Spirit Man

October 14th, 2015

(author’s note: I wrote this a long time ago, when I was in high school, in a small town. My English teacher said to write about a personal experience. I’m sure she was surprised but she didn’t rat me out to the principal. She gave me an A+)

Spirit Man
Once or twice a month I feel too despondent, angry or bored to sit still so I get drunk. Sometimes it helps. Last Monday night was one of these times, so I went looking for a bootlegger. A bootlegger can be anyone over twenty-one willing to buy liquor. Indians are the best choice because they don’t charge much and they never remember faces or ask for names.
The pool hall was my first stop. I was standing by the door checking everyone out and had just decided to look somewhere else when a drunk Indian stumbled out of the restroom. He stood swaying back and forth until he got his zipper up and staggered through the card room coming my way. When he passed the pool tables the younger kids poked him with their cues and taunted him by whooping and calling him chief. He ignored them and came over by me. He asked me if I had a cigarette and called me ‘sir.’ I gave him one and lit it. I opened the door and held it until he walked out and then I followed.
“Would you buy me some beer?” I asked.
He stood up straight and said in a dignified way, “That’d be okay.”
It was all very easy. First try. Sometimes you can hunt all night and not find a bootlegger. I was so happy with my good luck I agreed to give him a ride home, and since there was no one else around, I decided to get drunk with him. It was the strangest drunk I’ve ever been on.
He looked around warily for cops, and spying none, asked me if I had a car. I said it was behind the hotel. We started walking.
“I’m a army vet’ran; I like to take things careful,” he said.
He was already half drunk, so I nodded and said, “right.” We got in the car and I asked if the Bi-Rite Package store was okay. He mumbled something which sounded like yes, so I headed that way, taking back streets. If a cop sees you with an Indian in your car, he’ll turn on his light and make you pull over. While innocently checking your driver’s license, he’ll shine his flashlight in the back seat. If he doesn’t see anything, he’ll tail you until you ditch the Indian. I was taking the long way. To make conversation, I asked him where he had served in the army.
“Korea. I was too young for the second war, but two of my brothers got killed.”
I couldn’t imagine the drunk sitting beside me as a soldier, much less a U.S. soldier carrying a gun and wearing a uniform. We talked about Vietnam. He told me he was forty and married. I nodded approval.
By then we were at Bi-Rite. I gave him the money for a case of beer and a fifth of wine. He was gone about fifteen minutes. Cars drove in and out of the parking lot. I waved to minister’s wives and girlfriend’s mothers and prayed he wouldn’t come at the wrong time. Finally he came staggering back and put the case on the seat and crawled in. I headed out of town toward Chopping’s and turned off a dirt road to put three sixpacks in the trunk and the other in the glove box. When he figured out what I was doing he said, “I like you. You don’t take no chances.”
I didn’t say anything. I figured he was either dumb or simple. Most bootleggers don’t say anything. They buy and get out. Drunk old Indians don’t talk to white boys. It isn’t done. I didn’t think about it too much, though. I was too pleased at myself for having found a bootlegger and having gotten some beer so easily.
I opened a can and headed back into town. He asked me if he could take a shot of his wine. I told him to drink up and tell me where to take him. He said he lived twenty miles out on the reservation, but he only wanted to go to his sister’s house, which was about five miles. As we passed the shopping center, he took a big gulp of his wine and looked me in the eye. I didn’t know what was coming.
“I remember when none of this was here,” he said defiantly. “No buildings or nothing.’”
I didn’t know if he was mad or proud of his memory or what. “Me too,” I finally said. This seemed to satisfy him and he sat back in the seat and took another drink. We drove through town on Federal and were passing the radio station before he spoke again.
“I used to ride into town on a horse when I was a kid. It was real small then. Only a few houses.”
I remembered a photograph of Riverton taken from high school hill in 1940. The streets were unpaved and there were only a few big buildings around Main and Broadway. I could picture him as a twelve year old on a horse and I wondered what the reservation looked like in those days.
“I’d ride back home in the afternoon but I didn’t bring no scalps.”
I couldn’t believe it. I looked at him to see if he was joking. He was staring out the windshield blankly. He was ready to pass out. His eyes were glassy, and his fifth was about three quarters gone. I couldn’t think of anything to say. I was wondering if he had said what I thought he had when his lips started moving. It took a while for the words to come out.
“I used to sing a song. I shouldn’t have because I didn’t bring no scalps, but I sang it anyway.”
He began to sing the song. It was a rhythmic chant on about three notes, repeating over and over again, Yi yi yi yi, Yi yi yi y, and so on. I was stunned. I thought modern Indians were like white people more or less, but here was a live Indian crying in his beer because he didn’t bring no scalps and singing a warrior song. He finally stopped singing and resumed staring out the window. We were almost two miles out of town so I asked him if I had reached the turnoff. He mumbled and pointed straight ahead; I drove on.
I wanted to talk to him some more, but he looked as if he were going to sleep. I asked him if he had called his wife and told her he wouldn’t be home.
“Nah, I don’t have no wife. Got a thousand kids, though. My sisters and brothers are all married and they tease me about not having a wife. The sister’s house we’re going to is the one who’s got the son in the army. Just back from Vietnam, but he can only stay a few days. My nephew. They always tease me about not being married, but I tell them that I’m a Spirit Man. Spirit Men don’t have to get married. He’s a dog man, you know? He has a dog that tells him when the enemy is near. He doesn’t have a bow, just a dog. Whoa! Here, here.
I missed the road and had to back up. I turned into a dirt track and drove along for a few hundred yards until I came to a pastel blue split-level house that looked as if it had been transported entire from Logan Park. When I saw the kerosene lamps in the windows I looked around and noticed that there were no electric lines leading to the house. There was an outhouse off to the right. When we drove up, five or six little kids looked out the windows and quickly disappeared. The door opened and a young Indian about eighteen came out and looked in the window. When he recognized his uncle, he opened the door and helped him out. Before he closed the door, he said, “Thanks for bringing him home.” Then they went into the house.
I turned the car around and drove out the gate. I couldn’t make sense of anything. I was sure I hadn’t really heard him say those things. I kept seeing a young boy riding a horse and singing. And then the face of an old man with a broken nose and glazed eyes. I was so mixed up, I threw a half-full can of beer out the window. I was two miles from Fort Washakie when I realized I wasn’t going the right way. I came back to town stone sober.
I still think about that night and try to remember what happened clearly. I wish I hadn’t gotten drunk so I could remember everything. I remember the face—old, lined, with scars and the broken nose. Thinking about it gives me the same feeling I got that night when I discovered I was driving the wrong way at eighty miles an hour.

Charlie Hebdo Killers Following Muhammad’s Example

January 9th, 2015


 By Edmund Pickett


Following the recent killing of twelve people at a satirical magazine in Paris a group of Muslim leaders in France issued a statement deploring all violence and terrorism. French government officials (who are not Muslim) launched a manhunt, but more or less apologized for tracking down the killers, by repeatedly emphasizing that they were not in a war of religion, even though no one had suggested that they were.

The killers themselves however, were fighting a war of religion. In fact they were following in the direct footsteps of Muhammad, who murdered two poets who wrote satirical poems about him. This is not secret information, nor is it a slander invented by opponents of Islam. The murder of the two poets, and Muhammad’s role in their deaths, are part of Muslim history, recorded by pious Muslims in the hadith, or the traditions of Muhammad’s life and his personal sayings. The hadith is Muslim holy scripture, second only to the Koran as the basis of Islam.

The story is simple, and for Muslim believers, presents no problem. When Muhammad was forced to flee Mecca because of persecution, he moved to Medina and managed to get himself appointed as arbitrator between the many warring clans in that city. There was a large Jewish community and he was hoping to be accepted as a Jewish prophet. At that time he taught his followers to pray facing Jerusalem. The Jews, however, refused to accept him as a prophet, since he was illiterate and his knowledge of their scriptures was superficial. After an elderly Jew, Abu Afak, wrote a poem satirizing him, Muhammad asked his followers for a volunteer to kill the man. This was done and afterwards Muhammad praised the killer. Then a Jewish woman, Asma bint Marwan, also wrote a disrespectful poem about Muhammad. He again asked for an assassin and one stepped forward. Muslim sources report that the murderer found her sleeping with one of her children in her arms. He removed the child and killed her. Again Muhammad praised his thug.

It is worth wondering why Muslims recorded these events, since they reveal their prophet to be thin-skinned, dictatorial and well, murderous. Of course 1400 years ago the tribes of Arabia did not recognize the concept of free speech. Leaders who allowed criticism lost face, and therefore lost their right to lead. The Muslims who recorded these murders probably thought that this was a high point of Muhammad’s style of leadership, one more master stroke on his way to the control of Arabia.

Of course those French Muslim leaders who recently condemned all violence in the name of religion would be very uncomfortable if anyone asked them any hard questions about Asma bint Marwan and Abu Afak. They would be uncomfortable because they have been taught since birth that Muhammad was the most perfect human being who ever lived, that he was also the most kind and compassionate person who ever lived. They cannot criticize Muhammad or their fellow Muslims will label them as apostates, traitors to the faith, who must then be killed. The other alternative would be to question the hadith, but these murders are recorded in several places by authors who are founding scholars of Islam. To say that part of the hadith is false stains the reputation of all the hadith and that could also be labeled as apostasy.

Unfortunately, no one in France will ask the leading Muslims there any uncomfortable questions. The simple truth is that there is an old, venerable and well-attested Islamic tradition of murdering satirical journalists. That tradition was started by Muhammad himself, but any French government official who even hinted at such an obvious fact would be accused of starting a war of religion.



About the author—Edmund Pickett is a novelist and poet. His latest novel is Burning Infidels, about Islamic terrorism.


Swimming the Rio Grande

March 14th, 2012

Almost Sundown – Three Miles to Gringo Land

I didn’t actually have to swim across the Rio Grande. I stepped off the bank into the shallow water and started to walk toward the US side. Of course I was ready to swim. Everything in my backpack was placed inside tightly closed plastic bags. As the water rose slowly up my thighs, I scanned the gringo bank, looking for any movement, but there was no moon and the starlight only gave me shadows. I expected at any minute to be stabbed by flashlight beams, to hear Border Patrol agents shouting at me in Spanish, but I only heard the water rippling over a gravel bank.

Read the rest of this entry »

My Library

June 8th, 2009

In Czarist Russia there were officially only three classes of people: nobility, clergy, and peasants. By the end of the 19th century though, there were coming to be more and more individuals who didn’t fit into the recognized categories. The children of merchants for example, or Jews, those with some university education, or ethnic minorities… Quite a few people were falling between the cracks and they became known as razochinetski, meaning those of no clearly defined social class. The label could be derogatory. Sometimes the word just meant “middle-class intellectual.” The czarist officials didn’t trust these people because knowing their background didn’t tell you much about them. They might be either communists or nationalists. In an unsettling way, each razochinetz seemed to be self-defined.

Osip Mandelstam, the poet, proudly accepted the label and said that the biography of a razochinetz was his bookshelf. In other words, he was what he had read. In the United States, social classes are said to be fluid, but we still have razochinetski and a library can still serve as a biography of sorts, especially for self-educated people, who have complete freedom to choose what they read.

Nobody made me read any of the following books. It’s not a list of every book I’ve ever read, just those I still have copies of. Actually I don’t have them because they’re in storage in two different countries.
The first book I ever read was called “The Cozy Little Farm,” and I have a picture of myself holding it. The first adult book I read was “Edison” by Josephson. It was a bit over my head at age ten, but Edison was my hero and I still recall many scenes. One of the illustrations is a reproduction of a letter, showing Edison’s unique calligraphy, which he developed when he was a telegrapher. It was designed to be clear, beautiful and fast. I retrained myself to write in that style, and still do, more or less.

MY LIBRARY (What’s Left of It)


Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War
The Peninsular War, Jac Weller
Ivan’s War, Catherine Merridale
A Nation Made by War, Geoffrey Perret
Eisenhower, Geoffrey Perret
The Forgotten Soldier, Guy Sajer
The Second World War, John Keegan
The Boer War, Thomas Pakenham
The Age of Jackson, Arthur M. Schlesinger
Stalin, The Court of the Red Czar, Simon S. Montefiore
Lincoln, Redeemer President, Alan Guelzo
The Impending Crisis, David M. Potter
A Narrative History of the Civil War, Shelby Foote
Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward S. Gibbon
Undaunted Courage, Stephen Ambrose
The Reformation, Diarmuid MacCulloch
A Short History of the Argentines, Felix Luna
At Home Among the Patagonians, George Musters
The Thirty Years War, C.V. Wedgwood
Anabasis (The Upcountry March), Xenophon
The Conquest of Mexico, Bernal Diaz
The Conquest of Mexico, W.S. Prescott
Emperor of China, Jonathan Spence
The Command of the Ocean, N.A.M. Rodger
The Guns of August, Barbara Tuchman
The Face of Battle, John Keegan
Maus I & II, Art Spiegelman
Harvest of Sorrow, Robert Conquest
Treason By The Book, Jonathan Spence
Annals of Imperial Rome, Tacitus trans. Grant
Army of the Caesars, Michael Grant
Adventures of Capt. Alonso Contreras, trans. Dallas
Memoirs, vol. I, George Kennan
The Pacific War—1931-1945, Saburo Ienaga
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T.E. Lawrence
Undaunted Courage, Stephen Ambrose

FICTION, (novels, stories, drama)

Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
The Riverside Shakespeare (1 vol.)
A Dance to the Music of Time (12 vols.), Anthony Powell
Sixteen Plays, Henrik Ibsen trans. Michael Meyer
Plays of Moliere, trans. Richard Wilbur
Midaq Alley, Naguib Mahfouz
Palace Walk, Naguib Mahfouz
The Master & Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
Aunt Julia & the Scriptwriter, Mario Vargas Llosa
Walls Rise Up, George Sessions Perry
Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
Darkness At Noon, Arthur Koestler
The Third Bank of the River, Joao Guimaraes Rosa
Maiden, Cynthia Buchanan
Stories, Nikolai Gogol
Dead Souls, Nikolai Gogol
The Leopard, Giuseppe di Lampedusa
The Stories of Anton Chekhov, trans. By Constance Garnett
The Plays of Chekhov, trans. by C. Garnett
New Grub Street, George Gissing
The Odd Women, George Gissing
Kim, Rudyard Kipling
Of Human Bondage, W. Somerset Maugham
Ashenden Stories, W. Somerset Maugham
Moon & Sixpence, W. Somerset Maugham
Child 44, Tom Rob Smith
The Secret Speech, Tom Rob Smith
Old Goriot, Balzac
Cousin Bette, Balzac
The Great Gatsby, F.Scott Fitzgerald
Tender Is The Night, F.Scott Fitzgerald
A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
Sword of Honor, Evelyn Waugh
The Loved One, Evelyn Waugh
Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
Under Western Eyes, Joseph Conrad
The Secret Agent, Joseph Conrad
Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen
Emma, Jane Austen
Animal Farm, George Orwell
1984, George Orwell
The Sorrows of Young Werther, J.W. von Goethe
Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut
The Good Soldier, Ford Madox Ford


The Shorter Pepys, ed. Robert Latham
Pepys,The Unequalled Self, by Claire Tomalin
Mr. Pepys, Samuel Ollard
Goethe, 2 vols. (so far) by Nicholas Boyle
Orwell, Jeffrey Meyers
Edmund Wilson, Jeffrey Meyers
Ibsen, Michael Meyer
Edison, Matthew Josephson
Alexander Pope, Maynard Mack
Chekhov, Donald Rayfield
Chekhov, Henri Troyat
Letters of Chekhov, ed. by Simon Karlinsky & M.H. Heim
Wellington, The Years of the Sword, Antonia Fraser
Witness, Sam Tannenhaus
Eugene O’Neill (2 vols.), Louis Schaeffer
Hindo Holiday, J.R.Ackerly
Henry James, (1 vol.) Leon Edel
W.Somerset Maugham, Ted Morgan
Italian Journey, J.W. von Goethe
A Time of Gifts, Patrick Leigh Fermor
Between the Woods and the Water, Patrick Leigh Fermor
Roumeli, Patrick Leigh Fermor
Mani, Patrick Leigh Fermor
The Cretan Runner, George Psychoundakis
Daedalus Returned, Baron von der Heydte
Oscar, Peter J. Wilson
The Lives of Talleyrand, Crane Brinton
Survival in Auschwitz, Primo Levi
The Reawakening, Primo Levi
The Periodic Table, Primo Levi
Eminent Victorians, Lytton Strachey
The Double Life of Stephen Crane, Christopher Benfey
Isaiah Berlin, David Ignatieff
Spinoza, Nadler
Chaucer, John Gardner
Chaucer, Donald Howard
Whittaker Chambers, Sam Tannenhaus
The Baburnama, Sultan Muhammad Babur, ed. Thackston
The Quest for Corvo, A.J.A. Symons
Parallel Lives, Plutarch
Emperor of China, Jonathan Spence
The Long Walk, Slawomir Rawicz
Comrade Valentine, Richard E. Rubenstein
Lords of the Sea, John R. Hale
Coyotes, Ted Conover


The Odes of Horace, ed. by McClatchy
The Odes of Horace, trans. James Michie
Horace in English, ed. D.S. Carne Ross
The Complete Odes & Epodes of Horace, trans. W.G. Shepherd
Complete Odes & Satires of Horace, trans. Sidney Alexander
Sonnets of Shakespeare, ed. Helen Vendler
Collected Poems of Richard Wilbur
Collected Poems of W.H. Auden
Collected Poems of William Butler Yeats
Poems, Robert Frost
A Net of Fireflies, trans. Harold Stewart
Poems of Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Poems of George Gordon, Lord Byron
Norton Anthology of Classical Literature, ed. Bernard Knox
Collected Poems, Czeslaw Milosz
Collected Poems of Houseman
Piers Plowman, Norton Edition
Poems of F.G. Tuckerman
Poems of Thomas Hardy
Poems of John Gay, 2 vols., ed. Dearing
Psalms of Sidney & Pembroke, ed. Rathnell
The Aeneid, Vergil trans. P.Dickinson
Complete Poetry of Mandelstam, trans. Raffel & Burago
Iliad, Homer trans. Fagles
The Divine Comedy, Dante trans. Ciardi
Complete Poems, Andrew Marvell
Duino Elegies & Sonnets to Orpheus, R.M. Rilke trans. Poulin
Faust, Goethe trans. Kaufman
Complete Poetry, Alexander Pope


The Captive Mind, Czeslaw Milosz
Poetic Meter & Poetic Form, Paul Fussel
Cultural Amnesia, Clive James
Forwords and Afterwords, W.H. Auden
Essays Ancient and Modern, Bernard Knox
Essays, Letters, Journalism (4 vols.), George Orwell
Less Than One, Joseph Brodsky
Intellectuals, Paul Johnson
The Sense of Reality, Isaiah Berlin
The Crooked Timber of Humanity, Isaiah Berlin
Patriotic Gore, Edmund Wilson
Axel’s Castle, Edmund Wilson
To The Finland Station, Edmund Wilson
Essays, Montaigne trans. Frame
The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent, Lionel Trilling
Distant Neighbors, Alan Riding
Mexican Etiquette & Ethics, Boye de la Mente
Narcocorrido, Elijah Wald
To Keep The Ball Rolling, Anthony Powell
Miscellaneous Verdicts, Anthony Powell
Under Review, Anthony Powell
True Tales From Another Mexico, Sam Quinones


Jews, God & History, Max Dimont
Judaism, Roy Rosenberg
This Is My God, Wouk
Jews, Arthur Hertzberg
The Sabbath, A.J. Heschel
Farewell, España, Howard M. Sachar
The Essential Talmud, Adin Steinsaltz
A History of the Jews, Paul Johnson
The Gospel According to Jesus, Stephen Mitchell
The Book of Job, Stephen Mitchell
Jesus of Nazareth, J. Bornkamm


Memoirs of Hadrian, Marguerite Yourcenar
I, Claudius, Robert Graves
The Mask of Apollo, Mary Renault
The King Must Die, Mary Renault
Captain From Castille, Samuel Shellabarger

ENTERTAINMENTS (thrillers, mysteries, romances, adventure tales, etc.)

The Flashman series, George M. Fraser
The Travis McGee series, John D. McDonald
The Hornblower series, C.S. Forester
The Aubrey/Maturin series, Patrick O’Brian
The Bernie Rhodenbarr series, Lawrence Block
The Masters of Rome series, Colleen McCullough
The Sharpe series, Bernard Cornwell
87th Precinct series, Ed McBain
Arkady Renko series, Martin Cruz Smith
Rogue Male, Geoffrey Household
Scaramouche, Rafael Sabatini
Captain Blood, Rafael Sabatini
Sirens of Titan, Kurt Vonnegut
The Big Clock, Kenneth Fearing
Treasure Island, R.L. Stevenson
The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga
Outsourced, R.J.Hillhouse
Con Ed, Mathew Klein
Citizen Vince, Jess Walter
The Riddle of the Sands, Erskine Childers
The Faithful Spy, Alex Berenson
Six Suspects, Vikas Swarup
The Alibi, Joseph Kanon
The Club Dumas, Arturo Perez-Reverte
Captain Alatrice, Arturo Perez-Reverte


The Closed Circle, David Pryce-Jones
The Arab Mind, Raphael Patai
Why I Am Not A Muslim, Ibn Warraq
The Media Relations Dept. of Hizbollah
Wishes You A Happy Birthday, Neil MacFarquhar
The Rise, Coming Fall and Corruption
of Saudi Arabia, Said K. Aburish
The Two Faces of Islam, Stephen Schwartz
The Siege of Mecca, Yaroslav Trofimov
Islam, Robert Spencer
Terror’s Source, Vincenzo Olivetti
Hatred’s Kingdom, Dore Gold
The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright
The 9/11 Commission Report
Understanding Arabs, Margaret Nydell
Princess, Jean Sasson
Sultana’s Daughters, Jean Sasson
Sultana’s Circle, Jean Sasson
Now They Call Me Infidel, Nonie Darwish
Perfect Soldiers, Terry McDermott
Islam and Terrorism, Mark Gabriel
Wahabism, A Critical Essay, Hamid Algar
Islam, A Short History, Karen Armstrong
The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid
The Blood of Lambs, Kamal Saleem
Nadia’s Song, Soheir Kashoggi

Non-Serious Post

June 4th, 2009

No one can be serious all the time, not even me, so this post will consist of a couple of silly riddles, a cute animal picture, and a poem.

Question: What is a metaphor?
Answer: It’s for all those times when only a meta will do.

Question: What is a catastrophe?
Answer: A catastrophe is what you have to pay after the catastro.

As far as I know, those are original. They popped into my head while I was driving, but I might have heard them decades ago and they just decided to swim up to the surface of my consciousness. I’m sure there’s a website where you could solve the question.

Continuing my non-serious theme, here’s the cute animal picture. Can you identify the animal?

It’s a wild chinchilla. I took the photo in Machu Pichu. According to Wikipedia, they are crepuscular mammals, which I suppose means that they move around mainly at dusk. I snapped him around 11 a.m., so this guy was up very early. He was sitting in a gap in the ruins caused by an earthquake, about 15 ft. (5 meters) away, and didn’t seem to mind a bunch of tourists oohing and ahhing over him. The Incas are world famous for their large irregular stone construction techniques, but they also used coursed stone, with equal sized blocks, for some important buildings, though as you can see here, it is not as stable. The buildings made of irregular fitted blocks have not shifted at all.

This is still a fairly short post, so I will bulk it up with a poem from my archives. The poem could be considered serious, but it’s short.

Your Poised Hand

These clothes my former lover made
Fit even better as they fade.

There’s frequently a lot of dust
in what we think is solid sand.
In finding out you never trust
your eye or how it feels in hand.
To quench such curiosity,
fling it to the wind! You’ll see
the powder, born in falling grit,
billow, and abandon it.
Then you’ll know exactly just
how much rock and how much dust
were in that pile of so-called sand,
lately lying in your poised hand.

Exactly what you had will then
be known, and never known again.
The clothes she made are wearing thin.

© 2009 Edmund Pickett

(This poem may be copied or forwarded, as long as you retain the copyright notice and author’s name.)

Part 4, Books on Islam

June 1st, 2009

In preparation for writing a novel about Islamic terror, I began reading books about Islam, terror, Arab culture, etc. I stopped counting at thiry-five. I didn’t keep a record of the bad ones. The essential ones I have been writing about in the first three parts of “Books On Islam,” but I’m not done. I just haven’t had the time to write reviews worthy of all the books I want to talk about. I have already spent far more time than I expected in setting up this blog and writing all the material already posted, and my novel is way behind schedule.

Of the following books, the ones marked with diamonds (♦) are the best in my opinion, and if I can find the time, I will write longer reviews of them. This is not a complete list of all the books I have read on this subject, by any means. These are just the books I remembered to write a note to myself about.


♦ The Truth About Muhammad – Robert Spencer
♦ The Arab Mind – Raphael Patai
♦ Infidel – Ayan Hirsi Ali
♦ The Media Relations Dept. of Hisbollah Wishes You A Happy Birthday – Neil MacFarquhar
♦ Perfect Soldiers – Terry McDermott
♦ The Looming Tower – Lawrence Wright
♦ Inside The Jihad – Omar Nasiri
♦ Now They Call Me Infidel – Nonie Darwish
♦ The 9/11 Commission Report
♦ Princess – Jean Sasson
♦ Sultana’s Circle – Jean Sasson
♦ Sultana’s Daughters – Jean Sasson
– Understanding Arabs – Margaret Nydell
– Journey of the Jihadist – Fawaz Gerges
– See No Evil – Robert Baer
– Sleeping With The Devil – Robert Baer
– Islam and Terrorism – Mark A. Gabriel
– The Far Enemy – Fawaz Gerges
– My Year Inside Radical Islam – David Garstenstein Ross


♦ Midaq Alley – Naguib Mahfouz
♦ Palace Walk – Naguib Mahfouz
– Nadia’s Song – Suheir Kashoggi

Saudi Arabia

June 1st, 2009

Books on Islam, Part 2

The Rise, Corruption and Coming Fall of Saudi Arabia – Said K. Aburish
Hatred’s Kingdom – Dore Gold
Terror’s Source – Vincenzo Olivetti
Wahhabism: A Critical Essay – Hamid Algar
The Saudis – Sandra Mackey
The Siege of Mecca – Yaroslav Trofimov

Saudi Arabia has few friends in the world and that includes the muslim world. The al-Saud family owns the country–every lock, stock and barrel of oil. Since they control the muslim holy sites including Mecca, they believe that they can define Islam for the entire world. However, there are few muslims outside the borders of Saudi Arabia who accept the Saudi version of Islam. This simple fact is not widely appreciated in the non-muslim world because of all the money the Sauds throw around. They have a lot of cash to play with and that gold buys friends, lots of them. They buy countries, newspapers, TV stations, journalists and European members of parliament. Where they cannot buy friends, they buy silence. As a result, their self-image is accepted uncritically in Europe and the United States. They are thought to represent all muslims, whereas in fact they are despised by most of the muslim world.

Said K. Aburish, a Lebanese journalist, considers Abdul Azziz Ibn Saud, the founder of the country that he modestly named after himself, and all his descendants to be corrupt degenerates and a disgrace to Islam. Published in 1995, The Rise, Corruption and Coming Fall of the House of Saud washes all the kingdom’s dirty linen in public, and though the fall predicted by Aburish hasn’t happened yet, after reading his indictment, it’s hard to believe the princes can last much longer. By the way, there are over twenty thousand princes and not one of them has to work for a living. That sounds like an incredible number, but Ibn Saud, the first king, who died in 1953, had 37 sons and they have all been reproducing with similar dedication ever since. You do the math. No one knows how many daughters the old man had because no one kept score. Girls don’t count, but I would guess that their sons are princes. It’s an exponential dynasty.

The financial corruption within this obscenely rich gang of hedonists is almost impossible to believe but Aburish’s charges are confirmed by many other writers. It’s well to remember though, that from the Saud’s point of view, there is no corruption in their country. Since they own everything and everybody, whatever they do is right. When they are not trying to win the most male babies contest, the princes scheme to have their monthly allowances raised. Like every royal family in history, they are clueless, ignorant, arrogant and useless. Said Aburish also indicts them for religious hypocrisy, drinking alcohol and leaving the country during Ramadan, the month of fasting.

Since Aburish is a working journalist, he knows all the dirty details of how the Saudis bribe journalists in the Arab world. He knows who’s on the take, which is basically every writer in every Muslim country. There are two levels of payment. For the basic rate, you only have to avoid criticizing Saudi Arabia. If you want the big bucks though, you have to write articles actually praising the wise rulers of the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia distributes foreign aid to Muslim countries also, and that comes with strings. Countries which want to stay on the dole have to control all media within their borders, in other words, no criticism of you-know-who.

Their reach extends to Europe as well. Aburish claims that they have journalists and politicians on their payroll in all the major countries, a belief shared by many people, although hard proof so far is scarce. However, there is no compelling reason to expect that they would avoid in Europe the tactics that work so well for them in the Muslim world.

Hatred’s Kingdom, by Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, details all the ways in which Saudis pay for terrorist acts all over the world. The author writes passionately and well, but then he and his country are in the center of the bullseye. After you read it (and you should) you will never again feel good about seeing our President shaking hands with a Saudi king.



Terror’s Source: The Ideology of Salafism and Its Consequences

Vincenzo Olivetti, an Italian Muslim, traces the theological connections between all the radical Muslim groups, which fall under the general heading of Salafist. They have their shades of difference, but all look back to Ibn Tamiya, a viciously intolerant medieval scholar, and they all reject the four schools of Islamic Law, which over the centuries have placed restrictions on jihad. If you can imagine a group of radical orthodox Jews who reject the Talmud, you can get a handle on the fanatics who call themselves Salafist. Each one of them claims the right to be his own rabbi, as it were. This leaves them perfectly free to cherry pick the Koran for the most violent verses, and to ignore all the others that counsel tolerance. Of course the four schools of Islamic Law really end up in the same place, since they observe the doctrine of abrogation, which states that when two verses in the Koran appear to conflict, the latter revelation abrogates, or cancels, the earlier. Unfortunately, in the Koran, the tolerant verses are all early and the violent verses are later.

It makes depressing reading, but it should be remembered that the Salafists are a small minority in the Muslim world. Financial support from Saudi Arabia gives them a bigger voice than they would have otherwise. It is heartening to know that they do have opposition among muslims, including Vincenzo Olivetti.

Wahhabism: A Critical Essay by Hamid Algar, is a short, focused look at the legacy of Muhammad ibn-Abd al-Wahab (born 1703), the Muslim scholar who founded the sect that has become the official religion of Saudi Arabia.

Al-Wahab, who wrote very little, made almost no impression on his contemporaries, with the exception of a sheik named Saud, who offered him protection in return for fatwas, or religious rulings, justifying whatever Saud felt like doing. Most Muslims today consider that this was a bargain between two devils, but it has had long lasting consequences, since the descendants of the two men are still honoring the pact. The Ottoman Empire tried to crush the Saudi/Wahabi threat several times, and appeared to have succeeded, but always some new descendant of Saud charges out of the desert, backed up by followers of al-Wahab. The most recent one, Abdul Azziz ibn Saud, founded the current kingdom, which he modestly named after himself, in 1932. Every king since his death in 1953, has been one of his sons.

Hamid Algar does not even try to conceal his scorn for al-Wahab, and the jabs are sometimes funny, even though this is basically a work of comparative theology. For a non-Muslim, it’s hard to see a great deal of difference between Wahabism and normal Sunni Islam, but those details do not seem small to the true believers. As a case in point, small theological details have caused a lot of wars among Christians over the years. Basically, al-Wahab objected to some customs that had arisen among Muslims that he thought were forbidden by the Koran, such as pilgrimages to the tombs of famous scholars, artistic decoration in mosques, and the celebration of Muhammad’s birthday. Sunni Muslims tolerate all those practices, and the Shiites allow a great deal more, but the Wahabi view is the only one allowed in Saudi Arabia. It is important to realize though, that if Saudi petrodollars disappeared tomorrow, Wahabism would return to what it was before 1932: an obscure footnote to the history of Islam.

Algar studied Islam at Cambridge and teaches at the University of California, Berkeley. The book also includes some jabs at the United States and Israel, which are irrelevant to his subject, but serve the useful purpose of labeling the author and identifying his prejudices. I’m sure his opinions on Wahabism are worth taking seriously.

Sandra Mackey lived in Saudi Arabia for several years in the eighties when the country was perhaps changing faster than any country has ever changed. Before then it was not medieval, it was pre-medieval. With perhaps more money per person than any country has ever had, the king decided to modernize the country, more or less overnight. It’s hard to say who was most disoriented, the foreign workers who poured in, or the locals.

In The Saudis: Inside the Desert Kingdom, Mackey describes her part of this whirlwind, with a very keen eye for the human dimension. She knew very little about Islam before arriving in the kingdom and never shows much interest in religion. This doesn’t harm her book at all. Her focus is always on the people and since Islam affects every aspect of daily life there, the effect of religion is always evident. She tells her story like all good travel writers, by anecdote. Certainly much has changed since she left, but I’m sure the things she noticed: the oppression of women; the privileges of the royals; and the unimaginable corruption have not abated at all.

In 1979, while Sandra Mackey was in the country, hundreds of fanatics seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the holiest shrine in Islam. To the Saudi people and to Muslims worldwide, this event could be compared to 9/11 and Pearl Harbor put together. The event was so embarrassing to the royal family that they instituted a total media blackout. As a result, there was very little coverage at the time and the attack has never been widely known in the non-Muslim world. The repercussions, however, still affect the entire planet. For several days after the takeover, the King was paralyzed. The Muslim world was frantic for news of what was going on, but the blackout continued. The king couldn’t order an armed response because it is forbidden to use force of any kind in the Grand Mosque. After a great deal of discussion, the Ulema (the leading Islamic scholars) finally issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, that allowed Saudi soldiers to retake the mosque, but they drove a hard bargain. One of their demands was that the Saudi government start spending a huge percentage of the country’s oil income to promote Wahabism throughout the world. On that day began the avalanche of hate-filled propaganda that is still suffocating Islam in every country. Books, websites, new mosques, orphanages, schools (madrassas) began to multiply in every country on earth, not just the Muslim ones. Most dangerous of all are the salaries paid to the mullahs or imams. In every country on earth, a mullah willing to toe the Saudi line receives a subsidy. It can double his income. Sometimes it is his only income. And the Wahabi message is very clear. Jews are the sons of pigs and monkeys and must all be killed. Israel must be wiped off the map. Western countries must be taken over by Islam. All criticism of Islam anywhere must stop. Violence and lies are acceptable if they work.

This world-wide propaganda campaign resembles in many ways the propaganda struggle during the cold war between Russia and the United States, but there are two glaring differences. One, the Saudis are spending a lot more money than the Russians ever did, and Two, the United States is not fighting back this time. Not surprisingly, we are losing badly. To gain clarity on this issue, it is necessary to know how it began.

In The Siege of Mecca: The 1979 Uprising at Islam’s Holiest Shrine, Yaroslav Trofimov, a veteran journalist for the Wall Street Journal, uncovers the astounding facts about the battle that changed Islam forever, facts that the Saudi government is still trying to suppress. He talked to soldiers who fought for the army and even found a few survivors from among the rebels, most of whom were beheaded. It is a gripping story of brutal close combat that lasted weeks, most of it in the endless tunnels under the Grand Mosque. At the time, because the Saudis were saying nothing, disinformation predominated, mainly coming from Iran, where the Ayatollah Khomeini announced that the United States and Israel were behind the attack. This was of course false, but mobs all over the Islamic world attacked U.S. embassies and the one in Pakistan was burned. The fact that nearly all the rebels were Saudi citizens who considered their royal family to be corrupt degenerates is still deeply embarrassing to the the Saudi government. Non-Muslims need to know this story and Trofimov tells it very well.

Cheerleader for Genocide

May 31st, 2009

Books on Islam, part 3
The Two Faces of Islam
by Stephen Schwartz

Except for the part that approves of mass murder, this is a valuable book. I recommend it highly. Of course, you also have to overlook that the author, while praising Islam, fails to mention that he is a muslim himself. But I repeat, this is a valuable book, because it contains a wealth of dirt on Saudi Arabia.
It’s not that Stephen Schwartz actually hides his Islamic affiliation. The first sixty-five pages of the book are a short history of Islam which not even Osama bin Laden could possibly object to. In fact, this section is embarrassingly childish missionary propaganda. The most absurd Muslim myths and legends are presented as simple historical truth. If you have ever read a book on the lives of Catholic saints, written for ten year-olds, you know the flavor of this material. Muhammad was the only perfect man, he was the soul of kindness, Muslims won their battles because hordes of angels fought beside them, etc. Muhammad takes a captive to be his sex slave, after murdering her father and husband and naturally, she falls deeply in love with him. Muhammad never did anything wrong and if he did, everyone else was doing it too, so that makes it okay. He was perfect except when he wasn’t and then he is excused because fourteen hundred years ago Arabia was a barbarous place. And Schwartz uses strategic omission as well. He trots out the verse from the Koran that says there should be no compulsion in religion but fails to mention the doctrine of abrogation, accepted by all schools of Islamic law, which holds that when two verses of the Koran appear to be in conflict, the latter revelation abrogates, or cancels the earlier one. This is no minor point, since the compassionate, tolerant verses are all early and the violent, intolerant verses are all later. This kind of tactical silence is standard with all Muslim propagandists, such as Karen Armstrong, but Stephen Schwartz vaults into a class by himself when he whitewashes the massacre ordered by Muhammad following the Battle of the Trench. Following is Schwartz’s account. I have inserted numerals which I will use to organize my counter-arguments.

“ In 627, Muslim power was again victorious over Mecca…after which the men of the tribe of Qurayzah (1) were offered mercy (2) if they accepted Islam, but they were willing to die (3) rather than surrender their faith.”
“Muhammad’s treatment of these groups has led some…critics to accuse him of anti-Jewish prejudice (4). However, he was fighting a religious war (5) in a part of the world without law, (6) leading men whose minds were illuminated with the truth of the one true God, (7) and he had against him his own kin and townsmen. (8) Ambiguities in loyalty could no longer be tolerated. (9) But it has also been observed that Muhammad fought people over their attitudes, not their beliefs.” (10)

1. The men of the tribe of Qurayzah who were captured numbered some 300 (Schwartz), 600 (Wikipedia), or 1300 (Armstrong). Qurayzah was a Jewish tribe. Muhammad attacked them because they didn’t believe he was a prophet.
2. “(they) were offered mercy”. No, they weren’t. They were given a choice of conversion or death. Mercy is unconditional, and in the earlier verses of the Koran (later to be cancelled) Muhammad says many beautiful things about mercy. By a wonderful coincidence, on page 2 of this same book, we read that in Europe, around 1000 A.D., “Germans, Nordics, Slavs and Baltic peoples were forcibly baptized…Those who resisted were murdered or driven to flight.” So when Christians kill those who refuse to abandon the religion of their ancestors, Stephen Schwartz considers it murder, but when Muhammad slaughters a thousand prisoners for the same reason it is something quite different. The word ‘murder’ is strangely missing.
3. “willing to die” makes it sound like the men of Qurayzah were tired of living, which is unlikely, but Schwartz wants us to think that they preferred death because they were too hard-hearted to accept mercy, which “was offered.” This use of the passive voice allows Schwartz to leave Muhammad’s name out of the sentence.
4. “to accuse (Muhammad) of anti-Jewish prejudice” Schwartz is definitely low-balling the non-Muslim opinion here. More common accusations would be genocide, mass murder, anti-semitism, crimes against humanity, bloodlust, sadism, etc.
5. “he was fighting a religious war” True, and it was a war Muhammad started.
6. “in a part of the world without law” This is completely false. There were laws of warfare in Arabia at that time, accepted by all tribes, which Muhammad broke whenever he felt like it. If he heard a rumor that another tribe was thinking about breaking a treaty with him, that was all he needed to attack first. One of the most obvious facts about Muhammad is that he would break any law or tradition whenever it was in his interest. If criticized too much he would concoct a revelation afterwards to justify himself.
7. “leading men whose minds were illuminated…”
When you read this sentence, did you suffer whiplash from the 180 degree change of subject? What do Muhammad’s soldiers have to do with this? Is Schwartz trying to deflect blame? Is he implying that Muhammad wanted to be nice but that the soldiers wanted blood and Muhammad was afraid to deny them? But all Muslim accounts stress that the soldiers were fanatically loyal to their prophet; they would do whatever he ordered with no questions. Again, I have to ask, how did these soldiers, with their illuminated minds, end up in the middle of this argument? Elsewhere in his works, Stephen Schwartz, a longtime journalist, gives abundant evidence that he understands the concept of paragraph unity, so what is going on here?
I’m taking a wild guess, but I think that while he was writing this whitewash, the stress of doublethink, of self-induced schizophrenia finally became too much for Schwartz. He wanted to defend his beloved prophet, but some long repressed part of his mind realized he should not be giving Muhammad a free pass here. Because the horror didn’t end with the murder of a thousand men. Their wives and children were sold into slavery. A Jewish tribe of at least four thousand people was erased. That would have been one trainload to Auschwitz. It was genocide. And so, while trying to excuse it, his mind rebelled and he discovered that his fingers were typing something about soldiers with illuminated minds.
8. “he had against him his own kin and townsmen.” This is completely irrelevant. After the Battle of the Trench Muhammad was the evident master of Arabia. It didn’t matter than some of his neighbors and relatives were still against him. The disarmed prisoners of the Qurayzah were no threat to him. He could have chosen mercy but he preferred vengeance.
9. “Ambiguities in loyalty could no longer be tolerated.” This is the stupidest and yet most sinister sentence in the entire paragraph. Stupid, because ambiguity, or uncertainty, was not the problem. The loyalties of the Qurayzah were crystal clear. They were loyal to Moses, not Muhammad. Sinister, because here Schwartz revives one of the oldest slanders against the Jews. For thousands of years bigots in Europe who were irritated by the Jews’ attachment to their ancient nation of Israel concluded that they couldn’t really be equally loyal to Germany, or France or Poland. In the Soviet Union the codeword was “cosmopolitanism.” In fact Jews have always been the most law abiding people in every country where they have lived.
10.“But is has been observed that Muhammad fought people over their attitudes, not beliefs.” Really? And who has observed that? Has Stephen Schwartz observed that? No, because two sentences earlier, in the very same paragraph, we read that “(Muhammad) was fighting a religious war.” But now some nameless group of others appears (miraculously?), speaking in the passive tense, to disagree. No, it wasn’t really about religion at all

I apologize that my refutation is many times longer than the paragraph I am disagreeing with, but it takes a lot of disassembling to unpack all the lies, evasions and dishonesty packed into those few sentences. The thought processes of a true believer are tortuous and the motives incomprehensible, thankfully, to most people, but here we can see just how hard a zealot will work to erase the truth and defend the indefensible.
Stephen Schwartz is not obliged to feel any sympathy for those murdered men and those women and children sold as slaves. In fact, his religion obligates him to believe that they got what they deserved, because Muslims believe that Muhammad was the only perfect human being. His actions cannot be questioned, only praised.

But I said that I recommend this book and I am dead serious. Just skip the first sixty-five pages. Following that is a wonderful two hundred page indictment of Saudi Arabia. For that, Stephen Schwartz’s religion is a plus. All the best exposés of Saudi Arabia are written by Muslims who despise the Wahabi heresy of Islam which is the official religion in the kingdom created by Abdul Azziz ibn Saud.
It was in Bosnia, where he was working as a journalist, that Schwartz converted to the Sufi, or mystical tendency of Islam. Though Sufis are sometimes described as pacifist, they have produced some notable warriors, particularly in the Caucasus. Because of his Sufi connections, Schartz can describe in detail the way that Wahabi zealots, financed from Saudi Arabia, have tried to hijack the struggle for autonomy in Bosnia and Kosovo and also the war against the Russians in Chechnya. In both cases, the Wahabis behave like the Stalinists in the Spanish Civil War; they purge everyone who disagrees with them. Then they destroy the beautiful ancient mosques, replace them with Saudi-style big boxes, devoid of all decoration, and, to make themselves even more hated, they never stop telling the local Muslims that they don’t know how to pray properly.
Schwartz also details Saudi support for terror around the world. He tells the story of the infamous telethon in Saudi Arabia that raised 109 million dollars for the families of suicide bombers, and adds, “The Saudi cleric who hosted the telethon, Shaykh Saad al-Buraik, preached in a mosque in Riyadh, calling for the enslavement of the Jewish women of Israel, once Palestinian victory was achieved. Referring to Jews as ‘monkeys,’ al-Baraik declared, ‘Muslim brothers in Palestine, do not have mercy or compassion toward the Jews, their blood, their money, their flesh. Their women are yours to take, legitimately. God made them yours. Why don’t you enslave their women? Why don’t you wage jihad? Why don’t you pillage them?’ Al-Baraik was with Prince (now King) Abdullah on a visit to President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas in April, 2002.”
That last fact, about the visit to Crawford, is the kind of thing that non-muslim journalists always miss. Muslims, like Stephen Schwartz, are much more aware of the gap between Saudi propaganda and Saudi reality.
I’m not sure why Schwartz chose that particular passage from al-Baraik’s sermon to quote. He couldn’t possibly disagree on theological grounds. Everything al-Baraik says is ordinary Muslim doctrine, taken from the life of Muhammad, such as his behavior at the Battle of the Trench. Captive women were an important motivator for Muhammad and his men. Dead soldiers expected sex slaves in Paradise, and those who survived battle were rewarded with the female relatives of those they had just killed.
The Two Faces of Islam also contains useful information on Saudi corruption of higher education in the non-Muslim world. The Kingdom has been endowing Muslim studies programs at colleges and universities all over the world, including Ivy League schools in the U.S. Students in all these programs lobby for so-called “hate speech” codes to give Islam a privileged position on campus, totally exempt from discussion by non-believers, and they lead noisy protests against anyone who tries to speak about Islam or terrorism. This is very scary and depressing, because these people find willing allies among the left-wing, so-called progressive intellectuals. Being nice to the Muslims then becomes part of the reigning political correctness.
I repeat, this is a valuable book. It took courage to write, because the Saudis have a lot of money and they fight back. They bribe journalists to spread slander, they encourage ‘spontaneous’ acts of violence, they block websites, etc. Stephen Schwartz has refused to be intimidated for a long time. He continues to tell the truth about the Wahabis, publishing in the few magazines willing to risk Saudi organized advertising boycotts, such as The Weekly Standard. If only our politicians would pay attention….

Learning Spanish

May 22nd, 2009



Books, Courses, Tapes, etc.

Bilingual Audio Files

The Gringo’s Guide to Pronouncing Spanish

Books on Islam, pt. 1

May 21st, 2009

For those who know very little about Islam, two authors offer very different introductions. One author bends over backward to give Islam and Mohammed the greatest benefit of any possible doubt, while the other contains every argument ever made against Islam.

The apology (or defense) is Islam: A Short History by Karen Armstrong, a former nun, who previously wrote a best selling biography of God. In her telling, Mohammed is the very soul of compassion, who brought enlightenment to the pagans of Arabia and improved the status of women.

In this book and also in Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time, Armstrong’s general thesis is that Mohammed never did anything wrong, and if he did, everyone else was doing it too, and in Europe at that time they were even worse. Seriously, this is the level of her analysis.

In her spiritual autobiography, The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness she describes her seven years as a nun, an experience which she says left her scarred emotionally. It is difficult to summarize her current religious beliefs, but basically she thinks all the great religious traditions are trying to approach the same God, and if you don’t take what they say literally, they are equally valid. She says that compassion is the supreme virtue and the one we must honor when speaking of anyone else’s religion. She believes this requires her to accept at face value everything Muslims say about Muhammad and Islam, so she accepts without question every dodgy excuse Muslims have ever made to excuse the barbarous cruelties of their prophet. For instance, Muhammad had two concubines, more correctly known as sex slaves, one of whom he enslaved after defeating her tribe in battle, and then executing her husband and father. Armstrong says, “The emancipation of women was a project dear to the prophet’s heart.” And on the same page she adds, “…Muhammad was one of those rare men who truly enjoy the company of women.” (Islam: A Short History, pg. 67) In short, Karen Armstrong might as well be a muslim missionary.
However, if you can’t bear to think ill of anyone and sincerely want to believe that the billion muslims of the world follow a religion of love, then Karen Armstrong should be your guide. While she doesn’t admit to being a convert to Islam (and I doubt that she is) she is careful to say nothing that could possibly offend even the most moderate muslim. Miracles and legends that would strain the credibility of a gullible ten-year old are related by Armstrong as obvious truth. This kind of self-censorship is common among some writers on Islam. It is often presented as compassion towards the sensitivities of others, but in reality is nothing but hypocrisy. A real scholar of Islam, Maxime Rodinson, explains what seems to me a more honest position as follows,

“May any muslims who happen to read these lines forgive my plain speaking. For them the Koran is the book of Allah and I respect their faith. But I do not share it and I do not wish to fall back, as many orientalists have done, on equivocal phrases to disguise my real meaning. This may perhaps be of assistance in remaining on good terms with individuals and governments professing Islam; but I have no wish to deceive anyone. Muslims have every right not to read my book or to acquaint themselves with the ideas of a non-muslim, but if they do so, they must expect to find things put forward there which are blasphemous to them. It is evident that I do not believe that the Koran is the book of Allah.”

It is worth mentioning that many violent jihadist websites recommend Karen Armstrong’s books. I can’t help but wonder if she has ever stopped to think how miserable her life would have been if she had been born in any muslim country.

The contrary view on Islam is given in Why I Am Not a Muslim by Ibn Warraq, a readable guide to every argument ever made against Islam. The author was raised as a muslim, then became an atheist. He attacks every claim made by muslims about their faith and leaves not one stone standing on another. The Koran is not infallible, not the word of God, it is not even good Arabic. Mohammed was a mass murderer, a pedophile and a fraud. Islam despises women and hates science. If this sounds harsh, you should be aware that all the facts presented by Ibn Warraq come from canonical Muslim sources. I believe his arguments are irrefutable and that they should be read by anyone who wants to discuss Islam in public. Aside from the fraudulent nature of the Koran and the reprehensible character of Mohammed, Ibn Warraq discusses two important areas which are commonly shrouded in myths: Science and Women.
It is widely believed that there was a period of time lasting several centuries when Islamic civilization was exceptionally tolerant of other religions and that there was a great flourishing of science and art. Ibn Warraq debunks this myth completely. Of course there are some grains of truth around which the myth is built. There were some great scholars in Muslim countries who preserved manuscripts of classic Greek philosophers and mathematicians, manuscripts which would otherwise have been lost to humanity. However, most of these men were not muslims. They were Christians or Jews who lived in Muslim countries. Their names are Arabic, because they were born in Arab countries and Arabic was their native tongue, but they were not muslim. They and the few muslims who shared their interests were not actually tolerated, in the usual meaning of that word. Almost every one of them was persecuted, some were executed, some were exiled. Others had to write in allegorical language or leave their works to be published posthumously. If these men survived unscathed, it was by accident, or because they lived in seclusion. In every case, their accusers were the leading Islamic scholars of the day, who denounced them for the simple crime of reading non-Islamic books. It has long been a fundamental belief in the muslim world that all books written by non-muslims are useless and probably dangerous. The argument given is that if by chance the book contains material that agrees with Islam it is redundant and therefore superfluous. If it contains material contrary to Islam then it is evil. This single idea is responsible for the cultural egotism and widespread ignorance in the muslim world. A few years ago a United Nations study counted all the books translated into Arabic in one year. It was equal to the number of books translated into modern Greek. Since the Arab countries have 30 times the population of Greece, these majority muslim countries clearly suffer from a profound lack of curiosity about the rest of the world. This, as much as anything, explains the widespread ignorance, lack of development, and intolerance among muslims. Simply put, Islam is hostile to all education except the study of the Koran and other Islamic texts. There never was and never will be a great age of science in the muslim world until this self-imposed narrow mindedness disappears.
As Ernest Renan observed, we do not give the Catholic Inquisition the credit for the works of Galileo, so why should we give Islam the credit for the achievements of a few scholars whose lives were lived in constant fear of Islamic persecution?
Ibn Warraq also gives a full account of the status of women in Islam, throughout history and throughout the Muslim world today. I thought I knew most of the indictment here, but I was wrong. The truth is much more horrible. Reading the catalog of horrors against women committed in the name of Islam is very much like reading about the Nazi death camps, and it must be emphasized again and again, the misogyny starts with Mohammed. It’s there in the Koran. It’s in the hadith, the biographical sketches of the prophet’s life, where it is obvious that to Mohammed, women were not fully human in the same way that men are. For Mohammed, women were nothing but sex toys. Hatred of women is not a perversion of Islam, it is Islam. For example, Al-Ghazali, an Islamic scholar sometimes called the second greatest muslim after the prophet, was a sick misogynist. Ibn Warraq provides a short summary of Al-Ghazali’s pronouncements on women, and reading it, I hope, will make you throw up. And the story never gets better. In every century and in every Islamic country, women have been treated like livestock.
For additional current information on the lives of women in Islamic countries, see my next post, “Books on Islam, pt. 2” which contains reviews of “Infidel” by Ayan Hirsi Ali, “Now They Call Me Infidel” by Nonie Darwish and the books by Jean Sasson, “Princess,” “Sultana’s Circle,” and “Sultana’s Children,” and others.