the polytheists, apostasy equalled treason and desertion, something which is still
punished with death in our secular society". All right, but the point is precisely that
Islam chose to be at war with the traditional religion of Arabia, as also with all other
religions, and that it has made this state of war into a permanent feature of its law
5. Playing up unrepresentative facts: A popular tactic in negationism consists in
finding a positive but uncharacteristic event, and highlighting it while keeping the
over-all picture out of the public's view. For instance, a document is found in which
Christians, whose son has forcibly been inducted in the Ottoman Janissary army,
express pride because their son has made it to high office within this army. The fact
that these people manage to see the bright side of their son's abduction, enslavement
and forced conversion, is then used to prove that non-Muslims were quite happy
under Muslim rule, and to conceal the fact that the devshirme, the forcible conversion
and abduction of one fifth of the Christian children by the Ottoman authorities,
constituted a constant and formidable terror bewailed in hundreds of heart-rending
songs and stories.
For another example, negationists always mention cases of collaboration by non-
Muslims (German support in the Armenian Genocide etc.) to suggest that these were
treated as partners and equals and that Muslim rule was quite benevolent; when in
fact every history of an occupation, even the most cruel one, is also the history of a
collaboration. As has been pointed out, the Nazis employed Jewish guards in the
Warsaw ghetto, disprove the Nazi oppression of the Jews.
6. Denying the motive: Negationists sometimes accept the facts, but disclaim their
hero's responsibility for them. Thus, Mohammed Habib tried to exonerate Islam by
ascribing to the Islamic invaders alternative motives: Turkish barbarity, greed, the
need to put down conspiracies brewing in temples. In reality, those rulers who had
secular reasons to avoid an all-out confrontation with the unbelievers were often
reprimanded by their clerical courtiers for neglecting their Islamic duty. The same
clerics were never unduly worried over possible secular motives in a ruler's mind as
long as these prompted him to action against the unbelievers. At any rate, the fact
that Islam could be used routinely to justify plunder and enslavement (unlike, say,
Buddhism), is still significant enough.
7. Smokescreen: Another common tactic consists in blurring the problem by
questioning the very terms of the debate: "Islam does not exist, for there are many
Islam’s, with big differences between countries etc." It would indeed be hard to
criticise something that is so ill- defined. But the simple fact is that Islam does exist:
it is the doctrine contained in the Quran, normative for all Muslims, and in the Hadith,
normative for at least all Sunni Muslims. There are differences between the law
schools concerning minor points, and of course there are considerable differences in
the extent to which Muslims are effectively faithful to Islamic doctrine, and
correspondingly, the extent to which they mix it with un-Islamic elements.
8. Blaming fringe phenomena: When faced with hard facts of Islamic fanaticism,
negationists often blame them on some fringe tendency, now popularly known as
fundamentalism or Wahhabism. This is said to be the product of post-colonial
frustration, basically foreign to genuine Islam. In reality, fundamentalists like Maulana
Maudoodi and Ayatollah Khomeini knew their Quran better than the self-deluding
secularists who brand them as bad Muslims. What is called fundamentalism or
Wahhabism is in fact the original Islam, as is proven by the fact that fundamentalists
have existed since long before colonialism, e.g. the 13th century theologian Ibn
Taimiya, who is still a lighthouse for today's Maudoodis, Turabis, Madanis and
Khomeini’s. When Ayatollah Khomeini declared that the goal of Islam is the conquest
of all non- Muslim countries, this was merely a reformulation of Mohammed's long-
term strategy and of the Quranic assurance that God has promised the entire world to
Islam. In the case of communism, one can shift the blame from Marx to Lenin and
Stalin, but Islamic terrorism has started with Mohammed himself.
9. Arguments ad hominem: If denying the evidence is not tenable, one can always
distort it by means of selective quoting and imputing motives to the original authors
of the source material; or manipulating quotations to make them say the opposite of
the over-all picture which the original author has presented. Focus all attention on a
few real or imagined flaws in a few selected pieces, and act as if the entire corpus of
evidence has been rendered untrustworthy. To extend the alleged untrustworthiness
of one piece of evidence to the entire corpus of evidence, it is necessary to create
suspicion against those who present the evidence: the implication is that they have a
plan of history falsification, that this plan has been exposed in the case of this one
piece of evidence, but that it is only logical that such motivated history falsifiers are
also behind the concoction of the rest of the alleged evidence.
If the discussion of inconvenient evidence cannot be prevented, disperse it by raising
other issues, such as the human imperfections which every victim of crimes against
humanity inevitably has (Jewish harshness against the Palestinians, Hindu
untouchability); describe the demand for the truth as a ploy to justify and cover up
these imperfections. If the facts have to be faced at all, then blame the victim. If
people ignore or refute your distorted version of history, accuse them of distortion
and political abuse of history. Slander scholars whose testimony is inconvenient;
impute political or other motives to them in order to pull the attention away from the
hard evidence they present.
10. Slogans: Finally, all discussion can be sabotaged with the simple technique of
shouting slogans: prejudice, myth, "racism/Islamophobia". Take the struggle from the
common battlefield of arguments into the opponent's camp: his self-esteem as a
member of the civilised company that abhors ugly things like prejudice and
Islamophobia. After all, attack is the best defence.
After summing up the forms of negationism, we have to look into its causes. The
following factors come to mind:
1. Orientalism and Islamology: After the medieval Christian pamphlets against
"Mohammed the impostor" whose media campaigns ended in the late 19
not much has been published schematising the ideological and factual crimes of
Islam. Books on, say, "slavery in Islam" are extremely rare: the raw information that
could fill such a publication will have to be found in more general publications, in
which Islam is only referred to in passing, often without the author's realising the
implications for an evaluation of Islam. It is often said (when introducing "refutations
of prejudice") that people always associate Islam with intolerance; but finding a book
specifically devoted to the subject of Islamic intolerance will be harder. How many
tens of millions have been killed by Islam simply because they were non-Muslims?
Nobody has yet tabulated the figures available to prepare a general estimate. We can
only notice that critical research of Islam is not exactly encouraged, and that there is
an increasing tendency to self-censorship regarding Islam criticism. In part, this is
due to a much delayed reaction against the long-abandoned Christian polemical
Now that Islamic Studies departments in Europe are increasingly manned by Muslims
and sponsored by Islamic foundations and states, the climate for critical studies of
Islam is only worsening. When comparing the first (pre-World War 2) edition of the
Encyclopaedia of Islam (Leiden, Netherlands) with the new edition, it is striking how
critical observations have been ironed out. But even in the past, Islam has enjoyed a
rather favourable treatment in academic circles. Thus, about Islamic slavery the
prominent Dutch Islamologist C. Snouck-Hurgronje wrote in 1887 (i.e. thirty years
after the Americans had waged a war to impose the abolition of slavery in their
southern states, and some seventy years after its abolition in the colonies): "For
most slaves their abduction was a blessing... They themselves are convicted that it is
their enslavement that has for the first time made them human."
The political context of the growth phase of Islamology provides a part of the
explanation. Mature colonialism was not waging war against Islam, but sought the co-
operation of the established social forces in the colonised populations. The British co-
operation with the Indian Muslims is well- known; it is epitomised by the founding in
1906 of the Muslim League, which sought to "inculcate loyalty to the British Empire in
the Indian Muslims". In French West Africa, in the same period, Islam was accepted
as a factor of social stability, and General Lyautey pursued a dream of a Franco-
Islamic synthesis culture in Algeria. In the 1930s, in the last European attempt at
fresh colonisation, the Italian Fascists actively supported the spread of Islam in the
Horn of Africa. But already since 1853 the colonial powers had been supporting the
Caliphate against a Christian power, Russia, esp. in the Crimean War (a mistaken war
if ever there was one), and this had strongly contributed to climate of benevolence
towards the Muslim culture.
2. Church policy: Christianity has for centuries waged a lively polemic against Islam.
Recently, this criticism has subsided. Worse, polemical works by clerics have been
withdrawn or kept unpublished (such as, early this century, Father Henri Lammens'
paper arguing that Mohammed's revelations were a psychopathological
phenomenon). One reason is that the Church is aware of the similarity between Jesus'
and Mohammed's missions, so that a criticism of the foundations of Islam may
backfire on Christianity. The second reason is the fear that Christians in the Muslim
world would have to pay for even ideological attack on Islam (that is why Church
polemists save their sharpest words for harmless religions like Hinduism). This fear
also motivates other Church policies, such as the non-recognition of the state of
Meanwhile, the face of the Church has changed. A small but significant event in the
wake of the Second Vatican Council was the deletion from the Saints' calendar of Our
Lady of the Redemption of Slaves, whose feast was on 24 September. In the Middle
Ages, there was a special clerical order and a whole fund-raising network devoted to
the redemption ("buying back") of Christian slaves held in Barbary. Until the 19th
century, coastal villages in Italy had watchtowers to alarm the people when a ship of
the slave-catching Barbarese pirates was in sight. The terror of Islamic slavery was a
permanent feature of Christian history from the 7th till the 19th century, but now the
Church is working hard to erase this memory.
Today, its pastors are the most fervent pleaders for the rights of Islam. Muslims in
Europe are for them a substitute for the disappearing parish members. Separate
Christian institutions, whose reason of existence is being questioned, find a new
legitimacy in the fact that Islam in its turn is also opening separate schools, charities
and even political parties. Islam has become a sister religion regularly praised as a
religion of peace.
3. Anti-colonialism: One of the ideological guidelines of anti-colonialism was: "Of
the (ex) colonised, nothing but good must be said." Therefore, mentioning the
colonialism and mass slavery practised by the Muslims had become undesirable.
Add to this general taboo the warning that Islam criticism effectively implies support
to Israel, described by Maxime Rodinson as a "colonial settler-state". If one
acknowledges that Islam has always oppressed the Jews, one accepts that Israel was
a necessary refuge for the Jews fleeing not only the European but also the Islamic
variety of anti-Judaism. Let us not forget that decolonisation was followed
immediately by renewed discrimination of and attacks on the Jewish and Christian
minorities, and that those Jews who could get out have promptly fled to Israel (or
France, in the case of Algeria). It is no coincidence that these Sephardic Jews are
mostly supporters of the hard- liners in Israel.
4. The enemy's enemy is a friend: Many people brought up as Christians, or as
nominal Hindus, never outgrow their pubescent revolt against their parents' religion,
and therefore automatically sympathise with every rival or opponent of the religion
they have come to despise. Because Islam poses the most formidable threat, they
like it a lot.
5. Leftism: In this century, Islam has come to be advertised as a naturally leftist
"religion of equality". This line has been developed by Muslim apologists such as
Mohammed Habib, and they have even taken it as a rationalisation of the irrational
claim that Mohammed was the "last Prophet": after all, as the "prophet of equality",
he had brought the ultimate message upon which no improvement is possible. Sir
Mohammed Iqbal, one of the fathers of Pakistan, had claimed that "Islam equals
Communism plus Allah". The Iranian Ayatollahs, by contrast, and most of the vocal
Muslims after the Soviet-Islamic war in Afghanistan, have restated the orthodox
position that Communism is un-Islamic, not only because of its atheism but also
because of its rejection of free enterprise; the current claim is that Islam provides a
"better form of equality" than Communism.
Even while Communists were slaughtered in Islamic Iran, and even while political
analysts classify the Islamist movements as "extreme rightist", most leftists have
kept on cultivating some sympathy for Islam. During the Lebanese civil war, they fed
us news stories about "leftist Muslims, rightist Christians", "Islamo-progressive,
Negationism in Europe is practised with the most prowess by historians and writers
who are under the spell of Marxism. Lenin had wanted to use the Muslims against the
French and British colonialists. Modern Leftists with Marxist sympathies see Islam as
an ally against Israel and the US.
6. Rightist traditionalism: There is also a rightist sympathy for Islam. An obvious
point of agreement is of course anti-Judaism. A subtler basis for sympathy is the so-
called traditionalist current, which was represented by the converts Rene Guenon and
Frithjof Schuon, and still has a following: it has been idealising Islam and esp. Sufism
as the preserver of the age-old philosophia pernnis against modernity. In Russia,
some Slavophile anti-Western groups now seek an alliance with Islam against the
impending Americanisation of their society. In the U.S., Christian fundamentalists and
Islamic organisations are increasingly creating common platforms to speak out
against trends of moral decay (abortion, pornography, etc.). Some of these
phenomena of traditionalist alliance-building are quite respectable, but they are
nevertheless conducive to Islam negationism.
7. Economic Liberalists: Liberalists see Muslim immigration as an endless source of
cheap labour and seek to defend them as often as they can. In addition, they support
EU membership for Turkey.
8. Liberal Islam: In the Islamic world, it is unwise to attack Islam head-on. Yet,
sometimes people in those countries feel the need to oppose Islamic phenomena and
campaigns, such as the witch-hunt on un-Islamic cultural remnants, violence on the
non-Muslims, extreme forms of gender inequality. In order to have a chance, these
people have to use Islamic language:
"Mohammed was actually against polygamy", "violence against others is in conflict
with the tolerance which Mohammed has taught us", "and respect for other cultures
is part of Islamic tradition".
In order to press their humanist point, they have to formally identify with Islam
and lie about its contents.
Many Muslims have started to believe their own rhetoric. If you point out to them
that the Quran teaches intolerance and war against the unbelievers in the most
explicit terms, many of them will sincerely protest, and not know what to say
when you show them the Quranic passages concerned. There is no reason to
doubt that the Moroccan authoress Fatima Mernissi genuinely believes in her own
argument that the Quranic instructions on how to organise your polygamous
household are to be read as an abolition of polygamy (albeit in veiled terms,
because Allah, the same Allah Almighty who went straight against the prevalent
customs of idolatry and pluralism, had to be careful not to offend the spirit of the
times). Many nominal Muslims have outgrown Islamic values and developed a
commitment to modern values, but their sentimental attachment to the religion
imbibed in their childhood prevents them from formally breaking with Islam and
makes them paint a rosy picture of it.
Among Muslim spokesmen, is certainly not the fundamentalists who are the most
active proponents of negationism. It is liberals like Asghar Ali Engineer who deny
that Islam ordains war on the infidels. It is those who are acclaimed by Europeans
as being good "secular" Muslims. An Islam that wants to be secular cannot be and
is therefore dishonest and untrue to itself. Unfortunately, a tolerant Islam is a
contradiction, and the “creation” of a tolerant past for Islam to appease the
position of liberal Muslims, is a lie.
9. Muslims differing from Islam: Many people have a Muslim neighbour who is
a fine man, and from this empirical fact they conclude: Islam cannot be all that
bad considering our friend Mustapha. This one empirical fact gives them a
tremendous resistance against all information about Islamic intolerance. People
usually reduce the world to their own sphere of experience, and general historical
facts of Islamic fanaticism are not allowed to disturb the private experience of
good neighbourly relations.
Many nominal Muslims have retained some vague generalities about morality from
the Quran, and they normally go by their own conscience and sensibility without
ever developing the doctrinally prescribed hostility towards non-Muslims. These
good people, although bad Muslims, can ignore but not change Islamic doctrine.
They cannot prevent the Quranic message of hatred from infecting at least some
of the more susceptible among their brethren and perhaps even their children or
grandchildren in the future.
There have certainly been situations where sane Muslims have calmed down their
more riotous brethren, and such individuals do make a real difference. We should
not make the Islamic mistake of judging people simply by their belonging or not
belonging to the Muslim community, rather than by their human qualities. But the
fact remains that the presence of a doctrine of intolerance as the official and
identity-defining ideology of a community, exerts a constant pressure tending
towards separatism and confrontation. The alleviating presence of the humanist
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