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Quoting Joseph Smith on “the Al-Koran or the sword”

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — Christopher Hitchens, Muhammad, Jack Chick, and Joseph Smith ]


I get so tired of people not doing their homework, left and right.

Or perhaps that should read, Left and Right.


I don’t know quite how you’d classify Christopher Hitchens, but in a Slate article today titled Romney’s Mormon Problem: Mitt Romney and the weird and sinister beliefs of Mormonism, he asserts:

On his later forays into the chartless wilderness, there to play the role of Moses to his followers (who were permitted and even encouraged in plural marriage, so as to go forth and mass-produce little Mormons), Smith also announced that he wanted to be known as the Prophet Muhammad of North America, with the fearsome slogan: “Either al-Koran or the Sword.”

Juicy, eh?

Luckily, Hitchens has linked the phrase “Either al-Koran or the Sword” – so we can source the quote in, let’s see, Christopher Hitchens, in his book God is Not Great, as excerpted in Slate again:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints-hereafter known as the Mormons-was founded by a gifted opportunist who, despite couching his text in openly plagiarized Christian terms, announced that “I shall be to this generation a new Muhammad” and adopted as his fighting slogan the words, which he thought he had learned from Islam, “Either the Al-Koran or the sword.”

Sadly, there’s no link this time, no further sourcing of the quote.


Hugh Nibley is my go-to man for Mormon scholarship (orthodox), and it doesn’t surprise me that there’s an essay of his on the web comparing Islam and Mormonism [.pdf].

Nibley accepts that “in fact, early Mormon leaders saw no reason why Mohammed should not be considered a true prophet, for there have been many prophets, great and small, in the past whose words are not in the Bible.” But that impression didn’t long survive a second observation:

[T]he striking resemblance turns almost at once into an equally striking contrast when the Moslems announce that Mohammed is the last of the prophets and that there can be no prophet after him. “When a doctrine is sealed,” writes an eminent Moslem scholar, “it is complete, and there can be no further addition. The holy Prophet Mohammed closed the long line of Apostles. … there has been and will be no prophet after Mohammed.”

Nibley’s six-page essay has no quotation in which Joseph Smith speaks of “Al-Koran or the sword”.

Neither, in fact, does Todd Harris in his 162-page 2007 BYU Master’s thesis A Comparison of Muhammad and Joseph Smith in the Prophetic Pattern [.pdf].


Jack Chick to the rescue.

As you may know, Jack Chick publishes some appallingly poorly illustrated Christian booklets that are almost as small as large postage stamps, and almost as much fun to collect.

Chick’s larger-than-usual publication The Enchanter, whose cover graces the top of this post, includes the following garishly interesting graphic:

But – poor taste in art aside – Chick is more thoroughgoing than Hitchens, and is kind enough to supply us with references for the statements he makes. In a commentary on his own pamphlet, he writes:

On October 14, 1838, Joseph Smith called himself a “second Muhammad” as he was concluding a speech in the public square at Far West, Missouri. Those words have been verified by affidavits from Thomas B. Marsh, Orson Hyde (from Joseph’s Quorum of the Twelve), George M. Hinkle, John Corrill, W.W. Phelps (a major leader in the Mormon church), Samson Avard (founder of the Danites), and Reed Peck.

To Marsh’s statement, he footnotes thus:

For the full affidavit of Thomas B. Marsh, see The Rocky Mountain Saints by T. B. H. Stenhouse (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1873), pp. 89-90.

and points out that we can read the relevant pages ourselves on Google Books.


There’s an article titled From the Archives: Joseph Smith or the Sword!? at the Juvenile Instructor blog, commenting on the Jack Chick publication, which handily quotes the various 1838 testimonies in which associates and one-time associates attest that Smith compared himself with the Prophet of Islam – that of Thomas Marsh being the only one of which actually offers us the phrase that Hitchens — remember Hitchens? – was (almost) quoting.

Marsh’s statement reads:

I have heard the prophet say that he should yet tread down his enemies, and walk over their dead bodies; that if he was not let alone he would be a second Mahomet to this generation, and that he would make it one gore of blood from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean; that like Mahomet, whose motto, in treating for peace, was “the Alcoran or the Sword,” so should it be eventually with us, “Joseph Smith or the Sword.”

And so — with the exceptions that the original has “Mohammed” where the Juvenile Instructor has “Mahomet” and that the original has single quotes where the Juvenile Instructor has double — Marsh’s testimony as published in Stenhouse’s book does indeed read.


So that’s the closest thing we have to a source for Joseph Smith having made the statement that Hitchens says Smith “adopted as his fighting slogan” – when even that one source has Smith uttering it with the conditional “if he was not left alone” and the future-oriented “so should it be eventually with us”…

For what it may be worth — no more and no less, and I shall not be the judge of that — the third volume of BH RobertsHistory of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints contains the following, which I take to be placed in the mouth of Smith himself, but drawn from his diaries and other contemporary papers:

Thomas B. Marsh, formerly president of the Twelve, having apostatized, repaired to Richmond and made affidavit before Henry Jacobs, justice of the peace, to all the vilest slanders, aspersions, lies and calumnies towards myself and the Church, that his wicked heart could invent. He had been lifted up in pride by his exaltation to office and the revelations of heaven concerning him, until he was ready to be overthrown by the first adverse wind that should cross his track, and now he has fallen, lied and sworn falsely, and is ready to take the lives of his best friends. Let all men take warning by him, and learn that he who exalteth himself, God will abase.

This at least gives us a sense of the tension between the two men…

And consider this:

The disaffected and the apostate are in particular informants whose evidence has to be used with circumspection. The apostate is generally in need of self-justification. He seeks to reconstruct his own past, to excuse his former affiliations, and to blame those who were formerly his closest associates. Not uncommonly the apostate learns to rehearse an ‘atrocity story’ to explain how, by manipulation, trickery, coercion, or deceit, he was induced to join or to remain within an organization that he now forswears and condemns.

That’s from Bryan Wilson, Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, and author of The Social Dimensions of Sectarianism: Sects and New Religious Movements in Contemporary Society.


Homework, Hitchens, homework!

I shouldn’t say stuff like that – I’m sure I’ve missed a few points myself.


At least Hitchens is wittier than Limbaugh.

Diesel Boats Forever! or ever?

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

German and Italian Type 212

Modern German Diesel Electric Submarines (Type 212)

by J. Scott Shipman (diesel electric submarines, naval strategy, Taiwan, Republic of China, submarines)

David Trombly at the new Fear, Honor, and Interest blog posted a thought provoking article on Taiwan, sea denial, and the bounding of US dominance.

This post caught my eye for several reasons, not the least of which is that in another life I rode submarines (ballistic missile subs: USS VON STEUBEN (SSBN-632) and the commissioning crew of USS PENNSYLVANIA (SSBN-735). Another is I attended on behalf of a former employer in 2001/2002 an industry day event soliciting interest in the US production of diesel electric submarines for the use of Taiwan (Republic of China, or ROC). US production was authorized (see background: here) because the ROC was having difficulty purchasing through European diesel boat manufacturers. Germany, Sweden, and France have proven platforms, as do the Russians and their KILO class. All of these nations export submarines, but few want to antagonize the ROC’s increasingly global neighbor China.

The industry day event was well attended, but as I sat there I had little confidence there would ever be a diesel electric submarine produced in a US shipyard. Here’s why: the US Navy is heavily vested in nuclear powered submarines which are incredibly expensive, with the most modern VIRGINIA Class coming in at around $2B a copy. When compared to modern diesel boats which run between $200-$300M, Big Navy understandably wants to avoid any possible comparisons—or for the question even to be raised. The industry event was more a public show of supporting Congress and the president than a serious inquiry, and nothing more than slides were produced (which is often the case in Washington, btw).

The USN is overextended by almost any measure, our national shipbuilding infrastructure is perhaps at its lowest point and our Fleet has less ships (about 283) than any time since WWI. We have about 70 submarines (18 OHIO Class of which 4 are guided missile submarines, 7 VA Class, 3 SEAWOLF, and about 43 older Los Angeles Class). These boats spend about half their time deployed, which drives up maintenance costs and cost to crew separated from family [the OHIO Class ships rotate crews about every 90 days] Our submarines are built exclusively in Groton, CT, and Newport News, VA. We have naval shipyards for heavy modifications, nuclear refueling/overhauls in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Bremerton, and Pearl Harbor (though I don’t believe Portsmouth or Pearl are authorized refueling facilities).

In this environment of increased op-tempo, and low numbers of ships/boats we have continuing challenges to the maritime domain, including China’s increasingly muscular approach in the South China sea and that age old naval scourge, piracy. (H/T Feral Jundi at Facebook)

These realities, combined with an ally in need (and perhaps many more potential customers) seem to form a perfect storm of need for a small fleet of stealthy, American-made diesel electric submarines. If the Obama administration wanted to strengthen it bonafides in East Asia and with the American public, it would reengage on the Taiwan submarine issue and this time, instead of a deal neither side could abide (our side the very thought and insane requirements, their side appropriating the funds). If Taiwan is willing to pay for R&D, allow the building shipyard to keep the design, and find an American suitor, that all translates into that three letter word Joe Biden is so fond of: jobs. Jobs that would have little to no reliance on the increasingly precarious federal government and shrinking defense budgets. Taiwan and the region would gain stealthy deterrents to potential Chinese mischief, the US could invigorate a fairly inbred shipbuilding industry with new talent, new ideas, and new competition, and maybe, just maybe we could build a few boats for those missions too mundane or cost-prohibitive for our nuke boats (like the piracy problem for a starter).

Postscript: As a former nuclear navy submariner, I am intimately familiar of the many positives nuke boats offer (I once spent 82 days submerged). My musing here is not a call for replacement, but rather to point out yet again (see this analysis), that our navy should have room for both in our increasingly complex world.

Please read my exchange with David at the Fear, Honor, and Interest post, as some innovative ideas not included in this post are presented. But I thought I’d share with the zenpundit audience as we spend a great deal of time talking strateegery here, but rarely naval issues, and I don’t post often enough…

Corn’s Caliphates in Wonderland

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

They Just Don’t Make Caliphates Like They Used To….

SWJ Blog featured a lengthy (30 page) essay by Dr. Tony Corn on….well….many things. Corn begins with caliphates and then sort of takes off much like a blown up balloon abruptly released by a child prior to tying a knot in the end.

The Clash of the Caliphates: Understanding the Real War of Ideas by Dr. Tony Corn

….For one thing, within the global umma, there appears to be as many conceptions of the ideal Caliphate as there are Muslims. This grass-roots longing for a symbol of unity should be heard with the proverbial Freudian -third ear,?? and seen for what it really is, i.e., a symptom rather than a disease. For another, by agreeing to establish diplomatic relations with the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), America and Europe have, in essence, already granted the OIC the status of a Quasi-Caliphate.

More important still, it is time for Western policy-makers to realize that the ideological rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran that has been going on since 1979 constitutes nothing less than a Clash of the Caliphates. Through a soft power strategy blurring the distinction between -public diplomacy?? and -political warfare,?? -humanitarian aid?? and -religious propaganda,?? the two states have been the main drivers of the re-Islamization process throughout the Muslim world. The one-upmanship dynamic generated by the rivalry between these two fundamentalist regimes is the main reason why, from the Balkans to Pakistan, the re-Islamization of the global umma has taken a radical, rather than moderate, dimension.

Ok, “caliphates” as a metaphor/analogy for geopolitical rivalry of Muslim states works but it is not really what Islamists or normal Muslims would mean by the term. It is a very odd usage. I’m not overly bothered by that because I tend to like analogies but Corn’s device here is apt to make the heads of area studies and Islamic history scholars explode. The whole essay is in this meandering, idiosyncratic, vein.

Now that is not to suggest that you should not read the piece. Dr. Corn held my attention all the way through and he has a number of excellent observations on many, loosely related, subjects. For example, after discussing the pernicious effects of Saudi donations and Edward Said’s agitprop theory of “Orientalism” on the intellectual objectivity of academia, Corn writes:

…The combined effect of the House of Saud and the House of Said is the first reason why the Ivory Tower has done such a poor job identifying the nature of Muslim Exceptionalism. A more indirect, yet more insidious, reason is that, unlike in the early days of the Cold War, American academics across the board today are trained in social sciences rather than educated in the humanities. For social scientists, Explanation (erklaren) and -theory-building?? take precedence over Understanding (verstehen) and -policy-making. The victory of the -numerates over the -literates in the 1970s has produced a generation of scholars who show a certain virtuosity when it comes to -research design, but display an amazing lack, not just of historical literacy, but of -historical empathy as well. Not to make too fine a point: the Long War is being waged by a generation of policy-makers who, however articulate, never learned anything about history in their college years

Corn is spot on here. Not only is it spot on, it is likely to get much worse. After a brief qualitative “bump” from Iraq-Afghan war  language trained vets, diplos, analysts and spooks peters out, we will have the Gen Y kids with K-12 educations scrubbed free of history, foreign languages and science graduating from college with communication and marketing degrees and entering government service. Hang on to your hat when that happens.

What Corn really requires to vault his essays to the next level are the services of an experienced editor because less would be more. The man is erudite and insightful. He writes forcefully and raises a number of points that are important and with which I agree. Corn, commendably, also makes more of an effort to connect the dots than most. But maybe, if you have an essay that references David Kilcullen, Trotsky, neo-Ottomanism, lawfare, Sam Huntington, neo-COIN, Nasser, Vatican II, the Comintern, the Hapsburgs, Ataturk, public diplomacy, al- Qaradawi, social media, Fascism, Marc Lynch, Youtube, network theory, the UN, hybrid wars and the Protestant Reformation, it might be time to up the Ritalin dosage a notch. Jesus, there’s either a book proposal or four different articles in that kitchen sink of an op-ed!

Read it and take what is useful.

Two courtyards, two hundred camels

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

a light-hearted canon in two voices

[ by Charles Cameron ]


I’d been doing some research for a follow-up post on story-telling in Afghanistan to go with Scott‘s account of his day at DARPA’s recent STORyNET conference, and one of the interlocutors on the list we’re both on posted a question about the impact of drug use as a consideration in narrative.

Baudelaire and Cocteau both have writings on drug use — hashish and opium respectively — but it was Afghan or more generally Islamic story-telling that I was after, and it occurred to me that the four stories in Paul Bowles‘ collection, A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard, were easily accessible examples of the kind of story-telling that Moroccans are prone to under the influence of hashish.  Bowles describes their mental processes thus:

Moroccan kif-smokers like to speak of the “two worlds,” the one ruled by inexorable natural laws, and the other, the kif world, in which each person perceives “reality” according to the projections of his own essence, the state of consciousness in which the elements of the physical universe are automatically rearranged by cannabis to suit the requirements of the individual. These distorted variations in themselves generally are of scant interest to anyone but the subject at the time he is experiencing them. An intelligent smoker, nevertheless, can aid in directing the process of deformation in such a way that the results will have value to him in his daily life. If he has faith in the accuracy of his interpretations, he will accept them as decisive, and use them to determine a subsequent plan of action. Thus, for a dedicated smoker, the passage to the “other world” is often a pilgrimage undertaken for the express purpose of oracular consultation.

The title of Bowles’ little collection, by the way, comes from the Moroccan proverb which is gives me the first of my two quotes, two courtyards, two intoxicants and two hundred camels below…

I wasn’t entirely satisfied, though, which a Moroccan account of hash-flavored narrative when DARPA was looking for an understanding of narrative that would apply in Afghanistan, so I thought I’d look up some of Idries Shah‘s writings, and Kara Kush in particular, to see if perhaps I could find an Afghan equivalent of Bowles’ stories there…

I already had Bowles’ one courtyard and one hundred camels in mind, so you’ll understand how pleased I was to stumble upon another slightly obscure but interesting writer — Peter Lamborn Wilson, aka Hakim Bey, who gave use the concept of the TAZ or Temporary Autonomous Zone — writing about Afghanistan rather than Morocco, opium rather than hashish, and a second courtyard, with a second hundred camels:


Two terrific writers: Paul Bowles and Peter Lamborn Wilson.

Sources: BowlesWilson

Courtyards with a hundred camels in them are popping up all over.

An Iridology of the Sciences?

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron ]

I for one am delighted to know that we can now play around with the iridology of the sciences, using the software available on the Science-Metrix Ontology Explorer site to view which fields have journals which cross-link to journals in other fields…

Seriously — that lower image is of the Field Citation Wheel that you can find, suitably enlarged for easy viewing, on that site.


And it’s heartening for me to know, for instance — taking a closer look at the segment of that image that’s roughly east north-east — that scientific journals do have some links on their pages to works of theology or philosophy:

, you’ll notice, has more links than history, philosophy, theology, the social sciences (even counting them twice), economics, business, the arts and humanities combined.

My own field, theology, has to share its thin segment with philosophy, and you can guess how small the number of links to articles on Islamic apocalyptic probably are…

Which is, in part, why I wonder whether a project like the ETH’s Living Earth Simulator will really manage to map such things as, well, a possible outbreak of global jihadist Mahdism and its consequences.


But then I look at another gorgeous graphic from the same source, focusing in on a part of the network of knowledge that interests me, and I can just faintly make out, lower left, entirely isolated, the field of music

What splendid isolation! That’s all of Bach, mind you – and all the Beatles, too.


Seriously, though:

  • It’s fascinating to be able to see how the various branches of knowledge cross-reference each other.
  • Visual data representation is a gorgeous, fantastic, field.
  • Mapping the all-of-everything is an irresistable lure for keen minds
  • I’m betting the humanities will prove to be at least as good at it as the sciences.
  • And I recall, not without a pang of regret, the time when my beloved Theology was Queen of the Sciences, and one might converse with Abelard on the streets of Paris…

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