A Misconceived Book Seeks to Combat Bigotry by Romanticizing Islam

Nov. 21 2017

In What the Qur’an Meant: And Why It Matters, Garry Wills sets out to educate his readers about the Islamic holy book with the goal of countering anti-Muslim prejudice. Shadi Hamid, while sympathizing with the aim, argues that the book both betrays its author’s ignorance and subverts his purpose:

[Wills] writes of al-Qaeda and the soldiers of Islamic State: “[these] minority fanatics seem to be unaware of their own traditions.” Here, he shows that his own knowledge of Islamic State’s theology is sometimes limited. The problem isn’t that Islamic State’s chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is unaware of more broad-minded interpretations of the Quran; it’s that he thinks they’re wrong. . . .

Wills [also] sometimes seeks to present Islam as something it never was. For instance, he claims that a “mountain of evidence” demonstrates that “Islam favors peace over violence.” But Islam is not a pacifist religion. For centuries, Muslim jurists developed a body of law on the waging of war, including how to treat prisoners and civilians caught in conflict and the definition of what properly qualifies as jihad. [But] why should Islam be pacifist in the first place? Since religions are more than just private belief systems, they inevitably must account not only for the ideal of peace but for the reality of war. The Quran was revealed to a prophet and a people engaged in battle, so Islam would necessarily have to address questions of violence and the conquest of territory by force. . . .

Wills makes other claims that are simply misleading, as when he asserts that “there are no ‘portions’ of the Quran that discuss sharia.” In support of his argument, he says that only about 500 of the Quran’s 6,235 verses deal with legal matters. The Quran is not a legal manual, but 8 percent of a book isn’t exactly nothing, either. The holy book is one of the major sources for interpreting sharia. Wills’ presumption appears to be that a religion having something to say about law is a bad thing and must therefore be played down.

I . . . worry about the unintended effects of trying to soften Islam’s image or dilute its content. Trying to make Islam digestible to non-Muslims by making it peaceful and legally ambivalent may only inspire more confusion. What happens when, after reading about this palatable, peaceful, and unthreatening religion, Americans are confronted by a version of it that is unapologetically assertive and uncompromising?

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More about: Islam, Islamic State, Quran, Religion & Holidays, Sharia

Israel’s Nation-State Law and the Hysteria of the Western Media

Aug. 17 2018

Nearly a month after it was passed by the Knesset, the new Basic Law defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” is still causing outrage in the American and European press. The attacks, however, are almost uniformly incommensurate with this largely symbolic law, whose text, in the English translation found on the Knesset website, is barely over 400 words in length. Matthew Continetti comments:

Major journalistic institutions have become so wedded to a pro-Palestinian, anti-Benjamin Netanyahu narrative, in which Israel is part of a global trend toward nationalist authoritarian populism, that they have abdicated any responsibility for presenting the news in a dispassionate and balanced manner. The shameful result of this inflammatory coverage is the normalization of anti-Israel rhetoric and policies and widening divisions between Israel and the diaspora.

For example, a July 18, 2018, article in the Los Angeles Times described the nation-state law as “granting an advantageous status to Jewish-only communities.” But that is false: the bill contained no such language. (An earlier version might have been interpreted in this way, but the provision was removed.) Yet, as I write, the Los Angeles Times has not corrected the piece that contained the error. . . .

Such through-the-looking-glass analysis riddled [the five] news articles and four op-eds the New York Times has published on the matter at the time of this writing. In these pieces, “democracy” is defined as results favored by the New York Times editorial board, and Israel’s national self-understanding as in irrevocable conflict with its democratic form of government. . . .

The truth is that democracy is thriving in Israel. . . .  The New York Times quoted Avi Shilon, a historian at Ben-Gurion University, who said [that] “Mr. Netanyahu and his colleagues are acting like we are still in the battle of 1948, or in a previous era.” Judging by the fallacious, paranoid, fevered, and at times bigoted reaction to the nation-state bill, however, Bibi may have good reason to believe that Israel is still in the battle of 1948, and still defending itself against assaults on the very idea of a Jewish state.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel's Basic Law, Israeli democracy, Media, New York Times