Artifice of Scholarship : CSPI on Front Page.

An interview of Bill Warner, The Director – Center for the Study of Political Islam, conducted by Jamie Glazov on 7th February 2007 for the Front Page magazine arrived in my email today. The tone set by Warner is exceedingly soothing right from the start – “reasonable” & “scholarly”. He describes the aim of CSPI as ‘the scientific study of the foundational texts of Islam—Koran, Sira (life of Mohammed) and Hadith (traditions of Mohammed).’ Glazov turns out to be a highly accommodating & agreeable interviewer. Warner takes much pride in the fact that his group was first to use statistics to study the Doctrine & History, or Theory & Practice, of Islam. He gives what he obviously considers compelling statistics about the true nature of Islam – a “war mongering doctrine”.

Let’s turn to Bukhari (the Hadith) for the answer, as he repeatedly speaks of jihad. In Bukhari 97% of the jihad references are about war and 3% are about the inner struggle. So the statistical answer is that jihad is 97% war and 3% inner struggle. Is jihad war? Yes—97%. Is jihad inner struggle? Yes—3%.

Is Warner right? Yes – 100%. Is Warner wrong? Yes – 100%. It is difficult to take a call unless one is an Islamic scholar or had Warner sighted the original sources for us to verify. He throws figures at us and hopes they stick. Usually they do. But only if they enhance the conventional wisdom, validate the embedded stereotypes. Here are some curious figures.

Parameter

Doctrine – I

Doctrine – II

War

451

65

Battle

264

4

Fighting

10

28

Total

<!–[if supportFields]> =SUM(ABOVE) <![endif]–>725<!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>

<!–[if supportFields]> =SUM(ABOVE) <![endif]–>97<!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>

Firstly, the figures are clickable links where everyone is encouraged to visit the webpage to ascertain the details. Later, we calculate the ratio of “violent” phrases in both the doctrines to arrive at the conclusion : Doctrine-I is about 750% more violent than Doctrine-II. Isn’t it a reasonable conclusion Mr. Warner? Isn’t it better than even what you have done?; since it sights independent sources that readers can verify. Warner would agree, unless he had felt encouraged beforehand to ‘click’ the figures in the above table to see what the templates I & II really stand for. Many readers too may stare at this revealed ‘Template reality’ in disbelief. Yet, these figures don’t prove or disprove anything. The lessons to be learnt here are : statistics is a tool, not a proof & when facts contradict “Theory”, Fiction-Peddlers like Warner ignore facts, whereas Fact-Seekers would either verify facts to disprove their authenticity or failing which would abandon the theory. Incidentally, fact-seekers will never or should never base the edifice of such a grandiose theory that condemns 1400 years of a sizable part of human civilization on such a wafer thin base.

Next major intellectual breakthrough Warner marshals in his approach to Islam is the recognition of dualism as its foundation. He posits thus,

Endless ink has been wasted on trying to answer the question of what is Islam? Is Islam the religion of peace? Or is the true Islam a radical ideology?…… Is light a particle or is light a wave? The arguments went back and forth. Quantum mechanics gave us the answer. Light is dualistic; it is both a particle and a wave. It depends upon the circumstances as to which quality manifests. Islam functions in the same manner.

Then he comes to the tactic of ‘abrogation’ relied upon by some clerics to resolve the contradictions in Quran. His shine of originality wears out too quickly when one realizes that some Islamic scholars had recognized both the dualism – a.k.a. contradictions & the need for their resolution – a.k.a. abrogation as early as 10th century C.E. The abrogating & abrogated verses were called by them Al Nasekh & Al Mansoukh respectively. Contradictions do get narrowed down when the chosen verses are set out in their context. The Sura 73, Spoils of War, & Sura 8, the Enshrouded, deal with the differing contexts of temporal & transcendent issues. However, it is true that contradictions themselves do not evaporate. Such conundrums exist even in Bible.

…thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. — Exodus 21:23-25

…ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. — Matthew 5:39

Where will Mr. Warner hide now when faced with the ignobility of logic deserting his beloved Christianity? What will he do when the devil of duality is discovered in his own sacred texts? Isn’t his punditry a foolery of pot calling the kettle black?

Quran was revealed to Mohammed over several years and was memorized or scribed on variety of materials like cloth, bone, leather, & stones by some among those followers who were present at the moment. Early verses & Suras of Quran are briefer, inward looking and peace seeking – in one word, transcendent. This was commensurate with the situation at Mecca where prophet was at the mercy of Quraish – an ‘idol worshipping’ and ‘offerings extracting’ clan to which prophet belonged. Fortune changed in Medina where accretion of temporal power made Mohammed confident of the success of his mission. Naturally, this is reflected in the later verses and Suras that deal at great length with material life, both private (of an individual) & public (as a member society). Mohammed had the good fortune of enjoying transcendent & temporal powers in his lifetime unlike Jesus Christ, but like many other prophets of the Old Testament. Jews were already subjugated by the Roman Empire when they faced the dissenting voice of Jesus in their religious affairs. The result is well known – crucifixion, instigated by Jews & perpetrated by Romans. If Jesus had succeeded in getting temporal authority during his lifetime, may be he would have left a much different ministry behind. Although that did not matter in practice as the quest for survival drove a temporal power to seek out Christianity, which had by now assembled a large body of faithful, when Roman Emperor Constantine converted in 327 C.E.

All the 3 Semitic religions uncompromisingly believe in one god & no other (Allah is an Arabic word for God), the dualism of conflict between god (good) & devil (evil), the judgment day (Qayāmat), and the hereafter in heaven or hell. The similarity between Judaism & Islam goes even further; both strictly treat creation & creator as distinct–i.e. dualism in life (Jesus termed as son of God is unacceptable), despise idolatry, have to follow stricter observances to qualify as followers, practice circumcision, and classify foods in to acceptable (Kosher/Halal) or unacceptable (Treif/Haram) – the last with a significant overlap. Significantly, Torah (first 5 chapters of Old Testament) confers special status on its followers – the chosen tribes of Israelites as does Quran for its followers. Old Testament is full of the trials & tribulations, often very violent & bloody, of the chosen people over millennia. There conflicts with tribes from Mesopotamia in North-East to Pharaohs in South-West mirror miseries & triumphs encountered while searching the Promised Land. Quran too, in later verses, much like Torah, records contemporary conflicts and political & social changes, and enunciates Islamic laws albeit on a much smaller canvas of time. Moreover, Quran accepts & mentions specifically Biblical prophets like Ibrahim (Abraham), Musa (Moses), Yakub (Jacob), Ismail (Ishmael) etc., recognizes Jews as the people of the book & models its philosophy after Torah. If Quran accepts the earlier Hebrew Prophets, it is obvious to anyone that their god is same as the Hebrew god. In fact, Jews at Medina initially took Mohammed to be the prophet whose arrival was predicted in their texts. But when their attempts to take him under their wings and make him do their bidding failed, they turned antagonistic. When Warner overlooks or fails to mention this, his “scholarship” becomes suspect. Quran distinguishes between Believers & Unbelievers – ‘not acceptable’ to Warner’s thesis. Torah distinguishes between Chosen People & Others – meets with ‘silence’ from Warner. He dangles before us what he calls the shining precept of “his civilization” – “Treat others as you would be treated.” Probably, he meant to say “Love your neighbor as yourself.” However, during the crusades, Christians behaved – abandoning Christ – exactly like the Muslims, proving themselves remarkably prescient about what Warner was to say in Front Page interview several centuries later.

Another oft repeated ruse our interlocutor fails to disguise is to take a much abused word or phrase and to paint the whole canvas with it. He mourns,

When Islam burst out of Arabia into a decaying Byzantine world, the unbelievers recorded it as an Arabic invasion. Similarly, the invasion of Eastern Europe was by Turks; the invasion of Spain was by Moors.

Leave alone Turks or Moors, even Arabs were not or are not a monolith. Among Palestinians Fatah & Hamas are at loggerheads. In Iraq, many more Sunnis and Shias are dying in sectarian violence & suicide bombings than they ever did under Saddam. Syrians are jostling with Lebanon. These are real people with real identities and have real differences, difficulties and problems. Some of them originally created or fueled in the last 100 years by the policies and actions of the ‘British, US & some European’ governments. Calling them all Muslims diabolically seeks to obliterate their significant distinctions & obfuscate real issues. In all these conflict zones there are ‘bread & butter’ problems of control of resources, access to growth & development, yearnings of economic independence, desire for political freedom etc.

Iraq was invaded because it had links with Al Qaeda & possessed WMDs. Both were blatant lies and were proved to be so. It was then conveniently discovered that Saddam was a brutal dictator who used nerve gas against his own people. Saddam was a brutal dictator even in 1981-88, when Reagan found him to be a valuable ally against Iran that had dispatched Shah in 1979 into exile. He fielded Donald Rumsfeld in 1983 to meet Saddam and assure him of all help. The nerve gas supplied by the US regime was used by Saddam on Kurds during this period. Did anyone hear even a whimper from Reagan? The brutal & corrupt regime of Shah was installed & maintained after CIA overthrew the first democratically elected government of Mosadeh. Its crime was the nationalization of Iranian oil industry for the benefit of Iranian people by ending the cozy colonial arrangements of British & US oil companies.

What about that fountainhead of terrorism – Osama Bin Laden & Al Qaeda? When the then evil Soviet Empire was to be dislodged from Afghanistan – around the same period as Iraq’s Iran war – US connived with Zia Ul Haq, an army dictator who sponsored terrorist networks against India too, to create Taliban. Zia provided the software of indoctrination through bigoted madrassah & military training and US gave the hardware of money, arms & ammunitions. Osama Bin Laden was encouraged too to participate with a group of foreign scouts. Christians & Muslims collaborated in a grand strategy to defeat the atheist infidels of USSR. Nobody foresaw that both Taliban & Osama will be jobless once the Soviets withdrew. Here is a potent force of ideologically committed, well equipped & battle hardened “Jihadis”; & it is jobless. Only job they knew is to fight, fight the infidel.

Israel-Palestine conflict has been festering since 1949. It was created by Britain & US governments when they chose to plant Israel on the north western strip of Arabia. US controls huge territory in North America & could have easily given enough fertile land to Jews to establish their state. Jews would have had their promised land of peace & tranquility after being haunted in Middle East & Europe all through Millennia. With fertile land, favourable climate, water resources & their legendary ingenuity Jews would have forced Biblical rivers of milk & honey flow once again. But then the control over the oil in the Middle East would have been lost. Planting Israel where it stands today has provided the much needed strategic toehold to intervene in that region. Ever since then US always sides & is seen to side with Israel, one has to only read the often unanimous UN Security Council & general body resolutions on this conflict that were opposed and vetoed by it, to agree. Sooner rather than later these jobless ‘Mujahiddins’ were going to find jobs. Jobs they loved thanks to the training by US & Pakistan. They found their jobs in targeting US.

911 provided the perfect cover to attack Afghanistan & later Iraq. However, in case of Iraq the invasion was planned in February 2001, just a little over month into Bush presidency. Texas guys were hungry for Iraqi oil. ‘Preemptive’ war doctrine has become now accepted wisdom. Designer wars are next. US is constructing an embassy in Iraq to house 5,500 personnel. It would be the biggest embassy built by any country anywhere. Is it a sign of occupier planning to or wanting to leave in a hurry?

Rest of Warner’s interview is utterly churlish & full of hyperboles to deserve a lengthy treatment, but a few selected verbiages have been shown the trash bin where they belong.

  1. The practice of suttee, the widow throwing herself on the husband’s funeral pyre, came about as a response to the rape and brutality of the Islamic jihad as it sweep over ancient Hindustan.” The first recorded instance of Sati belongs to 6th century C.E.
  2. Blacks can’t accept the common bond they share with whites: that both Europeans and Africans were slaves under Islam.” The greatest democracy on earth failed to abolish slavery through out US until 1798 & granted adult franchise regardless of race only in 1870. De facto segregation was the norm until Martin Luther King & the 1960s civil rights movement happened.
  3. The history of political Islam starts with Mohammed’s immigration to Medina. From that point on, Islam’s appeal to the world has always had the dualistic option of joining a glorious religion or being the subject of political pressure and violence. After the immigration to Medina, Islam became violent when persuasion failed. Jihad entered the world.

Christianity behaved no differently as will be seen from the following excerpts

The Catholic Church brought uniformity to the faith and established it as a public institution rather than small communities of individual followers. The Church not only established strict laws and religious doctrine but it wiped out ‘heretic’ and divergent thoughts. Sometimes through violence as severe as the persecutions against the early Christians and other times through subtle adoption of pre-existing religious concepts, the Catholic Church virtually destroyed these other sects and Paganism along with it…… The Church too, as it began to become an institution of considerable power in the later 3rd century, used tactics as brutal as anti-Christian Emperors……. By the fall of the western Empire (476 AD), Christianity was not only the official religion of the Roman world, but it had supreme authority in matters of morality and human behavior. Censorship played a large role as well. Historical documents of an incalculable number were destroyed or edited in order to prevent anti-Christian, or perceived anti-Christian thought. It is hard to imagine how much written history, and evidence of the ancient world, was lost forever due to this manipulation…….. His mother, Helena, after Constantine executed his own son (Crispus) and wife (Fausta) in a very un-Christian manner, embarked on a pilgrimage to the eastern provinces…. In 390 AD, a massacre ordered by the Emperor of 7,000 people who revolted in Thessalonica resulted in his own 8 month penance. By the beginning of the 5th century, after just 400 years, the Church grew from a fledgling mystery cult into a power on nearly equal terms with the Roman Emperor himself.

The temporal role of Mohammed was played by Emperor & Church in the case of Christianity.

  1. Around 60 million Christians were slaughtered during the jihadic conquest…. Half of the glorious Hindu civilization was annihilated and 80 million Hindus killed…. About 10 million Buddhists died….. In Africa over 120 million Christians and animists have died over the last 1400 years of jihad….. Approximately 270 million nonbelievers died over the last 1400 years for the glory of political Islam.

Warner spouts figures like a CEO at an AGM, and mercifully gets his addition right. But his figure-work is as spurious as the cooking of accounting books by Enron & WorldCom.

A fine interpretative essay presented in a book form called ‘The Arabs in History’ is strongly recommended to those who want to recover quickly from the hangover of vitriol poured from Front Page.

“The introduction of paper, and the rapid spread of its use and then its manufacture, affected Middle eastern society in many ways. By making possible the cheap and rapid production of books, it brought about an intellectual and cultural impact comparable, albeit on a smaller scale, with that of the later introduction of printing press the West.” (Page 94).

In the ninth century, Sarraf, or money changer, developed in to a banker on a large scale, no doubt supported by wealthy traders with money to invest. We hear of banks with a head office in Baghdad and branches in the other cities of the empire and of an elaborate system of cheques, letter of credit, etc., so developed that it was possible to draw a cheque in Baghdad and cash it in Morocco. (Page 98).

Dhimmis were well content with less. They were indeed second-class citizens, subject to both social and fiscal disabilities, and on a few rare occasions open to persecution. But by and large their position was infinitely superior to that of those communities who differed from the established church in Western Europe in the same period (9th Century). (Page 101).

“The Arabs brought to Sicily oranges, mulberries, sugar-cane, date-palms & cotton. They extended cultivation by careful irrigation, and to this day many fountains in Sicily, and especially in Palermo, still have easily recognizable Arab names.”

“Roger II (1130-54), known as ‘the pagan’ because of his favouring of Muslims, used Arab troops and siege engineers in his campaigns in Southern Italy and Arab architects for his buildings, who created the new and distinctive Saracenic-Norman style. His magnificent coronation mantle, woven in the royal Tiraz workshop of Palermo, bears an Arabic inscription in Kufic style and Hijara date 528.”

“It was at Roger’s court that the Moroccan-born al-Idrisi, the greatest of the Arab geographers, wrote his monumental compendium of geography, which he dedicated to the Norman king and which is known as Kitab Rujjar-the Book of Roger.” (Page 129-130).

“The new regime was relatively tolerant, and even some Spanish chronicles describe it as preferable to the Frankish rule in the north. The greatest benefit that it brought to the country was the elimination of the old ruling class nobility and clergy and the distribution of their lands, creating a new class of smallholders who were largely responsible for the agricultural prosperity of Muslim Spain. The serfs were better off, while many of the townspeople found a new life as converts to Islam.” (Page 132).

Does this sound like the description of ‘dualistic’, unreliable, bloodthirsty brutes that Warner would like us believe Muslims were & are? Before you conclude that the quotes above are rants from another Warner albeit from opposite side, it is revealed that the writer is Bernard Lewis, Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Near eastern studies Emeritus, Princeton University.

The target audience of Front Page and CSPI are, of course, Americans. Though Warner has attempted to denigrate Islam and may be has succeeded with many common Americans, it is not his real agenda. The Bush-Cheney cabal has already achieved that goal as a stepping stone to Middle East oil control. There have always been sane, cogent & objective voices that have seen through the façade of this Bush administration and they are now growing in numbers after seeing through the lies endlessly cycled in mainstream media. These voices are represented by Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Norman Solomon, John Pilger, Michael Moore, Seymour Hersh, Rees Elrich, Michel Chosudovsky, etc. just to name a few. They are fine US, Canadian, British individuals. But they are providing evidence that runs against “conventional wisdom”. It requires efforts and time to weigh and understand their case. Slowly they are being heard. Their credibility is on the rise. That is the real threat Bush-Cheney regime faces. The regime change in US can only come from within when US citizens vote & vote decisively. It is to obviate this threat that a systematic campaign is on to discredit the messengers. That is why Warner repeatedly laments the ignorance & slavery of Western intellectuals.

The victims find ways to blame themselves.

The victim is humiliated.

The victim feels helpless.

The victim turns the anger inward.

We hate ourselves because we are mentally molested and abused. Our intellectuals and artists have responded to the abuse of jihad just as a sexually abused child or a rape victim would respond. We are quite intellectually ill and are failing at our job of clear thinking. We can’t look at our denial.

‘Discredit the messenger & the message will stand discredited.’ The US regime uses fear to make citizens & congress fall in line. NeoCon think tanks use scorn to shame the intellectuals & artists. This is not happening for the first time. In the 1950s, McCarthyism achieved the same purpose by discrediting opponents by derisively & hatefully calling them “commies” or “lefties”. To this day these remain pejorative terms.

All Muslims are not terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims’. Many must have heard this smart “aphorism”. It sounds very agreeable and factual. It isn’t. Irish Republican Army, Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, Tamil Tigers, ULFA, etc. are held to be terrorist outfits but are not Muslim. Yet, Taliban, Al Qaeda, Chechens, and sundry others groups in Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia are considered terrorists & are Muslim. But it hides a subtle & more invidious implication. It is a Statistical implication. Regression analysis can tell us if two or more variables are correlated or not and what is the direction of their correlation. It also calculates the correlation coefficient that measures the degree of bonding. But it alone cannot determine causality – the cause & the effect. For example Rains and Floods are correlated. They are positively correlated – more rains may mean more floods and less rains less floods. This proposition also implies causality. Last year’s floods that inundated Surat-city were blamed on heavy rains. No one questioned. It sounds so obvious. It must be true. But someone decided to take a closer look. Floods turned out to be manmade. Rainy season water management or regulating water discharge in a controlled manner of an upstream dam on river Tapi was botched up. Obvious was not true after all. Similarly, one may find positive correlation between terrorists and Muslims. But that does not prove Muslims are the cause and terrorism is the effect, at least statistically. There could be other causes driving both terrorism and Muslims in tandem.

Everyone should look for & address these causes in earnest, Muslims more so than the rest. Muslims need to be proactive in this search and its proper articulation. Presence of religious fundamentalists among their ranks undermines their cause. They should avoid defending Islam from the position of worn out perspectives. It won’t help. Muslims need to think innovatively. First, they should consciously & vigorously resist their portrayal as only or decisively Muslims, both by others or by those among themselves, and describe themselves as Americans, Bulgarians, Kosovians, Turks, Iranians, Iraqis, Pakistanis, Indians, etc. In fact they already do this. Ummah has at best been an ideal throughout history otherwise one would not find conflicts among Muslims. Muslims have many allegiances like in any other community & religion is not the only one. Ways should be found to project this pluralism & heterodoxy effectively, both within the community & without. Secondly, they need to firmly make Muslim personal law contemporary, especially regarding the rights of women, as Turkey did long ago. In the dialogue with others too a paradigm shift is needed. They should focus on real contentious issues rather than falling prey to using old clichés of “Zionist conspiracy” or “Attack of Kaffirs”. Learning the language of modern age and preferably using English in their discourse will avoid being misreported, deliberately or otherwise. Confident & forward looking communities of Muslims, living in different countries, whether in majority or not, will be a real antidote to all the virulent NeoCon propaganda against them.

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2 Responses to “Artifice of Scholarship : CSPI on Front Page.”

  1. Nakedmaninthetree Says:

    Hey, I finally got to check out your site and it is definitely an interesting read. I see you focus on religion and politics in much of the same way I do but from a slightly different perspective.Being from the US I’m glad to see how many views we share. By every account the Western culture, especially the US, is oppressive. The Bush administration is losing any footing which is giving us a good chance for significant change during our next election… of course there are those who will continue Bush’s ways if people aren’t smart enough.Many of the things you’ve said defending Islam are true. Many people try and demonize the religion for a group to use as a scapegoat. And people are quick to ignore Christian and Jewish hypocrisy and misdeeds laying many religious problems only within Islam.Being non-religious I believe all religion can be used for positive or negative actions. I also believe that any God would not promote negative actions in his name – that includes negative actions like Western imperialism as well as murdering innocent civilians for something they did not do. It’s refreshing to read some educated thoughts on these topics I think about similarly. I will read more soon.

  2. Nakedmaninthetree Says:

    Hey, I finally got to check out your site and it is definitely an interesting read. I see you focus on religion and politics in much of the same way I do but from a slightly different perspective.

    Being from the US I'm glad to see how many views we share. By every account the Western culture, especially the US, is oppressive. The Bush administration is losing any footing which is giving us a good chance for significant change during our next election… of course there are those who will continue Bush's ways if people aren't smart enough.

    Many of the things you've said defending Islam are true. Many people try and demonize the religion for a group to use as a scapegoat. And people are quick to ignore Christian and Jewish hypocrisy and misdeeds laying many religious problems only within Islam.

    Being non-religious I believe all religion can be used for positive or negative actions. I also believe that any God would not promote negative actions in his name – that includes negative actions like Western imperialism as well as murdering innocent civilians for something they did not do.

    It's refreshing to read some educated thoughts on these topics I think about similarly. I will read more soon.

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