October 6, 2010
Jews, Christians, Muslims and self-criticism
One of the most brilliant individuals writing today, a man who goes by the pen name of Ibn Warraq, writes in his book “Defending the West” that a unique aspect of the West has been its self-criticism.
As he points out, it is literally unique. It has been found nowhere else historically.
There are major ramifications to this insight. One is where this indispensable aspect of moral and progressing civilization began.
It began in the Torah and the rest of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh). Jews in the Torah and in the rest of the Tanakh are relentlessly criticized by fellow Jews and by the Jewish scriptures.
Whenever I give my reasons for believing that the Torah is divine in origin, one of the biggest is how negatively Jews are often depicted. There is no parallel to this in any holy scripture in world history — not Christians in the New Testament, not Muslims in the Koran, not Hindus in the Bhagavad Gita.
The Jews in the Torah are regularly depicted negatively, so much so that Moses had to “persuade” God not to destroy them and start a new nation from him (Moses). The Jewish kings are regularly denounced for immoral and unethical conduct, and the Jewish prophets are, of course, renowned for their moral criticism of their people. In fact, anti-Semites frequently cited the prophets’ criticisms of Jews as “proof” of how perfidious the Jews are.
What the anti-Semite failed to note is that it has been a moral compliment of the highest order to Judaism and to Jews that the Jews were the only people to canonize their critics.
This self-criticism was also present — though not as extensively — among ancient Greek writers. Given that the origins of Western civilization are in Athens and Jerusalem, one can fairly infer that the West was conceived in self-criticism.
Ibn Warraq makes another point that is critically significant in understanding the world today: that self-criticism is essentially absent in Islam. It is not in the Quran, and it has not been present in Islam in the past, let alone today. Whereas committed Jews routinely argue with God — and even criticize Him — and still remain in good stead as Jews, questioning Allah or criticizing Islam has no basis within Islam. Both Islam and Allah are regarded as perfect and unquestionable. To paraphrase a Christian who often participates in interfaith dialogue with Muslims around the world: At these interfaith meetings, “We (non-Muslims) praise Islam and then the Muslims praise Islam.”
Rather than engage in the soul-searching that the state of the Muslim world would demand of any moral Muslim, every major Muslim spokesman blames all of the Muslim world’s defects on outsiders. From late Columbia University professor and Palestinian activist Edward Said, to CAIR (the Council on American-Islamic Relations), moral failings in the Arab and Muslim worlds are the fault of the West.
And the situation is worse than that. The best-known critics of Islam are murdered or go into hiding. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the brilliant Somali woman who writes and lectures about the status of women in much of the Muslim world, travels with bodyguards and has no knowable address. Likewise the aforementioned ex-Muslim writer Ibn Warraq does all his work under that pseudonym in order to avoid being murdered. But there is no level of hate-filled rhetoric, let alone intelligent criticism, of Christians or Christianity, of America or Americans, or of Jews and Israel that makes the Western critic fear for his life.
What we have today is, therefore, morally lopsided. We have Jews criticizing Jews, Judaism and Israel — often irresponsibly. We have Americans criticizing America — likewise often irresponsibly. And we have Christians criticizing Christians and Christianity — again, often irresponsibly. But we have very few Muslims criticizing Islam and Muslims (beyond pro-forma condemnations of some of the terrorism committed in the name of Islam).
Moreover, the same people who excessively criticize America, Israel and Christianity not only refrain from any criticism of Islam or Muslims but also try to ban everyone else from doing so. There is no notion of “Ameriphobia” for anti-American hate speech, and no word like “Christophobia” for when an “artist” places a crucifix in a jar of his urine. That is not only not labeled anti-Christian, it is labeled “art” and shown at museums and art galleries. But these same people label any criticism of Muslims or Islam as “Islamophobia.”
The irony is that the charge of Islamophobia is usually not only a smear, it also prevents Muslims from doing the best thing they can do for their religion and people — engage in the most important building block of a moral civilization: moral self-criticism.
Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host, columnist, author and public speaker. He can be heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) weekdays 9 a.m. to noon. His Web site is dennisprager.com.