I first learned about Islam by reading some history books in my dad’s library. He belonged to the ‘Book of the Month Club’ (remember that mail-order business?) back in the 60s and he bought the ‘Story of Civilization’ collection written by the erudite scholar Will Durant and his wife Ariel Durant. Really fantastically well written. Anyway, the Durants wrote all 12 volumes between the 1930s and the 60s and the particular volume relevant here is called ‘The Age of Faith’ in which there is a chapter entitled ‘The Sword of Islam.’ The Durants wrote that in the 50s, long before public discussion of Islam had become politicized, so the Durants can’t conceivably be accused of any kind of prejudice, and Mr. Durant himself said he paid a lot of attention to Islam in that volume as a corrective to America’s tremendous ignorance of the subject.
The title of the chapter gives the theme away of course…’Sword of Islam’. According to Durant, Islam, in its original and purest state was the embodiment of the masculine virtues of martial strength and vigor, unbending resolve, black and white absolutist thinking, you know, all the manly qualities that Christianity had softened by giving women a prominent role in the early Church and by emphasizing the virtues of humility, compassion, inclusiveness, etc. Islam rejected those virtues, and prided itself on a radical conservative approach to spirituality, rejecting the counsels and influence of women, and always concentrating on total and absolute submission to the will of God (Islam means submission or surrender after all) and focusing on the conquest and subjugation of all opposing forces and polities and peoples. Mohammed himself was a warrior relishing the massacres of all who stood before him and preparing the ground for the explosive outward expansion of the Islamic warriors. That’s the founding ideology and spirituality of Islam. It is a totalitarian, totalist system of thinking and living in the world that brooks no distinction between the sacred and the secular, between mosque and state. It is puritanical and unforgiving, in its original and purest form. That’s what a caliphate is, that’s what it does.
It’s been happening all through Islam’s history. More recent examples are the rise of the Mahdi in the Sudan in the late 19th century (there’s a great movie based on this called ‘Khartoum’ from 1966, starring Charleton Heston as the famous General Gordon of British imperial fame and Laurence Olivier playing the sinister Mahdi, the anointed deliverer of Islam) and more recently there was the Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Turkish caliphate during World War One. It’s Death To The Unbelievers, 24/7. It’s what ISIS styles itself as being and all the softer varieties of Islam are considered to be abominable heresies, such as the Ismailis and Sufis, etc.,…and, well, they get their heads cut off too in the original version of Islam. The Shia are the expression of the nationalism of Persia and there has been an ongoing ancient death quarrel between the Arabs and Persians so the Sunni-Shia schism is a slightly different story. (By the way, Frank Herbert, the author of ‘Dune’, one of the books in the canon of American science fiction, patterned the Fremen desert tribes, of his fictional planet Dune, on the Bedouin of the North African/Saudi deserts on Earth.)
So you see, Islam was invented by Mohammed as a way to unify the Arab tribes and pull them out of the sloth and torpor of their mindless existence in the desert. It was a way to energize and unify the men of all the different Arab/Bedouin tribes and give them the confidence to fight the oppressive and exploitative Byzantine empire under whose domination the desert Arab tribes were living. And it was wildly successful. Read the Durants’ book for an excellent and complete description of all this, it is a necessary education for these times.
So today, when we have these patently false statements by politicians like Prime Minister David Cameron in Britain and Obama here, that “Islam is a religion of peace”, well, that’s complete hogwash. They either know better and are just plain lying for political reasons, so as not to offend their Moslem constituents, or, more likely, they’re just plain ignorant of the history themselves. Obama’s experience has been with one of the softer varieties of Islam, in multi-ethnic Indonesia, but even there polls show that a majority of Indonesians would like to institute puritanical and unforgiving Sharia law. Remember, conquest, subjugation, and violence are the norms in Islam, and compassion and mercy for others is honored more in the breach than as a foundational principle in Islam. And Islam sank into an anti-intellectual fascist reaction very soon after the few experiments in liberal thinking and intellectual exploration in its golden days circa 1000 A.D. when the streets of Barcelona or Cordoba (I get those two mixed up, wink) under the Spanish Caliphate had miles of artificial lighting while the Anglo-Saxons in England huddled in the dark and bathed only once a year. In all those centuries since the Golden Age of Islam all the Islamic countries have mouldered in stagnation and oppression of the citizenry. But these are the cultures dear to Obama’s heart. Go figure.