In response to my recent blog posts on Islam and violence, some anti-Islamic readers (writing here, on Facebook, and in personal emails) have pointed out to me that the Middle East and the Islamic world generally are places prone to violence, the oppression of women, undemocratic regimes, and disrespect for human rights. This, they suggest — when they aren’t absolutely screaming it — demonstrates Islam to be evil, intrinsically backward, and so on and so forth.
The trouble is that it hasn’t been all that long since the West — sometimes, rather quaintly, still called “Christendom” — could accurately have been described in pretty much the same way. And, frankly, not everybody is convinced that we’ve achieved total perfection even now.
Less than a hundred and fifty years ago, many Americans owned slaves. Roughly fifty years ago, blacks were still segregated from whites in the American South, barred from many restaurants, restricted to the back of the bus, forced to drink from separate water fountains.
During World War II, Japanese Americans were rounded up and sent to internment camps.
In the nineteenth century, most European countries had state churches, and religious liberty was severely limited.
American women were given the right to vote in national elections only in 1920.
Within living memory, fascist dictatorships ruled Spain, Italy, and Germany, and expanded their control over much of the rest of continental Europe.
And violence? We’ve got a bit of that, too. Been to Detroit or Washington DC or Chicago lately? Moreover, from 1973 through 2008, roughly fifty million babies were (legally) aborted in the United States — and abortions have continued over the past half decade, and are performed every day, still.
It would seem to me rather arrogant, immediately upon completing a strenuous climb to the peak of a mountain, if one were to turn around and mock those below who were still attempting the ascent, suggesting that, unlike oneself, they can never make it — and that this proves that they’re inherently inferior.
The English-speaking world has had a remarkably good record of democracy and respect for human rights — at least, as compared with the rest of the world. But it took us a long time to get here. The barons compelled King John to sign the Magna Carta way back in AD 1215. That’s almost precisely seven centuries ago. And Magna Carta was merely the barest baby step toward representative government and individual rights. A lot of battles, metaphorical and bloody, had to be fought between then and now, before we achieved the perfect utopia that we enjoy today. These things don’t happen overnight.
Daniel C. Peterson (Ph.D., University of California at Los Angeles) is a professor of Islamic studies and Arabic at Brigham Young University and is the founder and editor-in-chief of the University’s Middle Eastern Texts Initiative. He has published and spoken extensively on both Islamic and Mormon subjects. Formerly chairman of the board of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) and an officer, editor, and author for its successor organization, the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, his professional work as an Arabist focuses on the Qur’an and on Islamic philosophical theology. He is the author, among other things, of a biography entitled Muhammad: Prophet of God (Eerdmans, 2007). He is the founder of MormonScholarsTestify.org. He blogs daily at www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson/.
William J. Hamblin is Professor of History at Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah, USA), specializing in the ancient and medieval Near East. He is the author of dozens of academic articles and several books, most recently, Solomon’s Temple: Myth and History, with David Seely (Thames and Hudson, 2007). In the fall of 2010 his first novel was published (co- authored with Neil Newell): The Book of Malchus, (Deseret Book, 2010). A fanatical traveler and photographer, he spent 2010 teaching at the BYU Jerusalem Center, and has lived in Israel, England, Egypt and Italy, and traveled to dozens of other countries.