I was a historian, not a satirist—and, what’s more, a historian of classical antiquity. How could a book on ancient Rome offend anyone?
The answer only gradually began to dawn on me when I came to write not about Rome’s heyday but about her fall. By the 6th century A.D., the Roman Empire had been dismembered. The western half, including Italy itself, was ruled by barbarians; only the eastern half survived. In the early 7th century, that remnant was reduced, in turn, to a bleeding trunk. Provinces that had been Roman for centuries were lost for good to a new breed of imperialists: the Arabs.
The collapse of Roman power in the Near East was the flip side of another story: the rise of Islam. The Arab armies who seized from the Romans the provinces of Palestine, Syria and Egypt were Muslim, according to traditional historiography, and had been inspired to their remarkable feats of conquest by the revelations of a prophet, Muhammad. It took me only a cursory immersion in the scholarship of the period to realize that these presumptions were (to put it mildly) widely contested.
Indeed, it was hard to think of another field of history where quite so much was up for grabs. Questions fundamental to Islam’s traditional understanding of itself turned out to defy consensus. Might the Arab conquerors not actually have been Muslim at all? Did the Quran, the supposed corpus of Muhammad’s revelations, in fact derive from a whole multiplicity of pre-existing sources? Was it possible that Muhammad himself, rather than coming from Mecca, had lived far to the north, in the deserts beyond Roman Palestine? The answer to all these questions, I gradually came to conclude, was yes.
The publication of the book went well enough. Then Channel 4 decided to make it into a show:
[A] TV station that had been set up in the U.K. back in the 1980s with a publicly funded remit to serve as the BBC’s naughty younger brother. Ever since, no Christmas or Easter has been complete in Britain without a documentary in its schedule questioning the historicity of the Bible.
Never before, though, had it—or, indeed, any other British TV channel—aired a documentary questioning the basis of what most Muslims believed about the origins of their faith. I still remember a feeling of almost physical panic as I stood on the battlements of an abandoned Roman city in the Negev Desert and raised the possibility, on camera, that Muhammad might not have come from Mecca. The director, the brilliant and award-winning filmmaker Kevin Sim, had aimed to make me and my anxieties about what I was doing a part of the film, and he more than succeeded. There is barely a shot in the documentary in which I do not look mildly terrified.
It didn’t take long for me to realize my mistake. Just a few minutes into the broadcast, my Twitter stream was going up in smoke. By the time the show ended, the death threats were coming in thick and fast—and not just against me but against my family as well. Channel 4 was also deluged with protests. A private screening scheduled for assorted movers and shakers had to be canceled after the police warned that they couldn’t guarantee the security of those attending the event. Because many of the invitees had been journalists, this naturally gave the controversy a new lease of life.
Two weeks later, I was still fielding death threats from Muslims convinced that the only plausible explanation for my having made the film was that I was in the pay of Mossad or the CIA or both. The most chilling moment of all came when Press TV, a propaganda arm of the Iranian government, aired a documentary leveling pretty much that accusation. It was the one time that I seriously imagined I might end up as the new Salman Rushdie.
An entertaining and illustrative story. But not half as illustrative as his bio at the end of the piece:
Mr. Holland is the author of “Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic” and “In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire.” His new translation of “The Histories” of Herodotus is published by Penguin Classics.
He’s not writing about the birth of Islam any more. He’s gone about ten centuries the other way. No one threatens to cut off your head over Herodotus. You can say what you like about the Spartans (and many have), but they’re not around to take offense.
Mark Steyn beheads the preening, narcissistic media over the Charlie Hebdo murders:
Yes, the media feels the wrath of his tongue-lashing, but it’s the shots at John Kerry and Barack Obama that have me shouting “Steynu Akbar!”
He quotes Kerry’s stony-faced reaction: “John Kerry today said that this was a battle between civilization and, pregnant pause, the forces that are opposed to civilization,” he said. Alas, Kerry never named those forces. Our leaders may be as sensitive and politically correct as they like, but if they do not recognize that public enemy number one wears a beard and a turban (though he hates to have his picture taken), they are doing us more harm than good.
And if that ain’t clear enough for you: “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam,” President Obama said, most improbably.
Steyn’s reaction (and I paraphrase): technically, you can’t slander someone who died in the 7th century.
To which I add, also technically, Charlie Hebdo libeled—if they even did that, as truth is an absolute defense—not slandered, the prophet of Islam.
Slander and libel are offenses dealt with in court. The Charlie Hebdo killers, and Theo van Gogh’s killer, those who tried to hunt down Salman Rushdie, those whom Ayaan Hirsi Ali fears to this day—and countless legions of other murderers in the name of Muhammad—do not pursue legal remedies. Their grievances are not judicial in nature. Those who slander, libel, insult, slight, look cross-eyed at the prophet of Islam, are dealt by another form of justice, via the knife, the gun, the RPG, the 747.
I have no quarrel with the prophet of Islam. Seriously, I don’t. And I write that not out of fear, but out of ignorance. There are well over a billion Muslims—and a fair number of others—who know him better than I. Let them debate. Some of the more lurid stories (pick your own) I put down to local customs of the times. Child brides and slavery were once more common than they are now. Feigning shock at their existence over a millennium ago bores me, as long as we agree there’s no place for them today.
Just as there’s no place for smiting the infidel today. It is those who smite with whom I/we have a problem. Stop smiting and no one gets hurt. But as I write yesterday, the smiting comes last. There’s usually a long line of offenses, most criminal, that come before, and give us a good indication of where this is going. The earliest—the first wing pulled off the fly, the first tormented puppy—is often pure, distilled Jew-hatred. You may think it’s a long way from “descendant of apes and pigs” to “Allahu Akbar” and a hail of bullets, but there are those who know a shortcut. Charlie Hebdo might well still be an unappreciated satirical magazine (the best kind of satirical magazine), Private Eye with accents graves, rather than lying in their graves, if lesser offenses had been more greatly punished.
As I also wrote yesterday, these guys probably had a record (check), were probably home grown (check), and we’d soon learn how they did it (check, one is already under arrest). That’s hardly the Amazing Kreskin at work. We have all too much history with this sort of thing. Do we have the will to relegate it to history, that is the question.
Given today’s activist actions in Paris, it is obvious that journalism needs to change. We at BTL are working on code of formal professional ethics to replace the worn-out and seldom used, who, what, when, where and why. We need help on this guys, please add suggestions in the comments section.
1. The purpose of The Profession of Journalism is to support a peaceful, zen-like state among the Stupid PeoplePublic. Our goal as professionals is to achieve Perfect Harmony.
2. Any use of language or imagery that detracts from the above goal must be prevented before it is published.
3. Ancillary useful activities that journalists may, and in some cases, should, engage in involve support for political parties, candidates, or groups or individuals that effect a peaceful, zen-like state on the population. Articles should be written in simple, positive language, supporting such groups. Likewise, images should portray the main actors in a positive light. It is sometimes desirable to deviate from “the truth” to achieve the goal of Many Truths.
4. Another worthwhile endeavor of the Professional Journalist would be to castigate groups or individuals who threaten the zen-like state of Perfect Harmony.
5. It is obvious from the goals stated here that journalists should avoid antagonizing any group that is armed or professes an interest in disrupting the Perfect Harmony that we all seek.
Terrorists, you say? Check CNN. It’s all about terrorism, however, the video opens immediately and I don’t link to sites that do that.
I can tell you that they are horrified over at CNN and across Europe. It can’t happen here!!
Yes, kittens, it can. It can happen anywhere, because terrorism is a technique, and can be directed at anyone, at any time, for any reason. The takeaway message is that journalists should never criticize Islam. I guarantee you that the journalists have heard.
Ah, here we go, a link that does not open with video:
Twelve people have been shot dead at the headquarters of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, say police.
Two masked gunmen are reported to have stormed the offices of the controversial publication, which has previously been attacked over its portrayal of the Prophet Mohammed.
They are believed to have been armed with Kalashnikov rifles and a rocket-propelled grenade.
According to the AFP news agency, the attackers shouted: “We have avenged the prophet.”
A manhunt is under way for the gunmen, who escaped after a shootout in the street with police.
The two “ghost ships” discovered sailing towards the Italian coast last week with hundreds of migrants – but no crew – on board are just the latest symptom of what experts consider to be the world’s largest wave of mass-migration since the end of the second world war.
Wars in Syria, Libya and Iraq, severe repression in Eritrea, and spiralling instability across much of the Arab world have all contributed to the displacement of around 16.7 million refugees worldwide.
A further 33.3 million people are “internally displaced” within their own war-torn countries, forcing many of those originally from the Middle East to cross the lesser evil of the Mediterranean in increasingly dangerous ways, all in the distant hope of a better life in Europe.
“These numbers are unprecedented,” said Leonard Doyle, spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration. “In terms of refugees and migrants, nothing has been seen like this since world war two, and even then [the flow of migration] was in the opposite direction.”
If I read his point correctly, the “displaced persons” to whom he refers are those Jews who survived a nearly-global effort at their extermination. But let’s not dwell on that now.
“We know people who died – they used to live with us,” said Qassim, a Syrian refugee in Egypt who now wants to reach Europe. “But we will try again to cross the sea because there’s no life for us Syrians here.”
In Egypt, up to 300,000 refugees from the Syrian war were initially welcomed with open arms. But after Cairo’s sudden regime change in summer 2013, the atmosphere turned drastically, leading to rampant xenophobia against Syrians and increased arrests and detentions of those who, for understandable reasons, did not carry the correct residency paperwork.
The situation is even worse in Jordan and in Lebanon, which now houses more than 1 million Syrian refugees – more than a fifth of the country’s total population.
Those cheerleaders out there who told us that the so-called Arab Spring was the dawning of democracy…what have you to say for yourselves? Like everyone else, I looked at those young attractive Arabs in Tahriri Square—but I also looked at the dark hordes massing behind them. I couldn’t have imagined it being this bad, but I knew it wasn’t going to be good.
We in the West may be shallow and fatuous, but we can survive simple-minded liberal pieties (if only just). Egypt can’t. They went from strongman (Mubarak) to strongman (al-Sisi) with just a spot of bother (Morsi and the MoBros) in between. And they should count themselves lucky.
Don’t get me wrong: General al-Sisi is not my ideal leader. But he may be Egypt’s.
Many have called for a reformation of Islam, but for the leader of the largest Arab nation to do so has world-changing implications.
Here are the key parts as translated on Raymond Ibrahim’s blog:
I am referring here to the religious clerics. We have to think hard about what we are facing—and I have, in fact, addressed this topic a couple of times before. It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible!
That thinking—I am not saying “religion” but “thinking”—that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world. It’s antagonizing the entire world!
Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants—that is 7 billion—so that they themselves may live? Impossible!
I am saying these words here at Al Azhar, before this assembly of scholars and ulema—Allah Almighty be witness to your truth on Judgment Day concerning that which I’m talking about now.
All this that I am telling you, you cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset. You need to step outside of yourselves to be able to observe it and reflect on it from a more enlightened perspective.
I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move… because this umma is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost—and it is being lost by our own hands.
“Boo-yah!” as the late Stuart Scott would say. “Ain’t that a kick in the head,” as Mark Steyn would quote Sammy Cahn. But you need to be a strongman—preferably a general—to say it.
I wish our metrosexual-in-chief had.
PS: I would not be truthful if I did not credit the one success of the Arab Spring: its source, Tunisia:
Tunisia is rightly hailed as the lone success story of the Arab Spring: the only country that has threaded a path from the uprisings of 2011 to genuine multiparty democracy today. Yet the future of freedom in Tunisia is far from assured. With the election of a new parliament and president in recent weeks, the most important experiment in Arab democracy is entering a difficult and potentially perilous new phase — one in which greater U.S. support and attention are urgently needed.
In a Friday sermon delivered in Maarat Al-Nu’man, Syria, Saudi fighter Sheik Abdallah bin Muhammad Al-Muhayseni cited several hadiths glorifying martyrdom.
A black man came to see the Prophet Muhammad in one of his raids, and asked him: “What will I get if I fight those people with you?” The Prophet Muhammad said to him: “You will go to Paradise.” The man said “Oh Prophet of Allah, I am black, I smell bad, and I have no money. If I am killed, will I still go to Paradise?” The Prophet Muhammad said: “Yes. I swear by Allah.”
I hope Mohammed told the black guy with the inferiority complex that this is the desert—everyone smells bad.
They send their black guys to Paradise; we send ours to the White House. And ours are “clean”, according to Biden. I can’t say which is worse.
Two car bombs killed at least 31 people, including 20 children, in central Yemen’s Radaa city when suspected al Qaeda fighters targeted Houthi militants Tuesday, senior security officials and locals told CNN. One car bomb struck a Houthi gathering point, but the other did not make it to the target and instead blew up next to a bus that was carrying children home from school, officials said.
All the killed children were under the age of 12, said Osama Sari, a prominent pro-Houthi activist.
Eleven Houthi fighters were killed, an Interior Ministry official said.
Eyewitnesses told CNN that the death toll within Houthi lines exceeded 18. At least a dozen others were injured, among them six in critical condition, medical sources in Radaa told CNN.
I’m not going to make any wisecracks about whether little kids even want 72 virgins or whether they would have been just as happy with Legos or My First Disney Princess Frozen Snow Glow Elsa Singing Doll.
I was gobsmacked this morning during drive time when I heard the NPR news report on the Islamist hostage situation in Sydney. The NPR reporter said, approximately, that there was a hostage situation in Sydney and that the Australian PM says it is probably political in motive. That’s all. Every other news source that I checked correctly noted that there was something resembling an ISIS flag in the window, being held up by the hostages. NPR tried to shield its listeners from the unpleasant fact that the Religion of Peace (or a minority thereof) was carrying out a terror attack in Sydney. What in the world does NPR have to gain by covering this up? And no matter what the answer is, why do I have to pay for it?
And here’s the latest, which you can share with your NPR-disabled friends:
Sydney siege live: Loud explosions heard as police storm Lindt cafe
Updated 14 minutes agoMon 15 Dec 2014, 10:38am
Police have stormed the Lindt cafe in Sydney after an intense period of loud explosions or gunshots and flashes of lights.
Several ambulances are on the scene.
Earlier, police identified the man behind the siege as Iranian cleric Man Haron Monis.
Monis has been holding an unknown number of people hostage at the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Sydney’s Martin Place since Monday morning.
Three people emerged from the building about 4:00pm (AEDT) and they were followed by another two an hour later.
Hostages were earlier seen pressing a black flag with Arabic text against the cafe’s windows.
Monis is on bail for a string of violent offences and has a conviction for sending offensive letters to the families of deceased soldiers.
Chilling images from Australian media on Monday showed people, believed to be hostages, with their hands pressed against the cafe’s windows. They were holding up a black flag with Arabic writing on it reading, “There is no God but God and Mohammed is the prophet of God.”
Sounds like angry Congregationalists to me. Again, why are we spending tax money on NPR? They couldn’t find the news if it was handed to them in a brown paper bag.
Can you take non-Muslim women and children captive? Yes, says ISIS.
Can you have sex with them, even prepubescent girls? Yes, according to the Islamist extremist group.
Can you sell them or give them as gifts to others? The answer is yes, once again.
People in Mosul — the Iraqi city now under control of the group calling itself the Islamic State — got these and other messages loud and clear after sunset prayers Friday, when armed men handed out a color-printed pamphlet “Question and Answers on Female Slaves and their Freedom,” three residents told CNN.
And that’s the thing about ISIS: Its militants have justified their actions — like the beheadings of journalists and aid workers — in God’s name.
Which, as we all know, is absurd, crazy, just wrong. The nerve of these guys!
“Female slaves are the women that Muslims took from their enemies.”
Much of the pamphlet talks about ISIS’ policy on having sexual intercourse with a female slave, something that the group cites the Quran to justify.
“If she was a virgin, he (the owner) can have intercourse with her immediately after the ownership is fulfilled,” ISIS explains. “If she was not a virgin, her uterus must be purified (wait for her period to be sure she is not pregnant.)”
There are other rules as well, like that two men who co-own a captive can’t both have sex with her and that a man can’t have intercourse with his wife’s slave.
As to girls: “It is permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who hasn’t reached puberty if she is fit for intercourse,” the document reads. “However, if she is not fit for intercourse, he (the owner) can only enjoy her without intercourse.”
Beating a female slave for discipline is OK, but beating her for pleasure or as a form of torture is not.
It’s in the Koran, but it’s not Islam. Just remember that.
Time and again, the group cites the Quran and its view of Sharia law.
“ISIS is drawing these rulings from ancient Middle Eastern and Mediterranean codes of conduct for war and prisoners,” said Abbas Barzegar, professor of religious studies at Georgia State University.
“Muslim leaders and lay practitioners the world over continue to condemn ISIS and find its alien interpretation of Islam grotesque and abhorrent. Unfortunately, in the context of failed states and civil wars most sane voices are often the most drowned out.”
None of ISIS’ rationalizations hold up, Seton Hall University law school Professor Bernard Freamon wrote on CNN.com last month.
“This argument is plainly wrong, hypocritical and astonishingly ahistorical, relying on male fantasies inspired by stories from the days of imperial Islam,” said Freamon. “It is also an affront to right-thinking Muslims everywhere and a criminal perversion of Islamic law, particularly its primary source, the glorious Quran.”
There, see? Slavery, child rape, sex trafficking, and beatings are both in and not in the Koran—not to mention “inspired by stories from the days of imperial Islam”.
A preacher at the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem – Judaism’s holiest site – engaged in blatant incitement against Jews and Israel in an impromptu speech two weeks ago, in remarks translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute.
“Let me start by saying that talking about the traits of the Jews requires one to get into a special mode, because when talking about the Jews, we are talking about a people to whom every single vile trait has been attributed,” the preacher, named as Sheikh Omar Abu Sara, begins. “They were the masters of these vile traits and they taught their secrets to others.”
“These traits were registered in the Quran, which depicted all aspects of the lives of the Jews in the most abominable images,” he continued. “These traits are the same today as they were in the days of yore.”
The preacher then continues to slam Jews, calling them the “most evil of Allah’s creations,” claiming that they “kill prophets,” and saying “it was Jews whom Allah turned into apes and pigs.”
Tens of Arabs can be seen sitting or standing, watching the preacher.
“I say to the Jews: the time for your slaughter has come,” he added. “The time to fight you has come, the time to kill you has come.”
I’m sure Obama is unaware of this sort of talk (at Islam’s third holiest site—and Israel’s most). He never heard Jeremiah Wright’s rants either.
Women’s rights groups responded angrily Tuesday to comments by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that women and men are not equal “because their nature is different.”
Eight groups signed a statement condemning his remarks as violating the national constitution and international agreements, saying he aimed to “denigrate decades of effort by women’s movements for gender equality.”
“Equality is turning the victim into an oppressor by force or vice versa. What women need is to be able to be equivalent, rather than equal, so it is justice. That is what we need,” he said.
“You cannot bring women and men into equal positions; that is against nature because their nature is different.”
Erdogan also told the event, organized by the Women and Democracy Association, that a woman cannot do every job that a man can do because “it is against her delicate nature.”
According to Turkey’s semiofficial Anadolu news agency, Erdogan also insisted his government has always been behind women in their struggle for equal rights….
I’ll bet you have, you randy old goat!
What?! So I made a little joke. There’s only so evolved I can get. You feminists need a sense of humor.
Stay with me for the further adventures of BTL trying to get hep to the modern age. This’ll hurt me more than it will you.