Faulks baulks

The novelist Sebastian Faulks made some frank and accurate comments about the Koran in an interview with the Sunday Times, only to abjectly apologise for them in Monday’s Daily Telegraph.

To be fair to Faulks, he probably did not expect his comments to be picked up by controversy-hungry hacks at the Mail and The Express, always keen to write self-fulfilling predictions about Muslim anger. Then again, what has he got to apologise for?

Here’s what he said about the Koran on Sunday:

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.

There is also the barrenness of the message. I mean, there are some bits about diet, you know, the equivalent of the Old Testament, which is also crazy. If you look again at those books of the law, Leviticus or Deuteronomy, there’s a lot about who you are allowed to sleep with, and if a man had lost his testicles he wouldn’t enter into the presence of God, that is just terrible. But the great thing about the Old Testament is that it does have these incredible stories. Of the 100 greatest stories ever told, 99 are probably in the Old Testament and the other is in Homer.

With the Koran there are no stories. And it has no ethical dimension like the New Testament, no new plan for life. It says ‘the Jews and the Christians were along the right tracks, but actually, they were wrong and I’m right, and if you don’t believe me, tough — you’ll burn for ever.’ That’s basically the message of the book.

So far, so uncontroversial. Muslims have been kidding themselves about their “holy book” for centuries. A bit of candid criticism can only be a good thing.

But the very next day, in an article which some sarcastic sub-editor entitled “The book I really can’t put down”, Faulks cringes:

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.

The Telegraph piece entitled “Sebastian Faulks risks Muslim anger after calling the Koran the ‘rantings of a schizophrenic’” has been removed from its website.

Did Faulks cave in to threats, or is he merely offering a pre-emptive apology in advance of them? Either way, this story is pretty appalling.


6 Responses to “Faulks baulks”

  1. Yeah – and all too familiar. Much the same thing happened to my co-author and me at the end of May – a reporter at the Times did a story about “concerns” (carefully attributed to no one at all) that our book would blah blah blah. The reporter very nearly created the situation she was speculating about – our publisher became nervous and sent the book to an “ecumenicist” for vetting.

    It would be nice if reporters would stop trying to stir up new fusses by predicting them.

  2. Eric MacDonald says:

    Very unfortunate that Faulk took back his remarks and apologised without reservation. Whether Muslim sensibilities are or are not able to put up with the rough and tumble of real life is neither here nor there. It is necessary that they learn, and if they are not allowed to learn, because everyone blows criticism away with apology, then things will just get worse, not better. Time to tell the truth and just leave people to get on with life. If people are offended, good. Perhaps this is a necessary step towards growing thicker skin. On the other hand, they may just come to see that the ‘offensive’ criticisms were right after all, and change their minds. This is what public discussion is about and for.

  3. Stonyground says:

    Excellent post Mr. MacDonald, I heartily agree.

    I can’t say that I agree with Mr. Faulks about the bible though, The story of Joseph perhaps has merit but most Bible stories involve stupid anti-heroes whos bronze-age desert based antics have no relevance at all to anyone who is not a stupid bronze-age desert dwelling anti-hero.

    • Ken Clark says:

      Love your remarks stonyground…if only the articles and comments on this site could be pinned to the walls of churches, synagogues, mosques etc. evrywhere!! : )

  4. The defects of the Koran (Quran) are obvious to any unprejudiced reader. The Koran in fact is not a book but a medley clumsily put together. The trouble is that Muslims have developed the most efficacious brainwashing system ever. The vast majority of even well-educated Muslims cannot bring themselves to think while reading or listening to the recital of the Koran. I know it is difficult to make Christians thinks objectively about the Bible, but in the case of Muslims the difficulty is far greater.

  5. Fatpie42 says:

    I think the criticism that there aren’t enough stories in the Koran is a bit daft. Why the heck should it have stories in it?

    It’s been said (in a phrase that applies to itself somewhat) that a translation is like a lover, either beautiful or true, but never both. (And since it’s a translation itself we can forgive the rather ugly analogy.)

    Muslims naturally want a truthful translation, but they consider the beauty of the Qu’ran to be lost in translation. Many Muslims insist that it should only be in Arabic for this reason. I cannot judge the content in arabic, but some of the calligraphy of Qu’ranic phrases is beautiful.