Shadow of God,

The Problem with Islam

excerpted from the book

The End of Faith

Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason

by Sam Harris

WW Norton, 2004

ANTI-SEMITISM is as integral to church doctrine as the flying buttress is to a Gothic cathedral, and this terrible truth has been published in Jewish blood since the first centuries of the common era. Like that of the Inquisition, the history of anti-Semitism can scarcely be given sufficient treatment in the context of this book. I raise the subject, however briefly, because the irrational hatred of Jews has produced a spectrum of effects that have been most acutely felt in our own time. Anti-Semitism is intrinsic to both Christianity and Islam; both traditions consider the Jews to be bunglers of God's initial revelation. Christians generally also believe that the Jews murdered Christ, and their continued existence as Jews constitutes a perverse denial of his status as the Messiah. Whatever the context, the hatred of Jews remains a product of faith: Christian, Muslim, as well as Jewish.

Contemporary Muslim anti-Semitism is heavily indebted to its Christian counterpart. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian anti-Semitic forgery that is the source of most conspiracy theories relating to the Jews, is now considered an authoritative text in the Arab-speaking world. A recent contribution to Al-Akhbar, one of Cairo's mainstream newspapers, suggests that the problem of Muslim anti-Semitism is now deeper than any handshake in the White House Rose Garden can remedy: "Thanks to Hitler, of blessed memory, who on behalf of the Palestinians took revenge in advance, against the most vile criminals on the face of the Earth .... Although we do have a complaint against him, for his revenge was not enough ."29 This is from moderate Cairo, where Muslims drink alcohol, go to the movies, and watch belly dancing-and where the government actively represses fundamentalism. Clearly, hatred of the Jews is white-hot in the Muslim world.

The gravity of Jewish suffering over the ages, culminating in the Holocaust, makes it almost impossible to entertain any suggestion that Jews might have brought their troubles upon themselves. This is, however, in a rather narrow sense, the truth. Prior to the rise of the church, Jews became the objects of suspicion and occasional persecution for their refusal to assimilate, for the insularity and professed superiority of their religious culture-that is, for the content of their own unreasonable, sectarian beliefs. The dogma of a "chosen people," while at least implicit in most faiths, achieved a stridence in Judaism that was unknown in the ancient world. Among cultures that worshiped a plurality of Gods, the later monotheism of the Jews proved indigestible. And while their explicit demonization as a people required the mad work of the Christian church, the ideology of Judaism remains a lightning rod for intolerance to this day. As a system of beliefs, it appears among the least suited to survive in a theological state of nature. Christianity and Islam both acknowledge the sanctity of the Old Testament and offer easy conversion to their faiths. Islam honors Abraham, Moses, and Jesus as forerunners of Muhammad. Hinduism embraces almost anything in sight with its manifold arms (many Hindus, for instance, consider Jesus an avatar of Vishnu). Judaism alone finds itself surrounded by unmitigated errors. It seems little wonder, therefore, that it has drawn so much sectarian fire. Jews, insofar as they are religious, believe that they are bearers of a unique covenant with God. As a consequence, they have spent the last two thousand years collaborating with those who see them as different by seeing themselves as irretrievably so. Judaism is as intrinsically divisive, as ridiculous in its literalism, and as at odds with the civilizing insights of modernity as any other religion. Jewish settlers, by exercising their "freedom of belief" on contested land, are now one of the principal obstacles to peace in the Middle East. They will be a direct cause of war between Islam and the West one ever erupt over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The problem for first-century Christians was simple: they belonged to a sect of Jews that had recognized Jesus as the messiah (Greek christos), while the majority of their coreligionists had not. Jesus was a Jew, of course, and his mother a Jewess. His apostles, to the last man, were also Jews. There is no evidence whatsoever, apart from the tendentious writings of the later church, that Jesus ever conceived of himself as anything other than a Jew among Jews, seeking the fulfillment of Judaism-and, likely, the return of Jewish sovereignty in a Roman world. As many authors have observed, the numerous strands of Hebrew prophecy that were made to coincide with Jesus' ministry betray the apologetics, and often poor scholarship, of the gospel writers.

While God had made his covenant with Israel, and delivered his son in the guise of a Jew, the earliest Christians were increasingly gentile, and as the doctrine spread, the newly baptized began to see the Jews' denial of Jesus' divinity as the consummate evil.

With the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, Christians-gentile and Jew alike-felt that they were witnessing the fulfillment of prophecy, imagining that the Roman legions were meting out God's punishment to the betrayers of Christ. Anti-Semitism soon acquired a triumphal smugness, and with the ascension of Christianity as the state religion in 312 CE, with the conversion of Constantine, Christians began openly to relish and engineer the degradation of world Jewry. Laws were passed that revoked many of the civic privileges previously granted to Jews. Jews were excluded from the military and from holding high office and were forbidden to proselytize or to have sexual relations with Christian women (both under penalty of death). The Justinian Code, in the sixth century, essentially declared the legal status of the Jews null and void-outlawing the Mishnah (the codification of Jewish oral law) and making disbelief in the Resurrection and the Last judgment a capital offense. Augustine, ever the ready sectarian, rejoiced at the subjugation of the Jews and took special pleasure in the knowledge that they were doomed to wander the earth bearing witness to the truth of scripture and the salvation of the gentiles. The suffering and servitude of the Jews was proof that Christ had been the messiah after all.

Like witches, the Jews of Europe were often accused of incredible crimes, the most prevalent of which has come to be known as the "blood libel"-born of the belief that Jews require the blood of Christians (generally newborn) for use in a variety of rituals. Throughout the Middle Ages, Jews were regularly accused of murdering Christian infants, a crime for which they were duly despised. It was well known that all Jews menstruated, male and female alike, and required the blood of a Christian to replenish their lost stores. They also suffered from terrible hemorrhoids and oozing sores as a punishment for the murder of Christ-and as a retort to their improbable boast before the "innocent" Pontius Pilate (Matthew 27:25), "His blood be on us and on our children." It should come as no surprise that Jews were in the habit of applying Christian blood as a salve upon these indignities. Christian blood was also said to ease the labor pains of any Jewess fortunate enough to have it spread upon pieces of parchment and placed into her clenched fists. It was common knowledge, too, that all Jews were born blind and that, when smeared upon their eyes, Christian blood granted them the faculty of sight. Jewish boys were frequently born with their fingers attached to their foreheads, and only the blood of a Christian could allow this pensive gesture to be broken without risk to the child.

Once born, a Jew's desire for Christian blood could scarcely be slaked. During the rite of circumcision it took the place of consecrated oil (crissam, an exclusively Christian commodity); and later in life, Jewish children of both sexes had their genitalia smeared with the blood of some poor, pious man-waylaid upon the road and strangled in a ditch-to make them fertile. Medieval Christians believed that Jews used their blood for everything from a rouge to a love philter and as a prophylactic against leprosy. Given this state of affairs, who could doubt that Jews of all ages would be fond of sucking blood out of Christian children "with quills and small reeds," for later use by their elders during wedding feasts? Finally, with a mind to covering all their bases, Jews smeared their dying brethren with the blood of an innocent Christian babe (recently baptized and then suffocated), saying, "If the Messiah promised by the prophets has really come, and he be Jesus, may this innocent blood ensure for you eternal life! 1139

The blood libel totters on shoulders of other giant misconceptions, of course, especially the notion, widely accepted at the time, that the various constituents of the human body possess magical and medicinal power. This explains the acceptance of similar accusations leveled at witches, such as the belief that candles made from human fat could render a man invisible while lighting up his surroundings. One wonders just how many a thief was caught striding through his neighbor's foyer in search of plunder, bearing a malodorous candle confidently aloft, before these miraculous tools of subterfuge fell out of fashion.

But for sheer gothic absurdity nothing surpasses the medieval concern over host desecration, the punishment of which preoccupied pious Christians for centuries. The doctrine of transubstantiation was formally established in 1215 at the Fourth Lateran Council (the same one that sanctioned the use of torture by inquisitors and prohibited Jews from owning land or embarking upon civil or military careers), and thereafter became the centerpiece of the Christian (now Catholic) faith. (The relevant passage from The Profession of Faith of the Roman Catholic was cited in chapter 2.) Henceforth, it was an indisputable fact of this world that the communion host is actually transformed at the Mass into the living body of Jesus Christ. After this incredible dogma had been established, by mere reiteration, to the satisfaction of everyone, Christians began to worry that these living wafers might be subjected to all manner of mistreatment, and even physical torture, at the hands of heretics and Jews. (One might wonder why eating the body of Jesus would be any less of a torment to him.) Could there be any doubt that the Jews would seek to harm the Son of God again, knowing that his body was now readily accessible in the form of defenseless crackers? Historical accounts suggest that as many as three thousand Jews were murdered in response to a single allegation of this imaginary crime. The crime of host desecration was punished throughout Europe for centuries .

It is out of this history of theologically mandated persecution that secular anti-Semitism emerged. Even explicitly anti-Christian movements, as in the cases of German Nazism and Russian socialism, managed to inherit and enact the doctrinal intolerance of the church. Astonishingly, ideas as spurious as the blood libel are still large cult of believers in the Muslim world .

The Holocaust

Nazism evolved out of a variety of economic and political factors, of course, but it was held together by a belief in the racial purity and superiority of the German people. The obverse of this fascination with race was the certainty that all impure elements-homosexuals, invalids, Gypsies, and, above all, Jews-posed a threat to the fatherland. And while the hatred of Jews in Germany expressed itself in a predominately secular way, it was a direct inheritance from medieval Christianity. For centuries, religious Germans had viewed the Jews as the worst species of heretics and attributed every societal ill to their continued presence among the faithful. Daniel Goidhagen has traced the rise of the German conception of the Jews as a "race" and a "nation," which culminated in an explicitly nationalistic formulation of this ancient Christian animus. Of course, the religious demonization of the Jews was also a contemporary phenomenon. (Indeed, the Vatican itself perpetuated the blood libel in its newspapers as late as 1914.)46 Ironically, the very fact that Jews had been mistreated in Germany (and elsewhere) since time immemorial-by being confined to ghettos and deprived of civic status-gave rise to the modern, secular strand of antiSemitism, for it was not until the emancipation efforts of the early nineteenth century that the hatred of the Jews acquired an explicitly racial inflection. Even the self-proclaimed "friends of the Jews" who sought the admission of Jews into German society with the full privileges of citizenship did so only on the assumption that the Jews could be reformed thereby and rendered pure by sustained association with the German race. Thus, the voices of liberal tolerance within Germany were often as anti-Semitic as their conservative opponents, for they differed only in the belief that the Jew was capable of moral regeneration. By the end of the nineteenth century, after the liberal experiment had failed to dissolve the Jews in the pristine solvent of German tolerance, the erstwhile "friends of the Jews" came to regard these strangers in their midst with the same loathing that their less idealistic contemporaries had nurtured all along. An analysis of prominent anti-Semitic writers and publications from 1861 to 1895 reveals just how murderous the German anti-Semites were inclined to be: fully two-thirds of those that purported to offer "solutions" to the "Jewish problem" openly advocated the physical extermination of the Jews-and this, as Goldhagen points out, was several decades before the rise of Hitler. Indeed, the possibility of exterminating a whole people was considered before "genocide" was even a proper concept, and long before killing on such a massive scale had been shown to be practically feasible in the First and Second World Wars.

While Goidhagen's controversial charge that the Germans were Hitler's "willing executioners" seems generally fair, it is true that the people of other nations were equally willing. Genocidal antiSemitism had been in the air for some time, particularly in Eastern Europe. In the year 1919, for instance, sixty-thousand Jews were murdered in Ukraine alone .411 Once the Third Reich began its overt persecution of Jews, anti-Semitic pogroms erupted in Poland, Rumania, Hungary, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Croatia, and elsewhere.

With passage of the Nuremberg laws in 1935 the transformation of German anti-Semitism was complete. The Jews were to be considered a race, one that was inimical to a healthy Germany in principle. As such, they were fundamentally irredeemable, for while one can cast away one's religious ideology, and even accept baptism into the church, one cannot cease to be what one is. And it is here that we encounter the overt complicity of the church in the attempted murder of an entire people. German Catholics showed themselves remarkably acquiescent to a racist creed that was at cross-purposes with at least one of their core beliefs: for if baptism truly had the power to redeem, then Jewish converts should have been considered saved without residue in the eyes of the church. But, as we have seen, coherence in any system of beliefs is never perfect-and the German churches, in order to maintain order during their services, were finally obliged to print leaflets admonishing their flock not to attack Jewish converts during times of worship. That a person's race could not be rescinded was underscored as early as 188o, in a Vatican-approved paper: "Oh how wrong and deluded are those who think Judaism is just a religion, like Catholicism, Paganism, Protestantism, and not in fact a race, a people, and a nation! ... For the Jews are not only Jews because of their religion ... they are Jews also and especially because of their race." The German Catholic episcopate issued its own guidelines in 1936: "Race, soil, blood and people are precious natural values, which God the Lord has created and the care of which he has entrusted to us Germans."

But the truly sinister complicity of the church came in its willingness to open its genealogical records to the Nazis and thereby enable them to trace the extent of a person's Jewish ancestry. A historian of the Catholic Church, Guenther Lewy, has written:

The very question of whether the [Catholic] Church should lend its help to the Nazi state in sorting out people of Jewish descent was never debated. On the contrary. "We have always unselfishly worked for the people without regard to gratitude or ingratitude," a priest wrote in Klerusblatt in September 1934. "We shall also do our best to help in this service to the people." And the cooperation of the Church in this matter continued right through the war years, when the price of being Jewish was no longer dismissal from a government job and loss of livelihood, but deportation and outright physical destruction."


All of this, despite the fact that the Catholic Church was in very real opposition to much of the Nazi platform, which was bent upon curtailing its power. Goldhagen also reminds us that not a single German Catholic was excommunicated before, during, or after the war, "after committing crimes as great as any in human history." This is really an extraordinary fact. Throughout this period, the church continued to excommunicate theologians and scholars in droves for holding unorthodox views and to proscribe books by the hundreds, and yet not a single perpetrator of genocide-of whom here were countless examples-succeeded in furrowing Pope Pius XI 's censorious brow.

This astonishing situation merits a slight digression. At the end of the nineteenth century, the Vatican attempted to combat the unorthodox conclusions of modern Bible commentators with its own rigorous scholarship. Catholic scholars were urged to adopt the techniques of modern criticism, to demonstrate that the results of a meticulous and dispassionate study of the Bible could be compatible with church doctrine. The movement was known as "modernism," and soon occasioned considerable embarrassment, as many of the finest Catholic scholars found that they, too, were becoming skeptical about the literal truth of scripture. In 1893 Pope Leo XIII announced,

All those books ... which the church regards as sacred and canonical were written with all their parts under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Now, far from admitting the coexistence of error, Divine inspiration by itself excludes all error, and that also of necessity, since God, the Supreme Truth, must be incapable of teaching error.

In 1907, Pope Pius X declared modernism a heresy, had its exponents within the church excommunicated, and put all critical studies of the Bible on the Index of proscribed books. Authors similarly distinguished include Descartes (selected works), Montaigne (Essays), Locke (Essay on Human Understanding), Swift (Tale of a Tub), Swedenborg (Principia), Voltaire (Lettres philosophiques), Diderot (Encyclopédie), Rousseau (Du con trat social), Gibbon (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire), Paine (The Rights of Man), Sterne (A Sentimental Journey), Kant (Critique of Pure Reason), Flaubert (Madame Bovary), and Darwin (On the Origin of Species). As a censorious afterthought, Descartes' Meditations was added to the Index in 1948. With all that had occurred earlier in the decade, one might have thought that the Holy See could have found greater offenses with which to concern itself. Although not a single leader of the Third Reich-not even Hitler himself-was ever excommunicated, Galileo was not absolved of heresy until 1992.

In the words of the present pope, John Paul II, we can see how the matter now stands: "This Revelation is definitive; one can only accept it or reject it. One can accept it, professing belief in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, the Son, of the same substance as the Father and the Holy Spirit, who is Lord and the Giver of life. Or one can reject all of this. " While the rise and fall of modernism in the church can hardly be considered a victory for the forces of rationality, it illustrates an important point: wanting to know how the world is leaves one vulnerable to new evidence. It is no accident that religious doctrine and honest inquiry are so rarely juxtaposed in our world.

When we consider that so few generations had passed since the church left off disemboweling innocent men before the eyes of their families, burning old women alive in public squares, and torturing scholars to the point of madness for merely speculating about the nature of the stars, it is perhaps little wonder that it failed to think anything had gone terribly amiss in Germany during the war years. Indeed, it is also well known that certain Vatican officials (the most notorious of whom was Bishop Alois Hudal) helped members of the SS like Adolf Eichmann, Martin Bormann, Heinrich Mueller, Franz Stangl, and hundreds of others escape to South America and the Middle East in the aftermath of the war. In this context, one is often reminded that others in the Vatican helped Jews escape as well. This is true. It is also true, however, that Vatican aid was often contingent upon whether or not the Jews in question had been previously baptized.

We are at war with Islam. It may not serve our immediate fore if policy objectives for our political leaders to openly acknowledge this fact, but it is unambiguously so. It is not merely that we are at war with an otherwise peaceful religion that has been "hijacked" by extremists. We are at war with precisely the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran, and further elaborated in the literature of the hadith, which recounts the sayings and actions of the Prophet. A future in which Islam and the West do not stand on the brink of mutual annihilation is a future in which most Muslims have learned to ignore most of their canon, just as most Christians have learned to do.

What Can We Do?

In thinking about Islam, and about the risk it now poses to the West, we should imagine what it would take to live peacefully with the Christians of the fourteenth century-Christians who were still eager to prosecute people for crimes like host desecration and witchcraft. We are in the presence of the past. It is by no means a straightforward task to engage such people in constructive dialogue, to convince them of our common interests, to encourage them on the path to democracy, and to mutually celebrate the diversity of our cultures.

It is clear that we have arrived at a period in our history where civil society, on a global scale, is not merely a nice idea; it is essential for the maintenance of civilization. Given that even failed states now possess potentially disruptive technology, we can no longer afford to live side by side with malign dictatorships or with the armies of ignorance massing across the oceans.

What constitutes a civil society? At minimum, it is a place where ideas, of all kinds, can be criticized without the risk of physical violence. If you live in a land where certain things cannot be said about the king, or about an imaginary being, or about certain books, because such utterances carry the penalty of death, torture, or imprisonment, you do not live in a civil society. It appears that one of the most urgent tasks we now face in the developed world is to find some way of facilitating the emergence of civil societies everywhere else. Whether such societies have to be democratic is not at all clear. Zakaria has persuasively argued that the transition from tyranny to liberalism is unlikely to be accomplished by plebiscite. It seems all but certain that some form of benign dictatorship will generally be necessary to bridge the gap. But benignity is the key and if it cannot emerge from within a state, it must be imposed from without. The means of such imposition are necessarily crude: they amount to economic isolation, military intervention (whether open or covert), or some combination of both." While this may seem an exceedingly arrogant doctrine to espouse, it appears we have no alternatives. We cannot wait for weapons of mass destruction to dribble out of the former Soviet Union-to pick only one horrible possibility-and into the hands of fanatics.

We should, I think, look upon modern despotisms as hostage crises. Kim Jong Ii has thirty million hostages. Saddam Hussein had twenty-five million. The clerics in Iran have seventy million more. It does not matter that many hostages have been so brainwashed that they will fight their would-be liberators to the death. They are held prisoner twice over-by tyranny and by their own ignorance. The developed world must, somehow, come to their rescue. Jonathan Glover seems right to suggest that we need "something along the lines of a strong and properly funded permanent UN force, together with clear criteria for intervention and an international court to authorize it." We can say it even more simply: we need a world government How else will a war between the United States and China ever become as unlikely as a war between Texas and Vermont? We are a very long way from even thinking about the possibility of a world government, to say nothing of creating one. It would require a degree of economic, cultural, and moral integration that we may never achieve. The diversity of our religious beliefs constitutes a primary obstacle here. Given what most of us believe about God, it is at present unthinkable that human beings will ever identify themselves merely as human beings, disavowing all lesser affiliations. World government does seem a long way off-so long that we may not survive the trip.

Is Islam compatible with a civil society? Is it possible to believe what you must believe to be a good Muslim, to have military and economic power, and to not pose an unconscionable threat to the civil societies of others? I believe that the answer to this question is no. If a stable peace is ever to be achieved between Islam and the West, Islam must undergo a radical transformation. This transformation, to be palatable to Muslims, must also appear to come from Muslims themselves. It does not seem much of an exaggeration to say that the fate of civilization lies largely in the hands of "moderate" Muslims. Unless Muslims can reshape their religion into an ideology that is basically benign-or outgrow it altogether-it is difficult to see how Islam and the West can avoid falling into a continual state of war, and on innumerable fronts. Nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons cannot be uninvented. As Martin Rees points out, there is no reason to expect that we will be any more successful at stopping their proliferation, in small quantities, than we have been with respect to illegal drugs. If this is true, weapons of mass destruction will soon be available to anyone who wants them.

Perhaps the West will be able to facilitate a transformation of the Muslim world by applying outside pressure. It will not be enough, however, for the United States and a few European countries to take a hard line while the rest of Europe and Asia sell advanced weaponry and "dual-use" nuclear reactors to all corners. To achieve the necessary economic leverage, so that we stand a chance of waging this war of ideas by peaceful means, the development of alternative energy technologies should become the object of a new Manhattan Project. There are, needless to say, sufficient economic and environmental justifications for doing this, but there are political ones as well. If oil were to become worthless, the dysfunction of the most prominent Muslim societies would suddenly grow as conspicuous as the sun. Muslims might then come to see the wisdom of moderating their thinking on a wide variety of subjects. Otherwise, we will be obliged to protect our interests in the world with force-continually. In this case, it seems all but certain that our newspapers will begin to read more and more like the book of Revelation.

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