Published in 2005, The Politically Incorrect guide to Islam is still amazingly current in 2017. If one were to judge the book by its cover, one would presume it to be sensationalist and provocative. The contents are, however, more civilised than the tabloid-like cover. The author, Robert Spencer, has done a good job referencing relevant source material. The book is probably not very balanced, but the author does make some concessions to Islam’s side of the story, even when he would get away with presenting Islam in a more negative light. It’s important to point out that writings more amenable to Islam are surely also biased (reversely), but this bias isn’t routinely called out because it conforms to political correctness.
Islamic terrorism was a grave concern to many in 2005 already. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam made many important points and taught me several new things. Where to start?
What is Islam?
In the Finnish education system, different religions are studied in both junior and senior secondary school. They are all shown in a politically correct, positive light to promote tolerance. This is where my first knowledge of Islam comes from.
Islam was founded some 1,400 years ago by Muhammad, considered a prophet in the religion. What’s new to me is the detailed biography of the prophet himself. ”Prophet of War,” as the first chapter’s provocative title says. Interestingly, Muhammad fought in tribal wars before his religious revelations in A.D. 610. Later, he turned against his own tribe (the Quraysh) for not accepting his new religion. The Qur’an, Islam’s holy book, gives justification for waging religious war. Spencer writes that the Qur’an verses that justified the early Muslims’ attacks against the Quraysh led to the general Islamic principle that defending the religion overrides different moral standards. Later, the Qur’an permitted the Muslims to breach a treaty with the Quraysh in Islam’s interest, for example.
Muhammad went on to share his faith to other tribes. This sharing was eventually violent in nature. With the rejection of Islam by Jewish tribes, Muhammad eventually commanded, ”Kill any Jew that falls into your power.” He had a Jewish civilian assassinated for mocking Muslims. And there’s much more. None of this was told in school.
Muhammad’s aspirations to spread Islam and collect war booty are supported by the Qur’an every step of the way. The Qur’an promises great things to every faithful Muslim. The ones that fall in jihad are taken to Paradise to be served by beautiful ”voluptuous women”—and even ”young male servants handsome as pearls well-guarded,” to please men of different proclivities. Tendentious Islamic teachings bring about a most interesting perspective: that Islam isn’t a mere religion, but a self-empowering ideology built to subordinate the entire world under its power. Islam, ”submission.”
Islam’s nature as more than a religion is obviously not a novel thought. Some commentators speak about ”political Islam” in contrast to religion-only Islam, but there isn’t really any ”non-political Islam” to begin with. As Spencer illustrates in his Politically Incorrect Guide, the religion orders shari’a system to be established in all societies. There’s no separation of religion and state, on the contrary.
The Crusades as defensive wars
Apologists of Islam constantly refer to the Crusades to demonstrate that Islam isn’t any worse than Christianity. They may even claim that the entire conflict between Islam and Christianity started from the Crusades. Spencer argues that this is all just a PC myth.
Spencer recounts the historical background of the Crusades up to the detail and attempts to make a case against Islam-victimizing historical interpretations.
Pope Urban II called for the First Crusade in 1095 appealing to the fact that without defensive action ”the faithful of God will be much more widely attacked” by Muslim forces. Read the book for a detailed account of centuries of persecution by Muslim tyrants in Jerusalem and elsewhere.
Some of the more ignorant Islam-friendly political commentators have dismissed news about modern-day persecutions of Christians in the Middle East by claiming that Muslims were there first. This obviously contradicts clear historical facts. As Spencer explains, before the Crusades, Muslims had already conquered over two thirds (!) of the Christian world (including parts of Europe). We think about the Middle East and Northern Africa as Islamic areas, but they were originally Christian. And while Christianity was in its early days spread by word of mouth by persecuted believers, later Islam would be spread by sword, and the believers were themselves the persecutors.
The Christians’ three options under Islamic rule
This is what an unbeliever can traditionally choose from under Islamic rule:
- Convert to Islam.
- Pay the jizya, a tax for non-Muslims.
The Christians or Jews deciding to keep their faith and pay the tax would be treated as second-class citizens. They would be forbidden from telling Muslims about their faith. They would also be forbidden from constructing churches. They might even be forbidden from wearing certain kinds of clothing reserved for Muslims. The collecting of the jizya tax used to be a humiliation in itself: the unbeliever may be hit on the head or neck, and up to the 20th century, he would be held by the beard and struck on cheeks.
The aforementioned three choices are today presented to Christians in ISIS-controlled areas, according to a news article. In mainstream Islamic countries, several aforementioned restrictions for unbelievers are in place, such as the prohibition to proselytise. In Saudi Arabia, religions other than Islam are completely forbidden. Recently in Indonesia, a Christian politician was imprisoned because he said that Muslims are allowed to vote for him.
Historically, the poor treatment of non-Muslims in Muslim-conquered lands combined with the jizya contributed to the majority of people converting to Islam.
Were the Crusades worth it?
Spencer admits that looking at the Crusades’ objectives, they failed miserably. Yet he points out that the Crusades managed to slow down the Muslim forces’ attempts to conquer Europe, and this may have been decisive for Europe remaining Christian.
Would Muslim conquest of Europe have been so bad? Another PC myth states that diverse religions have peacefully coexisted under Islamic rule. Spencer claims that history testifies how Islamic rule has decayed other religions, such as Zoroastrianism and Nestorian Christianity. The decay of Christianity in Europe would have been a great loss for humanity. Spencer believes that Christianity was essential to the birth of not just modern-day Western values such as human rights but also modern-day science, whose development has made people’s lives better worldwide. Spencer writes about the philosophy of science in much the same way as Tapio Puolimatka, the Finnish professor who has written books and given lectures on the very subject of how Christianity’s understanding of God enables empirical natural science.
Spencer believes that today’s (post-)Christian society also deserves to be preserved against the spread of Islam. He points out that Islam doesn’t acknowledge universal human rights as declared by the United Nations. Some Islamic countries have formulated their own human rights declarations instead of adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. From the reality of life in several Islamic countries, we can all understand why that is.
They want an Islamic state
One major thing that was new to me has to do with ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, also ISIL, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). This organisation (or state) appeared into my consciousness out of the blue a couple of years ago. Suddenly, it occupied areas in the Middle East and spread terror also in Europe. The Politically Incorrect Guide doesn’t address ISIS, of course, as it was written a decade earlier. But it does contain some interesting information as to the group’s ideology.
As you may know, ISIS has established a state, not acknowledged by the international community, ruled by caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. They believe that Islam commands them to build this caliphate. I’ve read that they also believe in some sort of apocalypse in our days and a final battle to be fought between the forces of Allah and the forces of evil.
Now, to what the Politically Incorrect Guide has to say. Even before ISIS, several Islamist groups and religious commentators were calling for a caliphate to be founded. You see, Turkey used to be the successor of the old Sunni Islamic empire, until President Kemal Atatürk abolished the caliphate in the 1920s and made Turkey secular. (As we know, Turkey has recently been moving towards Islamism, again.) Ever since, jihadists have been calling for the reëstablishment of the caliphate and the renaissance of the umma (worldwide Islamic community). They believe that the secularisation of Turkey was a Western conspiracy. Restoring the caliphate was also Osama bin Laden’s goal.
Spencer writes that terrorism expert Daniel Pipes estimates 10–15 % of Muslims worldwide to support the jihadist agenda. Even far higher estimates are referred to in the book.
Left-wing double standards
When debunking PC myths about Islam, Robert Spencer recurrently points at the moral double standard of the PC establishment.
Bill Clinton suggested that the sack of Jerusalem in 1099 was the ultimate cause of the September 11 attacks. Yet the Muslims’ sack of Constantinople in 1453 does not burn in anyone’s memory. No president has pointed to it as the root cause of any modern-day terrorist acts. Indeed, it is less well known today than another sack of Constantinople: the one perpetrated by misguided Crusaders in 1204.
This is one illustration of the strange, unacknowledged moral double standard that PC types use when evaluating behavior by Westerners and non-Westerners: Any number of massacres and atrocities can be forgiven non-Western, non-white, non-Christian people, but misdeeds by Christian (or even post-Christian) Westerners remain seared in the world’s collective memory. […] It’s a tacit admission of a fact that the PC establishment stoutly denies in every other case: Christianity does teach a higher moral standard than Islam, and more is expected not only for observant Christians, but of those who have imbibed these high principles by living in the societies molded by them.
Today, this double standard culminates in claims that only whites are capable of racism and that discrimination of whites cannot be racism, if they can be discriminated against in the first place.
Am I calling for a war between Christianity and Islam? Certainly not. What I am calling for is a general recognition that we are already in a war between two vastly different ideas of how to govern states and order societies, and that in this struggle the West has nothing to apologize for and a great deal to defend.
While The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam is somewhat biased, I think it underlines certain facts that are relevant to the modern Westerner but are constantly left unsaid or even denied by the mainstream media and political commentators. ”Islam has nothing to do with Islam” is a caricature of the liberal/progressive statements made in the aftermath of more and more frequent terrorist attacks and religiously motivated acts of violence. A Westerner easily forgets what a central role religion has in the world-view and values of other peoples in the world.
It’s not that these different values are wrong from an ”objective” perspective, it’s that the collision between Western liberalism and Islamic culture produces severe conflicts. A liberal, modernised interpretation of Islam might nicely integrate into European societies, but as Robert Spencer points out, so far there’s no sign of such a reformation within Islam. Liberal attempts to conceal the conflict between Islam and Western values, while well intended, actually constitutes a disservice to reform-minded Muslims:
Some countries in Europe are currently going through major demographic shifts. Now is the time to acknowledge the facts and become familiar with those sides of Islam they don’t yet tell about in schools. I recommend reading The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades); if you worry about the book’s unbalanced tone, read a book with the same subject matter but liberal undertone, in parallel.