Two Caliphate Myths

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

dulac-rubaiyat03It’s time to confront a Muslim myth that has widespread currency even among Westerners who are not favourably disposed towards the Muslim religion. And for good measure for the benefit of those readers who seem to think the historical Caliphate was the ideological precursor of Islamic State, I will toss in a second measure of historical fact. The subtext here is that certain facts pull the rug from beneath certain myths embraced by certain Westerners who have certain negative attitudes towards Muslims. Don’t get me wrong. I have no love for the Muslim faith any more than I do for any other religion. And yes, there is no doubt that Islam has a long way to go to catch up in all respects with contemporary Western values grounded as they are in humanism, secularism, rationalism, what have you. (I’m speaking idealistically of Western values, of course. I also roll my eyes sometimes at the hypocrisy of some anti-Muslim Westerners given that Westerners themselves have only oh so very recently come to some of their own more enlightened perspectives.)

Fact one: there is no evidence to support the story that the seventh century Arab conquests were inspired by Muhammad and with the goal of spreading the Muslim religion. None. Zilch. Forget that porky you have carried around for years now that says the Muslim religion was born and weaned in bloody jihad. There is no evidence to support this claim.

Abbasids850Some Zionist Jews cling to the myth that God ordered their ancestors to kill off or expel all native inhabitants of Palestine and that the Bible records this command and first (incomplete) effort to carry it out. This myth validates their contemporary efforts to push out and replace the Palestinians from their West Bank holdings. Historians know the original story is a myth, so where did it come from? I personally side with the scholarship that places the emergence of this myth to the Second Temple era in order for the new settlers (settled at the behest of the Persians) to justify their displacement of the locals. But that’s another story for another time. My point is that the story of Arabs mounting their horses and riding out with swords raised to conquer the bulk of the Middle East and North Africa all in the name of Allah and Muhammad his prophet with the intention of converting every male to praying five times a day and every woman to wearing the burqa is without any foundation. It’s a myth. The story is a religious myth, a little like the story of Joshua conquering Jericho and the promised land. I say “a little like” because there is some truth there. Only one has to pull apart the story to find it. I have posted about this before, so permit me to quote myself at this moment:

So were the Arab conquests inspired by Muhammad and their zeal to spread the Muslim faith? For that we have no evidence. I don’t mean there is no evidence for the seventh century Arab conquests. They are not doubted. But what is open to question is whether these Arabs were adherents to Islam at that time. Or did the Muslim religion appear subsequent to those conquests? When the Romans or Persians conquered territories they left indisputable evidence of who they were and what they believed. When the Arabs conquered both Christian and Jewish peoples they left no evidence that at that time they belonged to any particular religion. Apparently some Christians feared they were in league with the Jews because they allowed Jews to return to some of their places of prayer. Particularly curious is that there is no mention of Muhammad in any of their coins or other records pertaining to this period. Another curious datum from the documentary (not in the interview) is that the earliest known mosque in the Palestine region is not facing Mecca, but east, for prayer. The first coin with the name Muhammad on it does not appear until around fifty years after the conquests of Palestine.

Check the original and related posts for the details. Or if you’d rather simply disbelieve any of this and prefer to repeat stories of the bloody and barbaric intrinsic nature of the very essence of the Islamic religion itself then please go away and do something more useful with your time than fuming in anger over what you are reading here. Okay, now what about this business of “the ideology of the Caliphate” as if the Caliphate is some apocalyptic foreshadowing of Islamic State with all its beheadings and other obscenities and horrors towards women, men, young, old, everyone….?

William McCants
William McCants
Fact two: I am compelled at this point to quote someone who is highly respected author and scholar, William McCants. I have read two of his books, Founding Gods and The ISIS Apocalypse, and several of his published articles and have cited him several times before on Vridar so can assure you he won’t bite, so it’s safe to read his stuff. Here is an extract from a post in which he reminded his more well informed readers about the “historical caliphate” (excuse my own bolding):

But take a look at the Islamic State’s propaganda, and you will see that from its founding the group has sought to restore the glory days of the Abbasid caliphate based in Baghdad, especially the era of Harun alRashid of 1,001 Nights fame. “Know that the Baghdad of alRashid is the home of the caliphate that our ancestors built,” proclaimed an Islamic State spokesman in 2007. “It will not appear by our hands but by our carcasses and skulls. We will once again plant the flag of monotheism, the flag of the Islamic State, in it.” That same year, the Islamic State’s first ruler, the aptly-named Abu Umar al-Baghdadi announced IS’s claim to the city: “Today, we are in the very home of the caliphate, the Baghdad of alRashid.” Even after the Islamic State established its primary base of operations in Syria’s Raqqa province, once home to Harun alRashid for several years, and captured Mosul in Iraq, its spokesman still referred to “the Baghdad of the Caliphate” and “the Baghdad of alRashid.” poemswinerevelryThe Islamic State’s plan to revive the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad has two problems. The first is ideological: Harun alRashid was not terribly pious — he enjoyed poetry about wine and young boys — and his court valued unfettered intellectual debate and pagan Greek learning, which are anathema to ultraconservative Salafis like those running the Islamic State. But it is alRashid’s power the jihadists remember, not his impieties. The second problem is demographic, which cannot be resolved by selective memory: most of Baghdad’s inhabitants are Shi’a. They will not give it up without a fight. Neither will Baghdad’s patrons in Iran.

Tales of the Arabian Nights, poetry, wine, young boys, Baghdad itself . . . . not quite the template of today’s Islamic State! Time is long overdue for a few more Westerners to learn the facts and kick aside their former ignorance and blind-hostility to the mere echo of the word “Muslim”, or “Islam”. And of course Qutb could have learned a bit more had he lived to read the critical historical works available today. But what good would reading have done if his mind had been as closed as the minds of many Islamophobic (perish the term!?) Westerners today! Arabian-Nights-Edmund-Dulac-Illustrated

The following two tabs change content below.

Neil Godfrey

Neil is the author of this post. To read more about Neil, see our About page.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!

54 thoughts on “Two Caliphate Myths”

  1. Thanks, Neil, for another excellent and thought provoking article.

    Funny, Neil, I was thinking about Caliphates last night, while trying to understand the latest developments in the Cosby trial. It has been postponed until next Summer. Sad for Cosby who must continue fighting at age 79 and blind against the forces of blind racism that he conquered in 1965, 50 years ago. He must also fight against the new force of sexism-misandry, which all heterosexual men and women are suffering under.

    Anyways, I was thinking that we should send an email to the Caliph of Isil that we don’t need a caliphate because America has already become a caliphate under Sharia law. Americans already submitted over the last 15 years to the will of Allah Of course, it is not exactly a traditional Islamic Caliphate, but as strictly controlled as any Caliphate in history.

    Our Caliph is named Gloria Allred. She has influenced the laws controlling sexuality and men as strongly as any Islamic Caliphate has ever done. It is now illegal for a man to look directly at a woman and smile. The woman may sue him for objectifying her and harassing her. If he works for a company, he may sue her company. If somehow a friendship develops between them, Allah forbid, and he dares to touch her hand or kiss her, that is sexual assault and the foolhardy infidel may be put in jail. Should the woman permit him to have sex, he must be totally under her control and extremely careful to please her at every moment. He must ask her permission for any movement. He must ask her permission to touch her breast and after she says “yes,” he must ask her permission to touch her vagina. That is aggravated sexual assault. If she says “yes,” he must get her permission to put his fingers inside her vagina. If he does not, that is “rape,” and he can go to jail for a very long time. After the insertion of the fingers, if he must against ask her permission to insert his organ and if he changes his position, he must ask her permission every time he does so. Woe to him if she falls asleep at any point in the sexual process, no matter how drunk she may be or how many drugs she has taken. He will surely be prosecuted for rape, even if he is married to her.

    Perhaps you have heard that these laws are hard to prosecute and rapists often escape justice. This is not true. There are over 1300 rape clinics near every village and berg in the country. They will help the woman who has been offended and women will talk with her and comfort her for her traumatic stress of being with a man. They will help her through every step of the legal process to report the infidel who has dared touch her without her willing it. She may at this point contact any of her girlfriends who will back up her story of rape with stories of their own. If she does not have any girlfriends willing to tell little white lies about the infidel, the rape clinics have lists of dozens of women ready and willing to help a sister put away an infidel.

    Perhaps you have heard that these laws are less strict than some in historical Califates. By the holy prophet, nothing could be further from the truth. After he has served a few months, or a few years or ten or twenty years in jail, he must register as a sex offender for life. He is denied jobs and restricted in the places he may live. He is made to suffer every day of his life for his importunity. In many areas, he must go door to door and confess his sins to everybody in the neighbor, as soon as he moves into a new neighborhood. While our Caliphate has been in existence for less than 20 years, already 800,000 men and even some woman are tortured in this way ever single day of their worthless remaining lives.

    I assure you this Caliphate of Gloria Allred is the strictest that has ever existed in history and it is spreading. Now men who have offended Allah by their refusal to submit before the Caliphate was established who have escaped because of the dreaded Statute of Limitations will soon be found and punished. Thanks to Caliph Gloria Allred, the Statute of Limitations has been abolished in many states and will soon be abolished in the rest.

    Islam means submission, and there is no place on Earth and no time in history where men have submitted to the Will of women, which is the real Will of Allah, as in America.

    You see, Great Commander of the Faithful, America is already a Caliphate under Sharia Law. There is no need to establish another one here.

  2. ‘My point is that the story of Arabs mounting their horses and riding out with swords raised to conquer the bulk of the Middle East and North Africa all in the name of Allah and Muhammad his prophet with the intention of converting every male to praying five times a day and every woman to wearing the burqa is without any foundation. It’s a myth. ‘

    Who propagated this myth of a Caliphate formed by conquest?

    Did the Ridda Wars never happen?

  3. Well Jay Raskin, how inconvenient for you. Some men rape women. Stop whining about the consequences. Current laws make women safer overall. Even in the 1980s in America, pedophiles could openly advertise in the classified ads their desire to purchase a child, male or female. In the 1980s in America police would cross a state line to chase a stolen vehicle but not cross a state line to chase someone who had abducted a child. Today’s world is different than the one you’d rather live in. Being a woman, I am thankful not to have been born 1000 years ago, or even 100.

  4. In response to a couple of questions (one genuine, the other “gotcha rhetorical”) above, here is Tom Holland’s explanation in more detail (2012, pp. 41-43):

    To be sure, there are very few scholars who would go so far as to claim that the Prophet never existed.55 Someone by the name of Muhammad does certainly appear to have intruded upon the consciousness of his near-contemporaries. One Christian source describes ‘a false prophet’56 leading the Saracens in an invasion of Palestine. This was written in AD 634 — just two years after the traditional date of Muhammad’s death. Another, written six years later, refers to him by name. Over the succeeding decades, a succession of priests and monks would write of an enigmatic figure whom they described variously as the general’, ‘the instructor’ or ‘the king’ of the Arabs. Yet these cryptic allusions — not to mention the fact that they were all made by infidels — merely highlight, once again, the total absence of any early Muslim reference to Muhammad. Only in the 690s did a Caliph finally get around to inscribing the Prophet’s name on a public monument; only decades after that did the first tentative references to him start to appear in private inscriptions;57 and only around 800, of course, did biographies come to be written of Muhammad that Muslims took care to preserve. What might have happened to earlier versions of his life we cannot know for certain; but one possibility is strongly hinted at by none other than Ibn Hisham. Much that previous generations had recorded of the Prophet, he commented sternly, was either bogus, or irrelevant, or sacrilegious.

    Things which it is disgraceful to discuss; matters which would distress certain people; and such reports as I have been told are not to be accepted as trustworthy — all these things have I omitted.58

    As well he might have done. What was at stake, in Ibn Hisham’s devout opinion, was not merely his status as a reputable historian, nor even his good name as a Muslim, but something infinitely more precious to him: the fate of his soul.

    Here, then, at least, is terra firma. What we can know with absolute confidence is that by the early ninth century, the precise details of what Muhammad might have said and done some two hundred years previously had come to provide, for vast numbers of people, a roadmap that they believed led straight to heaven. God had seized personal control of human events. The world had been set upon a novel course. To doubt this conviction was to risk hellfire. Given this perspective, it is scarcely surprising that any ambition to write history or biography as we might understand it should have paled into nothingness compared to the infinitely more pressing obligation to trace in the pattern of the Prophet’s life the wishes and purposes of the Almighty. That is why, in leaving the age of Ihn Hisham behind, and venturing back into the heaving ocean of uncertainty and conjecture that is the early history of Islam, today’s historians can find it such a struggle to identify reliable charts. Adrift amid the shadowy vastness, what prospect of finding landfall? There is always the Qur’an, of course — and yet the holy text itself, once stripped of all its cladding, all the elaborate scaffolding of commentaries built up around it with such labour and devotion from the ninth century onwards, can seem only to add to the voyager’s sense of being lost upon a darkling ocean. ‘It stands isolated,’ one scholar suggests, ‘like an immense rock jutting forth from a desolate sea, a stony eminence with few marks on it to suggest how or why it appeared in this watery desert.’ ״ Or even, most shockingly, when. After all, if the entire colossal edifice of Muslim tradition depends upon isnads for its veracity, and if the isnads cannot be trusted, then how can we know for sure that the Qur’an dates from the time of Muhammad? How can we know who compiled it, from what sources, for what motives? Can we even be sure that its origins lay in Arabia? In short, do we really know anything at all about the birth of Islam?

  5. Quite right. But does it really make a difference? Islam was in the inspiration for desert nomads to subjugate the region – or Islam was a post hoc excuse that the nomads made up to justify subjugating the region. Either way, someone could make an excuse for believing that it is based on violence to the core. The problem is really the belief that a religion has some kind of essential substance that determines what believers will to do.

    1. Some Judaeans “made up” the story of God commanding them to perpetrate genocide upon the original inhabitants of the land. Most Jews and Christians seem to have believed there was some essential substance to this story, at least that the “Judaeans” had the right to cleanse the land of Canaanites. Some still believe it today and use it as an excuse to dispossess the Palestinians. Most who believe the story don’t use it as such an excuse, at least that’s how it seems to me.

      Some Christians “made up” the story of the original church being founded as a communist-like enterprise, with all things shared in common among the membership. Most who have believed that don’t seem to have let it decide how they should act today. Though some do.

      We so often seem to jump the tracks of logical thought and evident facts when it comes to Muslims.

  6. Fact one.

    It is not true there is no evidence to support the story that the seventh century Arab conquests were inspired by Muhammad. There is spectacularly weak and dubious evidence – namely in the Quran, Hadith and Sira. Yes, it’s possible these are all a later fabrication – but it is still evidence – albeit weak evidence that’s consistent with many different accounts of the Arab conquests.

    Hannibal usually gets brought up in these discussion, and I see you’ve discussed him before. We’re actually in that situation with traditional Muslim sources: “though we do not have contemporary records of a number of famous persons we do have records that are derived from contemporary sources about them.” The Quran, Hadith and Sira all purport to derive from lost frangments.


    You’re also playing a very clever game with your use of the word myth. It is a myth in the sense that it’s a traditional story like Hercules. We can’t be sure it’s a myth in the sense of an widely believed but untrue story. There’s not the evidence to disprove it.

    “Or if you’d rather simply disbelieve any of this and prefer to repeat stories of the bloody and barbaric intrinsic nature of the very essence of the Islamic religion itself then please go away and do something more useful with your time than fuming in anger over what you are reading here.”

    In terms of history I don’t think it matters much. If I agreed I’d have to revise my accusation of “an attempt to whitewash 13 centuries of Islamic theocracy” with only 11 centuries of theocracy. Whether there was a bloody and barbaric conquest which gave rise to a theocracy, or whether stories were invented of a bloody and barbaric conquest to create and legitimatise a theocracy – neither one reflects well on the nature of Islam.

    1. What I have tried to argue with people like James McGrath and Larry Hurtado is that there is a difference between “evidence” on the one hand and “assertion” or “testimony” on the other. Recall the “silly detective analogy“. A story told is not evidence for the historicity of the story. Stories told are very often evidence for the values and beliefs etc of those who produced the story. What is lacking in the case of the Jesus story is independent corroboration or evidence to support the “testimony”.

      I would be interested if you could quote the comparable evidence from Muslim texts that equates, as you assert, with the evidence we have for the existence for earlier sources of Hannibal.

      In your last paragraph you seem to be equating historical “Islamic theocracy” with Islamism. Can you justify and explain the relevance of that comparison?

      If I understand your last paragraph further, it would appear to imply that any Jews and Christians today are a bloody and barbaric lot because someone way back made up their foundation stories of slaughtering Egyptians and Canaanites. I think most people would reject any suggestion that such foundation stories carry the meaning this implies for today’s believers — despite minorities who really do take them seriously and as guides to practice today.

      But we don’t apply the same sort of reasoning and judgements when we are talking about Muslims, it seems.

      1. They weren’t theocracies, of course. I hope James would do a little checking before repeating popular myths. They were monarchies.

        I think Mount Athos and the Vatican are theocracies, and New England’s first settlements were theocracies. Modern Israel, Iran, Turkey, appear to some observers to have been moving in the direction of theocracy.

        It’s disheartening to see hostile anti-Muslims uncritically swallowing the myths and propaganda that Qutb, Islamic State etc want them to believe.

      2. “In what sense has the caliphate been a theocracy? Wasn’t the Caliph primarily a military and political leader, whether Arab or turk?”

        Mohammed (allegedly) founded a state with his (divinely commanded) conquest of Arabia and ruled by divine law (sharia). Thus he was a military and political leader to whom – as Allah’s appostle – Muslims owed obegience as a religious duty. Literally receiving instructions from god and acting as his instrument on earth.

        The Caliphates are successors to mohammed – that’s what the word Caliph means. So they claimed to be – as successor to mohammad – religious leaders of the entire Muslim community to whom Muslims owed a duty, and military and political leaders of the successor to the state founded by mohammed – ruling by and according to sharia.

        This is different from the Sauds: who are just Kings, and who argue that their rule is legitimate and should be respected as they are observant and allow Muslims to live under Sharia – but who claim no divine mandate. Or the Pontifs, who were religious leaders before the donation of Pepin made them incidentally political rulers.

        There not an either/or between theocracies and monarchies – you can be a theocrat and a monarch as many Caliphs were. The point is they’re a successor to mohammed, rule by the law of god, and rule the state first founded by mohammed.

        1. Ruled by the law of god, drinking wine, enjoying boys, restoring Jews to their places of worship, creating myths of origins…..

          (You don’t mean “theocracy” do you. You seem to mean something more akin to the way Europe was ruled by monarchs with special privileges given to clerics in certain respects.)

          Do you ever read more than a few scattered lines of these posts?

  7. Here is what Jerusalem looked like under the Ottoman Caliphate:

    (Recall that in the post I pointed out that some Christians conquered by the Arabs feared their conquerors were backing the Jews!)

  8. “is that the earliest known mosque in the Palestine region is not facing Mecca, but east, for prayer.”

    yusub b gursey wrote:

    Let me put on my scientist hat and talk about orientations of mosques in Early Islam. Some “revisionist” historians have made much of early qiblas not being oriented towards Mecca. What do you need to find the qibla? The latitude & longitude of your location compared to that of Mecca, a knowledge of spherical trigonometry, an accurate value for the radius of the Earth and an algorithm for sines and cosines. Latitude is easily determined by the altitude of the Sun at acertain day or that of circumpolar stars above the horizon. Polaris wasn’t so conveniently placed during this era but this era but this can be overcome. Longitude is more difficult. The most error prone way is to estimate it by distances from constant latitude (you need to know the radius of the Earth). The best alternative to compare Mecca time with local time. Portable chronometers did not become avilable until the 19th cent. The only way was to compare astronomical tables like the time of the conjunction of the Moon with certain stars relative to local noon to a similar table for Mecca. Biruni revised the radius of the Earth by measuring the change in the horizon from a mountain of known height Biruni also developed the neccessary mathematical tools. By that time Muslims had good clocks and good astronomical tables. All these were not available in the 7th cent. So I would not put any significance to early qibla orientations. Much of this can be found in Enc. of Islam II Kibla.

    1. Very odd indeed. So does Yusub B. Gursey suggest that people in the Jerusalem region in the seventh century thought it was the east road that took them to Mecca and not the south one?

      Or does Yusub B. Gursey suggest that all the above marvelous scientific knowledge suddenly rushed into their consciousness in the late seventh century when Abd al-Malik had all the mosque prayer directions reoriented to face south?

      1. muslim apologists who have responded and looked at the scholarship on this say that the orientation is not pointing towards jerusalem.

        they also argue that the developments took place in later centuries not in the earlier ones.

        my questions

        is it possible that an orientation can be way off if calculation was done by position of the sun in the sky?

        is it possible that even if the road to mecca was known that does not mean that the position of qibla in mecca from other countries would have been accurately known?

        1. I am not an expert on the finer points here but I do read what the various historians say supported by archaeological evidence. My understanding is that it was not at all difficult for interested parties to know the general directions to take to reach other distant places in ancient times.

          When an Egyptian Pharaoh wanted to subdue colonies of the Philistines or related peoples he knew he had to go north and not south. When Babylonian and Persian kings wanted to capture Damascus they knew they had to go west not not north or east or south. When Romans wanted to capture Carthage they knew to go south, etc.

          I find it difficult in the extreme to think that Muslims in Jerusalem in the seventh century did not know that Mecca was south. I think all of Yusub b Gursey’s carrying on about how complicated it is to know where Mecca was in relation to Jerusalem is bollocks. Mecca was south. No-one thought they had to get the exact finest narrowest degree and second to pinpoint the exact point within an accuracy of 2 centimeters or whatever.

          The mosques were refurbished to have their prayer facings pointing south from around 695 AD.

            1. Prayer was directed towards Mecca, not Jerusalem, from around 695 onwards. Yes. From that time on he qibla (direction of prayer) was towards Mecca, and pre-existing mosques (in the caliphate, not just Israel) were renovated so that prayer was directed towards Mecca. At least that’s what I read in the secondary literature by historians and I am assuming that the sources mentioned in their supporting end-notes are also accurate.

    2. There is merit to your description, but I think it is easier than that in regards to ancient religions and how or why they did things back when. All we have to remember is that Allah was a moon god before he became a supreme god. In ancient religions the Arabs were observing the moons as were the Jews. This observation and counting of the moons in regards to days of the week goes back to divination practices. On Saturday when one is divining for answers to questions or doing healing, South is the proper direction to face in the morning. So today Muslims face South. Even though divining methods were lost thousands of years ago, still with the celebrations of sacred days will we find a ritual attached to a specific hour where either North, South or East or West must be faced on a particular day of the week, or even a specific hour, with the assumption that if the direction faced is incorrect the prayer will not work. The correct direction has to do with knowing what is in front of your face as they used to say it. Today we call the electromagnetic fields of our planet.

        1. Right now you don’t get the connection between the moon and Allah. I was not aware of Robert Morey but if he said that Allah was a moon god and there was backlash, people who deny it don’t know pre-Christian Arabic divination origins. Nomadic Nabataean tribes lived in Arabia and Damascus in Paul’s (Saul’s) lifetime. They were still diviners. They certainly weren’t Christians. It is mentioned in the New Testament that Paul traveled from Jerusalem to live in both places. This doesn’t mean we know who that Paul was. Proto Paul? I think so. He could have been a predecessor to Paul (Saul) and New Testament writers combined the two.

          To make a long story short, diviners did healing during the full moons because that’s the only time healing was successful. I don’t mean they did healing during the night in the moonlight. The moons are full for five days of a month whether night or day. Therefore, the moon that causes healing and Allah by any other name are connected going all the way back to diviners from Arabia to Jerusalem. And then you have John the Baptist in the Arabian translation teaching by the moon. There’s a connect there too.

  9. I don’t know where else to make these comments. I can’t even get on my long-neglected Facebook page because a while ago I couldn’t remember my password, and efforts to get reconnected put me through hoops that have gotten me locked out. (I just wanted to thank Jay Raskin and others for their kind comments on my birthday!) But here we are arguing over what drove 7th century Arabs to conquest, or how far pendulums have swung these days regarding rape standards, but we stand by and scarcely register our discontent at the most unspeakable evil going on in Syria today. Assad may not be primarily motivated by religious impulses (although he is keen on keeping his own sectarian group in power), but these atrocities are going on in the very heart of the Muslim world, and all the apologetics brought to bear will not erase the popular perception (whether justifiably or not is beside the point) that whether it’s in the Middle East or in the terrorism-cursed rest of the world, it is Islam which is seen to lie at the center of our modern iniquities. By the way, I make a reluctant prediction right now: Donald Trump will be the next U.S. President.

    Gazans in general may suffer disproportionately and undeservedly at the hands of Israeli retaliation against Hamas rockets and the world gets out with its pickets and its anti-Israeli furor, but where is the popular reaction to what Assad is doing? I bawled my eyes out for 20 minutes yesterday evening at the news clip of the latest bombing of Aleppo (closely following a blatant chemical attack by the Damascus monster) and the pitiful little girl covered in dirt and blood who cried over her “new pajamas” being in danger of damage when they were removed to treat her wounds and her pain. Surrounded by death and chaos and merciless inhumanity she worried in her touching innocence about probably the one thing that had given her currently miserable life some fleeting joy: her new pajamas! Looking at her, one also knew that there is a good chance that by next week she could lie lifeless in the rubble of Aleppo under Assad’s latest round of indiscriminate raining of death and destruction on his own people. I wanted to turn in my humanity card and renounce my membership in our accursed species, and I have spent a sleepless night not knowing where to turn emotionally.

    The news report let us know that this clip of the Syrian child was making the rounds of social media (presumably including Facebook—I don’t know, I’m still locked out), but will those who see it—and hopefully weep along with me—get out with their placards before every Syrian embassy they can find and register their horror? “ASSAD THE BUTCHER”, “ASSAD THE KILLER OF CHILDREN”, maybe a few placards against Vladimir Putin, possibly the second most evil of the world’s politicians, for his complicit support of a genuine monster whose claims to “democratic legitimacy” are completely laughable. Where are the Muslim protesters across this sorry world who lament the utter black eye which this cesspit of inhumanity in the Middle East, with its ISIS and its headquarters of terrorism, its uprooting of whole populations and its pitiless civil war conducted merely to preserve the house of Assad’s own sectarian control of its shattered nation, is giving to their faith and tradition, not to mention their claims that their religion is one of peace?

    Like I said, perception is everything, and it will hardly do to waste our time arguing over the extent to which Islam itself bears any responsibility here. And Islam is not now nor ever has been the sole motivator of the world’s iniquities. But right now that world covers itself in shame by not addressing this situation with every priority it can muster. Obama’s presidency can only be judged as a failure by his weak-kneed reluctance to intervene at a time when action might have had some preventive effect, or when his own “red lines” were allowed to be crossed by Assad with impunity. They still are, in Washington and in Moscow (not to mention the halls of a gutless UN ignoring its own principles), and we will all, as a fatally flawed species of life on this planet (religion being only one of those flaws), bear the responsibility for chewed up pajamas and the flesh of children.

    1. Hi Earl. Did you see our earlier Vridar post on your birthday? http://vridar.org/2016/08/04/happy-birthday-earl-doherty/

      I am sorry you have not seen the many Muslims who have expressed outrage at Assad’s barbarity. They have been very vocal here shaming public figures and authorities in Australia who were very quick to go to war in Iraq but by comparison appeared to be holding back in Syria. I would be very surprised if Australia is the only nation where they are so vocal. After all, they are the targets and victims of the barbarism! Maybe we might see more of these activities if we broadened the media we expose ourselves to?

    2. I understand your concerns about issues like this, but I don’t think it’s quite fair to fault us for not always registering our feelings over events that concern us most personally on Vridar. I have been very active in areas of social justice and other public issues that I do not discuss here. When I especially feel deeply I find myself putting my money where my heart is but I do not usually raise those actions or concerns here.

      I am sure it is the same with many readers and commenters.

      But occasionally I do try to shed some factual research on issues of public concern (as opposed to venting my personal feelings) and generally find that such information that goes deeper than what is fed to us through mainstream media channels arouses visceral hostility from readers who are offended by such information.

      I do hope that readers will not respond to some of your partially informed comments (apparently limited to mainstream media and news commentary) or if they do so that they facilitate an increase in understanding and knowledge of the issues without the sort of heat that proves to be counter productive.

      1. Who is weeping right now for the children of Yemen? http://bit.ly/2cJzlaU

        I have long hoped to write about the media, how it works, etc. on the basis again of serious cross-disciplinary studies. A pity that like most posts here on the Bible even those non-Bible posts are primarily understood and appreciated only by the “already converted”. I suppose that’s not all bad — it least we can share information as we all engage with others in different ways.

        1. I for one would love to see future posts on the media. While it might appear that most of your posts are only helpful to the “already converted”, be aware that the vast majority of your readers probably do not comment. I have visited this blog regularly, even daily, since 2012 and I believe my first comment here was made last year. Your work likely benefits more people than you realize.

    3. Where are the Muslim protesters

      This weekend there appears to have been another “lone wolf” terrorist attack in Sydney. Today’s ABC news has a headline: Sydney stabbing: Muslim community condemns ‘terrible’ alleged terror attack. In the article contains the following:

      President of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils Keysar Trad said allegations the attacker was inspired by the shooting of police employee Curtis Cheng were heinous.

      “I don’t know what inspired him; there’s a lot of speculation at the moment,” he said.

      “Even if he was inspired by that act of violence, what this person did is terrible — it’s a crime that’s hurt an innocent person.

      “My sympathies go with the victim and we pray for a speedy recovery for the victim.”

      The Grand Mufti of Australia, Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, released a statement saying a formal investigation was underway but he completely rejected the ideologies that promoted these crimes.

      I wonder if it would be worth keeping “clippings” like this and posting them all in one place so people can check to assess the truth or otherwise of assertions that Muslims don’t speak out about terrorism.

      Like I said, perception is everything

      I certainly hope not. Perceptions are important, of course, but if we are to have a civil society it is absolutely essential for some members to appreciate that perceptions are not always the full story. There is no substitute for getting to know someone personally before delivering a final judgment on his or her person. There are endless reasons some people are misjudged and the reasons are often complex. Sometimes part of the blame, even if indirectly, lies with the perceivers or the channels through which they perceive.

      What is wrong with getting to know leaders of Muslims in one’s community and working with them to arrange a public meeting to discuss community perceptions? It may transpire that both sides might benefit. I don’t make the suggestion flippantly. I have done just that.

  10. Well, Neil, I don’t think I’ve missed any news reports about westerners, let alone Muslims, getting out in the streets in some collective outrage and vehemently expressing their condemnation at what is happening in Syria. (I’m not advocating violence, just a degree of metaphorical fire-in-the-belly.) As usual, you caution everyone to avoid the sort of “heat that proves to be counter-productive,” relying instead on some kind of informed understanding, when my point is that it often takes heat to make any real impact. (Look at the reaction to 3-year-old Alan Kurdi’s washed-up body on a Turkish beach.) Maybe something like that is being done on social media like Facebook, though again, I haven’t heard of it, and my mainstream news sources don’t exactly have their heads buried in the 1980s sand.

    Are we not supposed to feel a “visceral hostility,” are we not to vent our personal feelings over what is happening to Syria’s children, or its civilian adults for that matter? To me, that’s nonsense. The ‘informed understanding’ approach is too often exactly what turns out to constitute the counter-productive side of things, since nobody is supposed to get upset or emotional, or make too big a stink or hurl too many insults (some of which are well deserved) and nothing of any significance really happens to change the situation.

    Just what kind of informed understanding is to be brought to the murderous Bashar al-Assad, or to Vladimir Putin, who too regularly has his political opponents and dissenters dispatched and is willing to serve as proxy bomber for Assad? Now, maybe you prefer that Vridar not be the venue for expressing such things, and that is your prerogative, though it was not my first choice to do so here. But as I say, I can’t seem to get around Facebook’s security procedures, and my heart needed expressing last night over my head.

    I know that issues like this tend to divide people, and that is unfortunate though inevitable. But we live in a divided and divisive world. And if you want to meet an atheist who on balance thinks that this world is basically hopeless, and that the universe ought to focus its attention on some other experiment with intelligent life somewhere else, then you don’t have to look too far. But then, we may well be on the way to effecting that ourselves. Between soon-to-be-president Trump and suicidal Islamists eventually getting their hands on nuclear or biological weapons, we may not have to wait too long.

    In the meantime, it would be nice if we could rescue some of Syria’s children. I’d buy them a thousand pair of new pajamas.

    1. Earl, who do you want to support in Syria. If we bomb ISIS, as we are doing, we benefit Assad. If we attack Assad, we help ISIS. Isn’t it time we learned that our meddling only makes things worse? Bush and Blair set off this whole powder keg. We can’t fix the problem with the same means we used to create the problem. Isn’t it time we butt out and let them work out their own issues. I feel sorry for the children of Syria also, but we can’t police the whole world.

      1. Who said anything about bombing? I’m talking about protesting, vehemently, collectively, in the spotlight, the whole world watching. One Muslim woman, as Neil has recounted it, is unlikely to have much if any impact, though it is laudable. A million Muslims protesting would. So would a million westerners. Sometimes protesting can have its own impact. The worst, and least laudable, thing we can do is “butt out”. If a neighbor is beating his child in the back yard, do we butt out, do we fail to protest?Why was the UN formed in the first place? Why did it adopt a formal code of conduct which undertakes to protect the victims on the world scene (I can’t remember what that document was called), whether it was to apply to Rwanda or Syria or Palestine or Yemen. It has consistently failed on all those fronts, as it has in so many others.

        Do I lament or weep over the children of Yemen? Naturally, when you can actually witness atrocities through the media, those are the ones which affect you most vividly, that is only natural. If that little girl and her pajamas were living in Yemen, I’m sure I would have reacted as strongly, and included criticism of the Saudis. I have no magical solution to the butcher Assad, undoubtedly there is no easy way to solve the Syrian situation. But doing nothing is guaranteed to solve nothing. And it sure doesn’t help us to sleep at nights.

        1. Earl, we are bombing in Syria and Iraq. We are killing children. Our proxies the Saudis are bombing in Yemen with our weapons. Hell, everyone over there is killing children with our weapons.

          There is a civil war going on in Islam. You can find plenty of Sunni Muslims to protest against Assad’s butchery, and plenty of Shia Muslims to protest against the Saudi slaughter. To talk about Muslims as if they are a unified group, as so many do, is to display total ignorance of the situation.

          To a large extent we (US/UK and allies) precipitated the civil war with our regime change in Iraq. What moral authority do we have to condemn the neighbor who is beating his kid, when we have beaten his kid over and over? I’m sure you’re aware of our history of grabbing Muslim lands, overthrowing Muslim elected governments, propping up brutal dictators, helping Saddam develop chemical weapons to use on Kurds and Shia, etc.

          It is appropriate to be emotional when we see kids slaughtered. What is not appropriate is to let our emotions blind us to the facts of our own slaughter of kids and see only what the other side is doing.

    2. Earl, I think you are being very unfair if you think I deplore emotional responses to any inhuman acts. I have been out in the streets demonstrating, I have helped organize demonstrations, I have organized public discussion meetings to promote peace, I have been writing for the media on these things, I have spoken out on radio interviews, I have experienced having a very very close family member directly and repeatedly in harm’s way in the Middle East (no details — this is private and not for Vridar), I have given substantially to charities working to alleviate the suffering of victims in Syria and elsewhere.

      So don’t try to lecture me because I don’t want to bring emotional heat into understanding the causes and background to the issues behind this barbarism.

      I also once collapsed on the floor in tears over the news of a horrific tragedy to some people I never knew. In retrospect I had to ask myself why — when other times I could react so differently to other similar horrific tragedies. Sometimes self-introspection is good. I learned a lot about myself then.

    3. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-08-19/protest-against-syrian-regime/4208336 (Sydney Muslims Protest Syrian Regime)

      Last year, September 2015, on a flagship national TV program where prominent figures discuss critical issues, a Muslim woman in the audience at the end drew spontaneous applause from all when she attacked the panel and leaders for their inaction in relation to Assad’s barbarity. The only person to do anything like that was a Muslim woman.

      I regularly hear of Muslims speaking out about Syria here in Australia. That link above I just found now without effort; no doubt either of us could find many more.

      If you want emotion I think it’s outrageous that we should at a time like this cast suspicions on those closest to the victims of Assad.

  11. While we’re talking about how strongly we feel for the victims of Assad, and how strongly we deplore efforts at calm analysis of such situations, I’m reminded of a point made some years ago now about “Worthy and Unworthy Victims”:

    Reports of the abuses of worthy victims not only pass through the filters; they may also become the basis of sustained propaganda campaigns. If the government or corporate community and the media feel that a story is useful as well as dramatic, they focus on it intensively and use it to enlighten the public. This was true, for example, of the shooting down by the Soviets of the Korean airliner KAL 007 in early September I983, which permitted an extended campaign of denigration of an official enemy and greatly advanced Reagan administration arms plans. As Bernard Gwertzman noted complacently in the New York Times of August 3I, I984, U.S. officials “assert that worldwide criticism of the Soviet handling of the crisis has strengthened the United States in its relations with Moscow.” In sharp contrast, the shooting down by Israel of a Libyan civilian airliner in February I973 led to no outcry in the West, no denunciations for “cold-blooded murder,” and no boycott. This difference in treatment was explained by the New York Times precisely on the grounds of utility: “No useful purpose is served by an acrimonious debate over the assignment of blame for the downing of a Libyan airliner in the Sinai peninsula last week.” There was a very “useful purpose” served by focusing on the Soviet act, and a massive propaganda campaign ensued.

    The media attention on the victims of Assad and his ally Russia, along with the inevitably strong public feelings in response (the footage has certainly led me to donate to the Red Cross and MSF (Doctors Without Borders)) is all very fine until one notices that the same atrocities are happening in Yemen, yet without the same Western public/media outrage. Then one recalls the same sufferings in Iraq, in Palestine, in Libya, . . . . and one soon begins to suspect a good reason to think the above extract is just as relevant today as it was when original written about 30 years ago.

    One has to ask, is it because there is no “useful purpose” served by making a public show of the victims of Yemen, of Palestine not so long ago, that we scarcely blink when we read about these? Is it because something taps in to our ideological dispositions that prompts us to mourn publicly over the suffering of victims of Syria-Russia’s regimes, at Israeli innocents who are murderously attacked by terrorists, that causes us to weep and act?

    I’m all for outrage and passion in the face of human suffering. I’m also for sharing the outrage and passion consistently and equitably for all, not just for those whom our media presents as “worthy victims.”

    In fact it’s when I present a case here that does remind us that there are other victims normally deemed “unworthy” that I am met with some of the most hostile responses, — even from those who are deploring my not speaking out about the Syrian victims as if “speaking out on Vridar” counts more than any actions offline.

    “Worthy victims” have their publicity agents, and that’s a good thing. But it appears to me that I am to be condemned for occasionally trying to give voice to others who lack such press, for the apparently “unworthy” victims who are apparently thought unworthy of the same kind of mention and focus.

  12. Do I lament or weep over the children of Yemen? Naturally, when you can actually witness atrocities through the media, those are the ones which affect you most vividly, that is only natural.

    Media and political figures know this very well. Hence the explicit government requirement in Australia that the media be kept from refugees so they could not be “humanized” and sway public opinion against government policy. Hence the routine outrages when Palestinian victims of bombing on occasion make it into the media and people crying Foul! What about the faces of Israeli victims of Palestinian attacks! Never see those, do we. Some victims are indeed worthy and others unworthy. Some victims are unavoidable and necessary; others are the result of criminal acts. Who decides? Yes, the media, politicians and most of us do indeed know the role the media plays in the game of whipping up public support for or against this or that political interest.

    As for the Syrian atrocities I have done something myself in my own personal life and I am sure most of us do what we can, especially with donations to worthy charities directly involved. Ten million protested around the world to try to stop the invasion that triggered everything we are seeing today in the chaos of Iraq, ISIS and Syria and beyond. We failed. Ten million of us.

    I’m all for involvement in renewed demonstrations but that demonstration took a lot of organization and hard work by many people to get under way. Hopefully the time will come for it to happen again. I like to think that one small thing that will help us toward that time is expanding public awareness of how the media and politicians manipulate us for particular power interests.

    And that’s why I think calm discussion and learning and investigation into how these things work etc is a good idea — so we know how best to act and the most effective action in the long term.

    Why was the UN formed in the first place? Why did it adopt a formal code of conduct which undertakes to protect the victims on the world scene (I can’t remember what that document was called), whether it was to apply to Rwanda or Syria or Palestine or Yemen. It has consistently failed on all those fronts, as it has in so many others.

    It’s a good question but I don’t think you seriously want to discuss it. I have the feeling your question is rhetorical.

  13. Muslim recruit called a “terrorist” and hazed commits suicide, now up to 20 Marines face discipline. Isn’t this eerily like the experiences gays used to go through, the way blacks and Jews and Chinese were treated and hounded, and even further back the way people with disabilities were treated, and the heretics, and the “witches”. I am sure many of us feel like weeping for Raheel Siddiqui and his family. One day, far, far off, maybe the way we speak about and treat Muslims today will become a distant, horrible memory as are other memories of ways we have treated “the different”.

    1. Earl, I object to your insulting insinuation that I do not feel for the girl and reduce her to a ploy to further media interests. I have donated some of my savings to charities dedicated to helping Syrian victims because I have been so strongly moved by such images. I do expect more from you.

      Added later: In case Earl does not believe me I did send him offline copies of receipts of my donations to the Red Cross Syria Appeal and to Doctors Without Borders (edited, of course, to remove personal details).

      Added later still: It is our passion for humanity and our feeling for those who suffer that generates our interest in these issues, and having some informed understanding of what lies behind these atrocities prompts us to appreciate the importance of calm discussion in finding appropriate responses.

    2. What we look forward to in Vridar comments is an open discussion of the issues without insinuating that other parties are ghouls or monsters or unfeeling ideologues.

      Earl, would you like me to post here the images of Syrian suffering that moved me to make my own donations? Would that help give the discussion perspective? I could also post images of other victims in past conflicts that have prompted me to donate and at other times to demonstrate in the streets. Should I do so?

    3. I wish that Earl cared about the children who are victims of the war on BOTH sides of the conflict. The suffering of the people in the terrorist occupied areas of Syria has practically been fetishized by the Western media, while the death toll from terrorist attacks in the government controlled areas of Syria are completely ignored. The names of those killed are not mentioned. Their deaths mean nothing to the Western media, even when they are children. Omran Daqueesh is a household name while the name of Abdullah Issa is unknown. It is sickening.

      1. I would really love to engage in discussion on these sorts of issues with Earl but that appears to be impossible. I had concluded some time ago that my comments and certain related posts are not read by him so I was surprised to see this response. (I kept my comments separate from the thread with Paxton Marshall so as not to get in their way. I would also love to see an ongoing discussion between Earl and Paxton.)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Vridar

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading