Burning the Koran, changing the Bible: The politics of religion

Confusion about the facts surrounding the burning of the Koran is probably to blame. After all, prisoners were writing messages on the page thus effectively desecrating them in Islam.

DALLAS, March 6, 2012 – The recent killings in Afghanistan, which were sparked by the burning of Korans used by prisoners to pass messages to one another, have proven to be another dark chapter in US-Islamic relations.

Confusion about the facts surrounding the incident is probably to blame. Congressman Allen West slammed the US apology for the incident, and I tend to agree with his interpretation of the events. After all, prisoners were writing messages to each other on the pages of these books, thus effectively desecrating them in Islam.

Still, disposal should have been more prudent.

For me such religiously motivated hatred always conjures up visions of pogroms, witch hunts, jihads and crusades. However, there is one era of religious politics that tells the story like no other - the Spanish Inquisition.

It is a sad chapter in European history, one full of torture and cruelty. It may have been what Pascal was thinking of when he said, “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”

Many Protestants view the Inquisition as a Catholic attempt to suppress Protestants. This is, in fact, not entirely true. Protestants were more like “collateral” damage in the whole affair. The real issue was that Spain had fought a 700-year war to drive the Muslims back into North Africa, so after they took the final Islamic stronghold in Granada in 1492, they began to implement policies to ensure a homogenous and therefore “peaceful” populace.

Jews were almost immediately expelled and many were given refuge by the Turks in the Ottoman Empire. Muslims were, in the beginning, guaranteed freedom of religion, but uprising and armed conflict eventually hardened the Spanish rulers and these rights were slowly eroded. Muslim dress was banned, then Arabic and the Koran. In the end, Muslims whose families had lived in Iberia for 700 years were told they must convert or leave. Of course, ‘forced conversions’ are not very convincing, so the Inquisition was instituted as a test of just how genuine the faith of questionable individuals was. It is a sordid tale of misery, but even this was eventually deemed a failure, and in 1609, the great expulsion began.

For the Catholic rulers of Spain in the 1600s, religion was an essential part of cultural identity, and they decided that multiculturalism wouldn’t work. Years later, Rousseau, the father of socialism in the West, would also agree that religion was an essential part of the social cement that holds a people together, but he argued for theological tolerance. The key point being that even Rousseau believed religion was important for political rule.

What does all of this have to do with burning the Koran? Scriptures are a sacred connection to God in every faith. Indeed, religions without ‘holy texts’, i.e. shamanism, and animism are almost always subsumed by religions with a text. Scriptures provide devotees with stability, a point of reference and the confidence of an ‘inspired revelation’.  Obviously, disrespect for the scriptures of other religions will lead to strained relations.

But, the Koran is not the only Scripture being insulted these days. It is just the only one that receives any press here in the West. The Muslim assault on the Christian Bible has been going on for thousands of years in spite of Koranic verses which affirm the inspiration of the Torah, Psalms and New Testament. Muslim children are taught in state-run elementary schools that the Bible has been changed. Many Muslims also teach that Jews are descended from apes. These are just two examples of the inflammatory rhetoric prevalent in Muslim society.

Just last week, the Vatican made an official request for permission to view a manuscript that the Turkish authorities have had since 2000, when it was allegedly recovered from a smuggling gang. It is reportedly written in Aramaic, which many scholars believe is the language spoken by Jesus. The facts of this simple story were immediately used by Islamic news organizations as an excuse to bring up one of the most popular Muslim conspiracies, one that attacks the heart and soul of Christian scripture: The Gospel of Barnabas. This text was supposedly suppressed by the Catholic Church because it has Jesus predicting the coming of Mohammed and denying that he was the ‘Son of God’. The evidence, however, points in a different direction. 

There are only two extant copies of the Gospel of Barnabas in the world. This author has personally held the one in the National Library of Austria. It is the Italian copy and is the only complete copy. It was given to Eugene of Savoy by John Frederick Cramer, who acquired it in Holland in the early 1700’s. The other is an incomplete Spanish copy which was found in Australia in 1974. George Sale referred to the Spanish copy in his introduction to the English translation of the Koran. The one he had was complete. It is now gone.

I follow the story as far as possible in a new novel entitled A Deceit To Die For. Unfortunately, the publisher has informed me that access to the site has been blocked in Turkey. Bizarre…

If the Gospel of Barnabas is true, then the canonical gospels clearly aren’t. For, in the Gospel of Barnabas, Jesus denies being the Messiah, predicts the coming of Mohammed and foretells the heresy of him one day being referred to as the ‘Son of God’. These statements are clearly a contradiction of the received catholic faith. A cannot be non-A. They cannot both be true.

There is some evidence to suggest that the extant copies of the Gospel of Barnabas were part of a Muslim conspiracy. Which is worse: burning a book, or changing it. 

The fight for Scripture is the battle for the soul of religion. Even back in the early days of Christianity, the Gnostics understood this very well. They wrote numerous accounts of Jesus, i.e. the gospels of Thomas, Peter, Judas, etc. to suit their own beliefs, and in the process they created a massive amount of confusion. Their accounts are so contradictory that it’s tempting to simply throw up one’s hands and walk away from it all, an agnostic.

But one must ask, “What kind of person sits down and ‘fabricates the truth’ about God? What could possibly motivate someone to ‘make up’ revelation?

I can think of only one answer – control…

Luke Montgomery, author of A Deceit to Die For, lived in the Middle East for over a decade. He holds an MA in Linguistics, speaks fluent Turkish and writes on foreign policy, religion and culture. You can follow his work at www.lukemontgomery.net, or find him on Twitter at LukeM_author and on Facebook.


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Luke Montgomery

Author and researcher Luke Montgomery grew up on the ancient hunting grounds of the Mescalero Apaches, where he cut his teeth on tales of Geronimo’s exploits, supped with Viking heroes in Valhalla and embarked on exhilarating voyages with Odysseus. Somewhere along the way, he grew older, but he didn't grow up. After obtaining his MA in Linguistics, he set a course for adventure in Europe and the Middle East, where he lived for over a decade combing Hittite, Phrygian, Lycian, Greek and Roman ruins on the shores of the Mediterranean and Aegean.   Eventually, he returned to the land of liberty at what he considers its most crucial hour to take up his post in the defense of individual liberty. When he is not consulting private and public institutions with interests and operations in the Middle East, he tends grapes, raises Longhorn cattle and researches public policy, especially as it relates to culture. As an expert on Islam, he spends much of his time researching and writing about religious politics. Some of the people and works that have shaped his worldview are Emily Dickinson, Rudyard Kipling, Atlas Shrugged, C. S. Lewis, Anton Chekhov, Omar Khayyam, LOTR, the Torah, O. Henry, The Ballad of the White Horse, Bruce Cockburn, George Orwell, Yaşar Kemal, Aziz Nesin, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Yeshua... You can follow his work at www.lukemontgomery.net/blog.html , or find him on Twitter at LukeM_author and on Facebook



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