Luther, Islam, and the Lies that Cripple

Finding valuable lessons amidst a sea of deceit.

Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center

In “Islam’s Expansion Across Europe: Not Martin Luther’s Fault,” one Paul Gottfried pretends to respond to my article, “The Pro-Islamic West: Born 500 years Ago.”  While many of his own readers saw through and exposed his misrepresentations in the comments section more thoroughly than I ever would have, Gottfried’s piece is still worth examining if only for the important lessons surrounding it.

First, if you seek an example of or are uncertain what a “strawman argument” is—typically defined as “giving the impression of refuting an opponent’s argument, while refuting an argument that was not presented by that opponent”—then look no further than to Gottfried’s “rebuttal” which exemplifies the strawman fallacy in a very special way, beginning with its title: “Islam’s Expansion Across Europe: Not Martin Luther’s Fault.”  Bravo, Gottfried—what an insight!  But who ever said “Islam’s expansion across Europe” was Luther’s fault?  Well, if you read Gottfried’s piece without crosschecking his claims against my article, apparently I did.  Of course, back in the real world, I never did.   Indeed, as someone who just finished writing a (forthcoming) book about the history of Islamic jihad against Europe—at least 75 percent of which occurred before not after Luther—the claim strikes me more than most as absurd.

Gottfried’s next major distortion appears in his very opening sentence:  “In one of the stranger manifestations of misguided Catholic piety or repugnance for the Protestant Reformation, being exhibited on the occasion of its 500th anniversary, Raymond Ibrahim reveals a bizarre version of the blame game.”   I will address the “repugnance” thing below; for now, why does Gottfried offer as a possibility that I might have been motivated by “misguided Catholic piety” when I had clearly written that “I am, for the record, neither Protestant nor Catholic”?

Only two conclusions exist: either Gottfried never read my article (which is pathetic for someone claiming to “rebut” it), or else he is willfully misrepresenting.  Although my first instinct was to conclude that he didn’t read it, other “techniques” employed by Gottfried point to willful deception.  For example, he never quotes me as saying the things he claims I say—the way I am quoting him here—except on two occasions: in both, he claims I wrote that Luther urged “passivity” against the hostile Muslim invaders.  In reality, I had written that “Luther originally preached passivity,” which, of course, is an indisputable fact.  Lest there remain any confusion on this point, along with the several quotes and sources I cited in my original article—including Luther’s own words that although the Muslim sultan “rages most intensely by murdering Christians in the body … he, after all, does nothing by this but fill heaven with saints”—here are some more Western authorities:

According to S.J. Allen and Emilie Amt, university professors and editors of The Crusades: A Reader:  “The Protestant leader Martin Luther had earlier preached against an Ottoman crusade, believing that it was a Catholic cause, and therefore wrong in the eyes of God.  Luther changed his mind after Vienna, when the threat moved closer to home…” (p. 413).

Ditto for Thomas Madden (Crusades historian): “Luther set the tone for Protestant thought on the Turkish threat.  When [Pope] Leo X was still trying to resurrect his crusade in 1520, Luther wrote that ‘to fight against the Turks is to oppose the judgement God visits upon our iniquities through them.’  In Luther’s view, crusades against the Ottomans were wars against God….  After the siege of Vienna in 1529, the Turkish threat became much more dire to Germans, and so Luther changed his mind” (A New Concise History of the Crusades, pp. 209-210).

Be that as it may; the relevant question here is, why does Gottfried intentionally misquote me—twice—as saying that Luther preached “passivity” when I wrote that he “originally preached passivity”?  Simple: my formulation is correct, whereas something as “subtle” as omitting my qualifier (“originally”) leads to the formulation that Gottfried needs to knock out his strawman. 

One can go on and on, but the reader should be getting the point by now.  Anyone interested in seeing more observations concerning Gottfried’s distortions is encouraged to go through the comments section of his article. [1]

As for the second, more important lesson.  Although a majority of Protestants made it a point to agree with my original article, for others, the Reformation and especially Luther seem to be beyond reproach.  Now, on the one hand, I understand the frustration, especially among pro-Israel Protestants: they’ve had to apologize for and be embarrassed by Luther’s notorious antisemitism—and they’ll be damned if Islam also is going to be laid at Luther’s feet; hence the kneejerk response to any claim that negatively associates Luther with Islam.    

But this misses the point of my original article entirely: to trace how and why the image of Islam dramatically improved in the West over the last few centuries; and yes, like it or not, Protestantism and its earliest leaders played a major if unintentional role in this change, particularly by using “good” and “noble” Islam as a foil to demonize “bad” and “corrupt” Catholicism with.  This is not a “controversial” view; it is established fact confirmed by many historians, including Protestant ones.  Nor does the mere acknowledgment of this fact reflect, as Gottfried claims, “a repugnance [on my part] for the Protestant Reformation.”

To reiterate—and for those hard of reading or worse—here is what I wrote in my original article:

That the Protestant Reformation unwittingly benefited Islam should not be interpreted as an attack on the Reformation or a defense of Catholicism.  Nor does it say anything about the theological merits, or truths, of either….  Rather, the point here is that the actions of fallible men, of both religious persuasions, had unforeseen consequences. And, if the historic rifts within Christendom—beginning at Chalcedon in 451, when Orthodoxy (not Catholicism or Protestantism) broke apart—always worked to Islam’s advantage, it should come as no surprise that the greatest of all Christian sunderings also had the greatest impact. 

Incidentally, the irony of all this is that it is I, not those who revere Luther, who emulates his approach.  For I truly find _no man_—not just popes, but Protestants, including their founder—infallible.  (Hence here I stand.  I can do no other.) 

From here we reach the greatest of all lessons: while increasing numbers of Western people are aware that Islam is hostile to the other, many fail to progress beyond this simple truism.  The result is that they see only half the picture: yes, Islam is an intrinsically militant and supremacist creed—but that is not why the West is currently being terrorized by it.  Rather, the West is being terrorized because of the West.  Long gone are the days when Muslims, through sheer might alone, threatened and invaded the West.  Today Islam is being enabled and empowered entirely thanks to a number of warped Western philosophies and “isms” that have metastasized among and crippled the populace from effectively responding to the suicidal path their civilization is speeding on.

As such, a little introspection is needed. 

Plainly put, those who insist Islam is intolerant and violent—while equally insisting that nothing associated with them or theirs can ever be implicated in the equation—should consider if they are consigning themselves to a permanent state of limbo, forever taking one step forward followed by another step back in their struggle against jihad. 


[1] Perhaps the most comprehensive fisking Gottfried received was at the keyboard of commenter Brian Kelly.  Lest it still appear as “awaiting moderation,” relevant portions of it follow:

Everything from the title of this article on downwards is a misrepresentation of Ibrahim’s article. The article being complained about here by Gottfried just doesn’t exist. The one Gottfried links to just doesn’t say the things that Gottfried says it says. Let’s fisk out some examples, starting with the title:


Did Ibrahim say that Islams expansion into Europe was Martin Luther’s fault? No. In fact, he disavowed that claim of course.

Gottfried: “Raymond Ibrahim’s bizarre version of the blame game.”

What follows is Gottfried’s version of the blame game, which Ibrahim never participated in, and even disavowed.

Gottfried: “he places the blame for Muslim Turkish expansion across Eastern and Central Europe in the sixteenth century at the doorstep of Martin Luther.”

No he doesn’t. Why doesn’t Gottfried QUOTE Ibrahim placing the blame on Martin Luther? Answer: because Ibrahim doesn’t place the blame on Martin Luther.

Gottfried: “[implying that Ibrahim said] If this wayward monk had not nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the Wittenberg cathedral on October 31, 1517, and had not launched a rebellion against the Roman Church, the Muslim danger supposedly could have been contained.”

Says who? Gottfried again. Only Gottfried makes this BIZZARE claim. Not Ibrahim. Again, if Ibrahim had said this, Gottfried would have quoted it.

Gottfried says: “[implying that Ibrahim said] Not only did Luther and his followers weaken the unity of the Christian West, but also gave support to the Muslim penetration of Europe. While the Turkish army moved from Hungary westward toward Vienna, Luther was urging “passivity” before the hostile invaders and, according to Ibrahim, implicitly and explicitly aiding the Turks by weakening the resolve of Christian Europe.”

Again, Gottfried is implying that ‘Ibrahim says’, but not quoting him, because Ibrahim NEVER said it.

That’s a very unscholarly, very sloppy, and sensationalized misrepresentation of what Ibrahim said. He NEVER said that Luther ‘gave support’ to the Muslim penetration of Europe. It is words like ‘giving support’ which make the difference between unhelpful actions in favor of an enemy, and treason.

Gottfried says: There are so many holes in this anti-Protestant brief that one hardly knows where to begin one’s criticism.

However many “holes” one imagines one sees, a good place to begin one’s criticism is to actually READ the article properly to make sure the holes exist. Make sure you can represent a person properly before you disagree with him. Use quotes, like a professor teaches their students to do in cases like this. Quotes force the writer to be balanced.

Gottfried says: He did not urge “passivity” in the face of this civilizational crisis. Indeed, Luther was willing to join forces with Catholic princes, even though they were killing and expelling his followers, in order to combat the “Devil’s army.”

Ibrahim did say that Luther ORIGINALLY preached passivity towards Islam, but notice how Gottfried takes the ‘originally’ out and argues as if Ibrahim said it without the qualification of ‘originally’.


Gottfried said: “Moreover, between 1525 and 1530, even while the Turks were moving on Vienna, the Habsburg emperor and Europe’s premier defender of the Catholic faith, Charles V, was fighting against his fellow-Catholics, including Pope Clement VII, the French, the English, and the Republics of Venice and Florence.”

Well, yes. Which is exactly the kind of thing that Ibrahim himself drew attention to out in his balanced article, and a little more scholarly reading of Ibrahim’s article and less indignation would have spared Gottfried from indignantly adding the missing balance to Ibrahim’s article which Ibrahim had already *explicitly* added himself : Ibrahim said: ‘By 1535, “It was one of the bitterest truths,” writes historian Roger Crowley, “that the Catholic King [Charles V] would spend more time, money, and energy fighting the French and the Protestants than he ever devoted to the war with [Sultan] Suleiman” ‘

Ibrahim’s article itself has many other calm and scholarly disavowals all of the kinds of point that Gottfried is falsely accusing him of making:

Ibrahim said: That the Protestant Reformation unwittingly benefited Islam should not be interpreted as an attack on the Reformation or a defense of Catholicism.

So: the summary of the situation is that Gottfried’s article is a big, emotional, straw man. It is hysterical. As Ibrahim says, he does not have a ‘horse in this race’. Unfortunately, when there is a many-century-old fight going on, even if you don’t want to take part in it, people will perceive you that way, and it’s often the people who have a horse in the race who can’t but see you that way. Those whose views are biased and emotional see the opposing views of others as biased and emotional, even when they are not.