Steve asked for this, so reluctantly I feel obliged to give it. You will already be aware of our conversation over Cardinal Tauran’s speech “We must not fear Islam”.
I have listened to Steve speak on Islam in three different podcasts:
1) My first encounter with Steve’s teaching was through his History of the Church series in four mp3s available from Steve’s website Bridegroom press. He deals with Islam in a the last three of these podcasts.
3) And then, in preparation for this exercise, I listened to this one, simply called “Islam”. I thought in fact that it was the same as the one above, until I went to find the link on the internet and then realised that they were in fact two separate, although very similar, talks. For the rest of this article then, I am referring to this talk.
Critiquing podcasts is very difficult, and time consuming, in a blog format, partly because you can’t simply cut and paste text, and partly because the way in which people express themselves is not as concise in a live talk as in a written paper. So I won’t be quoting chapter and verse except when only the ipsima verba themselves are required to be cited to make the point. Please, Steve, be satisfied with this. I recommend to readers that they in fact download the third talk referenced above and listen to all of it before reading my points of criticism here.
So here we go. Points are in order of the speech.
1) First an over all comment: what is the purpose of this particular talk (Islam.mp3)? I am forced to conclude that the purpose is not simply to inform people in good faith about the teachings and practice and history of Islam. (For that, I recommend that you actually go to something like Islam for Dummies). Steve’s purpose seems to be rather to do all in his power to discredit Islam as a religious faith and to give an over all negative picture of the religion.
2) He is at odds with the Holy Father on this from the get-go. He begins his talk with a reference to the famous “Regensburg Speech”, which the Holy Father gave on September 12, 2006. He quotes the Pope’s own words:
“Without descending to details, …[the Emperor] addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness that we find unacceptable, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”
Note that Pope Benedict himself says that this is a “startling brusqueness” which “we find unacceptable”. But Steve ignores the Holy Father’s words at this point, and takes such “startling brusqueness” as his modis operandi. He is “startlingly brusque” in everything he says in a way to match the Emperor’s “startling brusqueness” and even excels it. With Pope Benedict, WE too find this “unacceptable”.
3) I have already commented on Steve’s tendency to use “us” to mean us Christians, Catholics, the West, the Crusaders and the US forces. At the same time he always refers to invading Arab or Turkish forces as “them” and as “the Muslims”. He makes no distinction in his historical overviews between the invaders as a particular nationality or racial group and the invaders as Muslims. He often accuses “Muslims” of this or that atrocity when he should specify the actual identity, rather than the religion, of these forces.
4) He concertinas the historical timeline of the invasion. It is true (and indeed startling) that in a few short years after the death of Muhammed the Eastern tribes had united and advanced on the territory of the Byzantine/Roman Empire from Jerusalem to Spain, but the conquering of the lands of the Byzantines (today modern Turkey) took a little while longer than that.
5) He refers to the Byzantine society as being “completely gone” often. This is not strictly true. It continued but with new overlords for some centuries in these lands after the invasions.
6) He also says, specifically of Nicea, “gone” and “you can’t even find it on the map”. This is not true. The name is changed, yes, but only because of the language difference. So Smyrna becomes “Izmir” and Nicea become “Iznik”, both which are recognizably still the same name, and both which are still there (I have visited both). Indeed during the Latin Patriarchate in Constantinople after the Crusades, the Byzantine Emperor continued to rule his “empire” from Nicea itself – five centuries after the initial invasions began.
7) He says that following these conquests, all the men were killed, the women forced into marriages with Muslims OR all used as sex slaves, and all the young men were castrated. This happened, but not on the scale that he suggests. By emphasising “sex slaves” he suggests a moral depravity of the new ruling class, the “Muslims”.
8) He mentions (rightly) the sack of St Peter’s by Saracens (from Northern Africa) in 846, and sees this as an example of specifically “Muslim” violence against the Church. He bemoans (repeatedly) that the Church at the time did not start a violent and forceful retaliation against the “Muslims” at this time.
9) He says that “the Muslims destroyed the Holy Sepulchre”. The Holy Sepulchre was destroyed under orders from Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah in 1009. This act was unusual, because the Arabs had held Jerusalem already for over 200 years. It was an highly unusual act of desecration, and most believe that the Caliph was insane when he ordered this action. So ONE Muslim did this, not “the Muslims”, and it was not their first action upon conquering Jerusalem. Again he decries the fact that the Church did not immediately launch a violent retaliation against “the Muslims”.
10) In calling the attacking and invading forces “Muslims”, Steve does not properly acknowledge that many of the soldiers (indeed most, in the case of the conquest of Constantinople in 1453) were Christian mercenaries from Christian communities who had no love for the Byzantine Emperor and who had actually welcomed the coming of their new Eastern overlords. He makes an historical error in saying that from the decree of Theodosius in the late 4th Century “the whole Empire was Catholic”. In fact, the empire included many non-Catholic Christians, including the Donatists, the Mia- (Mono-) Physites and the Nestorians. Part of the rapid downfall of Christian North Africa can be explained by the divisions within the Christian Church there. This accounts for much more of later history also. The Nestorians were particularly strong in the native lands of Islam.
11) He “quotes” Pope Urban II’s appeal to the kings of Europe for a Crusade as “Let’s kick some Muslim brunny” (I have no idea what “brunny” means – but I guess it means “ass”) to which all replied with one voice “Deus vult”. He got the reply right, but I don’t think that is quite what Urban said… Again, when he describes the First Crusade, he says that it was not so much an “invasion force” as an “armed pilgrimage” proceeding with the attitude “Anyone who gets in my way, I’m going to kick their ass”.
12) He bemoans the fact that the Crusaders were satisfied with capturing Jerusalem when they could have gone on to destroy the Ka’aba. “We [sic] would have been justified if we [sic] had taken out the Ka’aba”, he says.
13) After dealing with the “history” he moves to Islamic theology saying “there are many problems with Muslim theology”. Well, yes, from a Christian point of view; but the same could be said for the theology of any non-Christian religion, and even some Christian ones!
14) One of the problems is the assertion that in Islam God is not bound by his own word. This is what Pope Benedict was referring to indirectly in his speech, but it is notable that many Muslim commentators on that speech say that the Holy Father was not correct on that point. Let us just say that not ALL Muslims believe this.
15) And so for example Steve says that Allah could decree that incest is okay. He repeatedly uses “examples” that suggest that Muslim men are – because of their faith – sexually immoral. He uses the example of Mohammed marrying a 6 year old girl and having intercourse with her at the age of 9 as proof of this. However this is explained, it needs to be recognised that this does not mean that Islam teaches that paedophilia is acceptable. It does indicate that in some Eastern tribal societies, early marriage to girls still in their childhood was practiced. This does not make it an article of the Muslim faith.
16) He speaks of the abrogation theory as if it was accepted by all Muslims, and uses as an example the “early” statement in the Koran that there should be “no compulsion in religion” and the “late” injunction to “slay the unbelievers wherever you find them”. This theory is not agreed upon by all Muslims, and then there is an argument about which are exactly early and which are late. Many Muslim teachers today argue that the teaching that there be “no compulsion in religion” has not been abrogated.
17) While much mystery and myth surrounds the history of the origin of the Koran, a history which I believe will benefit from very close and careful scholarly study that is now happening, Steve takes this as an opportunity to ridicule the Koran. He refers to the original writing materials used: “Shoulder blade of a half eaten camel? Bring it on!” [laughter from audience] “I wish it was a joke, but it isn’t.”
18) He asks “Is every Muslim to be feared?” He answers “No” and then gives the example of the Muslims and Jews at Georgetown University who discouraged the faculty there from taking down the crucifixes. But the implication is that this was an aberration, and that, yes, usually you should fear Muslims. “The Muslims in this case [my emph] were honest.” Ie. Usually they are not.
19) This one needs quoting in full:
“In addition, we should recognise that Muslims are having a lot more babies than we are. Now you may think that, you know, what’s that got to do with violence? They’re making love, not war, come on! The thing is this. IF I’m a seventy year old man with my walker, how likely am I to firebomb the local police station? …Old people don’t start riots. Young people do. If you’re seventeen, you’re much more likely to throw the oil cocktail, because you’re seventeen. 25% of the population is below the age of 25. 14% of our population is below 25. They’ve got a lot more pent up energy in their population simply because it’s a lot younger. And young people are much more likely to start a riot than old codgers. …I mean…I’m not going to start a riot; but if I was 17 I’d think about it.”
20) He also gives the idea that prostitution is regarded as moral among Muslims due to a “temporary marriage contract”. He goes further to suggest the sexual immorality of Muslims. This too needs quoting in full:
“According to Islamic theology and tradition, any woman who has sex outside of marriage should be stoned. That includes if you are raped. Because you cannot prove that you have been raped unless you have 4 Muslim men who witness and testify to the actual penetration. And how do you know that they are Muslim men? Because they stood back and watched. That’s the only way to prove rape. That kind of law, where you can be stoned to death for having sex outside of marriage or where you can be stoned to death for being raped and you will be raped if you are arrested for anything because a law breaker should not go to heaven and women should either be virgins or married so an unmarried woman in prison will be raped to make sure she goes to hell. That’s Islam.”
Or at least, THAT is Steve Kellmeyer’s take on Islam. I repudiate his approach utterly and hope that you can now see what I find so problematic about his whole approach to this subject.