Friday, July 12, 2013

Counting Up The Bodies, Part Two

I thought that I would want to rant on about the “Body Count” ‘study’ at greater length, but really, I find there isn’t much to say. It’s a strange piece of non-history, produced by someone who apparently does work as a professional in the field. It was produced for a religious institute, and it has one clear purpose—to insist in a scientific-sounding way that Christianity is violent and Islam is not. This is not, of course, just an attempt to bash Christianity, it’s an attempt to defend Islam. “Body Count”, has its anti-Muslim counterparts. (Include Links). Similarly decontextualized and badly researched, these documents insist that the history of Islam is not only a single wash of blood, but that it was inevitably and intentionally so from the beginning, and that it is worse, absolutely worse, than any of the (now conveniently whitewashed) things carried out in Christianity’s name, let alone that of any other religion. Absolutist positions lead to absolute nonsense, and any semblance of truth lies somewhere between “Islam is the single worst thing ever to happen to the human race” and “Islam is a religion of peace which has only been misinterpreted by anyone who ever did anything bad in its name”. And both those arguments are being laid out, repeatedly, by people who really ought to know better. You can’t understand either the past or the present like that. The average Tumblr blogger forwarding Naveed Sheikh’s pointless pie charts does so, I think, out of a worthy motivation. They believe, with some reason on their side, that Islam, and Muslims, are being falsely portrayed in the West as mindlessly and essentially violent. These numbers, unexamined, seem to offer a counter to that. They hand the pie charts on, believing they’ve done something useful. I would argue that they’re not; they’re merely contributing to an already worrying pile of bad, partisan history. In the past few years I’ve debated history with people who dismiss the Transatlantic slave trade as the sole responsibility of Muslims, who insist that Jews are not actually Semites, who think that Palestine was an independent nation before the Zionist conquest, who claim that the Serbs who carried out genocide in Bosnia were simply protecting themselves from the Islamist menace…it’s all out there, being eagerly passed from site to site, a barrage of lies and half-truths and obsessive reinterpretations. Perhaps the most cloying form of the unwinnable argument is the ongoing quarrel about whether Christendom or Islam was better (or worse) for the Jews. Despite the inarguable fact that Jews lived in both ‘civilizations’ as outsiders and social inferiors, were sometimes tolerated, sometimes allowed a measure of safety and prosperity, and sometimes slaughtered, people will argue fiercely for their home team’s treatment of the Jews, firmly brushing aside evidence against their case, and highlighting the most inane proofs in their favor. I’ve had people explain to me quite seriously that anti-Semitism was introduced to Europeans by Arabs, and other people explain that it was introduced to Arabs by Europeans. And I’m tired of it, I’m bored with the bad history, the ignorance and the illogic. Naveed Sheikh is not helping, and neither is anyone who forwards his pretty numbers on, without checking their source or understanding their agenda.