Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Juan Cole's "Glowing" Book Review

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University of Michigan comedian Juan Cole runs a blog with the curious title, "Informed Comment", in which he opines on various topics from a far left point of view. Polymath he may be, but recently, he came out with an opus of a book entitled, "Mohammad: Prophet of Peace amid a a clash of empires". I haven't read it, but just the title suggests to me it is trash. One person who has read it and disagrees is  Benjamin Tua, a former State Department official, who wrote a review of Cole's book. That has led Captain Cole to post something on IC (Informed Comment) describing the review as "glowing". By the way, this is not the first time Cole has heralded a positive review of his book. Back in June, he was bragging that some guy named David A Johnson, who attends something called the Seattle Atheist Church on Sundays (!) had written a "glowing' review. That one is even more bizarre than Tua's.

Here is Cole's proud posting on Tua's review.

And here is Mr Tua writing in American Diplomacy.

I don't know anything about Mr Tua, and he may have been a fine diplomat for all I know. Having worked a lot with the State Department during my own government career, I was not a fan of theirs  but no matter. Again, without having read Cole's "opus" on Mohammad, I would like to make a few comments about Tua's review.

First, I bring attention to the parts that Cole himself highlights:

"Tua writes, that it

    'is perfect for the reader who knows little about Mohammad’s life and origins as a member of a tribe that settled feuds in Mecca, about Islam and its pragmatic, peace-oriented tenets, or about the historical and geo-political context of Islam’s emergence.”
Tua observes,
    'For a book that, as the author tells the reader, “has been gestating for decades,” it is remarkably short — 208 pages of text. But it includes . . . 61 excerpts from some 28 of the 114 surahs (chapters) of the Qur’an (The Recitation). The excerpts buttress Cole’s argument that the Qur’an and early Islam were strongly imbued with values of compromise and peacemaking.'
Settled feuds? I would argue that Mohammad and his tribe started a few especially in the Medina period. It is true that Mohammad began his prophecy peacefully in Mecca. After he was driven out of Mecca and moved to present-day Medina and consolidated power, he evolved into a warlord. As for those peaceful suras Tua referred to in the Koran and cited in Cole's book, the benign verses tended to coincide with Mohammad's early prophecy in Mecca and became more hateful and violent after he moved to Medina and spread Islam at the point of a sword.

 "Efforts to portray Muslims and their faith as threatening diminish our society by stigmatizing a significant American minority."

If we as a society portray all Muslims as threatening, then Tua has a point. Responsible critics of Islam refrain from doing that because they know that not all Muslims are threatening. But Islam is threatening, especially when practiced in its purest, most fundamental form. Likewise, Sharia law is threatening because it does not afford equal protection to all segments of society (women, gays, non-Muslims, apostates etc.) and carries a death penalty for certain "crimes" that are not even crimes in our country (apostasy, blasphemy, adultery, homosexuality.) Yes, Islam is threatening.

"Mohammad was not just a merchant and prophet but also a pragmatic political leader brokering compromises, adhering to truces and treaties, and employing tactics of conciliation in a turbulent world where peace was in short supply.  In sum, he was a man of the world and very much in the world."

Mr Tua left one thing out. As I mentioned, after moving to Medina, Mohammad became a warrior. He led an army. He fought battles. Thousands of people died, some in battle, some not.

"Pagan and Christian concepts of “just war”, including the Zone of Peace (the shared sacred city of Mecca and the Kaaba) and the Season of Peace, became part of Islamic, Qur’an-based doctrine, such as non-aggressive war, proportionate response to wrongs, and the treatment of prisoners.  The Qur’an, Cole explains, largely concurs with Augustine and Ambrose on the subject of just war, “seeing battle as a legitimate response to aggression.”   The Qur’an also contains prohibitions against plunder in war and indiscipline."

Hmm. If there was a "Season of Peace", what were the other seasons? I think we know the answer to that. Now that Tua has seemingly moved beyond the Mecca period, If Islam only engages in non-aggressive wars, how did it expand from the Arabian peninsula to places like the Holy Land, other parts of the Middle East, Spain, the gates of Vienna, parts of France, Pakistan, Turkey, Afghanistan etc. Plunder? Indiscipline? What about taking wives and children of defeated soldiers as slaves and concubines ("those which your right hand possesses")? Why does the Koran even talk about booty, specifically in Sura 8 (Medina)  "Booty-The Spoils of War"? Why were captured soldiers (prisoners) beheaded?

"In fact, in contrast to the Christian approach in Mohammad’s time, which had demoted Judaism from a religion to a superstition and Jews to second class status, “Mohammad argued that Christians and Jews recognize their common biblical roots and respect the sanctity of churches and synagogues, safeguarding them and entering them in reverence.”

It is true that the early Koran incorporated aspects of the already existing Old and New Testaments. It is true that Islam recognizes Abraham, Moses and Jesus as prophets. It is true that Christians and Jews are regarded as "children of the Book". The problem is that their followers are damned under Islam and condemned to death. That was true during the Medina period of Mohammad and it is true today. I gather that Tua believes that some misguided Muslims are going against the teachings of Mohammad. I would argue otherwise. Are churches and synagogues being treated with reverence today by Muslims? I would argue the opposite is the case, though certainly not all Muslims engage in burning, destroying or vandalizing them. However, the cases are too many, too often.

If Tua wants to argue that not all Muslims should be branded as terrorists, I am with him. If he wants to draw a line between the Mohammad of Mecca and the Mohammad of Medina, he is on safe ground. If he wants to ignore history and argue that Mohammad was never a warrior and that Islam has lived a peaceful and tolerant history since the 7th century, then he is flat out wrong. As for Cole, I repeat that I have not read his book nor have I seen it. I have no idea where I might find it, actually. If it ends with Mohammad being driven out of Mecca, that would be a good place to end.

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