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     May 15, 2007
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The Koranic quotations trap
By Spengler

Robert Spencer, the publisher of the JihadWatch.com website and the author of a number of volumes attacking Islam, bridled at my comment in last week's essay (Are the Arabs already extinct?, May 8):
The available literature on Islam consists mainly of a useless exchange of Koranic citations that show, depending on whether one is Karen Armstrong or Robert Spencer, that Islam is loving or hateful, tolerant or bigoted, peaceful or warlike, or whatever one cares to show. It is all so pointless and sophomoric; anyone can quote the Koran, or for that matter the Bible, to show whatever one wants.
Spencer protests that I misrepresent his view; his considered

response can be found on his webpage. [1] I was referring to a review of his most recent book [2] by the odious Karen Armstrong, a renegade nun who attempts to reduce all religions to an indistinguishable and insipid spiritual gruel. Armstrong opined in the April 27 Financial Times:
The traditions of any religion are multifarious. It is easy, therefore, to quote so selectively that the main thrust of the faith is distorted. But Spencer is not interested in balance. He picks out only those aspects of Islamic tradition that support his thesis. For example, he cites only passages from the Koran that are hostile to Jews and Christians and does not mention the numerous verses that insist on the continuity of Islam with the People of the Book: "Say to them: We believe what you believe; your God and our God is one."
It irks me no end when people with whom I would like to agree, such as Spencer, are wrong, and people whom I despise unconditionally, such as the odious Ms Armstrong, are right. Fiat justitia, ruat coelum: judge fairly even if the heavens fall in consequence.

Islam-bashing, whether justified or not, is a waste of time. Armstrong is quite correct that the statements of the Koran are multifarious, ranging from direct instruction to kill unbelievers to the peaceable sound-bite quoted above. Spencer has missed his adversary's mortal weakness: by insisting that the Koran is clear, consistent and unambiguous in preaching violence, Spencer has conceded the most important weapon in the arsenal of Islam's critics, namely the integrity of the Koran. It is possible to admit multiple authorship of the Hebrew Scriptures and remain a believing Jew, just as it is possible to concede inconsistencies among the Gospels and remain a believing Christian. But the premise of Islam is that the Archangel Gabriel dictated the Holy Koran to Mohammed as the final revelation to humankind. Therefore it is extremely difficult, perhaps entirely impossible, for Muslims to concede multiple authorship of the Koran and remain believers.

Pope Benedict XVI made just this point at a private seminar at his summer residence during the summer of 2005. As Father Joseph Fessio reported his comments:
The Holy Father, in his beautiful calm but clear way, said, well, there's a fundamental problem with that because, he said, in the Islamic tradition, God has given his word to Mohammed, but it's an eternal word. It's not Mohammed's word. It's there for eternity the way it is. There's no possibility of adapting it or interpreting it, whereas in Christianity, and Judaism, the dynamism's completely different, that God has worked through his creatures. And so it is not just the word of God, it's the word of Isaiah, not just the word of God, but the word of Mark. He's used his human creatures, and inspired them to speak his word to the world, and therefore by establishing a Church in which he gives authority to his followers to carry on the tradition and interpret it, there's an inner logic to the Christian Bible, which permits it and requires it to be adapted and applied to new situations.
Under the title "When even the pope has to whisper", I reported Father Fessio's comments, originally made to an American radio interviewer. He afterward apologized for speaking out of turn. [3]

As I wrote on Spencer's website, there are any number of factual problems in his approach, of which two stand out:
1) Mohammed may never have existed, and
2) If he existed, he may have had nothing to do with the Koran, which well might be an 8th- or 9th-century compilation.

If that is the case, writing biographies of Mohammed and citing the Koran may be entirely beside the point. I do not know whether this is the case, partly because the threat of violence has driven 

Continued 1 2 

Reason to believe, or not (Oct 18, '06)

Why can't Muslims take a joke? (Feb 7, '06)


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