The Forbidden History
A Review of The Legacy of Jihad. Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims edited by Andrew G. Bostom.
Four years after 9/11 the postmortem of that disaster continues to focus on the institutional failures of our intelligence agencies and government bureaucracies. Yet the larger intellectual and cultural corruption that in part made possible many of those misjudgments and mistakes does not receive the public attention it deserves. The politicizing of the academy, for example, that accelerated in the sixties had compromised the study of Islam and the Middle East long before Islamic terrorism appeared on our cultural radar. Because of this ideological distortion, centuries of consensus about the aggressive, intolerant, and expansionist nature of Islam –– an agreement reflecting both the facts of the historical record and the words themselves of the Koran and Muslim theologians and jurists –– were discarded in the service of an anti-Western political and ideological agenda.
In this politicized narrative, the West is the arch-villain of history, and its primal sins of colonialism and imperialism are the engines of oppression responsible for all the world’s ills. With regard to Islam and the Middle East, the West’s scholars are accused of creating “orientalism,” a collection of degrading myths and stereotypes that masqueraded as scholarship and provided the intellectual grease for the wheels and gears of colonial and imperial exploitation. With some few notable exceptions, the myth of orientalism has corrupted many of the scholars studying Islam in American and European universities. The result has been a reduction of history to a melodrama in which a noble, tolerant, cultured Islamic world had been unjustly attacked by an intolerant, greedy West addled by Christian bigotry and racist stereotypes of blood-thirsty jihadist warriors. All the problems in the Middle East today, in this Orwellian rewriting of history, thus derive not from anything dysfunctional in Islam or Arab regimes but rather in the sins of the West and its Middle Eastern minion, Israel.
Among the brave scholars who have worked to correct these distortions –– Bernard Lewis, Martin Kramer, Daniel Pipes, Robert Spencer, Bat Ye’or, Ibn Warraq, to name just a few––Dr. Andrew G. Bostom has recently been one of the most tireless. In his columns at American Thinker, Dr. Bostom has exposed the politicized interpretations, half-truths, and outright lies that our enemies and their Western enablers have used to obscure the truth about the struggle we are in. Now Dr. Bostom has compiled an invaluable collection of primary documents and scholarly commentary concerning jihad. This compendium shows that Islamic jihad has for fourteen centuries meant exactly what bin Laden, Zaraqawi, and every other so-called “Islamic fundamentalist” says it means: a war to compel the whole world to embrace Islam, die, or live under intolerant, humiliating restrictions designed to force the unbeliever every day to acknowledge his own inferiority and the superiority of his Islamic overlords.
Given the ideological and political corruption of the academy mentioned above, it’s not surprising that a physician has stepped up and played the role of the child who announces that the academic emperor is strutting down the street buck-naked. From Sir Thomas Browne in the 17th century to Raymond Tallis today, there is a long tradition of medical doctors examining and exposing the follies of academics and scholars. After all, unlike the inhabitants of the ivory tower –– who rarely have to be accountable for their ideas and so have the luxury of abstract speculation no matter how fantastic or dangerous –– doctors are grounded in the very real world of suffering and sickness, where concrete evidence and practical application have value, and where accountability is literally a life and death matter. And that is the important point about the issue of Islam’s true nature: understanding it is not rocket science. One has only to read the historical record, read the words of the Koran and the hadiths (sayings attributed to the Prophet), and read the centuries of interpretations in Muslim theology and jurisprudence, to know that today’s jihadists have not “highjacked” or “distorted” Islam but are simply traditionalists, squarely in line with Islam’s historical identity.
The Legacy of Jihad is organized precisely to show that continuity. Bostom starts with some examples of the sort of propaganda that has made his book necessary in the first place. For example, Georgetown professor John Esposito has called the five centuries before the Crusades an era of “peaceful coexistence” between Islam and Christendom, one ruined by the European greed and power-hunger that drove the Crusades. So much, as Bostom quotes Bat Ye’or, for the “’pillage, enslavement, deportation, massacres, and so on’” that accompanied the Islamic rampage throughout the Mediterranean, the Near East, and southern Asia. Or listen to UCLA law professor Khaled Abou El Fadl saying “’Islamic tradition does not have a notion of holy war. Jihad simply means to strive hard or struggle in pursuit of a just cause.’” Bostom exposes such sophistries simply by quoting Islamic scholars like Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406): “’In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the [Muslim] mission and [the obligation to] convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force.’” Or listen to Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 1328): “’Since lawful warfare is essentially jihad and since its aim is that the religion is God’s entirely and God’s word is uppermost, therefore according to all Muslims, those who stand in the way of this aim must be fought.”
Complementary to the phenomenon of jihad was the dismal fate of those conquered peoples, Jews and Christians mostly, who refused to convert to Islam. Called “dhimmi,” they were (and still are in some places) subjected to a whole host of restrictions and limitations of their lives whose purpose was to force them to proclaim publicly their humiliation and their inferiority to their Muslim conquerors. As documented in many of the excerpts in Bostom’s book, the historical details of the lives of Jewish and Christian minorities living in Muslim lands, the Islamic legal documents and opinions regarding their status, and the hardships suffered by dhimmi peoples well into the 20th century and continuing even today, should explode the widely circulated myth of Islamic tolerance of non-Muslims.
Bostom continues his own introductory essay with a survey of Islamic conquest and the accompanying massacres, raids, kidnapping, ethnic cleansing, devastation, and enslavement that marked the advance of Islam from Spain to Southeast Asia. Given how obsessive we are over the European enslavement of Africans, it’s eye-opening to read about the extent of Islamic slave-trading: an estimated 17 million Africans, over one-and-a-half times the estimated 10 million purchased by Europeans, were acquired and then forced-march across the Sahara to their masters’ territories, thousands dying along the way, their bones littering the desert sands. This trade continued for centuries after Europe and America had ended the slave trade: slavery wasn’t formally abolished in Saudi Arabia until 1962, and continues in Sudan and Mauritania today. And let’s not forget the millions of Europeans kidnapped and sold into slavery by Muslim pirates in the Mediterranean, or the African men cruelly castrated to provide eunuchs for harems and government service, or the Balkan Christian boys, perhaps as many as one million, taken from their parents, forcibly converted, and made to serve the Ottoman regime.
Finally, Bostom concludes his overview with a series of excerpts from European and Muslim historians on the nature of jihad, and with the proclamations of modern jihadists and terrorists from around the globe whose interpretations of jihad are consistent with those of the historians. Particularly significant, given the distortions surrounding the Arab world’s assaults on Israel, are the comments arising out of a conference of Muslim scholars and jurists held in 1968 after the humiliating Arab defeat in the Six Day War: “Repeated declarations,” Bostom summarizes, “expounded the classical Islamic doctrine of jihad war, focusing its bellicose energy on the destruction of Israel.” Lest you distrust Bostom’s interpretation, he quotes liberally from the proceedings. Here is Abdullah Ghoshah, Chief Judge in Jordan: “’Jihad is legislated in order to be one of the means of propagating Islam. Consequently Non-Muslims ought to embrace Islam either willingly . . . or unwillingly through fight and Jihad. . . . War is the basis of the relationship between Muslims and their opponents.’” Likewise the Mufti of Lebanon specifically characterized the struggle to destroy Israel as a jihad: “’We do not think this decree [Allah’s regarding Palestine] absolves any Muslim or Arab from Jihad (Holy War) which has now become a duty incumbent upon the Arabs and Muslims to liberate the land, preserve honor, retaliate for [lost] dignity, [and] restore the Aqsa Mosque [in Jerusalem] . . . from the hands of Zionism.’” Notice that not a word is said about the frustrated nationalist aspirations of the Palestinian people.
Having laid out the general theoretical and historical overview of jihad, Bostom goes on to provide both primary and secondary sources that support his analysis. After listing the verses from the Koran and hadiths regarding jihad, Bostom gives excerpts from fourteen centuries of Islamic commentary that quite explicitly detail how imperialistic conquest is justified and mandated by the Islamic faith. What is striking about this compilation is the agreement among these commentators concerning the necessity of jihad, the justice of enslaving and plundering the conquered, and the humiliating treatment to which dhimmi should be subjected. And this continuity extends to 20th century commentators who provide a justification for terrorism. The comments of Ayatollah Khomeini, for example, explicitly define jihad as violent conflict divinely mandated to ensure the world’s salvation: “But those who study jihad,” he wrote in 1942, “will understand why Islam wants to conquer the whole world. All the countries conquered by Islam or to be conquered in the future will be marked for everlasting salvation.” Or as the Ayatollah later said in 1979, “Islam grew with blood.”
Khomeini’s traditional assessment of jihad as a divine mandate to use force to bring the world into the House of Islam is also consistent with the writings of Islamic fundamentalism’s most important theorist, Sayyid Qutb (d. 1966). Quoting from the eighth-century writer Ibn Qayyim, Qutb says, “This legal formulation [regarding the relationship of Muslims to other groups] is based on the principle that Islam –– that is, submission to God –– is a universal message which the whole of mankind should accept or make peace with. No political system or material power should put hindrances in the way of preaching Islam.” And if such “hindrances” do exist, Islam then “has no recourse but to remove them by force.” Hence this struggle between Islam and the non-Islamic world “is not a temporary phase but an eternal state.” The only way for non-Islamic societies to co-exist with Islam is if the former “submit to its [Islam’s] authority by paying Jizyah [the poll tax], which will guarantee that they have opened their doors for the preaching of Islam and will not put any obstacle in its way through the power of the state.”
This continuity over the centuries in the understanding of jihad is evident as well in Bostom’s next section, a series of excerpts and essays reprinted from the work of modern scholars; the essay by Bassam Tibi, “War and Peace in Islam,” is particularly valuable. His comments on the possibility of Islam’s adaptation to the modern model of interstate relations based on international law are sobering: “Though the Islamic states acknowledge the authority of international law regulating relations among states, Islamic doctrine governing war and peace continues to be based on a division of the world into dar al-Islam [the House of Islam] and dar al-Harb [the House of War]. The divine law of Islam, which defines a partial community in international society, still ranks above the laws upon which modern international society rests.”
Equally informative are the accounts of Muslim conquests that restore for us the horrendous costs borne by those unfortunate enough to be in the path of Allah’s armies. Bostom provides both modern historical descriptions and excerpts from accounts contemporary with the events, as well as a chart and color maps detailing Islamic conquests. This material is extremely important, for we moderns, incessantly scolded about the presumed sins of Crusaders and colonialists, need to be reminded how bloody and devastating was the process by which lands that had been Greco-Roman, Judaic, Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist for centuries became something else.
All of these studies are illuminating, but a few are worth particular mention. The great French historian C. E. Dufourcq’s description of the razzia –– the preliminary raids by Islamic warriors to acquire slaves and plunder and to test a region’s suitability for full-scale conquest –– should be read by anybody tired of hearing about Western depredations against the “religion of peace.” For centuries, town after town in southern France, Spain, and Italy was plundered, sacked, and looted for slaves; churches were particularly targeted for the precious articles of worship they contained. One purpose of such raids was to instill terror in the inhabitants so that they either would not resist and thus be softened up for later conquest, or would pay ransom to avoid this devastation. The 17th-century Muslim historian al-Maqqari is quite explicit about the intended effect of this terror: “Allah thus instilled such fear among the infidels that they did not dare to go and fight the conquerors; they only approached them as suppliants, to beg for peace.” One can’t help but think of the modern Europeans who have appeased today’s jihadists because they fear terrorists whose victims add up to a tiny fraction of the number killed and enslaved in earlier centuries.
For us Westerners who may be ignorant of Indian history, K. S. Lal’s work on the impact of 1000 years of Muslim invasions of India will provide an important background to current problems such as the status of Kashmir. Similar to Islamic invasions everywhere, the incursions were accompanied by massacres, pillaging, depopulation, enslavement of women and children, and the destruction of temples and idols. Such exploits are celebrated in the pages of Muslim historians, as in this description of the attack on Thanesar: “The blood of the infidels flowed so copiously that the stream was discolored, and people were unable to drink it.” This aggression continued under the Turks. And like the earlier invaders, these brutal wars were justified as part of the divinely sanctioned jihad: in the memoirs of Babur, founder of the Mughal dynasty, the “narrative of Jihad is laced with quotations from the Quran in dozens which shows that he was . . . a scholar of Quran and Hadis [hadiths] and no simple secular warrior.”
As excerpt after excerpt in The Legacy of Jihad makes clear, Islam’s expansion was accompanied by the fate Dimitar Angelov describes for Asia Minor and the Balkans under Turkish attack: “The ruination of entire cities, the massacre, deportation, and enslavement of thousands of inhabitants –– in a word, a general and lasting decline in the productivity of the country.” This history, moreover, is constantly ignored in analyses of current conflicts involving Islamic states, which endlessly catalogue the Western crimes that presumably explain and often rationalize Islamic terrorist aggression. For example, we constantly hear about the “occupied West Bank” as the obstacle to peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors. Yet the ancient Jewish lands of Judea and Samaria were conquered and occupied by Islamic armies, their Jewish and Christian peoples compelled to live as humiliated oppressed subjects. I fail to see how it is just that lands taken in a defensive war by the peoples whose ancestors occupied them for centuries, are now to be restored to the peoples who initiated the conflict and whose ancestors occupied those lands as conquerors.
This valuable book raises an important question: can Islam reform itself and discard the ideology of jihad? Can jihad be redefined to mean an inner spiritual struggle, or defensive war, or the effort to propagate Islam through peaceful means, as many apologists claim today? Attempts to reformulate the doctrine of jihad have been going on for a century, but with scant success, for such redefinitions fly in the face of centuries of orthodoxy. On this issue, the words of Clement Huart, though written in 1907, are still pertinent today: “The reformers of Islam may be right [that jihad is not holy war]. The intention of Mohammed, in what he said of jihad, may have been misunderstood and misrepresented. But into this question we do not desire to go. For what we are considering is, what Mohammedanism is and has been –– that is, what orthodox Mohammedanism teaches concerning jihad, founding its doctrine of a certain definite interpretation of those passages in the Koran which speak of jihad. Until the newer conceptions, as to what the Koran teaches as to the duty of the believer towards non-believers, have spread further and have more generally leavened the mass of Moslem belief and opinion, it is the older and orthodox standpoint on this question which must be regarded by non-Moslems as representing Mohammedan teaching and as guiding Mohammedan action.” The widespread support among Islamic peoples everywhere for terrorist jihad shows that Huart’s comments are as true today as they were in 1907. The Islamists are not “distorting” Islam, but rather the reformers and so-called “moderates” are.
Given that the academic study of Islam is so politicized, we are dependent on those like Andrew Bostom who make available for us the truths necessary for understanding the nature of the conflict with Islamic terrorism. Even fiction can on occasion be more useful than corrupted scholarship: Arabel, by Alexandra Paris, is a gripping tale of just how bio-terrorism could come to America, one that takes seriously the traditional spiritual motives of the jihadists; it very well could be to the so-called war on terror what Raspail’s Camp of the Saints is to the problem of Europe’s suicide-by-immigration.
If we are to prevail in the war against Islamic jihad, we need to know the facts of history and understand the motives of our adversaries and not reduce them to our own materialist prejudices. Andrew Bostom’s The Legacy of Jihad does precisely that.