Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Revisiting Sebastian Faulks, Karen Armstrong and Sam Harris

Faulks: knave or fool?  Or just scared...
An occasional reader emails:
Hey! I've only just read this!!! Very interesting. When i first read your take on it all, I agreed with you, but when i read his apology i didn't find it grovelling or anything like that. I didn't mind his use of the word 'humility' at the end.
I agree absolutely that 'we' -- ie us westerners -- or anyone else for that matter -- should be able to talk openly and/or criticise islam, just as we should be able to with any other religion, without fear of being killed or anything! But i didn't find his apology offensive.
I was a touch surprised that the reader's referring to a post nearly two years old, and had to go back to it for review.
The kerfuffle was all about Sebastian Faulks, author of A Week in December, a book I'd just read and rather enjoyed.  In an interview in the The Telegraph, Faulks made some tart comments about the Koran and Muhammad.  This caused the expected upset amongst Muslims, which led to (i) The Telegraph's taking down the article and (ii) Faulks' apologising.
At first quick re-reading of his apology I kind of agreed with the comments above that it wasn't too bad, you might even say elegantly and cogently expressed.
But then I read it again and compared it with what's left of his original comments. And on re-reading I stand with my own original comments, linked above; rather than "elegant", the apology crafted is more like "cunning".
Consider the key issue: it's a complete volte face. One day he faces this way; next day he faces that way.  On day One he says the Koran is like the "ranting of a schizophrenic".  On day Two, Muhammad is "healthy and lucid".  On one day the Koran is "disappointing", "one dimensional" and "depressing", on the next day it "has lovely passages".
He quotes a Muslim friend who says that the Koran should be compared with the Old Testament, not the New, to which Faulks' comment is "That is a fair point".  It's more than just a "fair point"; it's a complete give away to the real problem with the Koran.  For while the OT is the bloodthirsty part of the Bible, the bigoted homophobic, misogynist and viciously sectarian part of the Bible, it has in the west been abrogated by the NT for the majority of Christians.  And the OT has been the subject of extensive biblical exegesis, to the point that its most egregious parts are seen as allegory, or not relevant to today.
The Koran, by contrast, is, as Faulks notes, "uncreated" in that it's seen by Muslims as the very word of God, and cannot therefore be subject of review or exegesis. (BTW: the contents of the Koran are largely lifted from the OT, hence the similarity is far from coincidental).
Thus what results is: an OT that is no longer relevant to Christianity becomes the unquestionable authority on how Muslims should act in today's society.
And Faulks merely says "That's a fair point"!
Faulks mentions Karen Armstrong in a favourable light.  That's a complete give-away of his lack of research. I read her early in my research on Islam, as she was held out as being a reputable authority explaining Islam in a sympathetic way. But by that stage I'd read the Koran and much of the Hadith as well as the Sirah, the life of Muhammad.  And I found that she flat out misrepresented all key elements of Islam, of its early spread in Arabia and of the Crusades. Either she was ignorant herself, or was duplicitous and I go for the latter, as clearly she's read up on the topics.  Soo.... here we have an author "known for his meticulous research", quoting a woman who -- if one is well-read on the topic -- is clearly duplicitous.  Which in turn makes Faulks either a fool or a knave.
On this point -- his view of Armstrong - - I'm inclined to go for the former, that he's not in fact well-read enough on Islam to see how duplicitous her writings are.
Overall, it seems clear that he's been rattled by the reaction of Muslims -- one of whom talks of "severe consequences", and Faulks has, understandably, back-pedalled to save his skin and that of his three children. After all, co-religionists of the Religion of Peace, have shown just how ready they are to resort to violence in the service of their revered book and their "prophet".
Armstrong is taken on much more elegantly that I can by one of my favourite left-of-centre authors and critics of Islam, Sam Harris.
Here he is in wonderful form: "The God Fraud".
"Losing our spines to save our necks". Sam Harris on May 5 2008