The question of the critique of Islam has become so confused it is almost better to avoid the question: it is not really possible to achieve a resolution in terms of the kind of discourse provided by Bill Maher and Sam Harris. Harris thinks the ‘secular’ attacks of Israelis on Gaza are not religious and to be condoned. How could such a person figure the history of jihad?
Let’s consider the important defense of issues given by someone like Reza Aslan: it is very difficult to correctly study the history of Islam, and even more difficult is the task of deciding what perspective or which set of axioms is to be used in judgment. The so-called ‘secular’ standard seems right, until we see how that perspective is often distorted. The secular viewpoint has been spoiled by a culture of scientism, darwinism, and the new atheism. The New Atheists are quite free to express their views as free speech, but at the same time the New Atheist perspective is so poorly constructed and defended that it completely poisons the well of discourse and inflames all parties. It is hard to think of people more prone to rubbing salt into the wound of social division and conflict. And the atheist perspective is not so useful at the start. The judgment of Islam can be given better first with theistic assumptions. An atheist evaluation might follow but the New Atheist approach is so mediocre as to invite confusion. Sam Harris is a jewish chauvinist who can’t handle the atrocities of Gaza without deception. How we trust his views of Islam?
If we look at the purely historical aspect of the question, the confusion is rampant, on both sides. The charge of Islamophobia is often correct, up to a point, but the actual history produced by some ‘Islamophobes’ is important to the debate:
consider a work like Fergosi’s //Jihad in the West: Muslim Conquests from the 7th to the 21st Centuries// which recounts the legacy of Jihad in the span of the Islam, a work with the basics of investigative research that can be a tie-breaker, until we see the somewhat invidious tone of the work. But there can be no doubt that the history of Islamic jihad is not properly told. I think we need a scholarship that can properly critique/confirm something like Fergosi’s radical debunking of standard histories with a careful double factcheck and a larger perspective. But Fergosi’s tone can make us suspicious: we need a factcheck of the factcheck. And it is hard to research this kind of history. The distinction of secular/religious often misleads us. It arose in the early modern to distinguish religion as theocratic catholicism from the ‘secular’ world of belief, which included a new form of secular religion, e.g. Protestantism. The term ‘religion’ shifted its meaning as a form in civil society became one association among many. From that arose the critique of religion as something in itself. Not surprising that that happened. But in the larger history of civilization religion has not been so divided against general culture in the minds of ancient publics. In the context the critique of ‘violence’ in religion and the violence in some other category would have seemed inconsistent.
Compare the legacy of Islamic jihad with the violence of the second world war. And the violence of the Western versus the Russian armies. We condone the secular waging of war here, but in general deny this standard to religion, when in antiquity the distinction didn’t really exist. So the standard of judgment is not clear: the ‘values’ of war in the second world war and those in early Islamic jihad are 1. the same, or 2. different? In this context judgment is not so simple and more generally the standard of judgment changes over the course of world history.
We must decide: should we condemn monotheism for being violent, but condone violence in post-monotheistic societies? The standards simply collapse here and we must start over with an analysis less idiotic than that proposed by the New Atheists.
A further issue is the collation of jihad in the early centuries of Islamic expansion and the modern versions that arose in the twentieth century often instigated by covert agencies, imperial calculations and other outrageous depradations by the West of ‘Islamic’ societies all too often ready in the nineteenth century to secularize. Between blowback and actual covert instigation of antimodern fundamentalism by corrupt western imperialism (staggering to think about) the point is obvious that jihad comes in many varieties: here Fergosi seems to go astray. But we should face the fact people fight wars to establish the victory of views dominant in their age period. IN modern times, democracy or communism, say, and in antiquity the complete victory over pagan idolatry. We should scratch our heads here at the slow gestation of ‘New Atheist’ ‘jihad’ and wonder if it will try finalize to douse its frustration at the resistance of believers by a new ‘jihad of atheism’ as a global war to establish postmonotheism.