By Taylor Marvin
Writing for the right-wing Gladstone Institute, former Pentagon official Harold Rhode explains that the martially-inspired names of some Muslim children is proof that Islam is uniquely violent. At the Daily Beast Ali Gharib does the good work of poking holes in Rhode’s ramblings, noting that many English names — including “Harold” — have similarly warlike origins.
It’s questionable whether this is even worth engaging. Despite his education and experience in the Muslim world, Rhode is doing nothing more than lazily cherry-picking anecdotes for a racist smear against Muslims. Like most instances of Islamophobia, this argument neglects to engage reality at all. If Islam is inherently warlike and expansionist, why has the Muslim world spent much of the last few centuries under European domination and colonization? If as Rhode suggests Muslims desire to to conquer the entire world and force it to submit to Islamic rule, why is this greater evidence of “endemic violence” in Muslims than Europeans, who actually did conquer most of the world? If by the 17th century Christian leaders decided “that if they did not to put an end to the violence, they could destroy their civilization,” why did they nearly do just that in the 20th century’s bloodiest wars?
Of course there’s no logic here — if Rhode wants to make Islam into an barbarically violent beast, he can twist his interpretation to make it just that. But his piece goes on towards more entertaining ludicrousness. Highlighting the flag of Saudi Arabia, Rhode points to its illustrated sword: “The message is clear: Islam is aggressive, Islam conquers by the sword,” he writes. Now, the government of Saudi Arabia is a repugnant dictatorship. But martial images aren’t restricted to Islam — in fact, they unsurprisingly adorn relatively few national flags of the Muslim world, just like everywhere else. The flag of Mozambique is adorned by an AK-47, certainly a more practical instrument of violence. Bolivia’s coat of arms features muskets or cannons — is the “clear message” that Bolivia conquers by the muzzle-loading cannon?
The simple truth is that admiration for martial imagery is a common human behavior, and is of course not unique to Islam. There’s nothing to see here, besides Rhode’s own biases.