October 2010


Article entitled, “Mixed Message: The testimony of a self-described former terrorist,” by Doug Howard, for ChristianityToday.com:

On Christmas Day 2009, our youngest son, Jay, found himself on Delta Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit. Toward the end of the flight, Jay’s seatmate, a Nigerian Muslim about his age named Umar abd al-Muttalib, tried to blow up the plane using a bomb hidden in his underwear. Reflecting on Jay’s experience, and on Umar and the failed efforts by his father to warn authorities, has helped me clarify my attitude toward American Christian anti-Islamic literary polemics, including Kamal Saleem’s “memoir,” The Blood of Lambs. The book fits the familiar pattern of reassuring Christians of the superiority of their own faith tradition by negative comparisons with a dehumanized Islam. But Kamal Saleem’s titillating dance with violence and fame makes the book more complicated and more uncomfortable than most like it. By embracing the glamorous violence it claims to abhor, it raises readers’ hopes of touching secret human meanings through it.

I first encountered Kamal Saleem when he appeared at Calvin College in November 2007. A look at his website told me immediately that he was not who he said he was. The signature of his deception was his statement that “in my family was the Grand Wazir of Islam.” The term is ridiculous, a spurious title meant to mislead the innocent with an aura of authority. The audience, including many from the Grand Rapids Muslim community, watched Kamal Saleem’s performance with quiet restraint. He told stories, now repeated in The Blood of Lambs, of being recruited as a child for missions against Israel via tunnels under the Golan Heights, disguised as sheep; of visions of a rider on a white horse who, drawn swords in hand, commanded him to sever the heads of the infidels. In one painfully disturbing account, the mother of his friend screamed with joy that her little boy had met a violent death and joined the martyrs in heaven. He continued with the story of his immigration to America to recruit for jihad. Instead he was converted to Christianity as the result of a car accident, when he was taken into the home of a Christian physician and cared for out of selfless love. These tales were interspersed with exhortations for America to “wake up” to the threat of radical Islam and testimonials to the power of Christ in helping him forsake his old life.

(more…)

From the Economist:

In Ishmael’s House: A History of Jews in Muslim Lands. By Martin Gilbert. Yale University Press; 320 pages; £25 and $35. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk

The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives. By Gilbert Achcar. Metropolitan Books; 400 pages; $30. Saqi; £25. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk

FROM 624 to 628AD, several Jewish clans in the Arabian peninsula joined forces with an Arab tribe, the Quraysh, to make war on a renegade Qurayshi named Muhammad who had had the chutzpah to claim he was a prophet of God. They lost. Piqued at the Jews for rejecting a creed that—with its dietary laws, ritual circumcision and daily prayers towards (at first) Jerusalem—was so closely modelled on their own, the Prophet Muhammad decreed that they, along with Christians, would henceforth be considered dhimmiyeen under Islam; “protected” as fellow monotheists, but subject to a heavy tax and various other indignities.

Dhimma status was later extended to other religions, then abolished by the Ottoman Turks in the 19th century. It is often still invoked by Islamophobes today as proof that Islam is inherently intolerant and, specifically, anti-Semitic. Martin Gilbert, a British Jew who was knighted in 1995, and Gilbert Achcar, a Lebanese-French Christian, have both written books in which this question looms large. It would be hard to find two more different treatments.

(more…)