Wednesday, September 05, 2012

More on the doubtful historicity of the Quran

Film-maker Tom Holland responds to the programme's critics

Channel 4 has received a number of criticisms over my documentary, Islam: The Untold Story. This is a brief response.

The origins of Islam are a legitimate subject of historical enquiry and this film is wholly in keeping with other series and programmes on Channel 4 where the historical context of world religions has been examined, such as The Bible: A History. A considered exploration of the tensions that inevitably arise when historical method is applied to articles of faith was central to the film. We were of course aware when making the programme that we were touching deeply-held sensitivities and went to every effort to ensure that the moral and civilizational power of Islam was acknowledged in our film, and the perspective of Muslim faith represented, both in the persons of ordinary Bedouin in the desert, and one of the greatest modern scholars of Islam, Seyyed Hossein Nasr.

It is important to stress as we do in the film that this is a historical endeavour and is not a critique of one of the major monotheistic religions. It was commissioned as part of Channel 4's remit to support and stimulate well-informed debate on a wide range of issues, by providing access to information and views from around the world and by challenging established views.

As a non-Muslim historian I tried to examine, within a historical framework, the rise of a new civilisation and empire that arose in the late antique world as the two great ancient empires of Rome and Persia were in decline. The themes in the programme have been previously written about extensively by many other historians including: Patricia Crone, Professor at Princeton; Gerald Hawting, Professor at SOAS; and Fred Donner, Professor at Chicago all of whom lent their support to the programme. The themes it explores are currently the focus of intense and escalating academic debate.

An accusation laid against the film is one of bias and, although I believe that absolute objectivity is a chimera, what was incumbent upon us, in making the film, was to be up-front about my own ideological background and presumptions, and to acknowledge the very different perspective that Muslim faith provides. If the film was about the origins of Islam, then it was also about the tensions between two differing world-views. Whether one accepts or rejects the truth of the tradition is ultimately dependent upon the philosophical presumptions that one brings to the analysis of the sources.

To answer some other substantive points:

1. It has been suggested that I say in the film that Mecca is not mentioned in the Qu'ran. In fact, I say that Mecca is mentioned once in the Qu'ran. As a historian I have to rely on original texts and although later tradition (as brought to us through the hadith) has come to accept that other names are synonymous with Mecca, the fact is that there is only one mention of Mecca in the Qu'ran(although due to an unwarranted interpolation, a second one does appear in the Pickthall translation).

2. On the broad perspective some complaints assert unequivocally, as is often said, that Islam was "born in the full light of history unlike the ancient faiths". That may have been the belief of Western scholars back in the days of Ernest Renan, but it is most certainly not the academic consensus today. One leading authority, Professor Fred Donner, who appears in the film, has written:

"We have to admit collectively that we simply do not know some very basic things about the Qur'an - things so basic that the knowledge of them is usually taken for granted by scholars dealing with other texts. They include such questions as: How did the Qur'an originate? Where did it come from, and when did it first appear? How was it first written? In what kind of language was - is - it written? What form did it first take? Who constituted its first audience? How was it transmitted from one generation to another, especially in its early years? When, how, and by whom was it codified? Those familiar with the Qur'an and the scholarship on it will know that to ask even one of these questions immediately plunges us into realms of grave uncertainty, and has the potential to spark intense debate."

This summary may fairly be said to represent the current state of play in the academic debate.

3. It has also wrongly been suggested that we said there is no historical evidence for the seventh century origins of Islam. What I actually said in the film was that I had expected to find contemporaneous Muslim evidence - "but there's nothing there." And the Qur'an aside, the first mention of the prophet Muhammad's name in Arabic is on the coin that we featured in Part Five, and on the Dome of the Rock, which we also featured prominently. The evidence provided by Christian contemporaries was mentioned in Part Three, and is dealt with at greater length in the book.

Obviously in a film of only 74 minutes, which opens up very rich and complex arguments and brings to light detailed academic scholarship, which has been going on for over forty years, it is impossible to articulate all the resonances and implications of every argument. Much more detail, with full citation of sources, will be found in my book In the Shadow of the Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World. All the film can hope to do is to introduce this fascinating (but until now, largely academic) debate with careful contextualising to a larger television audience. The subject, it should be said, is advancing and changing all the time as new discoveries are made, and new insights are gained. That is precisely what makes it such a fascinating area of research, and an entirely valid topic for a documentary.



Before he was President, Barack Obama was a prime mover in pushing banks to give subprime loans to Chicago’s African-Americans

President Barack Obama was a pioneering contributor to the national subprime real estate bubble, and roughly half of the 186 African-American clients in his landmark 1995 mortgage discrimination lawsuit against Citibank have since gone bankrupt or received foreclosure notices.

As few as 19 of those 186 clients still own homes with clean credit ratings, following a decade in which Obama and other progressives pushed banks to provide mortgages to poor African Americans.

The startling failure rate among Obama’s private sector clients was discovered during The Daily Caller’s review of previously unpublished court information from the lawsuit that a young Obama helmed as the lead plaintiff’s attorney.

Since the mortgage bubble burst, some of his former clients are calling for a policy reversal.

“If you see some people don’t make enough money to afford the mortgage, why would you give them a loan?” asked Obama client John Buchanan. “There should be some type of regulation against giving people loans they can’t afford.”

Banks “were too eager to lend to many who didn’t qualify,” said Don Byas, another client who saw banks lurch from caution to bubble-inflating recklessness.

“I don’t care what race you are. … You need to keep financial wisdom [separate] from trying to help your people,” said Byas, an autoworker.



A Labor day with no jobs for millions

The traditional end of summer is greeted with cookouts, last splashes in the swimming pool, and final trips to the beach, but it is something much more in this election year.

Labor Day is a reminder of the unemployed, underemployed and those who don’t even bother looking for a job anymore because they don’t believe any are available.

Labor Day will also be a time when current and former Labor Secretaries come out from wherever they have been hiding, to talk about the nation’s employment situation.

This year, they can stay at home. They are not needed.

Everyone knows the state of the nation’s labor force — wages are falling, work is hard to find, and prices are rising again at both the gas pumps and in the supermarkets. Retirement plans for many in the labor force are delayed, and parents worry that their children will suffer a failure to launch due to an inability to find a job.

In fact, the unemployment rate over the past three years has only managed to stay slightly below the final three years of the Great Depression when the labor force is counted the same way.

Yet, ever persistent Obama Administration officials will infest television screens on Labor Day attempting to explain his “new normal” of 8.3 percent unemployment, blaming his predecessor and pretending that they hadn’t been in office for almost four years.

The same people who bashed previous Administrations for only creating jobs for “hamburger flippers” will tell America how not having a job is better than not having that one.

They also will attempt, for one more time before the election, to convince America that an economy that has only 37,000 more people employed today than when Obama took office is moving forward.

Think about that for a moment.

The civilian non-institutionalized population which consists of people over the age of 16 who are not in the military or incarcerated has increased by more than nine and a half million people since Obama took office, yet only 37,000 more people have a job today after four years of his policies.

If Americans care to watch these officials pontificate and gyrate through talking points, they will likely be watching with the same mindset as Ricky Ricardo used to have when he would say to Lucy, “You got some ‘splainin to do.”

Of course, the truth of the matter is that the only people who are likely to see and comment on Team Obama’s Labor Day media assault will either be those who already have their minds made up, or those who are paid to watch.

The rest of America will be enjoying the end of summer and hoping that next spring will bring change and renewed hope.



On Labor Day, Unions Have Nothing to Celebrate

For labor unions around the country, this Labor Day serves as a painful reminder that when they decided to go all-in for Obama in 2008, they alienated the rest of us non-government, non-union members- the 99 Percent- who have to go out and earn our keep every day. And that alienation is being expressed in political defeats by unions around the country.

I’m wondering if the unions are starting to regret their investment in Obama.

Unions dumped $450 million into the Obama effort in 2008, according to the New York Times, hoping that they’d buy political clout with Obama that they don’t actually own on Main Street. But besides the auto bailout, and a few years of government stimulus spending, the strategy has been pretty much a disaster.

“This is not about payback,” the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s director of government affairs told the New York Times. “We’re looking to work with the new administration on a shared set of priorities that focus on lifting workers and improving the economy.”

I think he meant “lifting workers’ wallets.” Because on the other counts, I think you can call their strategy a failure: No payback for unions and no improving economy.

And just another fine job for liberals, who don’t seems to be able to accomplish even those things that they say they desire.

Instead, the mass of the country has turned on unions, union members, bloated union benefits and even- gasp!- public teachers- who used to be as iconic in America as baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and, um… Chevrolet?

The laundry list of failures for the union agenda is really staggering. They spent the most money ever. They elected the greatest president EVER.

But what did they really get? The union has faced the longest string of defeats since the losing streak that started at the First Battle of Bull Run.

Well, they wanted to be in politics. Congrats, Mr. Union. You are now in politics.

Card check? The union equivalent of forced busing and segregation? Voters completely rebuked unions on that one.

Then there was Madison, WI and the recall rebuke when Scott Walker took on teachers’ unions. What do you call it when voters vote a governor back in by recall with a wider margin than he originally received in the general election? A permission slip to give the unions detention.

How about that union fiasco with the National Labor Relations Board trying to stop Boeing Corporation from opening a $1 billion plant in South Carolina because it wasn’t a union shop? Another union disaster where they had to lower their colors.

Boeing’s CEO, Jim McNerney, is calling the regulatory climate for business the worst in U.S. history. From MarketWatch:
Asked by a reporter if regulations are any worse now than in decades past, McNerney gave an emphatic yes. “It’s different today. The attitude is different,” he said. “Unless you live it it’s hard to see it.”

McNerney said the Roundtable “hears about it all day long” from member companies. The group represents large U.S. firms that employ more than 14 million people and generate sales in excess of $6 trillion a year.

Many of those regulatory hurdles are put there just to coddle unions.



On the Right to vote with your feet, France gives more freedom than America

The New York Times has a big story about French entrepreneurs and investors looking to escape looming class-warfare tax hikes. Here are a few excerpts
BenoĆ®t Pous-Bertran de Balanda, the descendant of a French general who fought for the Americans, is trying to help his wealthy countrymen escape what he calls the tyranny of a new Socialist government primed to severely tax the rich. …Well-heeled French citizens are scouring real estate opportunities in neighboring countries like Britain and Switzerland. What the French are so concerned about is Mr. Hollande’s campaign vow to tax income over 1 million euros at a 75 percent rate. …it will also raise the tax rate on capital gains to the same level as the tax on ordinary income.

Normally, this type of story would be an excuse for me to write about the Laffer Curve and the foolishness of penalizing success. But I want to focus instead on the right to emigrate. Specifically, there are two ways in which France has better policy than the United States.

1. France, like almost every other civilized nation, does not have worldwide taxation. So when French citizens move to Switzerland, Hong Kong, or the United States, they pay tax to those nations. But they’re no longer subject to French taxes on this foreign-source income. Sadly, that is not true for overseas Americans, who are subject to tax in the nations where they live AND the IRS. Their only choice, if they want to escape this punitive and unfair form of double taxation, is to give up U.S. citizenship.

2. But when Americans like Eduardo Saverin decide to surrender their passports, they are hit by punitive exit taxes. This is the type of policy normally associated with some of the world’s most odious regimes, such as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. France, I am told, is not perfect in this regard, but the tax treatment of people re-domiciling in another country is not nearly so onerous, especially if they go to another EU nation [e.g. Britain, which is both conveniently located and has a top tax rate of "only" 45%. The London to Paris train trip is 2 hours 15 minutes --JR].

I want good tax policy, like the flat tax, regardless of what’s happening in other nations. But it says a lot (and none of it good) when one of the world’s most statist nations has better policy than America.



My identity: jonjayray. I have deleted my old Facebook page as I rarely accessed it. For more blog postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, GUN WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, EYE ON BRITAIN and Paralipomena

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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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