Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Sebastian Faulks in Islam row

Dear reader, our blog has moved to a new address.

Do come on over (and change your bookmarks accordingly): rationalist.org.uk

The author Sebastian Faulks has apologised for comments he made regarding Islam and the Koran after they were published in an interview he gave to the Sunday Times magazine this weekend. He was speaking about his forthcoming novel A Week in December, which features a character drawn into an Islamist terrorist cell, and offered his impressions of the Koran after reading it as part of his research, saying he "found it very disappointing from a literary point of view" and lacking an "ethical dimension". Faulks, a Christian, added:
"Jesus, unlike Muhammad, had interesting things to say. Muhammad had nothing to say to the world other than, ‘If you don’t believe in God you will burn for ever’. ... It’s a depressing book. It really is. It’s just the rantings of a schizophrenic. It’s very one-dimensional, and people talk about the beauty of the Arabic and so on, but the English translation I read was, from a literary point of view, very disappointing."
Faulks' words were picked up by various other papers (such as the Mail, which suggested he was "risking Muslim fury") and now he has issued an unreserved apology for any offence he may have caused in a piece for the Daily Telegraph:
"While we Judaeo-Christians can take a lot of verbal rough-and-tumble about our human-written scriptures, I know that to Muslims the Koran is different; it is by definition beyond criticism. And if anything I said or was quoted as saying (not always the same thing) offended any Muslim sensibility, I do apologise – and without reservation."
He also carlified his suggestion that the Prophet Muhammad might have been schizophrenic, telling the Guardian:
"While I believe the voice-hearing of many Old Testament prophets and of John the Baptist in the New might well raise psychiatric eyebrows today, it is absurd to suggest that the Prophet, who achieved so much in military and political – quite apart from religious – terms, can have suffered from any acute illness. Only a fully cogent and healthy person could have done what he did."
Of course, Faulks' efforts to apologise and clarify his words will lead to suggestions that he is self-censoring, mindful of the Muslim reactions to Rushdie's Satanic Verses and, more recently, Sherry Jones' The Jewel of Medina. However, he has told the Guardian that he had "overstated" during the Sunday Times interview:
"If such an overstatement is taken out of its heavily nuanced context, then pulled out of the printed article and highlighted, it can have a badly distorting effect. I blame myself more than the reporter – or whichever subeditor thought it was good idea to pull out the more undigested bits and try to make a silly season scandal ... I unreservedly apologise to anyone who does feel offended by comments offered in another context."
If this is the case, is Faulks not right to set the record straight? Or is he merely playing into the hands of those who would like to suppress any criticism of Islam? Let us know what you think.

15 comments:

Hydra said...

I can't help but feel that this is a heady mix of a good PR campaign and over sensitivity to the Islamic faith... every day, in every way the God Trumps become less of a humorous snipe and more a depressing reality!

sushiguru said...

Or could it be that in this day and age, one simply has to be realistic about the impact that reporting of this kind could have on one's health and wellbeing. And life. I, for one, don't blame anyone for this kind of back-pedalling, unless they have a strong desire to become a martyr in the name of free-speech.

It is, however, a sad state-of-affairs when society has come to this point. Hopefully a more enlightened age awaits, when one can speak one's mind without fear of the ensuing fatwa.

CamelsWithHammers said...

I don't mind most of the retractions (though I much prefer his initial comments) but this paragraph is chilling:

"While we Judaeo-Christians can take a lot of verbal rough-and-tumble about our human-written scriptures, I know that to Muslims the Koran is different; it is by definition beyond criticism. And if anything I said or was quoted as saying (not always the same thing) offended any Muslim sensibility, I do apologise – and without reservation."

So, we can only criticize based on how those whose beliefs are criticized view the subject at hand? Since the Muslims even further overestimate their texts, even non-Muslims must pretend they are deserving of that level of respect? Or is it just that the Muslim overestimation of their texts must be placated for the rest of time? Seriously, is that our plan for the next thousand years, to tiptoe around the global house making sure no one let's our crazy cousins know the truth that their sacred texts are as full of shit as our own lest they flip out?

I mean, seriously, is this how 21st Century Westerners really envision the future of 21st and 22nd and 23rd Century human global affairs---a situation in which billions of people belong to religions that keep them intellectually in the 7th Century?

I'm REALLY waiting for some Westerners to actually confront the Islamic world with unashamed reason, rather than cowtow to its delusions and treat them as deserving of respect.

Martyn Norris said...

TO be honest I didn't think that the comments were that offensive, he said it was a bad book in the literary sense, but hey, the man wants to shift units of the new book, probably best he doesn't upset people although upsetting "Muslims" may improve sells amongst Daily Mail readers.
Is he now going to apologize to schizophrenics now as well as he has genuinely offended them.

AT said...

You can't blame the man for worrying about attacks on his home, though the real problem is that his original take was so damned honest and particular to a writer's point of view. It means any retraction reads like a shame, since his comments were so - good.

Anonymous said...

So far there has been no 'muslim fury' in fact almost no response at all. I'd guess that most muslims are pretty bored by now with middle-class, public school educated, 'literary' novelists slagging off their religion and holy book - just to get some cheap publicity and appear 'brave'.

ps anyone else see the irony of Sebastian Faulks criticising anyone else's writing as 'depressing'.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it obvious? Faulks' retraction is a bid for a nomination to the Bad Faith Award!

valdemar said...

Every now and again some twerp - Bryan Appleyard, say - laments the fact that we Brits don't respect our intellectuals (like Bryan Appleyard). The example of Mr Faulks' gives us a hint as to why this may be.

thoumas said...

hi this is really interesting post i like security+ exam

Anonymous said...

y dont yu ppl stop critizing the quran and read it instead thats what i did n you will be superise whats inside
just a verse

2. This is the Book (the Qur'�n), whereof there is no doubt, a guidance to those who are Al-Muttaq�n [the pious and righteous persons who fear All�h much (abstain from all kinds of sins and evil deeds which He has forbidden) and love All�h much (perform all kinds of good deeds which He has ordained)].

Anonymous said...

why is Islam the fastest grwoing Religion? And why are so many peolple interested in Islam. there must be somthing special about islam ie quran hmmm

dawno said...

I'd like to write in response to CamelsWithHammers when they say,
"I'm REALLY waiting for some Westerners to actually confront the Islamic world with unashamed reason, rather than cowtow to its delusions and treat them as deserving of respect."

I think Hitchens does a nice job of unapologetically criticising religions in general, dedicating a chapter on Islam, in his book 'god is not GREAT'. Western anti-theists are beginning to come out and strongly state what is, from a humanist standpoint, true: that religion is illogical, childish, and for the most part, unproductive today, with the advancing of scientific discoveries.
I think that Faulks retraction is not a back-pedal as much as it is a humanly decent thing to do. We can't change peoples' minds by insulting them. We can do it through dignified debate, and intellegent diologue. His message still got across. He didn't retract the message; just the means by which it was delivered.

radius said...

If the Qur'an "is by definition beyond criticism", it means that everybody has to be a Muslim.

A non-believer is by definition critical of the Qur'an and its claims.

The 'to Muslims' qualification was a bit too disconnected from this phrase for my liking! Moreover, it seems to preclude all Muslims from ever thinking critically about the Qur'an - and from ever dispensing with their religious beliefs.

Sharon said...

>> This is the Book (the Qur'�n), whereof there is no doubt, a guidance to those who are...<< blah...blah..blah...


Boring AND stupid.

Anonymous said...

I am an exMuslim and came to the same conclusion as Sebastian Faulks.Mohamed had a mental illness but it is called Bipolar affective Disorder and not schizophrenia. Schizophrenia disables the sufferer . Bipolar condition can leave the person to act in an almost " normal" manner. But the visions, the delusions of grandeur and the paronia persist. Don't fool yourselves all prophets exhibited signs of severe mental impairements but of genius as well.Humanity is just starting to understand this