India has its own full-fledged brand of negationism: a movement to deny the large-scale and long-term crimes against humanity committed by Islam. This movement is led by Islamic apologists and Marxist academics, and followed by all the politicians, journalists and intellectuals who call themselves secularists. In contrast to the European negationism regarding the Nazi acts of genocide, but similar to the Turkish negationism regarding the Armenian genocide, the Indian negationism regarding the terrible record of Islam is fully supported by the establishment. It has nearly full control of the media and dictates all state and government parlance concerning the communal problem (more properly to be called the Islam problem).
Its techniques are essentially the same as those of negationists elsewhere:
The crassest form of negationism is obviously the simple denial of the facts. This is mostly done in the form of general claims, such as: “Islam is tolerant”, “Islamic Spain was a model of multicultural harmony”, “the anti-Jewish hatred was unknown among Muslims until Zionism and anti-Semitism together entered the Muslim world from Europe”. Since it is rare that a specific crime of Islam is brought to the public’s notice, there is little occasion to come out and deny specific crimes. Exceptions are the Armenian genocide, officially denied in Turkey and the entire Muslim world, and the temple destructions in India, which have been highlighted in the Ayodhya debate but flatly denied by Syed Shahabuddin, Sushil Srivastava and many other pro-Babri polemists.
The Rushdie affair was the occasion for negationism on a grand scale. There happens to be an unambiguous answer to the question: “Is it Islamic to kill those who voice criticism of the Prophet?” According to the media and most experts, the answer was definitely: no. According to the basic traditions of Islam, it was: yes. Mohammed as well as his immediate successors have killed critics, both in formal executions and in night-time stabbings. In Islamic law, the Prophet’s example is valid precedent. At most there could be some quarreling over the procedure: some jurists thought that Rushdie should first be kidnapped to an Islamic country and given a chance to recant before an Islamic court, though the ayatollahs have ruled that no amount of remorse can save Rushdie. If he stands by his book, even the so-called moderates think he must be killed. Islamic law punishes both apostasy and insults to the Prophet with the death penalty: twice there is no escape for Rushdie. In the Muslim world, several publications have restated the clear-cut Islamic provisions for cases like Rushdie’s including Ahaanat-iRasoolkiSazaa (“Punishment for Insulting the Prophet”) by JNU Prof. MaulanaMohsinUdmaniNadwi, and Muqaddas-iAyat (“The Sacred Verses”) by Maulana Majid Ali Khan, both published by the Islamic Research Foundation, Delhi. Yet, the outside public was told by many experts that killing Rushdie is un-Islamic.
Flat denial will work very well if your grip on the press and education media is sufficient. Otherwise, there is a danger of being shown up as the negationist one really is. In that case, a number of softer techniques are available.
Ignoring the facts
This passive negationism is certainly the safest and the most popular. The media and textbook-writers simply keep the vast corpus of inconvenient testimony out of the readers’ view.
Minimizing the facts
If the inconvenient fact is pointed out that numerous Muslim chroniclers have reported a given massacre of unbelievers themselves, one can posit a priori that they must have exaggerated to flatter their patron’s martial vanity – as if it is not significant enough that Muslim rulers felt flattered by being described as mass-murderers of infidels.
Apart from minimizing the absolute size of Islamic crimes, there is the popular technique of relative minimizing: make the facts look smaller by comparing them with other, carefully selected facts. Thus, one can say that “all religions are intolerant”, which sounds plausible to many though it is patently false: in the Roman Empire only those sects were persecuted which had political ambitions (Jews when they fought for independence, Christians because they sought to take over the Empire and outlaw all other religions, as they effectively did), while the others enjoyed the status of religiolicita; similarly with the Persian Empire and many other states and cultures.
An oft-invoked counterweight for the charge-sheet against Islam, is the fanaticism record of Christianity. it is indeed well-known that Christianity has been guilty of numerous temple destructions and persecutions. But the reason for this fanaticism is found in the common theological foundation of both religions: exclusivist prophetic monotheism. The case against Christianity is at once a case against Islam. Moreover, in spite of its theologically motivated tendency to intolerance, Christianity has had to go through the experience of “live and let live” because in its formative period, it was but one of the numerous sects in the pluralist Roman empire.
Islam never had this experience, and in order to bring out its full potential of fanaticism, Christianity has needed the influence of Islam on a few occasions. Thus, it is no coincidence that Charlemagne, who defeated the Saxons by force, was the grandson of Charles Martel, who defeated the Islamic army in Poitiers; no coincidence either that the Teutonic knights who forcibly converted the Balts, were veterans of the Crusades, i.e. the campaign to liberate Palestine from Islam; nor is it a coincidence that the Spanish Inquisition emerged in a country that had needed centuries to shake off Islamic oppression. Finally, Christianity is, by and large, facing the facts of its own history, though it is still struggling with the need to own up the responsibility for these facts.
An even more general way of drowning Islamic fanaticism in relativist comparisons, is to point out that after all, every imperialism has been less than gentle. That may well be true, but then, we are not setting up cults for the Genghis Khans of this world. A religion should contribute to man’s transcending his natural defects like greed and cruelty, and not sanction and glorify them.
When one cannot conceal, deny or minimize the facts, one can still claim that on closer analysis, they are not as bad as they seem. One can call right what is obviously wrong. This can go very far, e.g. in his biography of Mohammed, MaximeRodinson declared unashamedly that the extermination of the Medinese Jews by Mohammed was doubtlessly the best solution. In numerous popular introductions to Islam, the fact that Islam imposes the death penalty on apostates (in modern terminology: that Islam opposes freedom of religion in the most radical manner) is acknowledged; but then it is explained that “since Islam was at war with the polytheists, apostasy equalled treason and desertion, something which is still punished with death in our secular society”. All right, but the point is precisely that Islam chose to be at war with the traditional religion of Arabia, as also with all other religions, and that it has made this state of war into a permanent feature of its law system.
Playing up unrepresentative facts
A popular tactic in negationism consists in finding a positive but uncharacteristic event, and highlighting it while keeping the over-all picture out of the public’s view. For instance, a document is found in which Christians whose son has forcibly been inducted in the Ottoman Janissary army, express pride because their son has made it made it to high office within this army. The fact that these people manage to see the bright side of their son’s abduction, is then used to prove that non-muslims were quite happy under Muslim rule, and to conceal the fact that the devshirme, the forcible conversion and abduction of one fifth of the Christian children by the Ottoman authorities, constituted a constant and formidable terror bewailed in hundreds of heart-rending songs and stories.
For another example, negationists always mention cases of collaboration by non-Muslims (Man Singh with the Moghuls etc.) to suggest that these were treated as partners and equals and that Muslim rule was quite benevolent; when in fact every history of an occupation, even the most cruel one, is also the history of a collaboration. As has been pointed out, the Nazis employed Jewish guards in the Warsaw ghetto, disprove the Nazi oppression of the Jews.
Denying the motive
Negationists sometimes accept the facts, but disclaim their hero’s responsibility for them. Thus, Mohammed Habib tried to exonerate Islam by ascribing to the Islamic invaders alternative motives: Turkish barbarity, greed, the need to put down conspiracies brewing in temples. In reality, those rulers who had secular reasons to avoid an all-out confrontation with the unbelievers, were often reprimanded by their clerical courtiers for neglecting their Islamic duty. The same clerics were never unduly worried over possible secular motives in a ruler’s mind as long as these prompted him to action against the unbelievers. At any rate, the fact that Islam could be used routinely to justify plunder and enslavement (unlike, say, Buddhism), is still significant enough.
Another common tactic consists in blurring the problem by questioning the very terms of the debate: “Islam does not exist, for there are many Islams, with big differences between countries etc.” It would indeed be hard to criticize something that is so ill- defined. But the simple fact is that Islam does exist: it is the doctrine contained in the Quran, normative for all Muslims, and in the Hadis, normative at least for all Sunni Muslims. There are differences between the law schools concerning minor points, and of course there are considerable differences in the extent to which Muslims are effectively faithful to Islamic doctrine, and correspondingly, the extent to which they mix it with un- Islamic elements.
Blaming fringe phenomena
When faced with hard facts of Islamic fanaticism, negationists often blame them on some fringe tendency, now popularly known as fundamentalism. This is said to be the product of post-colonial frustration, basically foreign to genuine Islam. In reality, fundamentalists like MaulanaMaudoodi and Ayatollah Khomeini knew their Quran better than the self-deluding secularists who brand them as bad Muslims. What is called fundamentalism is in fact the original Islam, as is proven by the fact that fundamentalists have existed since long before colonialism, e.g. the 13th century theologian Ibn Taimiya, who is still a lighthouse for today’s Maudoodis, Turabis, Madanis and Khomeinis. When Ayatollah Khomeini declared that the goal of Islam is the conquest of all non- Muslim countries, this was merely a reformulation of Mohammed’s long-term strategy and of the Quranic assurance that God has promised the entire world to Islam. In the case of communism, one can shift the blame from Marx to Lenin and Stalin, but Islamic terrorism has started with Mohammed himself.
Arguments ad hominem
If denying the evidence is not tenable, one can always distort it by means of selective quoting and imputing motives to the original authors of the source material; or manipulating quotations to make them say the opposite of the over-all picture which the original author has presented. Focus all attention on a few real or imagined flaws in a few selected pieces, and act as if the entire corpus of evidence has been rendered untrustworthy. To extend the alleged untrustworthiness of one piece of evidence to the entire corpus of evidence, it is necessary to create suspicion against those who present the evidence: the implication is that they have a plan of history falsification, that this plan has been exposed in the case of this one piece of evidence, but that it is only logical that such motivated history falsifiers are also behind the concoction of the rest of the alleged evidence.
If the discussion of inconvenient evidence cannot be prevented, disperse it by raising other issues, such as the human imperfections which every victim of crimes against humanity inevitably has (Jewish harshness against the Palestinians, Hindu untouchability); describe the demand for the truth as a ploy to justify and cover up these imperfections. If the facts have to be faced at all, then blame the victim. If people ignore or refute your distorted version of history, accuse them of distortion and political abuse of history. Slander scholars whose testimony is inconvenient; impute political or other motives to them in order to pull the attention away from the hard evidence they present.
Finally, all discussion can be sabotaged with the simple technique of shouting slogans: prejudice, myth, “racism/communalism”. Take the struggle from the common battlefield of arguments into the opponent’s camp: his self-esteem as a member of the civilized company that abhors ugly things like prejudice and communalism. After all, attack is the best defense.
After summing up the forms of negationism, we have to look into its causes. The following factors come to mind:
Orientalism and Islamology
After the medieval Christian pamphlets against “Mohammed the impostor”, not much has been published thematizing the ideological and factual crimes of Islam. Books on, say, “slavery in Islam” are extremely rare: the raw information that could fill such a publication will have to be found in more general publications, in which Islam is only referred to in passing, often without the author’s realizing the implications for an evaluation of Islam. It is often said (when introducing “refutations of prejudice”) that people always associate Islam with intolerance; but finding a book specifically devoted to the subject of Islamic intolerance will be harder. How many millions have been killed by Islam simply because they were non-Muslims? Nobody has yet tabulated the figures available to prepare a general estimate. We can only notice that critical research of Islam is not exactly encouraged, and that there is an increasing tendency to self-censorship regarding Islam criticism. In part, this is due to much delayed reaction against the long-abandoned Christian polemical approach.
Now that Islamic Studies departments in Europe are increasingly manned by Muslims and sponsored by Islamic foundations and states, as has been the case in India for long, the climate for critical studies of Islam is only worsening. When comparing the first (pre-World War 2) edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam (Leiden, Netherlands) with the new edition, it is striking how critical observations have been ironed out. But even in the past, Islam has enjoyed a rather favourable treatment in academic circles. Thus, about Islamic slavery the prominent Dutch Islamologist C. Snouck-Hurgronje wrote in 1887 (i.e. thirty years after the Americans had waged a war to impose the abolition of slavery in their southern states, and some seventy years after its abolition in the colonies): “For most slaves their abduction was a blessing… They themselves are convicted that it is their enslavement that has for the first time made them human.”
The political context of the growth phase of Islamology provides a part of the explanation. Mature colonialism was not waging war against Islam, but sought the co-operation of the established social forces in the colonized populations. The British co-operation with the Indian Muslims is well- known; it is epitomized by the founding in 1906 of the Muslim League, which sought to “inculcate loyalty to the British Empire in the Indian Muslims”. In French West Africa, in the same period, Islam was accepted as a factor of social stability, and General Lyautey pursued a dream of a Franco-Islamic synthesis culture in Algeria. In the 1930s, in the last European attempt at fresh colonization, the Italian Fascists actively supported the spread of Islam in the Horn of Africa. But already since 1853 the colonial powers had been supporting the Caliphate against a Christian power, Czarist Russia, esp. in the Crimean War (a mistaken war if ever there was one), and this had strongly contributed to climate of benevolence towards the Muslim culture.
Christianity has for centuries waged a lively polemic against Islam, with RaimundusLullus as probably the most remarkable exponent. Recently, this criticism has subsided. Worse, polemical works by clerics have been withdrawn or kept unpublished (such as, early this century, Father Henri Lammens’ paper arguing that Mohammed’s revelations were a psychopathological phenomenon). One reason is that the Church is aware of the similarity between Jesus’ and Mohammed’s missions, so that a criticism of the foundations of Islam may backfire on Christianity. The second reason is the fear that Christians in the Muslim world would have to pay for even ideological attack on Islam (that is why Church polemists save their sharpest words for harmless religions like Hinduism). This fear also motivates other Church policies, such as the non-recognition of the state of Israel.
Meanwhile, the face of the Church has changed. A small but significant event in the wake of the Second Vatican Council was the deletion from the Saints’ calendar of Our Lady of the Redemption of Slaves, whose feast was on 24 September. In the Middle Ages, there was a special clerical order and a whole fund-raising network devoted to the redemption (“buying back”) of Christian slaves held in Barbary. Until the 19th century, coastal villages in Italy had watchtowers to alarm the people when a ship of the slave-catching Barbarese pirates was in sight. The terror of Islamic slavery was a permanent feature of Christian history from the 7th till the 19th century, but now the Church is working hard to erase this memory.
Today, its pastors are the most fervent pleaders for the rights of Islam. Muslims in Europe are for them a substitute for the disappearing parish members. Separate Christian institutions, whose reason of existence is being questioned, find a new legitimacy in the fact that Islam in its turn is also opening separate schools, charities and even political parties. Islam has become a sister religion regularly praised as a religion of peace.
One of the ideological guidelines of anti-colonialism was: “Of the (ex-)colonized, nothing but good must be said.” Therefore, mentioning the colonialism and mass slavery practiced by the Muslims had become undesirable.
Add to this general taboo the warning that Islam criticism effectively implies support to Israel, described by MaximeRodinson as a “colonial settler-state”. If one acknowledges that Islam has always oppressed the Jews, one accepts that Israel was a necessary refuge for the Jews fleeing not only the European but also the Islamic variety of anti-Judaism. Let us not forget that decolonization was followed immediately by renewed discrimination of and attacks on the Jewish and Christian minorities, and that those Jews who could get out have promptly fled to Israel (or France, in the case of Algeria). It is no coincidence that these Sephardic Jews are mostly supporters of the hard- liners in Israel.
The enemy’s enemy is a friend
Many people brought up as Christians, or as nominal Hindus, never outgrow their pubescent revolt against their parents’ religion, and therefore automatically sympathize with every rival or opponent of the religion they have come to despise. Because Islam poses the most formidable threat, they like it a lot.
In this century, Islam has come to be advertised as a naturally leftist “religion of equality”. This line has been developed by Muslim apologists such as Mohammed Habib, and they have even taken it as a rationalization of the irrational claim that Mohammed was the “last Prophet”: after all, as the “prophet of equality”, he had brought the ultimate message upon which no improvement is possible. Sir Mohammed Iqbal, one of the fathers of Pakistan, had claimed that “Islam equals Communism plus Allah”. The Iranian Ayatollahs, by contrast, and most of the vocal Muslims after the Soviet-Islamic war in Afghanistan, have restated the orthodox position that Communism is un-Islamic, not only because of its atheism but also because of its rejection of free enterprise; the current claim is that Islam provides a “better form of equality” than Communism.
Even while Communists were slaughtered in Islamic Iran, and even while political analysts classify the Islamist movements as “extreme rightist”, most leftists have kept on cultivating some sympathy for Islam. During the Lebanese civil war, they fed us news stories about “leftist Muslims, rightist Christians”, “Islamo-progressive, christiano-reactionnaire”.
Negationism in India is practiced with the most prowess by historians and writers who are under the spell of Marxism. Lenin had wanted to use the Muslims against the French and British colonialists, but what was a tactical alliance for Lenin became a love-affair for the Indian Communists. However, it would be wrong to expect that the collapse of Soviet Communism and the inevitable decline of Communism in India will automatically lead to the dissolution of negationism. It has become a bias and a thought-habit for many people who have only vaguely been influenced by Marxism. Children mostly survive their parents, and certain forms of negationism may survive Indian Marxism for some time, unless a serious effort is made to expose it on a grand scale.
There is also a rightist sympathy for Islam. An obvious point of agreement is of course anti-Judaism. A subtler basis for sympathy is the so-called traditionalist current, which was represented by the converts Rene Guenon and FrithjofSchuon, and still has a following: it has been idealizing Islam and esp. Sufism as the preserver of the age-old philosophiapernnis against modernity. In Russia, some Slavophile anti-Western groups now seek an alliance with Islam against the impending Americanization of their society. In the U.S., Christian fundamentalists and Islamic organizations are increasingly creating common platforms to speak out against trends of moral decay (abortion, pornography, etc.). Some of these phenomena of traditionalist alliance-building are quite respectable, but they are nevertheless conducive to Islam negationism.
Even among so-called militant Hindus, there is a shameful eagerness to praise Islam and deny its criminal record. E.g., during the Ayodhya movement, many Hindu leaders have been pleading that the Muslims should renounce the Ram Janmabhoomi site because “genuine Islam is against temple demolition”, so that a mosque standing on a demolished temple is not in conformity with Islamic law. This was, of course, blatantly untrue: Islamic scripture and history prove that destroying all expressions of unbelief and idolatry is a duty and an honour for Muslims. The doctrines that have led to the temple destructions including the one on Ram Janmabhoomi, are still being taught in all Islamic schools.
Apart from being untruthful, this Hindu appeal to “genuine Islam’s tolerance” was also bad debating tactics: if you say that temple demolition was standard Islamic practice, and that what had happened in Ayodhya was merely the local application of the general rule, the onus is on the Babri advocates to prove that the Babri Masjid was an exception; but if you say that the Babri Masjid was an exception to the rule of Islamic tolerance, the onus is on you to prove that in this case, an exceptional and uncharacteristic incident had taken place. It was also bad bargaining tactics: if you say that the Babri Masjid was merely one among thousands, then renouncing this one non- mosque would sound like a very low price for the Muslims to buy the Hindus’ goodwill; but if you say that the Babri Masjid was an exceptional case, an insignificant incident amid the many big problems thrown up by history, you look petty by demanding the restoration of this one site. Short, Hindu leaders were damaging their own position by denying history and avoiding Islam criticism.
One could understand people telling lies when it serves their own interest; but people who tell lies when it is the truth that would serve their interest, really deserve to be kicked around. This truly strange and masochistic behaviour can only be understood if we keep in mind that Hindu society is a terrorized society. During the Muslim period, all those who stood up and spoke out against Islam were eliminated; and under Nehruvian rule, they were sidelined and abused. The oppressed Hindus started licking the boot that kicked them, and this has become a habit which in their slumber they have not yet identified and stopped.
In the Islamic world, it is unwise to attack Islam head-on. Yet, sometimes people in those countries feel the need to oppose Islamic phenomena and campaigns, such as the witch-hunt on un-Islamic cultural remnants, violence on the non-Muslims, extreme forms of gender inequality. In order to have a chance, these people have to use Islamic language: “Mohammed was actually against polygamy”, “violence against others is in conflict with the tolerance which Mohammed has taught us”, “respect for other cultures is part of Islamic tradition”. In order to press their humanist point, they have to formally identify with Islam and lie about its contents.
Many Muslims have started to believe their own rhetoric. If you point out to them that the Quran teaches intolerance and war against the unbelievers in the most explicit terms, many of them will sincerely protest, and not know what to say when you show them the Quranic passages concerned. There is no reason to doubt that the Moroccan authoress Fatima Mernissi genuinely believes in her own argument that the Quranic instructions on how to organize your polygamous household are to be read as an abolition of polygamy (albeit in veiled terms, because Allah, the same Allah Almighty who went straight against the prevalent customs of idolatry and pluralism, had to be careful not to offend the spirit of the times). Many nominal Muslims have outgrown Islamic values and developed a commitment to modern values, but their sentimental attachment to the religion imbibed in their childhood prevents them from formally breaking with Islam and makes them paint a rosy picture of it.
Among Muslim spokesmen, is certainly not the fundamentalists who are the most active proponents of negationism. It is liberals like Asghar Ali Engineer who deny that Islam ordains war on the infidels. It is those who are acclaimed by Hindus as being good “secular” Muslims, like Saeed Naqvi, who go as far as to deny that the Partition of India was brought about by Muslims. An Islam that wants to be secular, cannot but be dishonest and untrue to itself. Unfortunately, a tolerant Islam is a contradiction, and a tolerant past for Islam to buttress the position of liberal Muslims, is a lie.
Muslims differing from Islam
Many people have a Muslim neighbour who is a fine man, and from this empirical fact they conclude: Islam cannot be all that bad considering our friend Mustapha. This one empirical fact gives them a tremendous resistance against all information about Islamic intolerance. People usually reduce the world to their own sphere of experience, and general historical facts of Islamic fanaticism are not allowed to disturb the private experience of good neighbourly relations.
Many nominal Muslims have retained from their Quran classes only some vague generalities about morality, and they normally go by their own conscience and sensibility without ever developing the doctrinally prescribed hostility towards non-Muslims. These good people but had Muslims can ignore but not change Islamic doctrine. They cannot prevent the Quranic message of hatred from infecting at least some of the more susceptible among their brethren.
There have certainly been situations where sane Muslims have calmed down their more riotous brethren, and such individuals do make a real difference. We should not make the Islamic mistake of judging people simply by their belonging or not belonging to the Muslim community, rather than by their human qualities. But the fact remains that the presence of a doctrine of intolerance as the official and identity-defining ideology of a community, exerts a constant pressure tending towards separatism and confrontation. The alleviating presence of the humanist factor even within the Muslim community should not be used to deny the ominous presence of Islamic factor.
“Those who deny history are bound to repeat it”: that is what many critics of Holocaust negationism allege. This seems slightly exaggerated, though it is of course the well- wishers of Nazism who practice negationism. In the case of Islam, it is equally true that negationism is practiced by the well-wishers of that same doctrine which has led to the crimes against humanity under consideration. While Nazism is simply too stained to get a second chance, Islam is certainly in a position to force unbelievers into the zimmistatus (as is happening in dozens of Muslim countries in varying degrees), and even to wage new jihads, this time with weapons of mass-destruction. Those who are trying to close people’s eyes to this danger by distorting or concealing the historical record of Islam are effective accomplices in the injustice and destruction which Islam is sure to cause before the time of its dissolution comes. Therefore, I consider it a duty of all intellectuals to expose and denounce the phenomenon of negationism whenever it is practiced.