By D.A. Bass
Mr. Peck’s commentary (on Islam) in the December 20, 2002 Post Register betrays his agenda very early into the piece. He says, “Anti-Islamic rhetoric is poisonous, as is all intolerant language. It slowly affects the otherwise tolerant attitude of most Americans.” I heartily agree that most Americans are tolerant. It is one of the Christian virtues that has informed Western culture and society for millennia. Unbeknownst to ourselves, in fact, we have naively tolerated in our very national breast a religion and way of life which will, in the long run, overwhelm and consume us and the very virtue of tolerance Mr. Peck cherishes above all others. However, unlike Mr. Peck, most Americans are also realistic when they perceive a genuine threat to themselves and their way of life and draw the line of tolerance well before it becomes suicidal and self destructive. Mr. Peck evidences in both his selective use of evidence and his own myth making of history his overarching concern for tolerance at any price. He also attempts the cynical ploy of equating the 2 religions, as if they used the same means toward the same goals and worshiped the same god and, in the end, behaved no differently than the other. His 5 common myths and his attempt to refute them should warn us of the flood of apologies to come which have an air of plausibility, but which, upon closer inspection, prove to be facile and empty. For example,
1. He asserts that Islam did not, in the main, convert by force in the lands it conquered. In the first place, Mr. Peck glosses over the fact that when Islam came sweeping out of the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th and 8th centuries, they were not traversing an empty Risk gameboard, but lands which were Christian: “Most of the early Muslim converts west of Iran and Arabia were converts from Christianity. Most of the new Muslim domains were wrested from Christendom. Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and North Africa were all Christian countries, no less, indeed rather more, than Spain and Sicily.” (Bernard Lewis, Islam and the West). How did they achieve this? Did they go door to door, handing out copies of the Koran with a cordial invitation to the mosque? Hardly! The Christians of Constantinople, for example, were told by their Muslim conquerors: “It is for you to choose between conversion to Islam, payment of the poll tax, or death.” While not exactly “forced conversions” per se, it is quite disingenuous to leave the impression, as Mr. Peck tries to do, that Islam was merely one option among many remaining open to the conquered subjects. Indeed, it was, as one author puts it, rather more stark: “It was a case of ‘your money or your life.’”
In contrast, how did Christianity spread through those very same lands in the 2nd – 5th centuries? Via conquering armies and the sword? No! They propagated their faith in the fashion commanded by their founder, Jesus Christ, by Word and Sacrament: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19,20 In fact, the record is clear: Christians were persecuted for their faith; war was waged upon them; their blood was shed in martyrdom. Nevertheless, the faith spread, even as St Cyprian noted: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Despite Mr Peck’s protestations, the contrast could not be starker: Islam propagates its faith by force and subjugation; Christianity by Word and Sacrament.
2. Mr. Peck tries to equate the West’s treatment of women with Islam’s treatment and attitude toward women. Ignoring the vast sea of oppressed Muslim women all over the globe – denied not only working alongside of men, but even associating with them in public places, having to ask permission to leave the house in many places – Peck cherry picks a few property rights cited in the Koran, which are kept in the breach rather than in the observance. In the real world of Islam, women are primarily for the bearing of children, which offspring are, in turn, the property of the husband. The Koran teaches men that “Your women are a tillage for you; so come to your tillage as you wish, and forward your souls.” Sura 2:224 Also, despite Mr Peck’s attempt to make them out to be akin to early predecessors of the feminists of the West, the Koran teaches something quite different: “Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. So good women are obedient…those whom you fear may be rebellious, admonish. Banish them to separate beds and beat them.” Sura 4:38 The Koran is larded with texts like this, texts which issue in the kinds of behavior evidenced throughout the Muslim world: the barbaric surgery of female circumcision, the obsession and fetish of men in covering and sexually controlling their women, the banishment of women by men to roles far below that of second class.
In contrast, Christian culture and tradition have provided a context for the flourishing of women in the West, despite some of the revisionist history being written by men like Mr Peck. The New Testament especially provided a charter of freedom for women under the grinding oppression of first century paganism: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) The contrast could not be starker: Islam cultivates the oppression of women, Christianity the liberty of women.
3. Mr. peck then sets himself up nicely by overstating the case so that he does not have to deal with the real issue when he asserts that we tend to subscribe to the myth that “Jews and Christians were persecuted by Muslims as required by the doctrines and teachings of Islam.” He overstates his case – the better to refute his argument – by saying Islam requires its devotees to persecute Christians and Jews. Indeed, while there is no direct command to persecute per se, the net effect of Islam’s stance as the full and final revelation of God to man which supercedes Judaism and Christianity, superior in every way, is to relegate to second class status all other religions. This has especial force against Judaism and Christianity wherever it holds sway and can possibly gain ascendancy. The resultant behavior of Muslims toward Christians and Jews through the centuries – the suppression of expressing one’s faith, the inability to build or repair churches, the ban on seeking converts, codified in documents like the Pact of Ummar – has looked so much like persecution that Mr. Peck’s quibble is with words, not substance.
4. Mr. Peck does the same kind of thing in trying to dispel the very real current in Islam that “Muslims regard all non-Muslims as enemies to Allah and enemies to Islam.” Once again, he overstates his case. This notion does have a core of truth. All of us non-Muslims are labeled time and again in the Koran as infidels. Does Mr. Peck think we cannot read? Do we not hear ourselves referred to as such time and time again, even by so-called “moderate” Muslims? The Koran explicitly calls us infidels on almost every page! For instance, Mohammed overtly taught: “Mohammed is God’s apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to the infidels but merciful to one another.” Sura 48:29 Even the quote he supplies to support his position that “the noblest of you in God’s sight is the most righteous,” when taken in its context, refers not to non-Muslims, but to Muslims! The non Muslim, the infidel, is by definition unrighteous and cannot be either noble or righteous in the sight of Allah. Any Muslim who reads and understands these things acts accordingly, and we see it manifest in the behavior and attitudes of Muslims all over the world.
5. Lastly, Mr Peck tries to dampen the fierce, persistent strain of jihad which permeates the life and history of Islam. Once more, he avoids the pertinent passages of the Koran which exhort the believer to take up the sword in prosecution of his faith: “Slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them (Sura 9:5)…slay them wherever you find them…when you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield, strike off their heads and when you have laid them low, bind your captives firmly.” Sura 47:4 While some Muslim leaders have attempted to reinterpret these passages or mollify their force, it is impossible to do. They are very clear, as is the tradition and history of Islam.
While Islam has not practiced jihad in its pure, in restrained fashion always and at all times, it has always been an inescapable theme to which it returns, a glorious song of a glorious past. The power and clarity of its message will continue to compel every Muslim who understands plain Arabic.
Mr. Peck is also wont to drag out all of the skeletons from the Christian closet. For instance, he attempts to make the long discredited causal link between Luther’s attitude toward the Jews and Hitler’s Holocaust. At such a historical distance, with all of the other directly attributable causes to Hitler’s policy, it is tenuous at best for anyone – much less a trained historian – to make this kind of connection. Additionally, he takes another tired stab at everyone’s favorite punching bag, the Crusades. While they were filled with atrocities on both sides, with sub-Christian behavior on the part of kings and prelates, there were nevertheless reasons and motives which are never discussed by the opponents of Christianity. For instance, it is never brought out that the first Crusade was initiated in response to persecutions and restrictions upon Christians in Jerusalem by their new conquerors, the Muslim Turks. Prior to this, the Christian West was content to live in peace with the Muslim rulers in Jerusalem. Almost all of Mr Peck’s examples of Christian counter-example are really non sequetors, in any case, since they never really blunt the argument that at the heart of Islam beats the principle that the sword is a legitimate – though by no means exclusive – instrument of conversion while at the heart of Christianity lies the principle that the only means of conversion are Word and Sacrament. It is irresponsible and dangerous, in the interest of tolerance at all costs, to try and smudge and smear the lines between the two religions the way Mr. Peck attempts to do.
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