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Armstrong’s bio: Muhammed and Marx

December 25th, 2006 · No Comments

Introducing the one and only Mohammed

Armstrong’s biography of Muhammed wins plaudits no doubt in some circles, but the result to me is a failure, and Armstrong’s tactics too close to PR to be trustworthy scholarship. You know when you read certainly books that you won’t get it straight without doing your own research. Noone seems able to ‘tell it like it is’.

I welcome the initiative to correct the distortions, so-called, of Muhammed that have engulfed his image in the minds, especially, of Christians. But in the final analysis getting Muhammed straight is not appropriately accomplished with hagiography. Muhammed inspires devotion in many, but so does, or did, Karl Marx. And Marx and Muhammed both have suffered the terrible legacy of producing violent successions to their work. As with Marx the repeated question arises, does this spring from the source? I don’t know. Marx I respect, but after all his own father warned him of demonic tendencies.

I find the figure of Muhammed especially compelling, the history of Islam as much so, and take on cue any reminder to consider the complexities of his life and the religion he founded. But where is this history to be found in the rival propagandas?.
The grim facts are beginning to show a truly horrendous brigandage that went on and on and on, inflicting immense suffering on the victims of this imperialism.
So let’s face the other set of facts. Muhammed set in motion, intentionally or not, a legacy of violent hoodlums who produced a record of savagery, plunder and death stretching over more than a millennium. Armstrong’s whitewash won’t succeed here, the literature (and you can start with the works of Ibn Warraq) on the question have taken a disquieting turn of late. There’s no going back to the fantasy Muhammed. But this secular humanist scholarship, undoubtedly, is missing a dimension to one is supposed to also be the ‘first sufi’ (ha, ha, funny joke).
Like Marxist cadres taking over a bourgeois economy, the executors of record were a death squad bunch, armed with an ideological justification that in the final analysis, beggars the Koran, as the Stalinists beggared the ‘holy texts of the Second Internationale’.

So Islam was a failure just as Communism was a failure (Communism breaks all records here, of course, in the monumental toll of murder, cf. The Black Book of Communism.
So where is the Black Book of Islam? )
We can’t just say that this was a mistake and that the founder didn’t intend it, and was left wringing his hands after a life time of being a ‘super nice guy’. The captain goes down with the ship. Over and out.

Finally, I should note, the Marxists saw the light, after four decades, and slipped/hobbled away from their Mistake, leaving a lot of idealists in a state of shock, and the good intentions of many such sullied by compromise with Stalinism.
That sudden pulling of the plug didn’t happen in the Islamic case, where the mesmerizing fixation of religious propaganda made the whole thing nightmarishly enduring.

So, I would say to Armstrong, don’t do a Stalin on this material. We don’t need to compromise our principles to whitewash Islamic propaganda.

It’s over when its over, which is not to say that Islam has reached a ‘treaty of Westphalia’.

Ignorance is rife among non-Muslims about the life and achievements of the prophet Mohammed; now Karen Armstrong puts the record straight

Armstrong, best known for A History of God, is a scholar and a former nun with a genius for presenting religions as products of temporal forces ¡X like geography, culture and economics ¡X without minimizing the workings of transcendent spiritual forces.

She profiles Mohammed as both a mystic touched by God on a mountaintop and a canny political and social reformer. He preached loyalty to God rather than tribe; reconciliation rather than retaliation; care for orphans and the poor; and in many ways, empowerment of women, which will be a surprise to some. The Koran gave women property rights and freed orphans from the obligation to marry their guardians: radical changes at a time when women were traded like camels.

Armstrong writes: “His life was a tireless campaign against greed, injustice and arrogance. He realized that Arabia was at a turning point and that the old way of thinking would no longer suffice, so he wore himself out in the creative effort to evolve an entirely new solution.” In a nod to her subtitle, A Prophet for Our Time, she argues that as of Sept. 11, 2001, we have entered a new historical era that requires an equally thorough re-evaluation.

This notion that we have entered a new era was one of the reasons that Armstrong decided to revisit a subject she had already covered in 1992 with Mohammed: A Biography of the Prophet.

Tags: Evolution

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