backwards previous wave (of course most populations in Europe are much closer to indigenous- but they still did some crazy shit mere generations ago.) That irrational reflexive fear is something that needs remediation, and access to different cultural perspectives-Muslim peers, travel, and museum exhibits- can help. Saying to the average PTA-attending, mail-delivering Muslim living in Dearborn, Michigan that Islam is inherently violent will earn you a wounded expression followed by getting invited to dinner.

    Now, that being said, the vagaries of fate meant that the geographical center of Islam managed to skip out on equivalents of the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the birth of science, the pouring over of science into daily life in the Industrial Revolution, the Sexual Revolution, is behind Europe in passing through the demographic window, and in general has not faced the wonderful sustained secular assault that has beset Christendom for four hundred years and managed to grind the mean religious discourse into something less noxious to its adherents and less dangerous to apostates. Now, I will happily lend my grinder to *that* particular fray, with the same vigor I apply it to Catholicism, and goofy backwoods American sects, and Hinduism, and anyone other Iron Age silliness that cares to rumble.

    1. the invocations of Islam as uniquely violent are coming from Christians who are quietly papering over the horrifically violent parts of their texts that the secular tides have forced them to discard

      I think one has to distinguish between “uniquely violent” in principle, and “uniquely violent” currently. You’re right that historically Christianity has had its violent periods, but I think it is undeniable that at present violence in the name of religion is overwhelmingly a quality of Islam and not Christianity.

        1. Right, but my point is that one can say that Islam is currently uniquely violent without “papering over” Christian history. I don’t think that the historical context adds much to the immediate issue, apart from suggesting that it may be possible to secularize Islam in the future.

    1. Humans in big gatherings infographic: Internet is way ahead of islam and ties with christianity as percentage of global population.

      [And yes, according to Hill atheism places between islam and hinduism as the 3d largest world view.]

      I’ll bet it will look dramatically different in a few years. Hopefully some of internet culture can pervade the daily life of would be medievals.

      1. Great infographic.

        “Internet is way ahead of islam and ties with christianity as percentage of global population.”

        Given how well religious users have adapted to the internet it’s a meaningless comparison. I could add that the world population trumps christianity, islam and atheism put togther – well, yes.

        If internet users were *only* christians and muslims, then your statement would still be true. If internet users were *only* atheists, then your statement would still be true.

  10. In the West any politico-religious debate tends to be framed as a dispute between the left and the right. The left is generally sympathetic to Islam, the right hostile. We must not make Islam a subject of the unending right vs. left debate. As far as Islam is concerned we should firstly cast away all left or right ideological leanings. Secondly we should objectively and carefully examine the sacred texts of Islam. This is essential as Muslims believe them to be literary true and jihadists invoke them ad nauseam to convert and to kill. I believe many inconvenient conclusions will result from such an exercise. I suspect Jerry has followed this path.

    1. What do you mean “we” (should carefully examine..)? I have no problem with people who have interest in such matters doing so, but I have little interest in it and don’t think an atheist’s study of “sacred” texts will make much of a difference to those who believe in the inerrancy of such documents.

      I’m with Hitchens on this. Islamic totalitarianism is to be opposed at every opportunity, but being conversant regarding arcane details of “sacred” texts seems kind of irrelevant. Except, perhaps, as source material for mockery and ridicule. But heck, I don’t need much study for that. A simple cartoon works wonders for that.

      1. Well, as Sam Harris points out, there are differences between religions which derive from their founding texts. He clarifies that you would not expect, say, a Jain to find in her holy documents permission for Jihad or any violent act at all. As opposed to, say, Islam, Christianity, Judaism or Zen Buddhism.

        Of course, what the religions share is an evidence-immune adherence to their scriptures, but if those prescriptions embed a pacifistic world-view, then it would be a waste of time to go after sects such as the Amish and the Jains.

        Modern Islamic countries combine a toxic mix of proto-world domination through the geological accident of their enrichment through oil, and the characteristically and inherently destructive nature of their religion’s ‘Last Testament’. (By the way, I think your phrase, ‘Islamic totalitarianism’ much better than ‘Islamic fascism’; fascism is a particular form of totalitarianism and the concept is a poor fit for these emerging Islamic states.)

        We mock and ridicule Islam, but we don’t bother with Jainism; and I think there are very good reasons for that. How we approach different religions must depend, at least partially, on what they believe about themselves.

      2. “but I have little interest in it and don’t think an atheist’s study of “sacred” texts will make much of a difference to those who believe in the inerrancy of such documents.”

        It can and does.

    2. I agree with the importance of not letting the issue fall to the level of liberal vs. conservative politics. Knee-jerk reactions are far too common on both sides.

  11. Further to 7 & 13, if a tempering of Islam comes from anywhere, it seems reasonable to assume that it will have to come from the Middle East (vs. Dearborn). After Tom Friedman’s recent column, I’m keeping my eyes on Egypt for any signs that it may provide that push, since they don’t have the oil to allow them to keep feeding gold sovreigns into their time machine. Also, there’s at least some sense that a reasonable percentage of Egyptians don’t want to be led by religious mumbo-jumbo. Without having one’s feet on the ground there, it’s hard to know how much stock to put into this or that opinion, but this at least offers some hope.

    1. Islamists won 73% of seats in the People’s Assembly in the recent elections. And Mohamed ElBaradei withdrew his candidacy the Egyptian Presidency…

  12. Islamophobia: when I use the word here is what I mean:

    Someone wants to build a church in location X. They usually can (taking permits, zoning, etc. into account.

    However if one wants to build a mosque there, there are sometimes protests and the like.

    IMHO, they ought to be treated the same.

    Here is another example of what I mean:

    On the other hand, Muslims (or anyone else) who can’t live by our free speech laws should live somewhere else; no one has the “right” to riot because someone “insulted their religion”. Of course, I haven’t seen much of this in the United States though I have seen it in Europe.

    1. PS. Karen Armstrong is full of YKW. That isn’t a surprise; just because a group is a minority that is sometimes discriminated against does NOT mean that their ideas are good.

    2. Well. I did not like either side in this protest. But there were threats of violence (“I know some marines who would like to help them to get to an early paradise”.) On the other hands those who grow long beards generally do soto to show they are salafis, the most reactionary of Islamists. That is why I don’t care for either side here.

  13. To me the willingness to turn violent in defence of a religious ideology is an admission that it isn’t true. People who accept the truth of evolution don’t go around threatening to kill those who don’t. They write books with titles like ‘Why Evolution is True’. If the Islamists could rationally demonstrate that their religion is true, all rational people would convert to it. I don’t anticipate having to convert anytime soon.

    1. the willingness to turn violent in defence of a religious ideology is an admission that it isn’t true

      I don’t think that’s a defensible position, as the main motivation that I see for the violence is the notion of “insult” or “dishonour”, and not “truth”. That is, my admittedly amateur analysis is that Islam comes from a culture where in-group honour is vital, and any threat to that honour has to be met vigourously. This notion of honour has become attached to Islam, and insults to the religion are just a matter of in-group dishonour writ large.

      The problem isn’t that they don’t believe their religion is true, but rather that they think saying it isn’t is an insult to their honour.

    2. …the willingness to turn violent in defence of a religious ideology is an admission that it isn’t true.

      I don’t think so. As difficult as it is understand, I think there are a whole lot of people who discount the importance of evidence in establishing what is true. It seems that majority of people on the planet actually think they can choose what is true, even as it concerns matters like the physical nature of the world and facts of history – reality (evidence) be damned.

    3. I can appreciate what Tulse and Tim have written, but I’ll still go ahead and sort-of agree with you.

      Perhaps “admission” would be better substituted with “demonstration.” As Tim notes, your average theist has a difficult time identifying what constitutes real evidence, but that doesn’t mean many of them don’t think their weird ideas aren’t supported by evidence of some kind.

      But I do think the fact that their “evidence” or their “arguments” are so quickly exhausted when confronted by reason is part of why they so quickly turn to violence. It’s ultimately their only recourse.

      1. If you go into a bar and tell a biker that his mother is a whore, would you take him punching you as his admission that he does not have the evidentiary base to contradict your factual claim?

        I think that it is both smug and misguided to think that religious violence is evidence of lack of a rational basis for belief. As I said above, for Islam questioning their god or their prophet is not just an empirical claim, but it is an insult, a trespass on honour. That sense of honour has nothing to do with a lack of certainty about their beliefs, and to mistake it for that is not only wrong, but dangerous, and prevent one from coming up with possible effective solutions.

        1. A solution for the problems presented by religion that doesn’t involve questioning their god(s) or tenets? Or stating outright that their god doesn’t exist? I don’t see how we could prevent ourselves from doing that.

          As I tried to make clear, I don’t think your explanation and Stonyground’s are mutually exclusive. All I meat to convey was that often, bullies quickly resort to violence because it is one of precious few, if not the only, option open to them. Even if they don’t realize it. I’m not claiming violent theists are fully aware that their religion is so much hogwash (although I think there’s something to the argument that at a much deeper level, even the devout have doubts).

          1. A solution for the problems presented by religion that doesn’t involve questioning their god(s) or tenets?

            My point is that diagnosing the problem as “they’re afraid of the truth” suggests different approaches to “they see questioning as an insult”. The latter is much more of a cultural issue (after all, there are very few American-born Muslims calling for death to infidels), and requires more of a cultural change to address it.

  14. This exhibition makes Mecca sound like a wonderful place.

    All non-Muslims should visit Mecca to experience first-hand how tolerant and downright welcoming Islam is of non-Muslims.

          1. Wikipedia sez: “Mecca has become one of the most cosmopolitan and diverse cities in the Muslim world, although non-Muslims remain formally prohibited from entering the city.”

  15. Islamophobia—the fear and hatred of Islam—is the proper response to that faith.

    A phobia is “a persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation”.

    There is nothing irrational about fearing radical Islam.

      1. You are correct.

        There is nothing irrational about fearing Islam, where most moderate Muslims are silent about the homophobia, bigotry, racism and misogyny espoused by the more radical adherents to that faith and act as enablers.

        Some would say that radicals have hijacked Islam but all the vile actions committed by them are to be found in the holy books of Islam so one could make the case that a moderate Muslim is a contradiction in terms, much like moderate Catholics who support birth control, abortion and gay rights are not really Catholics.

  16. Let’s send Karen Armstrong on the Hajj so she can spread the love. Since she’s not muslim she’ll be murdered if she tries to get into the line to see the sacred rock. Even if she were muslim there’s a small chance she’d be killed anyway; the place is overcrowded during that month and there are stampedes every year. All to worship a rock that Mohammed is rumored to have parked his ass on.

  17. Armstrong is, quite rightly, bagged in the comments section of her article, which is a surprise for The Guardian (which the paper of choice for the Left in the UK).

    I would also like to note the scary militancy of the ultra orthodox in Israel, who like throwing excrement at schoolgirls who they do not think are dressed modestly enough. They are even more vile than the Islamists.

    1. Whence this strange idea that the Left is not anti-religion? Marxism, Socialism both have had inherent, thorough-going anti-religious critiques since their inception. The fact that Guardian readers might have opposed the Iraq War tells you virtually nothing about the Left and Islam and more about Liberalism and the Muslims.

            1. Noam Chomsky. Gore Vidal. Norman Finkelstein. Bernie Sanders (closet candidate). Christopher Hitchens (give me half a mark for CH).

              1. Points for optimism.
                But in my experience, most liberals are all about unthinking tolerance. Perhaps, however, this is only an artifact of the kind of people I know.

              2. Then we know the same people.

                Great exceptions aside, the knee-jerk political response of the left, as it has been traditionally, is tolerance uber alles.

              3. I think we must come from radically different political traditions; toleration (not tolerance) is a liberal idea, always has been. The Marxist position is that, IN RELATION TO THE STATE, religion is a private affair and should be kept firmly in that sphere, unless it impinges on the freedom and safety of others. Its withering away will take years and possibly centuries.

              4. Dermot, I do think we’re talking about two different phenomena–you seem to be speaking of the philosophically pure tradition, while I’m reacting to the idiot masses I observe all around me. That we have some intellectuals who get it right doesn’t make much of a dent at the polls. More’s the pity.

    2. Actually woo meisters are regularly bagged in the comments section of the Guardian Comment Is Free (CIF) series.

      I often visit the CIF site for the pleasure of watching the CIF regulars dismantle the latest nonsense being spewed by Andrew Brown, Karen Armstrong and others.

    3. They are even more vile than the Islamists.

      In the race to the bottom that is religion it is hard to single out the most vicious and hateful, but as it stands now the ultra orthodox in Israel have limited secular power unlike the situation in Muslim theocracies and in fact the recent actions of the ultra orthodox seems to have generated push back from non orthodox and secular Israelis to the point where the ultra orthodox stand to loose some if not all of the privileges they have been granted.

      One hopes that similar things will happen in the “Arab Spring” countries but the results of the Egyptian election do not bode well for a secular Egyptian government.

  18. Armstrong means well but fails to realize there is no single understanding of muslim writings any more than there is no agreed upon understanding of Christian and Jewish writings. No person or single group can speak for these religions. Individuals can only speak about their personal understanding, and wars have been thought over the differences in understanding. Consensus is impossible and peace between radical religions is fragile and temporary at best. The mixing of religion, as in the US and a few other nations is impossible when religion is radicalized, when individuals believe it is their God given duty to evangelize, convert, and defeat in wars those who do not agree with them. Armstrong and those of her ilk are misguided, and dangerous. Naive is the word that best describes Armstrong.

    1. True. Naive and extremely dangerous. She would create an environment of perilous acceptance and passivity where radical Islam would thrive.

  19. Karen Armstrong is a liar. There is simply no other word for this travesty. How DARE she try and frame the Qu’ran as even slightly pro-Jew. The sheer chutzpah of it!

    Even my (relatively) liberal Muslim flatmate finds this claim entirely risible.

    It’s a flat out LIE.

    Karen, if you are reading this: you DISGUST me.

  20. Islam is indeed the least tolerant and most violent of major religions these days, but
    getting your facts from the Daily Mail is like using reports from Fox News to show how terrible Obama is.

    From the Guardian article, ignored figures from the very same poll (which, as is pointed out, is not some secret source unearthed by wikileaks; the wikileaks story simply repeats an earlier publicly available poll which the Mail used as a base for exactly the same story in 2008):

    “Curiously, more positive results were ignored both then and now. 89% of those surveyed said women should be treated equally, with only 5% disagreeing, only 25% had an issue with homosexuality, nearly 80% said it was possibly to be equally Muslim and British, 92% had a range of friends across cultural boundaries, and nearly 80% had respect for Jews (with only 7% expressing disrespect), while a similar number respected Atheists. More than 70% said they were more liberal than their parents.”

  21. I cannot comprehend the tint of glasses that could produce this:

    “The ancient rituals of the hajj, which Arabs performed for centuries before Islam, have helped pilgrims to form habits of heart and mind that – pace the western stereotype – are non-violent and inclusive.”

    Given that non-Muslims are prohibited from going to Mecca I don’t see how it fosters inclusive habits of mind.

    1. Presumably because Muslims come from all over the world, so pilgrims on the Hajj have a pretty good opportunity of encountering people from places that they’ve never thought about before?

  22. Having taken it upon myself to read the entire Qur’an*, I must say how shocked I am at how obsessed it’s author was about unbelievers. In fact, the threat of Fire to unbelievers would, I think, easily qualify as it’s main theme.

    Whatever is left is dedicated to retelling of biblical stories and the rare piece of moral guidance (some of which is actually quite sound).

    * Reportage of my progress thus far is here, for anyone who’s interested: http://kpharri.wordpress.com/2011/11/01/the-quran/)

  23. Although I believe in free conscious selection, all who promote Islam never knew what christianism is, even if they were borne christians. Personally I live in a moslem country threatened to become a slave (being christian) under their SHARIA’A that is a mixutre between some christian an Jewish beliefs, mixed with some human desires to survive in a desert environment: besides the good morals ans beliefs that are extracted from christianism and jewdism you have some immoral and unjust offers to please the “men” fighters in the deserts: Humiliation of the Woman, marry as much as you want, envade and kill people not converted to Islam, ALLAH does not understand but ARABIC (!!!!) all these enveloped by nicely selected sentences refered to GOD mouth !!!!
    Any other GOOD SIDE in Islam is actually extracted from the previous Christian and Jewish beliefs…
    Believe me I am sure of what I say.
    So,Christians, be sure to well understand and practice (PRACTICE) your christianism before thinking to convert to ISLAM!!!
    After all the above, I still believe in free conscious selection.

  24. Why is Karen Armstrong excusing the behavior of Muslims? It is like exculpating the behavior of segregationists or slave owners because they are effortlessly aggrieved and inclined to retaliatory violence. Could you envision Karen Armstrong scrawling an article about open-mindedness toward Jim Crow segregation in the late 1950s. It would probably go something like this:

    “Segregationists are at times violent, but some are non-violent. However, the “moderate” segregationists are deafeningly silent when fellow segregationists are violent, but this doesn’t make them bad people it just makes us bad people for not being more tolerant of their intolerance. I mean segregationists are Christians and we all know Jesus said,”Love your neighbor as yourself.” How could anyone be bad who subscribes to the religion of contradictory Jesus? (Jesus also said,”I come not to bring peace, but a sword.”) Segregationists shouldn’t be criticized; rather uncritically tolerated because how can we alter the segregationist mentality with condemnation. Plus, the South is beautiful. Have you ever been to Savannah, Georgia? It is magnificent and they say they serve blacks at most public facilities–in the back of course. We shouldn’t condemn and criticize segregationists, but embrace them. God knows we can’t change the racist environment with condemnation and protest. That would be too prejudicial. Also, I am an idiot.”

    Does this resonate rationality or fairness? Islam is comparable to a segregationist or slave-holding society and advocating tolerance for Islam is advocating tolerance for sexism, racism, homophobia, criminal violence, sexual repression, child abuse, rape, and intellectual oppression. In my opinion, espousing acceptance and tolerance for such a despicable institution is repulsive and moronic. It makes me want to puke.

  25. I wouldn’t discount the potential nastiness of Buddhists too. Even the non-violence is supposed to be the first of the Buddhist precepts, it has its violent fanatics just like other ideologies. Buddhists have played their parts in inspiring war in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Japan.

  26. “the Qur’an calls Jews “apes” and “pigs””

    Can we have chapter and verse number for this?

    “condemns “followers of the book” (i.e., Christians and Jews) to hell

    (2:62) The [Muslim] believers, the Jews, the Christians, and the Sabians – all those who believe in God and the Last Day and do good – will have their rewards with their Lord. No fear for them, nor will they grieve.

    Though yes, verses like 5:72–75 seem to contradict that…

  27. You write:

    “Islam is a religion not just of proselytizing, but of formalized calls of death to apostates and heretics. Buddhists and secularists don’t do that. The calls for jihad and conversion of everyone won’t stop because we espouse “liberal” values.”

    Depends on which “Christians” and which “Secularists” (not to mention which “violence”):

    “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them all to Christianity.” (Ann Coulter)

    and now Tom Friedman (someone above referenced this moron as an authority on the middle east) on why the US invaded Iraq:

    “What they needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, um and basically saying, “Which part of this sentence don’t you understand?”

    You don’t think, you know, we care about our open society, you think this bubble fantasy, we’re just gonna let it grow?

    Well Suck. On. This.


    That Charlie was what this war was about. We could’ve hit Saudi Arabia, it was part of that bubble. We coulda hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could. That’s the real truth.”

    Sure, people here can see the difference between Christianity or Christian principles (or Secularism and Secular principles) and the unjustified invasion, the slaughter, the occupation, the torture involved in the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. But if you look at the words of some of our people, add the violence of our war machine, you just might come out with something like “Christian (or Secular) West violent by nature.” Tom Friedman said so.

    1. Well to conclude from that that Islam is no worse than christianity/secularism is pretty silly. Just watch the videio of the lecture of secular muslim Irshad Munji as it is being disrupted by muslim fundamentalists. Or ask Iranian and Baha’s who have lost family members due to regime of Iran going after the “misguided sect”. I don’t see even evangelical christians disrupting the talks of liberals or harassing mormons because their ancestors left the fold.

      1. Wasn’t my point, really, to draw that equivalence. We have our own Christian Taliban here, cheering for religious war on other faiths, attempting to shut down people who disagree with them, etc. Luckily, they’re not in power (yet).

        The point is we here in America have brought about a good deal of violence in the name of something (don’t know what–Friedman suggested “the open society”), Coulter et al. “Christianity”) on the Middle East, among other places. Estimates are that more than 100 non combatants have died in these places.

        One might justifiably wonder, then, what all of the bleating about beheadings by islamic radicals is all about, when beheadings, smashings, explodings, burnings, confinings, torturings, etc., are being committed by the US and its allies.

        The one doesn’t excuse the other, obviously, but the fact that we’re pretty good at violence in the name of ideology ought to make one reconsider condemning those whose ideologies differ from our own, but whose violence does not (except in scale).

        And in a related point, let’s total up the bodies in the 20th and 21st Century killed by Islam, and those killed by “Secularism” (of some variety).

        1. I wouldn’t want to ‘bleat’ about the assassination attempt on the Pakistani President by Muslim extremists, involving several car bombs, leaving seventeen dead and at least forty injured in December 2003; nor about the Government-sponsored militias in the Sudan in the same year, killing another two dozen villagers – adding to a toll of more than two million over 20 years; nor about the Mujahideen suicide bomber who detonated an explosive on a Russian commuter train in 2003 carrying civilians to work, killing forty-four people, including children and injuring about one-hundred and fifty others; nor about the coordinated Fedayeen suicide truck bombings in Istanbul in 2003, one near a British bank and the other outside the British consulate, killing more than thirty and injuring over four-hundred people; nor about the 17-year-old girl from Bradford strangled by her family for resisting an arranged marriage, again in 2003. I would want to condemn all of them.

          And I condemn Islamists, whilst ululating in religious ecstasy, videoing themselves cutting peoples’ throats.

          And I condemn the religiously-inspired genital mutilation of their little girls.

          And I condemn their justification of wife-beating, and the killing of apostates and homosexuals.

          And I condemn their thuggish, infantile and violent attacks on cartoonists, free speech and the embassies of small secular liberal democracies.

          And I condemn their clerics advocating the rape of virgins prior to executing them for verbal crimes and political dissent.

          And I would condemn them, knowing that their Holy Book justifies these actions. That’s the difference between them and Enlightened Thought. When torture occurs in the west, we condemn it because that is what we think is right. There is no moral relativism here; they do not deserve to be exculpated, nor should we throw up our hands in masochistic self-flagellation exclaiming our own unworthiness. I assert the right to defend core human values and I will not tolerate these fundamental attacks on them from Islam.

          1. I condemn all those things as well (not a moral relativist).

            But I also condemn the unjustified and murderous belligerence of our invasion of Iraq, torture of its citizens, and so on, which, all told, would equal much more than the products of violence of a few crazies, and, which continues to be justified, preposterously, by too many (Dick Cheney, George Bush, all of the Republican candidates save maybe Paul) here.

            Sure, a handful of extremists cry murder at cartoons, but they can’t use cartoons as a reason to invade and occupy a country that had nothing to do with attacking us. It’s true, this happened, as well as torture, and the non-condemnation of torture. Look it up.

            Apologies for misspelling “bleet.”

            1. now why nobody commented/replied to this???
              i wonder. i am a muslim, but that is not why i agree wit jcasey. its common sense. people attack u, u defend urself.

              sure, u all seemeed to be very intelligent academician, idoelogists. but
              all i can see here are foolish, moronic people, talking about Islam as if they’ve studied Quran and Hadith cover-to-cover, page by page. as if they had lived a life of a true Muslim and learned, sincerely, about Islam.

              keith, i visited ur page, read some of ur summaries, as well as the source where u got those verses from. wikiIslam has a lot of false info, scandal, slander, prejudices, fabrication, outright lie. it clearly ignored the positive sides of any issues and highlighted and twisted the seemingly negative ones.these are not Islam. and the guy they are talking about is not our Prophet Muhammad. they degrade themselves by using wordplay tricks,pushing aside the nature of each verse, ridiculing the facts. what I advise u is to get the original copy of Quran, with original translation, (but then i see that there are some misguided/inaccurate but unavoidable use of English words to fit arab words as in the english version by Yusuf Ali) and go see a credible Muslim scholar to help u understand better, face-to-face. quran and hadith cannot be interpreted literally alone. that is exactly what u people have been doing and actually just making a fool of yourselves. these wiki shit are baseless. who wrote them anyway?? if u want to study Islam, or anything, u should’t use wiki, or mere internet source where people can write what they like, should you? that doesn’t fit an academician or researcher.

              as for those so-called jihadist who go around bombing places in Uk or Us,killing innocents who had nothing to do with the war in their countries, i go against them more than you do. believe me, they r wrong. they are the ones who should be beheaded for causing all the violence and in turn picture the peaceful Islam as a violence-mongering faith.
              put aside these extremists, take into accounts of true muslims alone. have u conseidered malaysia? do you see muslims drag swords and behead hindus, buddhists, christians, atheists, or several other religions’ believers? yet we live in a muslim country, practice Islam in our laws, teach Islma to our kids.

              please do not label me emotional, another terrosist, or apologists. i’m surprised, n ful of sympathize really, to see how clueless you are about Islam.

              1. 1. “it clearly ignored the positive sides of any issues and highlighted and twisted the seemingly negative ones”

                So you admit there are negative sides? That’s enough to condemn it then.

                2. “quran and hadith cannot be interpreted literally alone”

                But is any of what they say — literally or with the “correct” interpretation — true? How does can a scholar know what interpretation is correct?


              2. 1. didnt you notice the word ‘seemingly’?? it means it is not negative but twisted the meanings just so that it look truly negative
                2. sorry, but who’s ‘they’? the ones on wiki or the Quran n hadith? if u mean Q n H, yes. the interpretation on wiki that made it wrong. those list of fabricated hadith for instance, most of them (yes, a few are not hadith, but arabic proverb/somebody else’s words/really fabricated)i’m sure are sahih hadiths, distorted just so that it fits their own idea of our Prophet’s personality.a true scholar should know better than to merely translate the words without taking into account the background of the verses (the period it was revealed, the situation/what happened during that period, to whom it referred/addressd to,why it was revealed,etc), the practical usage of the words, the various forms n meanings of each word, n most important of all, bias/prejudice free. i dont know if you know how vastly different arabic n english language n grammar are. the system is different except for that rough similarity on the usage of tenses.
                3. please, i dont mean to start a fight here, am only trying to prove we are not who you think we are. if whatever on wikiislam is true, why havent we heard of it? why havent we been taught those horrible things? it doesnt make sense. jst because of certain group of muslim abusing the term jihad, claimed it is Allah’s command, it has affected Islam n muslims around t world.

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