As the global Muslim reaction to Pope Benedict XVI’s recent remarks on Islam threaten to eclipse last winter’s Cartoon Rage in irrationality and violence, there has been the usual undercurrent of sympathy on the Left for those breathing threats and murder against the Pope and the West. Notable among the spokesmen for appeasement and accommodation of violent Islamic intimidation was Karen Armstrong, author of the popular books Islam: A Short History and Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet.
Armstrong on Monday published a piece in The Guardian entitled “We cannot afford to maintain these ancient prejudices against Islam: The Pope’s remarks were dangerous, and will convince many more Muslims that the west is incurably Islamophobic.” It’s ironic that she would term the Pope’s remarks, rather than the Muslim reaction to them, “dangerous” – particularly after a nun in Somalia and a lay Christian in Iraq were murdered in apparent expressions of anger against the Pope. As far as Armstrong is concerned, violent Islamic rage against the West, including the rage against the Pope, is all the fault of the West.
“Our Islamophobia,” intones Armstrong, “dates back to the time of the Crusades, and is entwined with our chronic anti-semitism.” Armstrong, like Bill Clinton, who explained 9/11 as part of the debt “we are still paying” to the Islamic world for the Crusades, never mentions that centuries of jihad aggression and imperialism that preceded and provoked the Crusades. The Crusades were not perfect, but they were in no sense a gratuitous proto-colonial attack by the Christian West against a hitherto peaceful and benign Islamic world.
Yet to Armstrong, acts of Islamic aggression were “fearful fantasies created by Europeans.” She doesn’t acknowledge that Islam is unique among world religions in having a doctrine of religious imperialism. Muhammad tells his followers to call people to Islam, and if they refuse, to offer them second-class status or war: “When you meet your enemies who are polytheists, invite them to three courses of action….Invite them to (accept) Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them….If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya [the tax on non-Muslims specified in Qur’an 9:29]. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah’s help and fight them (Sahih Muslim 4294).”
Armstrong has never had an overly strong attachment to accuracy. Daniel Pipes has noted about her book Islam: A Short History that “Armstrong goes out of her way to soften every hard edge, explain away every unpleasantness, and hide what she cannot otherwise account for.” An egregious example of this comes in her biography of Muhammad: according to Islamic traditions reported in the hadith collection considered most reliable by Muslims, Muhammad married his favorite wife, Aisha, “when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old.” He was at this time in his early fifties. Embarrassed by this, many Islamic apologists claim – in the teeth of this evidence – that Aisha was older. Armstrong obligingly asserts that “Tabari says that she was so young that she stayed in her parents’ home and the marriage was consummated there later when she had reached puberty.” Unfortunately, her readers are unlikely to have volumes of Tabari on hand to check her assertion; contrary to Armstrong’s account, the Muslim historian quotes Aisha thusly: “The Messenger of God married me when I was seven; my marriage was consummated when I was nine.” Did Aisha go through puberty at nine, or was Armstrong covering up one of the more embarrassing aspects of Muhammad’s career?
The time for such disingenuousness is over, as is the time for the unseemly self-recrimination to which Armstrong is calling the West. The Muslim rage against the Pope’s call to eschew religious violence reveals an Islamic world in deep denial, as irrational as it is unable to take responsibility for its own actions. And in this it has Karen Armstrong and other Leftist haters of Western civilization and culture as willing accomplices.