Banning the Koran

by Alexander Cockburn

Call it another skirmish in the war on terror, which is translating these days as more or less anything deemed unpalatable to social harmony. Los Angeles school officials are pulling an edition of the Koran from the district’s libraries because of complaints that the footnotes are anti-Semitic. This particular edition of Islam’s Good Book dates from 1934.

An example of one such offending footnote: “The Jews in their arrogance claimed that all wisdom and all knowledge of Allah was enclosed in their hearts. But there were more things in heaven and earth than were dreamt of in their philosophy. Their claim was not only arrogance but blasphemy.”

This doesn’t seem so bad, but I suppose you can never be too careful. A story in the Los Angeles Times reports that copies of “The Meaning of the Holy Quran” were donated in December to the Los Angeles Unified School District by a local Muslim foundation. A school district official told the Times that the books, a goodwill gesture in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, were distributed to the schools last week “without the usual content review.”

It surely won’t be long before the Bible is pulled of school library shelves as well, since the Old Testament, is rough on the Palestinians and the New Testament rough on the Jews. Try the Book of Numbers, chapter 25, which has sentiments on racial harmony I assume to be different from those of the Los Angeles School District. God is furious about sexual intermingling between the children of Israel and the hosts of Midian. Phineas, son of Eleazar, having risen up with a javelin, “went after the man of Israel into the tent and thrust them both through, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly.” God is well pleased and signifies his approval by visiting a pestilence on the Midianites: “So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel. And those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand.”

Also joining the anti-Bible coalition will presumably be the National Organization of Women, unless its officials are swayed by the fact, apparent in the passage just quoted, that Phineas was pro-choice, albeit in a somewhat drastic manner. Here’s St Paul on the status of women: “The head of every man is Christ and the head of the woman is man; and the head of Christ is God.”

Though my basic view is that any childish mind not innoculated by compulsory religion is open to any infection, by all means let us sweep the Jewish Bible, the Christian Bible and the Koran off every bookshelf whither might stray the hand of impressionable youth. Such a cleansing act would return us to the very roots of the European enlightenment.

An interesting review by Jonathan Ree appears in a recent edition of the London Review of Books, discussing the origins of the European enlightenment, specifically a pamphlet originating in the Netherlands and circulating in manuscript form around Europe in the 1680s. It was called the Traite des Trois Imposteurs (Treatise on Three Impostors), arguing that all the above mentioned Holy Scriptures were, as Ree puts it, “fabricated by conspiracies of priests who somehow managed to pass them off as the word of God.”

The first impostor was Moses, educated by Egyptians, who pulled the wool over the eyes of the credulous children of Israel; the second was Jesus who learned Moses’ political astuteness, picked up some mangled ideas from Plato and other Greek philosophers and in Ree’s words, “surrounded himself with a troupe of voluble imbeciles who were prepared to believe everything he said, even when he claimed his mother was a virgin and his father a holy ghost.” The third impostor was Mohammed who learned everything he needed to know from the other two charlatans.

The authors of the pamphlet have never been identified, but according to Margaret Jacob in her very influential 1981 study, The Radical Enlightenment, if they had a philosophical tutor it would have been Spinoza, a Dutch Jew. The way things are headed, even that identification will probably construed as being anti-Semitic, prompting worried school board officials in sensitive school districts to ban the London Review and Spinoza and the Enlightenment, along with the Talmud, the Holy Bible and the Koran. Hell, the kids can get probably get by without them. Let them read Martha Stewart and learn something useful about material things.

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