The Truth About Muhammad
Sept. 2006, 256 pages
At least since Georgi Plekhanov's influential essay "The Role of the Individual in History" (1898), the proponents of the Great Man model -- initiated in Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" and famously elaborated by Carlyle -- have been on the defensive. For some decades now, the Western academe has been dominated by the upholders of the primacy of the relationships and conflicts between social forces in determining the course of history. Most chairs that count are held by Emeriti who see history as a linear struggle between social classes and their key fractions. Over the past generation the "proletarian" has been replaced by "RaceGenderSexuality" and the "capitalist" by the non-self-hating straight white male, but the dogma that history is determined by social forces has survived the fall of the Wall.
Robert Spencer's "The Truth About Muhammad" (Regnery, a HUMAN EVENTS sister company) was not written in order to disprove the gnostic notion that history has a comprehensible pattern, a determinate logic and a finite number of possible resolutions or outcomes. But that is, indirectly, what the book achieves. This brief and readable summary of the life and times of the prophet of Islam, derived from eminently orthodox Muslim sources, reveals the centrality of Muhammad not only to Islam-as-religion but also to Islam as a totalitarian ideology, Islam as a geopolitical project, and Islam as a normative moral and legal system devoid of any "natural" foundation.
If we look at the ancient world in the half-millennium after Rome passed her zenith under Trajan and Hadrian, we can discern no "objective" reason why the Arabs should have been more successful than any number of other nomadic warriors -- the Cimmerians, or Scythians, or Huns, or Parthians -- in making not only spectacular but also enduring conquests, conquests that were not ephemeral but capable of producing imperial edifices and breeding imperial ambitions of breathtaking audacity. They were all crude nomads in search of water and pasture and plunder. They all shared the low labor requirements of pastoralism, leaving most men instantly available for war. Various attempts at a socio-economic explanation of the Arab phenomenon have been made, notably by the late Geoffrey de Ste Croix, but they were but ex post facto rationalizations that undoubtedly would have been applied with equal force to the Thousand-Year Hun Empire had it happened.
It did not, but the Arab one did, and Muhammad -- "victorious through terror" -- made all the difference. His kinsmen and tribesmen were prone to war by custom and nature, accustomed to living by pillage and the exploitation of settled populations. Theirs was an "expansionism denuded of any concrete objective, brutal, and born of a necessity in its past" (Ibn Warraq), but Muhammad provided a powerful ideological justification for those wars -- a justification that was religious in form, global in scope and totalitarian in nature. In the space of a decade, the "warner in the face of a terrific punishment" morphed into a vengeful warlord, slayer of prisoners, murderer of political opponents and exterminator of Jews (chapters 6-9), his every move duly condoned by "revelations" from on high. From Muhammad's second year in Medina on, Islam combined the dualism of a universal religion and a universal state, and jihad became its instrument for carrying out the faith's ultimate objective by turning all people into believers. As Spencer explains, Muhammad postulated the fundamental illegitimacy of the existence of non-Islam, and mandates permanent "rejection of the Other" -- to use a fashionable term -- by every bona fide Muslim as a divine obligation. To a Muslim, Jihad does not necessarily mean permanent fighting, but it does mean a permanent state of war.
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