It’s pretty embarrassing when the on-line comments about an article are more logical and knowledgeable than the article. Such is the case with a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week that argued Muslim violence does not reflect traditional Islamic doctrine, but is merely a case of arrested historical development. The whole argument is a tissue of logical fallacies and historical ignorance.
The author, a professor of history at Harvard, starts by explaining that Christianity was once violent and intolerant, but changed over time, and thus can provide an example for “modernizing Islam.” But most of his catalogue of Christian violence and persecution is little more than the tu quoque fallacy. It ignores the fact that Christian violence was typical of the whole pre-modern world, a sad banality of human existence like plagues, war, torture, and famine. The comparison of premodern Christian violence to today’s Islamic terror is as irrelevant as rationalizing modern torture and executions, like the mutilation and beheading regularly practiced in Saudi Arabia, by bringing up the hanging, disemboweling, beheading, and quartering the English used to punish traitors in the 14th century.