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Paul Monk One Book Too Many

Admiration for Princeton professor Glen Warren Bowersock’s distinguished career and great learning inspired a reverent anticipation as I took up his latest book, ‘The Crucible of Islam’, which professes to examine the origins of that creed. Alas, that reverence was grossly misplaced.

The Crucible of Islam
by Glen Warren Bowersock
Harvard, 2017, 220 pages, US$25

Glen Warren Bowersock, now eighty-one years of age, is by any measure one of the West’s most distinguished scholars of classical civilisation. His chosen field, from the start, was the history of the ancient Mediterranean world: Greece, Rome and the Near East. He is a prize-winning graduate of Harvard (1957) and Oxford (1959, as a Rhodes Scholar). His doctorate, at Oxford (1962) was on Augustus and the Greek world. He has served as lecturer in Ancient History at Balliol, Magdalen and New colleges, Oxford (1960–62), Professor of Classics and History at Harvard (1962–80) and was Professor of Ancient History at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University from 1980 until his retirement in 2006. He is the author of over a dozen books and has published over 400 articles on Greek, Roman and Near Eastern history and culture as well as the classical tradition.

The list of his honours is long and impressive and the titles of his books and the number of his scholarly articles are alike the stuff of open-mouthed awe on the part of any aspiring student of classical civilisation. They include a book based on his doctoral dissertation, Augustus and the Greek World (1965), Greek Sophists in the Roman Empire (1969), Julian the Apostate (1978), Roman Arabia (1983), Gibbon’s Historical Imagination (1988), Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World (1999), Interpreting Late Antiquity (2001), Mosaics as History: The Near East from Late Antiquity to Islam (2006), Lorenzo Valla: On the Donation of Constantine (edition and translation, 2007), From Gibbon to Auden: Essays on the Classical Tradition (2009) and The Throne of Adulis: Red Sea Wars on the Eve of Islam (2013).

This is a wonderful body of work and an indication of what our best universities in the West have been able to produce, even if all too many of our students in the twenty-first century read very little of it. Having read several of Professor Bowersock’s earlier works, not least his recent and fascinating study of pre-Islamic Arabia and Christian Ethiopia, The Throne of Adulis, I was prompted to buy and read at once his latest offering, The Crucible of Islam. I was dismayed, therefore, to discover that something strange has happened to the great scholar, leading to some startling, basic errors of history and an approach to his subject that would have astonished Edward Gibbon, whose “historical imagination” had exercised Bowersock in his prime. I had expected mature insights and fresh perspectives from this book, concise though it is, at only 220 pages. Instead, I found myself astonished by its errors and omissions and recoiling from its deference to Islam.

We might anchor a reflection on Bowersock’s writing about the origins of Islam in the famous remarks by Gibbon himself, in the fiftieth and fifty-first chapters of his celebrated history of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. He makes the sardonic remark that:

The birth of Mohammed was fortunately placed in the most degenerate and disorderly period of the Persians, the Romans and the barbarians of Europe: the empires of Trajan, or even of Constantine or Charlemagne, would have repelled the assault of the naked Saracens, and the torrent of fanaticism might have been obscurely lost in the sands of Arabia.

Peter Smith Reformist Pipedreams and Islamic Reality

Muslims individually should, without qualification, be treated as respectfully and kindly as everyone else. However, at another level, it is surely reasonable to ask whether Muslims collectively should be absolved of accountability for the bitter fruits of Islam?

I’ll begin with a provocative question. Steel yourselves. Can those expressing affinity with Mein Kampf and National Socialism be, nevertheless, moderate and peaceful Nazis? I’ll leave the question hanging. And won’t directly come back to it.

Donald Trump got himself into one of those messes of his own making back in August. Having had his scripted response to the events in Charlottesville well received, he couldn’t later resist extemporising by blaming the violence on both sides. Moreover, he made the claim that among the thugs there were fine people on both sides, who had simply come to express their views peacefully on whether a statue of Robert E. Lee should be removed or left in place

Commentators piled on. They need little opportunity where Trump is concerned. Fine people, it was pointed out, do not associate themselves with the Ku Klux Klan, with white supremacists, and with Nazis marching under torches, some chanting “blood and soil”. Fine people, it was said, would have left when they saw the character of many of those marching. They would not have wanted to associate themselves with Nazis and their evil creed.

As relentlessly nit-picking as they are, this time Trump’s critics had a point. Would people of moderate and peaceful disposition march with Nazis? I think not. While freedom of association is important, the company you keep matters; and, most particularly, if you share similar aims. Suppose that those “fine” marchers that Trump referred to, based on his own observations, were, in fact, sympathetic to the KKK. Their apparent peacefulness wouldn’t be enough to let them off the hook.

This brings me to Islam and more pointedly to its followers.

At one level it is essential to distinguish Islam from its followers. In the normal course of every­day life, Muslims individually should, without qualification, be treated as respectfully and kindly as everyone else. However, at another level, it is surely reasonable to ask whether Muslims collectively should be absolved of accountability for the bitter fruits of Islam that are everywhere evident. For it is clear that they have been absolved by the mainstream media, by Christian church leaders, by most of the political class, and even by conservative commentators who are otherwise indelicate enough to use the word Islamic when describing terrorist attacks. You simply don’t get such attacks without the assertion, at some early point, that the vast majority of Muslims are moderate and peaceful and reject violence. Sometimes a figure of 99 per cent plus is used to hammer home the storyline.

Where does this habitual response come from? I suggest it starts with the tendency of human beings to put things having different characteristics into separate boxes or categories. In this case, Islam and Muslims have been put into two non-intersecting categories.

Take Islam first.

An evil alter ego has emerged as a category separate from Islam proper. It’s called Islamism. Islamism is sometimes referred to as “political Islam”. This is the favoured description of Dr Zuhdi Jasser. Dr Jasser is a leading light among those who want to see Islam “reformed”. He’s a medical doctor and former officer in the US Navy.

Near the end of 2015, Jasser, along with another twelve “renegade” Muslims—six of the thirteen are based in America, five in Canada, one in the UK and one in Denmark—signed and publicised a two-page Muslim Reform Movement Declaration. With Martin Luther and Wittenberg in mind, they pinned a copy on the doors of the Islamic Center in Washington DC. I can only guess at the fate of these two pieces of paper, but I can say that unlike Martin Luther’s ninety-five theses Jasser’s Declaration has not spread like wildfire.

Iran and Daesh Lite in North America By Rachel Ehrenfeld

Recent mass demonstrations in Iran, and the government’s violent crackdown has been met with a deafening silence by Muslim “civil rights” organizations in the U.S. and Canada. Why have they refrained from supporting the Iranian people’s uprising to overthrow the oppressive mullahs? After all, the same organizations have vocally and financially supported the mass demonstrations in the Middle East and North Africa that erupted in December 2010 and led to the rise of Egypt’s short-lived Muslim Brotherhood government and caused turmoil and destabilized these regions.

American and Canadian Muslim organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in the U.S. and Canada, the Muslim Student Association (MSA) in the U.S. and Canada, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) (including its Canadian branch), share the similar agenda and boards and serve as umbrellas to many smaller associations and community-based groups. Their charities aim to expand the implementation of their agenda, and a few of them have been identified as unindicted co-conspirator in Islamist terrorist financing trials in the U.S. Their common mission: dedication to “da’wah” (proselytization), building “an Islamic way of life in North America[, and] commitment to Islam as a total way of life” by practicing sharia (Islamic law). This desire to impose any version of Islam on society to establish global Islamic theocracy via political activism, has been accurately described by Prof. Clive Kessler as “political Islam” or “ISIS/Daesh lite.”

Political Islam has been successfully enforced by the mullahs in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Over the years, they have increased their efforts to enforce and spread political Islam everywhere. Their efforts did not stop with Shite groups; rather, they extended especially to Sunni Muslim Brotherhood offshoots such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and al-Qaeda. Not surprisingly, the first foreign trip of Egypt’s now deposed Muslim Brother president, Mohammed Morsi, was to visit Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood’s short-lived government (June 2012-July 2013) has failed because the Egyptian people rejected its oppression early on.

The ousting of the M.B. government was followed with banning its activities in Egypt and later in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Syria. But by then, the global Brotherhood’s movement has been well entrenched in the West, where their activities are not limited and often encouraged. The leaders of the Islamist movement have doubled their efforts to spread and whenever possible, to enforce political Islam on Muslims and infidels alike.

Muslim White Supremacist Said His Murder Victims Disrespected Islam By Tyler O’Neil

Only in Florida. A white supremacist man converted to Islam and confessed to killing two of his roommates, who were also white supremacists. A third roommate (and again, white supremacist), who was away during the killings, was also arrested for homemade explosives.

Tampa police arrested 18-year-old Devon Arthurs Friday night, after the young man brought them to the bodies of two men he confessed to killing that very evening, Fox 13 News reported. The Miami Herald reported that Arthurs told police he killed his roommates “because they disrespected his new-found Muslim faith.” As he was arrested, Arthurs made several references to “Allah Mohammed.”

Around 5:30 p.m., Arthurs came into the Green Planet Smoke Shop near his apartment, wielding a gun and announcing that he had killed two people. He reportedly said he was upset “due to America bombing his Muslim countries.” He also warned employees not to leave the store, but the shop’s manager was able to break away and call the police.

“He came in there with a gun, never faced it at [the employees],” manager Fadi Soufan told Fox 13 News. Arthurs started “telling them the world’s corrupt, crazy stuff like that, and that he just shot someone.”

Police officers came and took Arthurs into custody, but then he told them where to find the bodies. He also reportedly added, “I had to do it. This wouldn’t have to happen if your country didn’t bomb my country.” Officers identified the victims as 22-year-old Jeremy Himmelman and 18-year-old Andrew Oneschuk. Investigators reported that all three of the men lived in an apartment together.

In a press release, the Tampa Police Department announced that “due to concerns about possible explosives, the Tampa Police bomb squad and the Tampa Fire Rescue Hazmat team worked through the night to ensure that it was safe to enter the condominium.”

Arthurs was booked into the jail early Saturday, and faces first-degree murder and kidnapping charges.

But the story gets crazier. On Sunday afternoon, police arrested a fourth roommate, Brandon Russell, whom Arthurs also identified as a white supremacist. According to Arthurs, this man had participated in neo-Nazi chat rooms where he “threatened to kill people and bomb infrastructure,” according to the FBI report.

Inside Russell’s bedroom, police found a framed photograph of Timothy McVeigh, the convicted and executed bomber responsible for attacking the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 16, 1995. They also found Nazi and white supremacist propaganda, and radiation sources — thorium and americium. CONTINUE AT SITE

Philippines Declares Martial Law on Southern Island Move on Mindanao follows battle between government troops and militants from Islamic State-linked rebel group By Jake Maxwell Watts

MANILA—Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in the southern island of Mindanao following fighting between the army and an Islamic State-linked militant group.

The declaration, in effect for 60 days, follows a battle between government troops and militants from the armed rebel Maute group, which took place in a small southern city on Tuesday.

Fighters from the group clashed with the country’s police and army after gunmen seized several buildings in Marawi, including the city jail and a hospital, subsequently setting them on fire and parading the black Islamic State flag through the city streets.

Martial law marks an escalation in a longstanding battle between authorities in the Philippines and several heavily armed Islamist groups in the southern provinces, whose jungle strongholds and deep community links in predominantly Muslim areas have made them hard to defeat despite years of efforts.

In a separate incident in Marawi on Tuesday, police and army units exchanged fire with gunmen while seeking to serve an arrest warrant on Isnilon Hapilon, a militant seen as a senior leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group, another Islamist organization that has declared allegiance to Islamic State.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said during a news briefing in Moscow, where Mr. Duterte is in the middle of a four-day official visit, that the martial law was possible “on the grounds of existence of rebellion because of what is happening in Mindanao.” He didn’t give details about what conditions martial law would include.

The declaration is likely to be controversial in the Philippines, where martial law is remembered by many for its adoption by former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was ousted by popular revolt in 1986 after a 21-year rule. Mr. Duterte floated the idea of martial law several times in the past, mostly in the context of justifying additional powers for police to continue a bloody antinarcotics campaign. CONTINUE AT SITE

Inside the Secret World of Ex-Muslims Even in America, these ‘apostates’ must meet in private. By Andy Ngo

In April, a defiant group of self-identified “apostates” convened in downtown Portland to revel in the joys of brew culture, bacon burgers, and atheism. Nine ex-Muslims from several states in the region gathered for a local meeting of the Ex-Muslims of North America.

EXMNA is a nonprofit that provides support to individuals who have left Islam. Some of its members have faced disownership and death threats from family members for renouncing their religion.

Chapter gatherings across the United States and Canada are closed-group meetings for safety reasons. Individuals who wish to join the organization go through a screening process to authenticate their identities, explained Sarah Haider, who co-founded EXMNA in 2013. “Unfortunately, it is not paranoia that requires us to be careful,” Haider said. “In the Muslim world, we are openly persecuted and regularly meet grisly ends. In the Western world we are safer, but even here open meetings can be a big risk.”

In traditional interpretations of Islam, apostasy — the act of leaving one’s religion — is punishable by death or imprisonment. Across the globe, apostasy from Islam remains a capital offense in 13 Muslim-majority countries.

Haider, who immigrated from Pakistan as a child, said that the unique experiences of ex-Muslims often leave them beyond the reach of typical secular or atheist support groups. “We have specific needs in terms of security and privacy,” Haider said. “Some ex-Muslims have more to fear from their local Muslim communities and families than others, so EXMNA provides a space for those who do not feel safe attending any public event.”

Sarah Haider is scheduled to speak at Portland State University on May 26. “Yazid” (not his real name), a PSU alumnus, organized the local chapter meeting. He explained that a pub setting was intentional. “It’s actually symbolic,” he said. “A bar represents all the things that were haram [forbidden] to us when we were Muslim.”

The vast majority of Muslims view the consumption of alcohol or pork as deeply haram. In Saudi Arabia, where Yazid is from, drinking or producing alcohol is punishable with fines, lashings, and imprisonment.

Underneath the laughter and lighthearted chatter of the evening laid a somber reality: Each person, though a freethinker, had a religious identity or family to return to at the end of the night.

“Shadi” is a 39-year-old immigrant from Egypt. He became an atheist about a year ago, but his wife only recently found out. “She begs me to pretend to pray in front of the children,” he said with a mournful look.

This was the first time he had seen so many ex-Muslims together, as it was for nearly everyone at the event.

“Amina” is a 27-year-old graduate student from East Africa. She held on to her boyfriend’s arm while they ate a slice of banana cream pie. “I haven’t told my family about him yet,” she said with an uneasy smile. Amina’s green-eyed American boyfriend spoke with a soft southern drawl. He stands in stark contrast to the type of man her family expects her to marry, she lamented.

Across all schools of jurisprudence in both Shiite and Sunni Islam, marriage between a Muslim woman and non-Muslim male is prohibited. Muslim men are permitted to marry non-Muslim women, but their children are traditionally assigned their father’s faith.

Trump’s ‘Principled Realism’ Is Not Very Realistic about Islam The principal fiction in the president’s speech in Saudi Arabia was the claim that we share ‘common values’ with the sharia society. By Andrew C. McCarthy

So for what exactly is the “extreme vetting” going to vet?

That was the question I could not shake from my mind while listening to President Trump’s speech in Saudi Arabia on Sunday to dozens of Sunni Islamic leaders and a global television audience.

There were certainly some positives in the president’s rhetoric. Trump did not cite American policy or “arrogance” as a contributory cause of jihadist savagery, as President Obama was wont to do. He was less delusional about the splendor of Islam than were Obama and President George W. Bush. Gone were absurd inflations of Islam’s historical achievements and place in the American fabric; gone were allusions to the “religion of peace and love.” In their place was an acknowledgment that Islam is besieged by a “crisis” of terror that is engulfing the world, a crisis that is ideological in nature and that only Muslims themselves can solve.

All true. Nevertheless, the theme that came through the speech is that terrorism is something that happens to Islam, rather than something that happens because of Islam. That is simply not the case, even though it is true, as Trump asserted, that the vast majority of those killed by Muslim terrorists are themselves Muslims.

There is thus a good deal that is not real about “Principled Realism,” Trump’s name for what he heralds as a new American strategy — “new approaches informed by experience and judgment,” a “discarding” of strategies “that have not worked.”

The principal fiction in “principled realism” is that we share “common values” with Sunni Arab sharia societies. That is problematic because these purported “common values” — in conjunction with “shared interests” — are said to be the roots of Trump’s approach.

The president stressed that during his first overseas trip as president, he would be “visiting many of the holiest places in the three Abrahamic faiths.” The irony was palpable, at least to some of us. Trump is not visiting the holiest places of Islam.

Yes, upon departing Saudi Arabia, he headed to Israel where he prayed at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. In the offing is a jaunt to Rome, to the Vatican for an audience with Pope Francis. But for all the treacle about “why I chose to make my first foreign visit a trip to the heart of the Muslim world, to the nation [Saudi Arabia] that serves as custodian of the two holiest sites in the Islamic faith,” Trump sidestepped the fact that he is not welcome in those two sites, Mecca and Medina.

Why? Because the president is a non-Muslim. Non-Muslims are not allowed to step their infidel feet in Islam’s sacred cities.

That iteration of Islamic intolerance is squarely based on scripture — see, e.g., the Koran’s Sura 9:28: “Oh you who believe! Truly the idolaters are unclean, so let them not, after this year, approach the sacred mosque” — a verse that specifically relates to the Grand Mosque in Mecca (Makkah), and has been extended by Islamic scholars to Medina. That is why Trump’s House of Saud hosts enforce a ban on entry by non-Muslims to both cities.

I say that this ban is just one “iteration of Islamic intolerance” for two reasons.

First, there are many other iterations. Scripturally based Islamic doctrine systematically discriminates against non-Muslims in many particulars, and against women in many others. Since Trump’s “principled realism” is said to be rooted in “common values,” it might be worth a gander at the guidance Trump’s State Department provides to Americans pondering a trip to the kingdom:

Criminal Penalties: You are subject to local laws. If you violate local laws, even unknowingly, you may be expelled, arrested, imprisoned, subject to physical punishments, or even executed. Penalties for the import, manufacture, possession, and consumption of alcohol or illegal drugs in Saudi Arabia are severe. Convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences, heavy fines, public floggings, and/or deportation. The penalty for drug trafficking is death . . .

Faith-Based Travelers: Islam is the official religion of the country and pervades all aspects of life in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi authorities do not permit criticism of Islam, religious figures, or the royal family.

The government prohibits the public practice of religions other than Islam. Non-Muslims suspected of violating these restrictions have been jailed. Church services in private homes have been raided, and participants have been jailed.

Muslims who do not adhere to the strict interpretations of Islam prevalent in much of Saudi Arabia frequently encounter societal discrimination and constraints on worship.

Public display of non-Islamic religious articles, such as crosses and Bibles, is not permitted.

[And, of course . . .] Non-Muslims are forbidden to travel to Makkah (Mecca) and Medina, the cities where two of Islam’s holiest mosques are located . . .

LGBTI Travelers: Same-sex sexual relations, even when they are consensual, are criminalized in Saudi Arabia. Violations of Saudi laws governing perceived expressions of, or support for, same sex sexual relations, including on social media, may be subject to severe punishment. Potential penalties include fines, jail time, or death.

The State Department guidance suggests that readers consult the International Religious Freedom Report produced in 2015 by State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. It relates the brutal punishments meted out by some Islamic countries — not jihadist organizations, but governments in Muslim-majority countries — for blasphemy and apostasy. The paragraph on the Kingdom is worth reading:

Europe: Muslim Atrocities against Women? So What! by Uzay Bulut

These examples are merely a sampling of what is becoming commonplace across Europe. In the name of human rights, inclusion, diversity and equality, “enlightened” activists and judicial authorities are apologizing for and excusing Muslim criminals for behavior that would not be tolerated from anyone else — and should not be tolerated.

Do these judges work for Islamic sharia courts or for secular European courts?

These court rulings are an open call to Muslim men in Europe to rape women, children, anyone they like. Those cultures in which women and children as are viewed as property deserve no respect, and certainly not preferential treatment.

It happened again last week. Two Turkish nationals in Schwerin, Germany were arrested for raping a 13-year-old girl after forcing themselves into her home.

Schwerin, Germany (Image source: Getty Images)

Recently, a judge in Germany acquitted a Turkish drug dealer of raping one of his customers last August. He had forced himself on her for four hours and left her incapacitated for weeks. He told the judge that in the culture from where he came, what she “had experienced as rape” might be considered merely “wild sex”.

What “culture” is this?

According to the Turkish women’s rights organization “We Will Stop the Murders of Women,” which publishes monthly reports, in March of this year alone, 35 women were killed; 14 others were exposed to sexual violence, and 63 children were molested. Many children, the report said, had been sexually abused for years, and often attempted suicide.

The report also stated that the murder of women in Turkey — 63% percent of which is committed by husbands, boyfriends, fathers, brothers or sons — is spurred more than half the time by women; it is supposedly their fault: they actually wanted to make decisions about their lives, such as getting a divorce, before they were murdered.

Worse, nearly a third of those are classified by authorities as “suspicious murders,” perpetrated by “unknown assailants.”

Torturing women to death is also increasingly widespread, as well as killing young children along with their mothers. One case involved a man who slit the throats of his ex-wife and their five-year-old daughter.

ISIS urges jihadis to imitate Times Square car ramming incident By Lisa Daftari

Opportunistic jihadis have posted messages urging supporters to carry out vehicular attacks similar to Thursday’s Times Square car crash even as law enforcement officials confirmed that the incident had no connection to terrorism. http://www.foreigndesknews.com/world/middle-east/isis-urges-jihadis-imitate-times-square-car-ramming-incident/

Pro-Islamic State jihadis shared images and messages such as, “Soon, the vehicle attacks will be witnessed on your streets, by Allah’s permission,” in an attempt to lure so-called ‘lone wolf’ attackers to carry out same-style attacks but in the name of the Islamic State.

Richard Rojas,26, from Bronx, NY, was arraigned Friday on charges of second-degree murder, 20 counts of attempted murder and five counts of aggravated vehicular homicide following Thursday’s car crash, which killed an 18-year-old woman.

The terror group has even been using relevant hashtags such as #NewYork #Times_Square and #USA in their propaganda posts.

Jihadis posted an image of a large truck with “We will continue to terrorize you and ruin your lives,” on the Telegram messaging app, urging ‘believers’ to give up this ‘temporary life’ and earn everlasting reward in paradise.

“O Muwahhid (believer), Indeed it is a single soul and a single paradise, so sell it to Allah and purchase Jannah (afterlife). Sell what is temporary for what is lasting, for how blessed a transaction is that transaction! Blessed would be the seller and blessed be the buyer!”

After finding challenges in asking would-be jihadis to travel from around the world, particularly the West, to the Caliphate, the Islamic State began a campaign of encouraging Western sympathizers to launch local attacks in their hometowns by using everyday objects as weapons, such as kitchen knives, axes and cars, to ram into large crowds.

ISIS has claimed car ramming attacks in Nice, Berlin, London and Ohio State University, when Somali student Abdul Razak Ali Artan drove his car into a group of pedestrians on a sidewalk and subsequently exited his car and started stabbing those nearby with a knife.

Earlier this week, ISIS released a video featuring an American jihadi calling for ‘lone-wolf’ attacks in the U.S.

“Liberate yourself from hellfire by killing a kafir (non-believer),” a jihadi identified by his pseudonym, Abu Hamza al-Amriki, said.

The group has also published several articles and infographics in recent months urging supporters to carry out vehicular attacks, advising them to target places with heavy pedestrian traffic such as New York, to maximize the impact of attacks.

The British broadcaster brave enough to discuss Islamic violence Douglas Murray

Last night Channel 4 broadcast a deep and seriously important programme. ‘Isis: The Origins of Violence’ was written and presented by the historian Tom Holland and can be viewed (by British viewers) here.

Five years ago, to coincide with his book ‘In The Shadow of the Sword’ about the early years of Islam, Holland presented a documentary for Channel 4 titled ‘Islam: The Untold Story’. That was something of a landmark in UK television. For while there had previously been some heated and angry studio discussions about Islam and plenty of fawningly hagiographic programmes about the religion’s founder presented by his apologists, here was a grown-up and scholarly treatment which looked at the issue as though there weren’t blasphemy police around every corner.

Sadly, part of the reception of that programme, and numerous events in the years since have kept such displays of scholarly truthfulness nearly as much of a rarity since as they were before. Which is one reason why Tom Holland deserves even more praise for returning to the subject of his earlier documentary.
And not just returning to it, but – in ‘Isis: The Origins of Violence’ – returning to the hardest part of that subject. In a nutshell he posed the question ‘Why do Isis, and groups like Isis, do what they do?’ And he answers this with the only honest answer anybody interested in truth could possibly come back with – which is that although they may be inspired by many things, their most important inspiration is a version of Islam whose roots can be traced to the origins of the religion, its foundational texts and the behaviour of Mohammed.

Holland did not spare the viewer. Travelling from the scene of the devastating Isis attacks in Paris, to Iraqi towns decimated by the group, via Istanbul and an interview with a Salafi leader in Jordan, Holland showed the depth as well as complexity of the question and answer. The most moving sequence of all came in the Iraqi town of Sinjar which was levelled by Isis and whose mainly Yezidi population either fled, were sold as sex slaves or (as in the case of the town’s old women who could not be sold) massacred. In a profoundly moving sequence, picking his way up a demolished street, on the lookout for explosives amid the rubble, Holland speaks to camera. What he said needs thinking about:

‘There are things in the past that are like unexploded bombs that just lie in wait in the rubble, and then something happens to trigger them. And there are clearly verses in the Koran and stories that are told about Mohammed that are very like mines waiting to go off – Improvised Explosive Devices. And they can lie there maybe for centuries and then something happens to trigger them and you get this.’

The documentary will doubtless have many detractors from the many people – non-Muslim as well as Muslim – who want to cover over those IEDs. Holland’s documentary profoundly and carefully reveals why this is such a terrible mistake, and why from London and Paris to Istanbul and Mosul, the effects of failing to be honest in our assessment of the past has such serious repercussions for our present and future.