The recent arrival in my mail of a book entitled Islam: Critical Essays about a Political Religion has prompted a number of thoughts. Edited by Sam and Wim van Rooy and published late last year, it is a massive compendium, just under 800 pages long. It is in Dutch. (The title is actually De Islam: Kritische Essays over een Politieke Religie.) And it is richly comprehensive, with thirty-four essays on such subjects as the Islamization of Europe, Islam in India, the term "Islamophobia," jihad in Africa, dhimmitude, apostasy, the myth of Andalusia, taqiyya, Islam and the West, sharia law, Islam's "fellow travelers," Jews under Islam, Christians under Islam, Islam and women, Islam and slavery, Islam and fascism, and Islam vs. democracy.
The authors are mostly Dutch and Flemish writers with considerable expertise in their subjects, plus a sprinkling of well-known international figures as Ibn Warraq and Bat Ye'or. I have not yet read every word of the book – and given my spotty Dutch I may never do so – but one thing is absolutely clear: this is most definitely not a product of the Islamic Studies propaganda factory. It is not the sort of book, in other words, in which you would be likely to find the work of John Esposito, the king of Islamic Studies in the U.S., who is a reliable apologist for Islam and whose Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University is, in fact, funded by (and named for) his good friend and benefactor, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal of Saudi Arabia. Nor is this book the sort of soft-focus feel-good material churned out by popular writers like Karen Armstrong, who (it must be admitted) does a truly brilliant job of soft-pedaling the darker sides of Islam and emphasizing its warmly spiritual aspects, so that when you think of the religion you don't picture a jihadist lopping off somebody's head but a beautiful woman in a sensuously loose veil meditating at sundown under an olive tree while sipping coffee and nibbling on delicious figs.