What Should I Read To Understand Islam?
To fight a war effectively, one must understand the enemy and when that enemy is motivated by an ideology this means understanding the role of those ideas in the enemy’s behavior. Yesterday that ideology was Communism; today it is Islam. To start learning about Islam I recommend the books and articles of Ibn Warraq. His path-breaking Why I Am Not A Muslim published 10 years ago is still the single best source on the subject.
Warraq, now secular, was raised as a Muslim. However, it is his scholarly study and dedication to the truth that makes Warraq’s work valuable. Warraq doesn’t hold back to avoid offending – the truth requires us to face facts regardless of how uncomfortable it is for us or others. But he also maintains perspective and a sense of proportionality; nothing he says if unfair.
To get a sense of his writing read his short essay called Islam and Intellectual Terrorism. When it comes to Islam, intellectuals fail to weigh and judge the facts according to the evidence. He notes:
But the first duty of the intellectual is to tell the truth. Truth is not much in fashion in this postmodern age when continental charlatans have infected Anglo-American intellectuals with the thought that objective knowledge is not only undesirable but unobtainable. I believe that to abandon the idea of truth not only leads to political fascism, but stops dead all intellectual inquiry. To give up the notion of truth means forsaking the goal of acquiring knowledge. But man, as Aristotle put it, by nature strives to know. Truth, science, intellectual inquiry and rationality are inextricably bound together. Relativism, and its illegitimate offspring, multiculturalism, are not conducive to the critical examination of Islam.
The damage of Edward Said’s polemic, Orientalism, has had a profound effect on academic objectivity. Notes Warraq:
Said wrote a polemical book, Orientalism (1978), whose pernicious influence is still felt in all departments of Islamic studies, where any critical discussion of Islam is ruled out a priori . … Said’s thesis was swallowed whole by Western intellectuals, since it accords well with the deep anti-Westernism of many of them. … The unfortunate result is that academics can no longer do their work honestly. …
Western scholars need to defend unflinchingly our right to examine Islam, to explain its rise and fall by the normal mechanisms of human history, according to the objective standards of historical methodology. Democracy depends on freedom of thought and free discussion. … How do they think reformation will come about if not with criticism?
Indeed. How can we talk about the need for Muslims to modernize or become moderate without being critical of any of their current practices or the religion that motivates these practices? What sense does it make to say something is wrong but refuse to discuss the details out of desire not to offend? Could we not give them a hint where they are going wrong?
Of course, our first order of business is to understand the threat to our civilization and acting appropriately. Since knowledge will lead to action – most of which are unacceptable to our 5th column in academia – the truth has political implications. And if political decisions run contrary to the post-modern leftist’s secular religion, truth must be abandoned. I’ve talked about this before in my review of Stephen Hicks’ excellent expose, Explaining Postmodernism.
Warraq understandably desires the secularization of Muslim countries. That would be the best outcome for all. However, our responsibility is our own defense. And we have to face the facts as they currently are. At present we face a savage enemy driven by a religion founded by a warrior who plundered, slaughtered, conquered and oppressed.