Sins of Omission, guest post by A.A. Leil

Please enjoy this guest post by A.A. Leil, he contacted me about L. Jagi Lamplighters story in Forbidden Thoughts and wanted to offer a response. Please enjoy.

Sins of Omission

A Critical Response to Lamplighter’s ‘Test of the Prophet’

Note: This essay contains spoilers for two stories: Test of the Prophet from Forbidden Thoughts and Platinum Blonde.

 In the Forbidden Thoughts anthology we find a collection of stories meant to provoke thought and discussion about a number of modern issues. As a Muslim-American I found Test of the Prophet ripe for discussion, especially when juxtaposed with my recent publication in Sci Phi Journal, Platinum Blonde. Both deal with the source of violence in the Muslim world, but Test of the Prophet comes up with stereotyped answers that not only deride Islam but also depicts Jesus as a bully.

Jagi Lamplighter’s short story, Test of the Prophet (TotP), recounts a young Muslim woman’s journey to Pakistan to save her beloved cousin Kabir. Shazia learns from Kabir’s distraught sister that he has joined the Taliban. The idea that Kabir would join the Taliban clashes with Shazia’s memories of him as a kind and noble boy who wanted to make the world a better place. She resolves to save Kabir and finds him near the entrance to the Khyber Pass among a cadre of Daesh extremists, his sword raised and ready to behead a Pakistani soldier.

It is here that we arrive at the heart of the story, a vital and complex question: what is the source of violent extremism in the Muslim world? Shazia, who is gifted with the ability to see djinn, demons and angels, discovers a group of evil spirits surrounding the extremists to exert their influence on them. She calls for help, and the Angel Gabriel appears.

What follows is TotP’s exposition on the perceived ills of Islam as voiced by the demons and the Angel Gabriel, the ultimate gist of which is to identify the Prophet Muhammad (and his failure to pass Gabriel’s fictional test) as the root of violence in the Muslim world. The reason? Muhammad wrote falsehoods into the Quran in order to gain power for himself.

To prove this theory, TotP gives a very shallow recount of the migration of Muhammad and the early Muslims to the city of Medina. Speaking to Shazia, a ram-horned demon in TotP states that “the very first thing your Dog-rutting Prophet did—after receiving instructions from Oh-So-High-and-Mighty-Gabriel, here, telling him to be kind to the followers of the Slaughtered Lamb and the People of the Book—was to move to Medina and to put those very People of the Book to the sword.”

The historical record says otherwise. Lamplighter’s demon refers to Muhammad’s invitation to Medina to arbitrate between two battling clans that had drawn their Jewish clients into a bloody civil war. To bring peace to the region, Muhammad arranged for Medina’s Jewish, Muslim, and pagan clans to sign a mutual protection pact. The pact held for several years despite multiple attempts on Muhammad’s life. Eventually the pact would be tested when the Meccan army (the Meccans had long sought to extinguish the nascent Muslim community) laid siege to Medina.

None of these facts are mentioned in TotP.

The largest omission, however, revolves around the actions of the Jewish Banu Qurayza tribe during this siege. Upon learning that the Banu Qurayza intended to betray the pact and join the Meccan army, Muhammad tried keep them on his side. Despite this, the Banu Qurayza signaled the Meccan army that they were ready to act against Muhammad, but an exhausted and defeated Meccan army lifted siege and marched home, abandoning the Banu Qurayza.

The Muslim army then lay a 25-day siege upon the Banu Qurayza’s castle, which led to both sides agreeing to arbitrate. Rather than do so himself, Muhammed chose Sa’d ibn Muadh, a former ally of the Banu Qurayza, as judge. He ruled that the Banu Qurayza had committed treason by not honoring their agreement to protect Medina and ordered 700 men of the tribe to be executed. This is harsh, but it comes directly from Deuteronomy 20:12-14:

“If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies.”

 Given that Islam views itself as an extension of Judaism and Christianity, it should not come as a surprise that the Muslims in 622 A.D. acted by the example laid out by previous Abrahamic religions. But instead of crediting the executions to Deuteronomy, Lamplighter places the blame with Muhammad – who wasn’t even the judge.

 TotP further attempts to justify its view of Islam with a revisionist characterization of the Crusades where Crusaders were shining lights of liberty and freedom and Muslims were just blood-thirsty expansionists who forced the conquered to convert or die. However, in Islam: The Straight Path, author John L. Esposito recounts a different picture. He states that “some Jewish and Christian communities (particularly those persecuted by the Orthodox Church) aided the invading armies, regarding them as less oppressive than their imperial masters.”

Entire chapters could be written on the further sins of omission riddled within TotP, from its selective descriptions jihad and polygamy to its cartoonish use of the word ‘infidel’, all of which serve to further stereotypes about Muslims. However, further exploration of those topics are beyond the scope of this piece and would distract from the greatest irony of TotP.

Once Shazia discovers that Kabir is about to murder the Pakistani soldier, her existence as a Muslim woman with her own ideas ends and she becomes an empty vessel. From the point of view of ToTP, she must be first cleansed of her Muslim beliefs so that she may become a prophet for a ‘new’ religion. A few of her cliche ‘say-it-aint-so’ moments notwithstanding, she weakly accepts the narrative that the Angel Gabriel and the demons feed her despite her life-long existence as a Muslim. It doesn’t occur to her that demons, as agents of Satan, may be lying to her in exactly the way both the Quran and Bible suggest. Or that Gabriel might not be an angel but a demon disguised as one.

As her desperation increases, she once again calls for help and now Jesus himself appears in the form of a lion, declaring that “last time, I came as a lamb and thus went meekly to the slaughter. That time has past. Soon, I shall come again. This time, I come as a Lion.” Shazia’s reaction is a stammering recognition that the lion is indeed Isa Ibn Maryam (“Jesus son of Mary” the Arabic name for Jesus as it is written in the Quran).

The Lion is not willing to act immediately on Shazia’s behalf, suggesting that though Isa Ibn Maryam is one name for him, invoking this version will not aid her now. She asks if she must convert, turn her back on her people, and drink (presumably) the blood of Christ. The Lion initially ignores her, choosing to neither confirm nor deny the requirement. After she presses the question further, the Lion roars, “Do you think me so small as that?”

Apparently the reader is supposed to think Jesus is exactly that small, because it is only when Shazia calls out “I banish thee in the name of Jesus Christ” does the Lion act to drive off the demon. Note that the Jesus of TotP refused to aid her when she invoked the Quranic version of his name.

To a Muslim, this is more than a simple invocation of Jesus’s name. The use of “Christ” is a forced acceptance of the idea that Jesus is the son of God, a notion that Islam rejects. As Mathew 26:63 explicitly connects the title of ‘Christ’ to the notion that Jesus is the son of God, Shazia’s invocation of the title is tantamount to a rejection of her Islamic beliefs and an acceptance of Jesus as God’s son and of God as his father.

In effect, TotP, which claims that Islam forces people to convert or die, concocts a scene in which Shazia is forced to convert or die.

And so, after thoroughly mischaracterizing the Prophet Muhammed and Islam, Test of the Prophet mischaracterizes Jesus as well. Neither the Jesus of the Bible nor the Jesus of the Quran would become Jesus the hostage-taker. Are we to believe that Jesus, who cured the sick and fed the poor, would not act to save someone whose life is at stake?

In John 8:1-11, Jesus saves the life of an adulterous woman despite the fact that she shows no explicit remorse for her actions and does not even ask for his help. He saves her first before telling her, “Go and sin no more.” In Luke 17:11-19, Jesus cleanses a group of lepers without asking them to repent for their sins, and in Luke 7:11-17, he resurrects a widow’s son not because the widow repented of anything, but out of compassion for her. The Gospels are replete with examples of Jesus saving individuals and only asking for their faith later (if at all). Why then would he treat Shazia so differently?

This is, in effect, “sinner’s prayer” Christianity: the idea that saying a few words in the right order will convey supernatural blessings even if the person doesn’t fully understand what she’s saying. And it bears noting that this form of salvation is coming under more and more criticism by Protestant theologians. Prayer doesn’t force God to act, nor is God’s ability to act restrained by a human’s failure to pray. Every Christian denomination agrees that God’s grace is given first, and humans may then choose how to respond to it.

By forcing Shazia to convert or lose everything, the story’s Jesus is overriding her free will. Meanwhile, salvation history shows that all along, God honors our free will, even when we make stupid or destructive decisions. Shazia’s conversion can’t be genuine if the alternative is death.

Put another way, “there is no compulsion in religion (Quran 2:256).”

As stated earlier, TotP poses a complex and important question as to the source of violence in the Islamic world. Through convenient sins of omission, it paints a negative view of Muhammad to arrive at a pat answer to this question. Yet when Lamplighter’s characters misrepresent not only Islam but Jesus, how can a reader view the story’s answers as in any way credible?

Last year, without knowing about Lamplighter’s story, I also wrote a response to violence in the Muslim world with the story Platinum Blonde, published in SciPhi Journal on February 6th. In Platinum Blonde, Adam, a young man who has been indoctrinated with an extremist interpretation of Islam by his father, decides to teach a Muslim family a violent lesson for singing and dancing in the streets and for not enforcing the hijab upon their daughter. Adam sticks to the plan despite his own misgivings and despite some outside pushback, but in the end he tries to go through with the homicide. And in the end, the character Najat pronounces this judgment on Adam: “He thought he knew God, but he really only knew his father.”

The essence of Najat’s lament is this: an individual’s religious belief system, when acquired through the intercession of fallible sources, is in of itself fallible. Despite Adam’s belief that killing the dancing girl was an act of faith in God, it was in fact an act of faith in his human, and extremist, father.

This is similar to Lampligher’s answer, but she puts the extremism and the hatred into the mouth of Muhammad rather than into the methods of transmission and teaching. She blames the source rather than the human interference.

Platinum Blonde therefore suggests that the source of violence in the Muslim world originates from interpretations of the Quran, not the Quran itself or any imagined additions that Muhammed may have made. The idea that some Muslims’ belief systems are derived from the faulty interpretations of parents, friends, and imams may not fully answer the question posed by TotP and Platinum Blonde, but it does open the door to discussing these questions in a more thoughtful fashion. Through an unbiased study of history from the birth of Islam, to the Crusades, to Islam’s Golden Age, the rise and influence of Wahhabism, all the way to how the partitioning of the Middle-East echoes in the modern world, we may step through this door. Bolstered by an understanding of the differences between culture and religion and the realization that the actions of individuals often do not align with the guidance of religious doctrine, we may begin to walk towards the answer. Christians and Muslims can walk there together.

One more provision, however, is required if we really wish to answer the question of violence in the Muslim world. We must understand the Quran, like the Bible, is not a book that can be read the way one would read an instructional guide, a history book, or a memoir. For in reality, it is in any particular section any of these things, and the discerning reader must understand that which ‘genre’ they are reading depends on which sura(chapter) and aya(verse) of the Quran they are reading.

None of the critique written about Test of the Prophet is to say that you shouldn’t read it. To the contrary, you should. Read it, and also read Platinum Blonde for the questions they raise and the discussions they initiate. If the answers these stories posit don’t ring true for you, seek your own answers, but do so with an open, sincere heart unfettered by the politics of the day, and do not do so in isolation of those who hold viewpoints different from your own. It is only through the earnest exchange of ideas that we may arrive at answers to complex questions.

You can find more from A.A. Leil at his website http://www.aaleil.com/

Science Blast! Ice and Snow Gone Wild

We think of snow as tame, but no! It can creep, it can roll, it can even explode!

11 Alarming Weather Flukes That Happen When it Gets Really Cold11 Alarming Weather Flukes That Happen When it Gets Really Cold
Top image: An ice volcano erupts, Michigan Tech Geology Department

 

It’s been a bit nippy out lately. And by “a bit nippy,” I mean the world we once knew has been replaced by an ice-bound hellscape. On the plus side, this means we get to see some of nature’s weirder responses to extreme cold. Here are 11 strange things that happen when the temperature gets too low — and why they happen.

1) Snowrollers

Thoughts on the Hugo Nominations EDIT: A File 770 Update

So, for those who have been living under a rock (at least, for those who read this blog who have been living under a rock), the Hugo awards have been announced. There are several notable things about it, but in terms of this blog the biggest are these:

1) Jeffro Johnson, who invited us to write for the Castalia House blog, has been nominated! Congrats to him.

2) Our own Brian Niemeier has been nominated for the John W. Campbell award! Congrats to him and L. Jagi Lamplighter, his editor.

3) Jason Rennie has been nominated for multiple categories! The Sci Phi Journal has been nominated for best semiprozine and…

4) Superversive SF has been nominated!

But wait. There’s one more notable point here:

5) These have all been nominated the same year that “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” has been nominated.

This point deserves some talking about. And get ready, because I’m probably going to disagree with my peers…but not in the way you think.

This nicely sums up what just happened

It’s no secret that the Rabid Puppies dominated in a way that is unprecedented in the history of the Hugos. It was an SJW massacre of epic proportions. But what does this mean?

We got nominated because of a slate. This is slate voting. It’s time we all admit it – Sad Puppies is not that, and wasn’t at the very least since Brad Torgerson started taking reader input into account, but the Rabid Puppies absolutely are. It is the slate of Vox Day. And honestly, I think everybody here knows that. We know “Space Raptor Butt Invasion”, a parody story by a guy who calls himself “Chuck Tingle”, was not going to be nominated unless people voted based entirely on Vox Day’s orders, and in impressively consistent concert. This is pretty much undeniable.

And truthfully, that’s why Superversive SF was nominated. We’re a pretty new blog, with a lot of relatively little known writers among us. Take me. I’ve edited one book and published a few short stories and articles. Not a lot of people have heard of me. Josh also hasn’t published anything but short stories yet (looking forward to “Do Buddhas Dream of Enlightened Sheep”!). And we’re two of the blog’s more prolific posters.

This isn’t an insult. I think Josh is a terrific writer. I asked Josh to be in “God, Robot” because I loved the stories of his I read. I think his articles are great. As I said, I’m really looking forward to his novel. But, as of now, he’s not very well known. As for me, “God, Robot” has gotten great reviews so far, and for an anthology out for a short period of time, with only eight contributors and published by an indie publishing house, we have a relatively decent number of reviews – eleven with only one below five stars, at four. So I certainly haven’t been doing too badly myself as I try to grow something of a reputation.

To put this another way – John C. Wright, who almost certainly got more votes than we did, did not get nominated, because the novel category gets way more votes than the best Fanzine category. We got nominated because this was a category without a lot of voters that was easily able to be dominated by the Rabid Puppies slate. Combined with our presence on the Sad Puppies list we were pretty much a lock.

Does this bother anybody? It shouldn’t. It doesn’t bother me. We’ve been growing a fanbase since we started, and the fact that the Sads AND the Rabids both had us on their lists does mean we’re leaving a mark. I don’t believe we were picked as a parody, for the simple reason that Castalia likes our work enough to give us a weekly column on their increasingly popular blog. An anthology unassociated with us recently opened up submissions for superversive stories. We’re doing very well, and this only gets us more exposure. This is great!

And yet, if we weren’t on the Rabid Puppies slate, we still probably wouldn’t be on the Hugo shortlist. So why doesn’t this bother me? My answer is simple: I agree with what Vox Day is doing.

Vox is not trying to “fix” the Hugos. He’s trying to nuke them, and frankly, he’s already succeeded.

Actually, that’s not really true. He’s not trying to nuke them. He’s trying to expose them, and he has. The Hugos are a joke. Anything with “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” on its list of award nominees is not to be taken seriously. It’s still an honor to be nominated if you weren’t picked as a thumb in the nose because it means you’ve attracted the attention of some fairly big players in the sci-fi world, but the fact is that Vox has proven that the Hugos are so irrelevant that the Most Hated Man in Science Fiction is able to get a relatively small group of volunteers to dominate it in a way that should be impossible if the awards mean anything at all. The Hugos have a little over 4,000 nominees this year. To put this in perspective, Dragon Con, which is starting its own awards, attracted over 65,000 people. And even that is a fraction of the millions of sci-fi fans throughout the country.

The rabid puppies didn’t do anything to the Hugo awards. They just exposed the Hugos as an insular group of back-patting leftists easily overwhelmed by a rather small force of right-wing sci-fi fans. The Hugos were already dead. The Sad Puppies valiantly tried to fix them. They failed. It’s time to show the world what they really are: A joke.

So, I’m honored to be on the Rabid Puppies slate. I’m honored to be part of a group doing its small part to expose SJW’s and turn the tide of the culture war, even if we’re only a small part. And congratulations to the Hugo nominees – you’re part of something bigger than yourself. That’s something to be proud of.

UPDATE: Mike Glyer at File 770 says this about the article:

Like Anthony M at the Hugo-nominated Superversive SF blog who is thoroughly okay with the reason that happened, so why should you have any problem?

I will note that it is a rather sleazy trick to pretend that my argument was anything close to “I don’t have a problem, so neither should you.” That’s not what I said.

I’d explain what I did say, but then I just wrote an article about the subject. And now Mike Glyer has just assured that a bunch of people will think they know the content of said article without actually reading it. So thanks, said the author sarcastically.

Why do modern movies suck?

Short list had an interesting video up on why modern movies don’t entrance like they used too. It is called the WETA effect.

I’m slightly skeptical because Alien and Aliens were great films but I have zero experience of sneaking around in dark places with monsters around.

Does E-Book Quality Matter?

Amy Sterling Casil of Chamelon Publishing has an interesting article up on Ebook formatting. It is well worth a read and taught me quite a bit!

We shopped at Barnes & Noble and discovered that it’s a lonely, forbidding place for a young book.

Shopping via the Amazon Kindle: a whole other experience.

Mismeasure-of-Man-Amazon-Page-1024x396

Mismeasure of Man Stephen Jay GouldThis is about the basics. Bruce isn’t sure that these details matter to readers. But this book, a revised, updated version of Gould’s classic text refuting biological determinism costs $9.99. A cool $10.00. This isn’t one of the .99 cent or free Kindle promotions. It’s an e-book version of a major publisher’s release of a classic title, one which was revised and updated by the celebrated natural historian Stephen Jay Gould prior to his death.

And this thing is a mess. Here is the dedication:
Mismeasure-of-Man-dedication-e1432137374262-768x1024

Read the rest

Why Nerds are Unpopular

An interesting article about high school and how little it has to do with real life.

Why Nerds are Unpopular

Why Nerds are Unpopular

February 2003

When we were in junior high school, my friend Rich and I made a map of the school lunch tables according to popularity. This was easy to do, because kids only ate lunch with others of about the same popularity. We graded them from A to E. A tables were full of football players and cheerleaders and so on. E tables contained the kids with mild cases of Down’s Syndrome, what in the language of the time we called “retards.”

We sat at a D table, as low as you could get without looking physically different. We were not being especially candid to grade ourselves as D. It would have taken a deliberate lie to say otherwise. Everyone in the school knew exactly how popular everyone else was, including us.

My stock gradually rose during high school. Puberty finally arrived; I became a decent soccer player; I started a scandalous underground newspaper. So I’ve seen a good part of the popularity landscape.

I know a lot of people who were nerds in school, and they all tell the same story: there is a strong correlation between being smart and being a nerd, and an even stronger inverse correlation between being a nerd and being popular. Being smart seems to make you unpopular.

Read more…