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February 27th 2017 print

Peter Smith

Stoning as a Last Resort

Deuteronomy, if taken literally, would seem to prescribe execution as the solution to delinquent children. Ah, but then there are those informed commentaries and qualifications, which say the opposite. The problem with Islam is that none can nor dare filter Koranic literalism

koranic gunmanI switch on TV. Experienced interviewer Andrew Knut is posing this loaded question to a representative of a rabbinic council. Should you have your rebellious son stoned to death, he asks?

As you can imagine, this startles the rabbi. What the heck do you mean?

Well here it is, says Knut. I am reading from a Jewish Bible; in particular from Deuteronomy chapter 21 verses 18 to 21. He duly reads the passage.

“If a man will have a wayward and rebellious son, who does not hearken to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother, and they discipline him, but he does not hearken to them; then his father and his mother shall grasp him and take him out to the elders of the city, ‘This son of ours is wayward and rebellious; he does not hearken to our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard’. All the men of his city shall pelt him with stones and he shall die…”

Ah, now, yes, you have to understand the whole process, the rabbi protests. Stoning is very much a last resort. A last resort indeed, he emphasises. First, you must as parents hug you son and buy him presents to convince him to give up his rebellious ways. If this fails then you must give him a good talking to and warn him of the consequences of his bad behaviour. Make him sleep in the shed. Only when all of this fails do you hand him over to be stoned to death. So you see there is nothing at all to see here.

Knut is not mollified. Well, it still seems a tad extreme to me, he says. Surely you must disavow this passage in your Bible? It is the only civilised thing to do. Don’t you think?

OK, you got me! None of the above actually happened. But I guess you guessed that. What is true, however, is my citation of the passage in Deuteronomy. In my Jewish Bible there is an accompanying annotation. It explains that the Sages (great Jewish scholars of old) constrain the applicability of the passage to someone who will “degenerate into a monstrous human being” and moreover “state that there never was and never will be a capital case involving such a son.”

Here is my non-scholarly take. The Jewish religion and, by extension, the Christian religion (as it, too, encompasses the Old Testament) are willing to deviate from taking God at His literal Word, as it is recorded in the Bible. Literalists, they are not. As a Christian, I am personally happy with this. There is a fair amount in the Bible that it’s best not to take too literally. Inspired and guided by God though it is; we should be cognisant that flawed men of their time wrote it; and others, also flawed, selected, translated and compiled its various parts.

Therefore, for example, I remain open to the possibility that a man lying with a man might not be regarded by God as an abomination (Leviticus, 18:22). And, to move to the New Testament and St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (5:22), I seriously doubt that wives “should submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” According to David Horrell (An Introduction to the Study of Paul), this letter might not have been written by Paul at all but by a later disciple of his, concerned about the prominence of women in the early Christian church. Who knows? In any event, in all things, we should not forsake our wits. God gave them to us.

And now to something completely different; to something that actually happened. The path-breaking Andrew Bolt asked Keysar Trad, representing the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, what he thought of Koranic verse IV: 34. Why do I say ‘path-breaking’? Because this is only the second time I have witnessed a commentator quote the Koran to an Islamic representative as a way to put him or her on the spot and forestall the usual distractive spin — that ‘religion of peace’ sophistry. And the first time? That was Bolt too.

The verse is clear enough, though it varies in detail depending on the version of the Koran. Mine is the Pickthall version. “Men are in charge of women,” it says. There is nothing much different here from the passage in Ephesians that I referred to above. However, the Koranic passage goes on to say, “As for those from whom you fear rebellion, admonish them, and banish them to beds apart and scourge them.” Often scourge is written as “beat”, which sounds a bit less barbarous. But, whichever word is used, this is not a good look.

Trad had two options. The first was to defend the passage. The second was to disavow a literal reading. Here is the nub of the problem. The second option was really not available to him. It is heretical. The Koran is not the result of God inspiring flawed men to write it; nor can it be put into historical context. The Koran comprises the verbatim words of God. It comprises the immutable and everlasting very words of God. Get out of that if you can. The same can be said of every hateful, supremacist, discriminatory, intolerant and violent passage in the Koran; and there are many of them.

Unless and until we understand the problem we will be unable to tackle it. And, of course, the many useful idiots among us are determined never to understand the problem. They are only comfortable dwelling in La-La Land. But I shouldn’t be too unkind. Even some of those who well understand the problem, like President el Sisi of Egypt and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, persist in promoting forlorn solutions – calling for an Islamic religious “revolution” or “reformation.” This simply gives false hope. I wrote about this last year when reviewing Hirsi Ali’s book Heretic (“Hirsi Ali’s Quixotic Tilt at Fixing Islam”)

Nothing can be done about the religion itself. Once you take away its bad parts it has nothing left to support itself. For the West, for Australia, the only viable strategy has two parts. One is to severely restrict or stop further Muslim immigration.

The second is to persuade Muslims that their religion is bad for their health and ours and has to be given up in favour of another religion, preferably Christianity, or in favour of secularism. This calls for an ideological battle. In turn, this requires commentators and politicians on our side being willing to prosecute the case by continually spotlighting and challenging the numerous untenable passages in the Koran and canonical hadiths, which underlie the tenets of Islam. Right now there are too few commentators, and almost no politicians, willing to do that.

Make no fatal mistake, unless resolute action is taken the game will be lost and our children and theirs face the prospect of living in a much less enlightened world than the one we inherited. Already freedom of speech is under attack, sharia is creeping, anti-Semitism is rising, and left-wing political parties are willing to throw Israel to the wolves for Muslim votes. This is but a taste. There is no more demanding group, none with a louder voice, none with greater ambition, and none with a more discordant philosophy.

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics

Comments [23]

  1. Bill Martin says:

    Peter, well said, as always, but alas, we are crying in the wilderness. Not only that, but we are just as likely to be charged with offending religious belief, islamophobia, racism and every other offence that can be utilised for the purpose of protecting freedom of religion, multiculturalism, cultural equivalence, inclusiveness, and every other warm and cosy delusion that warms the hearts of the morally superior Intelligencia.

  2. Keith Kennelly says:

    While I agreed with Peter, but he misrepresents some of the Islamic sects. The minority Shia do have a mechanism for moderating the violent texts of the Koran. Parts of the majority Sunni have a mechanism to do that as well.
    The Sunni Salafist and Wahhabis sects are the fundamentalists who have the strict litterial interpretations.

    I’m assuming, like Peter, the problem is that many the texts, in the less strict fundamentalist sects, have not been interpreted in a moderate way.

    So, as Peter says, to call out to any Muslim the inequities in those is the only to confront and bring about a change in the religion … ‘of peace’.

    • Bill Martin says:

      Challenge any Muslim, Keith, privately but preferably publicly, to accept that the Koran is not the absolutely perfect and final word of God to humanity, that it need not be taken literally, that it can be interpreted to suit current circumstances. If you get an agreement, you’ll have been talking to an apostate who ought to be killed according to the creed. Alternatively, you might cop a tirade of obfuscation, sophistry and outright lies, the extent of which will depend on how articulate your interlocutor might be.

  3. Keith Kennelly says:

    The point you have missed Bill is that not all Muslims take all the Koran literally.
    The Shia Muslims in particular and some of the Sunni sects do take on board the customs of their host cultures. Indonesia, Turkey, Egypt, the Central Asian republics, tradition Australian Muslim communities, and many others are classic examples.

    Now some Muslims in Australia do adopt sharia and violence but they are a minority. The majority reconcile their religion to the laws of the state.

    Now while that is the obvious practise why would anyone need to challenge any Muslim?

    Well I think that challenging all Muslims about the practises of those who reject the local legal system and peacefulness is reasonable as is challenging the texts in the Koran that preach violence etc, male superiority and other customs at odds with out society.

    From some Muslims you will see and accept the quiet rejection of much that conflicts with western society. Eg how many Muslim women do you actually see going about in a burka. All of them? I think not.

    We are on a similar page but you need to understand how Islam actual works or doesn’t work. It is not a monolithic religion. All who practise it do not practise it the same.

    Should I challenge every Jew in the same way? Especially about land ownership, an eye for an eye and the dominance of women.

    There is nothing in the Christian Bible, the New Testament of Christ, that mirrors any of those barbarianisms. There is however much in the dogma of the Catholic Church that has been challenged and rejected and there is still much to be challenged but nothing to the same extent as in Fundamental Islam and Jewish orthodoxy.

    Fairs fair Bill.

    • PT says:

      The clincher is Sharia. Islamists don’t demand a few laws, but the total subversion and replacement of our entire legal system. They aren’t just “another religion”!

    • Peter says:

      Keith, I have no doubt that there are some small idiosyncratic Muslim sects who have their own way of doing things. But really that is a distraction from the problem. Zuhdi Jasser a leading light in a Muslim reform movement in the US sent a reform charter to 3000 Mosques in America (who knew there were so many) and to over 500 prominent Muslim. He got just over 40 replies. He reports that less than 10% were positive. So let’s say 8 positive replies out of 3500. Says a lot I think. Peter

    • Bill Martin says:

      Your gallant and valiant reasonable stance towards Islam is admirable but sadly misplaced. It’d never be appreciated by those it shields. Fair or not, do challenge the least fundamental Muslim you know as suggested and see if the outcome will be any different to what I predict. Ultimately, the only two options are Islam or no Islam, much like in the case of pregnancy, a woman is either pregnant or not pregnant.

  4. Keith Kennelly says:

    PT not all just some. The sooner we understand that the more effective we will be in overcoming the evils of the ‘religion of peace’

  5. Matt says:

    Noble intent but bad theology. Illustration could be framed better with the same overall effect.

    Deuteronomy describes decrees given by God to the ancient Israelites through Moses. That is the context. Whether the ancient Israelites did or didn’t literally apply these punishments is beside the point. The instructions were clearly not universal eternal directions to all people for all time. That get’s us off the hook from having to stone wayward children or wipe out Canaanites and all the rest. But it doesn’t diminish the transgression. Transgression and punishment are not one and the same thing — as neither they are even today. Conflating transgression and punishment is a fundamental error in understanding these texts. The punishments change but not the transgression. If something was an abomination to God back in the time of Moses then it is still an abomination to God now. The moral opinion of God doesn’t change. If we want to be on the right side of God then it pays to be aligned with his opinions on what is good and bad. That is not the same as being bound by superseded sentencing regimes. Nor is it necessary to discard or invert the transgression because the punishment no longer applies

    Hence the straightforward answer to the type of challenge given is that God still doesn’t like children behaving in the way described in Deuteronomy 21. It is still bad. What has changed is the context-determined response.

    My own exegesis of Deuteronomy can be found at biblebooksermons.com.

    • Salome says:

      Very nice, Matt. And, instead of going down the ultra-liberal lit crit path, Peter, of denying that St Paul wrote the bits of his Epistles that aren’t politically correct, why don’t you follow up with the bit about the duties of a husband, who is to be willing to lay down his life for his wife and for their marriage to be like the relationship between Christ and his Church. Christianity can be a lot more pleasant than Islam without having to argue most of it away. Just view the Old Testament through the lens of the New, and compare Jesus with Mohammad.

  6. Keith Kennelly says:

    So to be consistent you’d apply the same argument to the Koran as you do to the Hebrew bible.

    • Matt says:

      Yes, the same standards can be applied. The problem with the Koran is that it has no internal context like the Bible does. That is the root of the problem. That is obviously why so many adherents behave with such violent mentality and emulate the era in which the Koran was written.

  7. Keith Kennelly says:

    Peter

    Shia is not a small sect. You also ignore countries such as Indonesia, the largest Muslim country, that display the lack of strict adherence to the violence etc promoted in the Koran.

    Bill I’m not an advocate or defender of Islam. What I’m about is identifying the weakness of Islam. It is the division and reluctance of many Muslims to adhere to the strict interpretation of the Koran.

    That is islams weakness. We need to understand that weakness and exploit it.
    Currently to attack all Muslims for their faith, when divisions are apparent, is self defeating. They’ll only get their backs up and defend the indefensible.

    Bolt is on the right track in telling people to lay off Kayser Trad and to instead attack the ugliness in the book of the ‘religion of peace’. Don’t blame him for his attitudes blame his interpretation of the book.

    Don’t expect the Trads of this world to change overnight. But Watch the next few generations start to question the ugliness and the reluctance to apply the stricter intreperations … just as the 100 year plus Muslim community has done in Australia.

    • Peter says:

      Keith I am not ignoring Shia. Isn’t it Iran where they throw homosexuals off roofs? Isn’t it Indonesia which has Aceh and its religious police and where a Christian governor is charged with blasphemy for doing not much more than mentioning the Koran? But none of that is too the point. The way particular Muslim communities live at particular times is not the point. The unchanging scripture lurks ready for fundamentalists to take it up and whip up the apparently moderate crowd. Where can you point to a Shia cleric who disavows (reinterprets) any part of the Koran. I doubt you will find one that isn’t dead. Peter

      • Salome says:

        You are right about Iran and ‘secular’ Indonesia–which shows where the cracks can occur in a secular society with a dominant Muslim substrate. Also Turkey–look what happened there.

    • Doc S says:

      I tend to agree with Bill that, for the reasons suggested, Islam itself cannot be reformed but neither should we be dismissive of individual Muslims wanting to reform their religion. The better known include Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Aly but we have remarkably few here in Australia. With the likes of the current Muslim community leadership in head of the Islamic Council Kaysar Trad and the Grand Mufti, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammad (an associate of Muslim Brotherhood ideologue al-Qaradawi), there is no chance that anything like reform will be forthcoming. So reform as it were will at best be one Muslim at a time and at great personal risk.

      Nonetheless there are some Australian Muslims who have had the courage to speak out – and we should listen to them: https://www.todaytonightadelaide.com.au/stories/islamic-fears

      One is a Shia Imam who would be considered by takfiri Wahabis as both an apostate and heretic who should be killed anyway, but who regardless of motive, has spoken out to warn of pro-Caliphate and Sharia types busily establishing themselves here. Another of those warning us is himself a Sunni from Western Sydney who has already be targeted (i.e. bashed) by Salafis but has had the courage to expose them on camera in the media.

      The problem is the government, informed by the authorities charged with our protection, are firmly of the erroneous belief that IS and terrorism have nothing to do with Islam or are, at best, a twisted aberrant version of it. Nothing of course could be further from the truth – as these brave Muslims are telling us the extremists in the midst of the Muslim community here have EVERYTHING to do with Islam and for that very reason, must be exposed and rooted out. They are imploring the government to act. These are Muslims, not Hanson or One Nation or the Q Society. For the government and authorities to continue to ignore what they say is to put us all in peril.

  8. Keith Kennelly says:

    Peter
    Aceh is a remote and backward Provence in Indonesian. It’s not indicative of the behaviour of most Indonesians. The trouble in Jakarta is the work of a few radicals not the majority of Jakartans.

    Re Iran yes but that is the work of a few fundamentalists… not all Irisnian or Shia Muslims.

    Is is relevant how Muslim communities behave at any particular time in fact that is precisely the answer to fundamentalism. If we understand why Muslim communities behave and interpret their faith we have an advantage in the war against fundamental Islam.

    Pet

  9. Keith Kennelly says:

    Peter it’s not the imams who decide how Islam is practised … it is individual Muslims who decide that.

    • Peter says:

      Keith, you obviously have more faith in the good sense of Muslims than I do; and in their ability to withstand the imams and the fervent mobs they can whip up at the drop of a hat. I think many Jews made the mistake in the 1930s in Germany of having too much faith in the good sense of Germans. The green movement didn’t do too well in Iran. Secularists have difficulty in matching religious fanatics. But I fear we will have to agree to disagree.

  10. Mohsen says:

    Peter, you reject or cast doubt on some passages in the Bible, and you’re a Christian?

  11. Keith Kennelly says:

    Moshen

    I thought mm he casts doubt on the Old Testament of the Hebrews not on the New Testament of course he Christians.

    As a Christian it is ok to have doubts about the Christian book. It’s a guide rather her than a directive and it allows for choices and forgiveness.

    Anybody with any brains sees the flaws in the Old Testament and its contradictions with Christianity.

    • Mohsen says:

      My understanding, Keith: A Christian is a person who follows the dictates and directives of the Bible (that being the least); the new testament has dictates, too. It also condemns (if that’s the right word) several things including homosexuality, even fornication. Proving among ourselves to ourselves that there are flaws in the Bible will not help the one who likes to think of himself a Jew or Christian; the passages are thought of and considered sacred words of God and shall (and are thought to) be accepted and followed by the believers as such. (My understanding).

  12. Keith Kennelly says:

    Only time will tell Peter