Over the last week psycho-bigot Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) has been regaling commuters in New York City with pithy insights into Islam and the politics of the Middle East.
First there was this advert, which the Metropolitan Transportation Authority allowed in 10 subway stations after a court case overruled its attempts to block it:
Geller’s binary formulation has not gone uncontested. A coalition of United Methodist Women, the Christian social-justice organization Sojourners, and Rabbis for Human Rights have paid $6,000 for the following 10 subway ads:
Some commuters have expressed their opposition more directly:
Not that criticism of this or any other kind is likely to bother the Queen of Counter-jihad, who is not one to shun the limelight:
Or the other defenders of the civilized world, like ‘Tommy Robinson’ or ‘Stephen Yaxley Lennon’ or ‘Paul Harris’ or whoever the hell he is, tanning-shop owner and head of the English Defence League. Here is the great man on Geller’s left, attending her recent SION (Stop Islamization of Nations) conference in New York:
One can only hope that this was a memorable occasion for the EDL leader, who was given a 10-month jail sentence for entering the United States illegally as a result – a development Geller’s blog describes as ‘political persecution.’
Meanwhile the AFDI has continued its attempts to enlighten the American public about Islam with a new subway advertisement, containing a less strident but no less poisonous and inflammatory juxtaposition:
This advert was co-sponsored by JihadWatch, the anti-Muslim organization formed by Geller’s mentor Robert Spencer, and it is a variant on the ‘quotation’ game favored by Spencer and many other bigots from the same stable.
This game consists of quoting violent texts from the Quran and the Hadith as a pseudo-explanation for any acts of violence involving Muslims in any part of the world, in order to paint an essentialist view of Islam as a barbaric and inherently bloodthirsty religion/culture in which all acts of ‘jihadist’ violence are the result of a religious imperative.
These assertions are based on an argument which has been endlessly repeated in ‘counter-jihad’ circles; that unlike other religions, Muslims believe that the Quran is the revealed word of God and all of them believe and accept every word in it unquestioningly.
Therefore, ipso facto, all Muslims belong to the same unbroken continuum of violence and bear direct or indirect responsibility for the September 11 attacks, and are collectively engaged in an attempt to take over Europe/the United States/ Israel/ the whole world, that may take the form of terrorist attacks or various forms of ‘stealth jihad’.
Violent quotations can certainly be found in the Quran, admittedly accompanied by qualifications or rooted in a very specific historical context that is routinely ignored by the manipulations of Spencer, Geller et al. But equally bloodthirsty pronouncements can also be found in other religions, without acquiring the same essentialist or universalist connotations.
The Old Testament is filled with startlingly unrepentant celebrations of extreme violence, particularly those sections that deal with the Israelite conquest of Canaan. Thus Deuteronomy, Chapter 4: 34, celebrates the defeat of Sihon, king of Heshbon, in the following terms:
‘ And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain.’
The same fate meets the inhabitants of Bashan, where Chapter 3: 6 tells us that the Israelites ‘ utterly destroyed them, as we did unto Sihon king of Heshbon, utterly destroying the men, women, and children, of every city.’
In Chapter 13: 15, Moses exhorts the Israelites to punish the idolatrous inhabitants of Belial in the same way:
‘Thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly, and all that is therein, and the cattle thereof, with the edge of the sword.’
The inhabitants of Jericho fare no better, according to Judges: Chapter 6: 21, where the Israelites follow their victory by massacring the entire population:
‘And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.’
And Joshua: Chapter 8: 26 relates how the Israelites pursued and slaughtered the surviving warriors of Ai, who they had defeated in battle, before massacring the population of the city:
‘For Joshua drew not his sword back, wherewith he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai.’
There is a lot more where this came from. And were I minded to do so, I could also juxtapose some of these quotes, say, with pictures of missile strikes on Gaza, the aftermath of the two sieges of Fallujah, or the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, or the victims of death squads in Guatemala or El Salvador, in order to suggest that all these actions were the result of some kind of religious imperative, and that Jews and Christians bore collective responsibility through their membersship of a barbaric and primitive religion that condones and even glorifies massacre and killing in the name of God.
At various points in history, the Bible – like the Quran – has provided justification/inspiration for acts of extreme violence. In the first Crusade, the Christian knights who slaughtered the population of Jerusalem believed that their acts were divinely sanctioned. Seventeenth century Puritan settlers in America frequently compared their situation to the Israelites in Canaan and quoted from the Bible to justify massacre and conquest. Today Jewish settlers in the West Bank routinely cite the Old Testament as a justification for their occupation of ‘Judea and Samaria.’
References to the Almighty are a powerful legitimizing force for violence and war in all religious traditions, which can be drawn on depending on the situation. But the ‘Islam is evil’ school of thought argues that Muslims, unlike Jews and Christians, are obliged to accept and act upon everything that is written in the Quran, and that because Muslim leaders have not renounced its violent messages, they are somehow complicit in violence.
To my knowledge, the Old Testament has not been disclaimed by the Catholic or Anglican Church, or by major Jewish religious figures. Priests and rabbis do not – and indeed cannot – look through the Bible and the Torah and pick and choose which parts of it are ‘true’ and which parts are to be rejected. This is not how things work.
Nevertheless, the fact that the unapologetic celebration of massacre and slaughter contained in Deuteronomy, Numbers, Judges, or Joshua has not been ‘officially’ rejected does not mean that all Jews and Christians continue to believe or act upon these texts, or that they are even aware of them. Nor do these texts define the essence of their faith or religious practices, or ‘explain’ every act of violence with a Jewish or Christian component.
These are standards that are imposed uniquely on Muslims by hatemongers and bigots like Geller and Spencer, who would have the world believe that the Quran is responsible for 9/11, Osama bin Laden, Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ‘jihad’, ‘stealth jihad’ and the ‘Islamization of Nations.
In fact their crude and manipulative use of Quranic texts tells us more about them than it does about Islam. And the New York ads are merely one more manifestation of the new forms of hatespeech and gutter scholarship that have emerged in the early 21st century, in which conservatives and the far-right have embarked on a common attempt to frame ‘the Muslim enemy’ as the antithesis of civilization.
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