Monday, February 12, 2007

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades)


BOOK REVIEW:
THE POLITICALLY INCORRECT GUIDE TO ISLAM (AND THE CRUSADES)
By Robert Spencer
£10.15, Regnery
Reviewed by Robin Phillips


If we don’t know our own history then we simply have to endure all of the same mistakes and all of the same sacrifices and all of the same absurdities over again times ten.

- Alexander Solzhenitsyn


At a time when public debate about Islam is continually being sabotaged by the high priests of political correctness, Robert Spencer’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) makes for a refreshing read.

As the title suggests, the author is prepared to tell the truth about Islam even if it means knocking down a few PC idols in the process.

And that is certainly what he does. Mr. Spencer’s basic thesis is that Islam is, and has always been, a religion of violence. He contends that we will never be able to understand what is happening in our world today if we do not appreciate this basic fact.

Like Regency’s other Politically Incorrect Guides, the book is scholarly without being dry. Published in 2005, the title remained on the New York Times bestseller list for 15 weeks.

Despite the book’s success with the general public, it has been largely ignored by mainstream and academic reviewers.

This is not surprising. Robert Spencer systematically dismantles all the dominant myths about Islam and the crusades with a thoroughness that has gained him many enemies.

The one thing Robert Spencer’s enemies cannot accuse him of is failing to do his homework properly. Author of 6 other books on Islam, eight monographs and hundreds of articles, Robert Spencer is one of the world’s leading Islamic historians. This comes across in his Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam which is meticulously well researched while still being fast paced and accessible to a popular audience.

The high standard of scholarship is apparent in the first section of the book, which deals with the history of Islam from the time of Muhammad up to the time of the Crusades. Drawing on the Qur’an and other ancient Muslim sources, Spencer shows that terrorism has always been intrinsic to Islamic piety.

The book is useful compendium of facts we are not normally told about the world’s fastest growing religion. For example, I had always assumed that the Qur’an was Islam’s only sacred text. Yet as Mr. Spencer points out, other authoritative writings include the Hadith, which contain quotations from Muhammad in which he or his followers explain how verses in the Qur’an should be interpreted. In some of the ahadith (the plural of hadith), Muhammad quotes words of Allah that do not appear in the Qur’an. These are known as the ‘holy hadith’ and are considered by Muslims to be just as binding as the Qur’an itself.

Not surprisingly, the focus of many ahadith is violence.

In the Qur’an itself, Spencer points out, there are over a hundred verses that exhort Muslims to wage violent jihad against unbelievers. Muhammad led the way by his own example as a particularly brutal terrorist. Muhammad was not content to simply kill those who refused to convert. When his uncle, Abu Lahab, rejected his message, Muhammad’s response was typical: ‘He shall be burnt in a flaming fire, and his wife, laden with faggots, shall have a rope of fibre around her neck!’ (Qur’an 111:1-5)

The book shows just how mainstream the culture of jihad is, and has always been, within the Islamic community. This even includes the large portion of Muslims that have been labelled ‘peaceful’ by the establishment. Most of these, so called, ‘peace loving Muslims’ have the same goal as the extremists - the only difference is that they have not yet taken up arms. This is often because ‘peaceful’ Muslims have found it is more effective to work through the jihad of ideas (more about that in a minute). Other Muslims who claim that Islam is a religion of peace are referring to the peace that will prevail when the entire world is under the hegemony of sharia law. Similar verbal gymnastics underpin the claim that jihad is a purely defensive conflict. As Mr. Spencer points out, ‘if a country is perceived to be hindering the spread of Islam, Muslims are obliged to wage war against it. This would, of course, be a defensive conflict, since the hindrances came first.’

In the second section of the book, Robert Spencer presents a thumbnail sketch of the Crusades as they really were. Contrary to popular assumption, the crusades were a purely defensive action in response to hundreds of years of Muslim aggression.

The Christian empire of Byzantium had originally ruled a vast expanse of land including southern Italy, North Africa, the Middle East and Arabia. Over the years, however, Muslim aggression progressively reduced this empire to a land little more than the size of Greece. Faced with the possibility of complete extermination, the Byzantine Emperor pleaded with Christians in Europe to come and help. The Crusades were Europe’s response to this request.

Spencer quotes the letter that Pope Urban II wrote, calling for the First Crusade. The letter is revealing as much for what it does not say. Instead of urging an agenda of religious conquest, the pope gave a brief history of Islamic acquisitions in the East. Neither did the pope see the crusades as an opportunity for gain or territorial expansion. In fact, he decreed that all lands recovered from the Muslims would belong to Alexius Comnenus and the Byzantine Emperor. Urban, like the Crusaders themselves, saw it as a chance to sacrifice rather than to profit.

While maintaining that the Crusades were a necessary defensive action, Spencer acknowledges that the Christians, no less than their Muslim opponents, were sometimes guilty of the kinds of abuse and violent excesses that were typical of medieval warfare.

In hindsight, we tend to think of the Crusades as a great failure. Spencer believes otherwise. While it is true that all the Crusader’s acquisitions eventually reverted back to Muslim rule, Spencer argues convincingly that these battles played a key role in staving off the jihadic conquest of Western Europe. Because the level of Islamic adventurism in Europe dropped off dramatically during the era of the Crusades, this gave Europe the window of time it needed to strengthen and fortify itself. After the era of the Crusades, Europe was again defending itself from jihad, but this time closer to home. While Muslims were not successful in conquering Western Europe, they did manage to seize large tracts of Eastern European land, including Albania, Croatia, Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia, and more.

The third section of the book is on ‘Today’s Jihad’ and contains four chapters. For me, the most fascinating of these was chapter 16, titled ‘”Islamophobia”’ and Today’s Ideological Jihad.’

In this chapter, Spencer suggests that Muslim’s most effective weapon has not been guns or bombs but ideas. After bringing much of Eastern Europe under their sway, Muslims have been trying for centuries to gain control of Western Europe. Having been unable to achieve this goal through force, they have finally seen their moment with the rise of political correctness and multiculturalism. A prime example of this is the invention and development of the term ‘Islamophobia.’ Those who use this word are able to short circuit crucial debate by dismissing all criticism of Islam as akin to racism. (The press frequently interchanges the words ‘Muslims’ and ‘Arabs’ even though the majority of Muslims are not Arabs. This semantic gymnastics allows the media to talk about Islam as a race and, consequently, to dismiss criticism of Islam as a racist offence.) The concept of ‘Islamophobia’ has even been employed at the highest levels of international diplomacy to give lawmakers enormous political leverage.

Chapter 16 exposes the pro-Islamic bias of the Western media. While this comes as no great revelation, what was interesting was a list of numerous occasions when acts of Islamic violence were reinterpreted by Western police or media as having been done for motives other than jihad. This has even occurred in situations where the assailant explicitly specified religious motives. In one case, the American media went so far as to change the name of a Muslim terrorist in order to conceal the fact that he was a Muslim (his name was Muhammad).

Chapter 17, titled ‘Criticizing Islam May be Hazardous to Your Health’, will resonate with all who are alarmed with the way Muslims are quickly turning into a class that is immune to criticism, precisely at the moment when the West most needs to examine the implications of Islamic teaching. Faced with a powerful pro-Muslim lobby (often funded by Saudi oil) on one side and the politically correct thought police on the other, the window of free speech is quickly closing in the West.

When he claims that criticizing Islam may be hazardous to your health, Robert Spencer knows what he is talking about first hand, having received death threats as a result of his research. In an interview with FrontPage magazine, Mr. Spencer explained that ‘these threats are in effect saying, "Say that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance, or we'll kill you!"’

The book concludes by outlining some practical proposals for mounting a fully effective response to the challenge of the global jihad. These proposals hinge on first naming and shaming the enemy. The enemy is not ‘terror.’ (‘To wage a “war on terror”, Spencer writes, is like waging a “war on bombs”; it focuses on a tool of the enemy rather than the enemy itself.’) The enemy is nothing short of ‘a totalitarian, supremacist, and expansionist ideology’ that must be recognised before it is too late.

Above all, Spencer argues that Europe will stand or fall based on how it responds to today’s jihad of ideas. If we are to successfully defend our civilisation from Islamic invaders, we must first fight against the culture of denial, the propagation of misinformation and the strategic lies that Muslims have exploited to their own ends.

But where do you start?

Buying and reading The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), seems like a good place to begin.
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