An Indonesian Book Burning

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There is currently a ruckus over in Indonesia over a book I wrote, 5 Cities That Ruled the World. The publisher there (Gramedia) has formally apologized for their role in it, and has burned their copies of the book.

The first thing about this that I should note is that people on the other side of the world are in significant trouble because of something I wrote, and I don’t want to in any way make their situation any more difficult than it has to be. But this is how hostage taking works, isn’t it? Unreasonable and belligerent people are always willing to commandeer a situation, and then blame others for the devastation that follows.

Whenever this kind of thing happens, whenever Muslims threaten violence because their prophet was “defamed,” they are only proving that it wasn’t a defamation at all. The sons of Muhammad do the works of Muhammad.

The offending passage in my book appears to have been this one:

“He [Muhammad] became a marauder and pirate, ordering attacks on Meccan caravans. Two years later, Muhammad ordered assassinations in order to gain control of Medina, and in AD 630 he conquered Mecca” (p. 26 of the English edition).

I think one of the news stories said that I had called Muhammad a “pirate and a murderer,” which I repeated in one of my tweets on this situation, but having now gone back and looked at the original passage, I actually had said marauder and pirate. These are sentiments that ought to be unremarkable in a free country, but apparently Indonesia is not quite there yet.

Letting a caravan have it is noted in the Koran itself:

“You were encamped on this side of the valley and the unbelievers on the farther side, with the caravan below. Had they offered battle, you would have surely declined; but God sought to accomplish what he had ordained, so that, by a clear sign, he that was destined to perish might die . . .” (8:42)

For those who want to pursue this subject further, the downstream history of Islam’s approach to violence is ably discussed by Bernard Lewis in What Went Wrong? A good brief biography of Muhammad can be found in the first chapter of The Sword of the Prophet by Serge Trifkovic. Another interesting discussion is offered by Mark Gabriel (a former Muslim) in Jesus and Muhammad, in which he chronicles “profound differences and surprising similarities” between Jesus and Muhammad. The place to check would be his Chapter 7, “Spreading the Message.” In Secrets of the Koran, Don Richardson (author of Peace Child) has a good chapter on the violent passages of the Koran, and their original context.

In the meantime, I would ask everyone to please pray for the safety and security of anyone involved in this mess which, if there weren’t such serious possible consequences for some, would be laughable.



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