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Excersus CVI: A Fool Off His Guard Could Fall


I've been doing some leisurely Muhammad reading as of late, and it is rather incredible how little of it there is out there available in English. There are easily more books on how to make a living as a World of Warcraft Auction House tycoon than there are about the founder of a 2 billion-man religion. And of those available, all but a couple are distinctly terrible. Robert Spencer's The Truth About Muhammad errs in ways which are expected in a book born of the late 2000s. Less forgiveable, I think, is Karen Armstrong's 1992 Muhammad: The Life of the Prophet, since it is more or less a re-write of W. Montgomery Watt's classic 1961 Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman in its attempts at objectivity, but manages to do everything So Much Worse than Watt in spite of three decades of reflection. In place of the older book's even reasoning, we see Armstrong repeatedly falling back on this monolithic conception of The Western Mind as a way to explain away anything questionable in Muhammad's life. Everything moderately good that he did is raised to the status of Brilliance (he is called a military genius for digging a really big ditch), and everything questionable (his horrendous indifference to the consequences of his quest for revenge against the Quraysh) can't be talked about because we, the readers, having Western Minds, can't possibly understand anything that isn't Jesus. The book is less an attempt to plumb the depths of Muhammad's life than it is a book that incidentally mentions Islam in order to talk about medieval Christianity and modern Western hypocrisy. I don't like medieval Christianity much either, but using the atrocious things it did to distract attention from the atrocious things that somebody else did doesn't strike me as the way to real objectivity.

- Count Dolby von Luckner