Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Truth? Islam Has Always Been a Religion of War--From the Beginning

An excellent review of the book Islamic Imperialism by Efraim Karsh makes it clear that Islam was always a religion of beheadings and massive blood-letting. There is nothing new about Iraqi Shia-Sunni massacres. That is how Islam has always been.

Growing lawlessness... led to the formation of citizen organizations for defense and reprisals... . Notable among these were... thugs drawn from the lower reaches of society... .

Ready to sell their services to the highest bidder, groups... competed against each other to serve the rival Shiite and Sunni camps in their incessant squabbles...

Yesterday's Financial Times on today's Iraq? No, Efraim Karsh on eighth-century Baghdad. Forgive yourself if "the more things change, the more they stay the same" comes to mind.

Muslim scholars, proud of Islam's cultural feats, often don't know what to say about its endemic violence and militarism. Even great ones fall victim to soft-pedaling the endless battles, assassinations and massacres by which Islam expanded from Arabia to become a world religion. In his Islam: Religion, History, and Civilization (2003), the distinguished Iranian philosopher S.H. Nasr embodied this tradition in a telling, self-contradictory sentence:

"In less than a century after the establishment of the first Islamic society in Medina by the Prophet, Arab armies had conquered a land stretching from the Indus River to France and brought with them Islam, which, contrary to popular Western conceptions, was not forced upon the people by the sword."

You might say that Efraim Karsh, head of the Mediterranean Studies Program at the University of London, gives the other side of the story.

In his nervy, tightly documented Islamic Imperialism, Karsh challenges scholars and Muslim leaders to refute his own picture of Islam: an imperialist seventh-century Arabic movement that forced itself on neighboring lands such as today's Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Egypt for secular colonialist payoffs - money, booty, territory.

According to Karsh, Muhammad, by claiming Allah's authority to act as both a political and religious leader, was able "to cloak his political ambitions with a religious aura" and "channel Islam's energies" into geographic expansion.

In seventh-century Arabia, Karsh argues, the peninsula teemed with people claiming divine inspiration. What Muhammad added, Karsh contends, was insistence on Allah as the sole god, a desire to unite believers equally in a Muslim umma (or "community of believers"), and a will to do so by force if persuasion failed.

On the practical side, Karsh maintains, Islam began in banditry. After going to Medina, Muhammad sought to "entice his local followers into raiding the Meccan caravans," and the multiple attacks increased their war chests. His unpopularity with Meccans stemmed not just from his new beliefs, Karsh asserts, but from his brigandage.

Medina, originally known as Yathrib, had been partly "settled by Jewish refugees fleeing Roman persecution." Karsh says Muhammad first tried to persuade Yathrib's three Jewish tribes - the Quainuqa, Nadir and Quraiza - to convert to Islam. He adopted "a number of Jewish rituals," including praying "toward Jerusalem" and not eating pork.

When the "Medina Jews" demurred, Karsh states, Muhammad turned on them, dropping Jewish rituals and changing the direction of prayer to Mecca.

Eventually, Karsh writes, Muhammad expelled the Quainuqa and Nadir and stole their goods. Then, in 627, after accusing the Quraiza of conspiring with Meccan enemies, Muhammad ordered its nearly 800 men beheaded. The Muslims sold the women and children into slavery and split the tribe's money.

Muhammad also continued his conquest of Arabia. He conducted raids throughout the peninsula and "resorted to the assassination of political rivals." In 630, he showed up at Mecca with an army, the city capitulated, and Islam's great rise began.

In Karsh's view, Muhammad has served as a model for Muslims not just as a wise man and prophet, but as a warrior.

Anyone not expert on early Islam will need a scorecard to follow the innumerable murders, impalings, decapitations and dismemberments that marked the early Islamic caliphates and Shiite/Sunni split. You think what's happening in Iraq is new? So many severed heads get sent from one leader to another in Islamic Imperialism, you wonder why "Fed Head" didn't get off the ground as a Meccan firm.

From Muhammad's farewell address in 632 ("I was ordered to fight all men until they say, 'There is no God but Allah.' "), to Saladin in 1189 ("I shall... pursue them until there remains no one... who does not acknowledge Allah"), to Osama bin Laden in 2001 ("I was ordered to fight the people until they say there is no god but Allah..."), Karsh finds Islam's outward imperialism consistent.

But internally, Karsh notes, mayhem against rival Muslims also implicated Islam's spiritual side as "a facade that concealed what was effectively a secular and increasingly absolutist rule," one by which Arab caliphs could "enjoy the material fruits of imperial expansion."

Every Islamic takeover, Karsh emphasizes, came with a demand for tribute, taxes, or both: "Arab conquerors were far less interested in the mass conversion of the vanquished peoples than in securing their tribute." Meanwhile, infighting made "a mockery" of Muhammad's ban on fighting among Muslims.

This history of Islam's internal wars forms the timely, eye-opening side of Karsh's book. By the first Abbasid caliphate in 749, Karsh summarizes, "the Islamic empire was an Arab military autocracy run by Arabs for the sole benefit of Arabs."

It is instructive to study the history of a long-lived movement, to understand where present day irrationalities originate. During the so-called "golden age of islam", it was not the barbaric arab conquerors who brought knowledge to the conquered. The result of the muslim conquest was an extended dark age settling over the muslim countries, lasting for a thousand years, and still smothering the muslim lands.

Islam is a cult of ignorance and murder. There is no refinement, no honour, no future in Islam. It has always been that way. Pity the poor muslim who does not know better.

No comments: