Friday Ephemera
Dumb Culture


Further to recent comments on Muhammad and how one might view him, here’s H.G. Wells on the same subject, from A Short History of the World, published in 1922.

Then for four years more until his death in 632, Muhammad spread his power over the rest of Arabia. He married a number of wives in his declining years, and his life on the whole was by modern standards unedifying. He seems to have been a man compounded of very considerable vanity, greed, cunning, self-deception and quite sincere religious passion. He dictated a book of injunctions and expositions, the Qur’an, which he declared was communicated to him from God. Regarded as literature or philosophy the Qur’an is certainly unworthy of its alleged divine authorship.

Wells goes on to concede that “when the manifest defects of Muhammad’s life and writings have been allowed for, there remains in Islam… much power and inspiration.” But what catches the eye is how sharply Wells’ estimation of Muhammad and the Qur’an contrasts with modern affectations. It’s hard to imagine a similar view being expressed quite so freely by a public figure today, when much smaller improprieties often meet with sudden inhalation and calls for apologies.



Wells' chapter does seem almost transgressive in the current context, which makes the current context seem a bit...unsettling. His description of a young husband of the widow of a rich merchant, who "began to develop prophetic characteristics" around the age of 40, shows a straightforward, interested, approach, not so much detached as taxonomical. He didn't seem motivated by his own theological views nor gripped by any animus. Odd that if he were alive today and made the same expressions he might have to make groveling apologies or go into hiding.

When he wrote that Islam's strength was due in part to its "...simple, enthusiastic faith in the rule and the fatherhood of God and it's freedom from theological complications", he surely would not have foreseen a time when a general-public recitation of his words might find the utterance subject to that very strength he referred to with such fascination and interest.

His factual, unassuming, face-value awareness of the biblical dimension of larger historic forces reminded me of C.K. Chesterton's Lepanto, which I went looking for and then found, strangely enough, at It starts:

White founts falling in the Courts of the sun,
And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard;
It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips;
For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.
They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross.
The cold queen of England is looking in the glass;
The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass;
From evening isles fantastical rings faint the Spanish gun,
And the Lord upon the Golden Horn is laughing in the sun.



“He didn't seem motivated by his own theological views nor gripped by any animus.”

And yet to voice a similar, fairly obvious, view today would in many instances prompt accusations of some nefarious intent. The BBC website is an interesting yardstick in that many of its references to Muhammad (or “the Prophet Muhammad, pbuh”) imply some default identification with those who believe in his alleged paranormal attributes. Thus, in the name of “respect” or “sensitivity” or whatever, a critical viewpoint can become unseemly or improper.


I am firmly convinced, that whist the Islamic world is solid in their beliefs, bizarre as they are, the thing that really holds them together are the rules applied to apostasy and dhimmitude, which effectively prevents a "competitive religion". If these concepts were not as applied as they are, the entire edifice would slowly crumble, as people would realise more rational alternative to their absurd belief exist, and this includes non-religious ideologies too.

The western governments and non-Muslim religious authorities should apply pressure on this single rule; that people should be allowed to practise whatever religion they like, without fear or persecution, on more or less equal footing as Islam.

This is, after all, one of the golden rules of Human Rights, and if Islamic kingdoms want to belong to a United Nations, then those rights must upheld by them, what card carrying liberal could oppose such a measure ?

Rich Rostrom

Wells wrote in an era when militant _across_-_the_-_board_ atheism was politically correct. It's still correct to attack Christianity and Judaism, but multiculturalism protects all non-Western creeds. The same writers who sneer at evangelical Christians as "gap-toothed yahoos", who delight in nasty mockery of Christian belief and symbolism (like Sen. John Edwards' campaign blogress Amanda Marcotte) would be shocked and disgusted if someone used the same tone against Indian sweat lodge rituals, Vedic Hinduism, or Sufism.

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