Ignorance Militant


Out of charity, I won’t identify the person who brought this to my attention this morning.


Americans are notoriously ignorant, on average, about history and other cultures.  The image above is an illustration of that ignorance.


Irritation, though, often stimulates my writing.  So this is good for me.  I’ve got a couple of relevant writing projects that have been languishing.  If I just keep thinking about the nonsense above, I’ll probably advance their completion by a month or two.  So, in an odd way, I’m grateful.


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  • Amelia

    I’ve read articles about Muhammad, have taken a World Religions class covering Islam, and have have been wanting to read the Qur’an for a long time. This e-poster has prompted me finally to download the Qur’an onto my Kindle, so perhaps I should be grateful too. I downloaded a free English version, but I’m wondering if there is a certain translation that you recommend for those who don’t read Arabic? And do you recommend reading it from start to finish, or are there certain passages you recommend? Thanks.

  • h_nu

    You know, I’ve often heard the claim that Americans are more ignorant than other nationalities, but I’ve never seen any data. Nor have I seen data normalizing the distances between US and other nations and any European nation and the others. For instance, yes, a European may have traveled to more countries, but have travelled less distance than an American. Besides, being uneducated is not an American trait, it is a human a trait. I met so many insulated, unintelligent Germans who knew NOTHING about Mormonism, and felt perfectly justified blaming them. So yeah, a big call for references on that point…

    • danpeterson

      In my experience living in various countries, I’ve found them much more aware of us than we tend to be of them. They follow our politics, know something about our culture, etc.

      And yes, there are a number of studies that demonstrate Americans to be woefully ignorant of our own history, let alone that of others.

      If you’re satisfied with the state of American education, though, I’m happy for you.

  • dangermom

    Isn’t that picture supposed to be ironic? I mean, you put that text in front of an architectural wonder like that and it’s snark, not serious. Right?

    That said, people are very ignorant, yep. I once had a very nice lady over (she is much nicer than I) who talked about how nervous she was on a trip when she met some men in turbans. I had to explain that they were Sikhs. We live very close to one of the largest and oldest Sikh communities in the US, but she’s never heard of them.

    However, like h_nu I’m not sure other people are more informed than we are. I spent my junior year of high school as an exchange student. This was 1989, and the Berlin Wall was going down practically next door, and my classmates…did not care. At all. No one seemed to. The very nice people in my host country told me how prejudiced Americans were against black people and then proceeded to spout more racist nonsense than I had ever heard in my life (just not about blacks–it was Middle Easterners and Asians they didn’t like). On the whole, people seemed just like Americans in their level of cultural and historical awareness. I never again believed anyone who talked about how much more sophisticated and intelligent Europeans are.

    I do make my kids learn as much history as I can cram into their little brains, though. :D I homeschool, so I have lots of opportunity.

  • MP

    This image accurately reflects my thinking. I see nothing good about Islam. It appears to be only horror, tragedy, oppression and death for about 14 centuries and a blight upon humanity. I’m genuinely willing to learn, however — in fact I’ve been thinking for a while since I started following your blog to ask you for examples of good in Islam. Just because I’m ignorant doesn’t mean I’m unwilling to learn.

    • danpeterson

      I’m going to be working on two books over the next six months to a year that, I hope, will help Latter-day Saints to understand and appreciate Islam more fully. Plainly, there’s a lot of work to be done.

  • Colin Ramsbottom UK

    As a Brit from across the Atlantic, I have to say that the impression we often get over here, rightly or wrongly, is that many Americans are very unaware of anything beyond their own borders. I’m sure that is not really the case. It is the same stereotyping that promotes such anti-muslim remarks.
    I’m saddened by some of the comments here. I have had Muslim friends and work colleagues over the years who are really wonderful people, especially those who take their faith seriously. Latter-day Saints, who have long experience of prejudice and misrepresentation, are perhaps best placed to see that much of what is said about our Muslim brothers and sisters as totally false. I hope, as a people, we can and will do better in extending the hand of friendship to all those around us, whatever their beliefs. That’s what I believe the Savior would have us do.

    • danpeterson

      I think there’s truth in the impression, unfortunately.

      There are a great many good things to say about America and Americans, but their superb knowledge of history and of foreign affairs is not among them.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    One of the things about the structure and operation of the LDS Church that I appreciate as valuable, though not something we talk about much, is how it works against the natural human tendency to focus on the here and now. Searching out our ancestors and their lives helps us understand the countries they came from and the historical developments that connect them to us.Serving as missionaries in cultures that are foreign to us, and with other missionaries who come from other cultures, can broaden our perspective. Among my fellow missionaries to Japan, a substantial minority have had continuing contacts to that nation and its people, returning to work there in a number of professions, and Japanese Mormons have extensive international contacts through their Church affiliations, many attending BYU campuses or serving missions in the US or Brazil. This is an area where Mormons can have a material influence on international relationships far exceeding our numbers, academic, economic and political.

    • danpeterson

      Excellent insight.

  • Lucy Mcgee

    Although the Grand Mosque has undergone spectacular renovation and expansion under the Saudi kingdom beginning in the 1950′s and continuing today, it should be noted that such a grand-scale expansion has far outpaced the expansion of economic prosperity and human rights equality for many Muslims in the Middle East, especially women.

    The compulsory study of Islam dominates the Saudi educational system. Criticism of this system of a Wahhabi controlled curriculum has focused on the propagation of an ideology of disdain toward “unbelievers” and that this system of education has encouraged Islamic terrorism. Critics have described the educational system as one which has the primary goal of maintaining absolute monarchy by positioning it as a protector of Islam against all other faiths. Saudi Arabia is also one of the few nations in the world which has not accepted the United Nation’s declaration of human rights.

    • danpeterson

      Erich Zann is precisely right.

      Though I’ve had good experiences with certain senior members of the royal family of Saudi Arabia, I’m not a big fan overall of the current Saudi regime, let alone of Wahhabism — both of which are relatively recent.

      But Saudi Arabia hardly exhausts, or is representative of, the vast expanse of Islam over the past fourteen centuries, from Marrakesh to Aligarh. from Cairo to Tashkent and Samarkand, and from Istanbul to Kuala Lumpur. In fact, prior to the arrival of petrodollars, the Arabian Peninsula was pretty much an irrelevant backwater except for the annual hajj.

  • Erich Zann

    Ms. McGee,
    I’m not disagreeing with the statements you’ve made, but I don’t understand your point. Dr. Peterson has, to my knowledge, always acknowledged that Islam and its practitioners have their fair share of faults, both today and historically. Here he is only disagreeing with the laughable statement that Islam has contributed nothing of benefit to humanity over the course of its existence. I acknowledge the many shortcomings of modern Saudi Arabia, but I don’t think they say anything about that issue one way or another.

    • Lucy Mcgee

      Because the photo in the post was that of the Grand Mosque, I though it important to point out that this grand creation, which will eventually cost billions in upgrade, should not necessarily be viewed as a part of the 1400 year Islamic contribution given the human rights abuses occurring in the very nation where it was built.

  • http://nathanrichardson.com Nathan

    Amelia, my background is pretty much identical to yours. I’m no expert, but I found an article by one Khaleel Mohammed in Middle East Quarterly called “Assessing English Translations of the Qur’an.” It seems to give a good review of all the major translations and their limitations. In the end, it concludes that “for most academics, the translation of choice still seems to be that of Arthur Arberry.” You can find his translations in a few places online; here is one link: Arberry translation. Personally, I’m reading it in reverse (beginning with “chapter” 114 and working backward to “chapter” 1) because the final chapters are shorter and were generally produced earlier in Mohammad’s life, while the beginning chapters are longer and came near the end of Mohammad’s life. Dan, do you find the Khaleel Mohammed article to be a reliable guide?

    MP, I admire your self-risking honesty. Good for you. I think your current understanding is fairly prevalent among the Saints. I bet Dan’s upcoming writings will be great, but in the meantime, I recommend doing a search on LDS.org for “Islam,” “Muslim,” and “Muhammad.” The following articles have some great anecdotes that might help you see some of the admirable traits among Muslims: Joseph B. Platt, “Our Oasis of Faith” (A member who worked in Bahrain for 12 years)Orin D. Parker, “A Life among Muslims” (A member who worked in the Middle East for 19 years)The following articles give a broader overview of Muslim origins, beliefs, and history from an LDS perspective: James A. Toronto, “A Latter-day Saint Perspective on Muhammad” (Including some of Mohammad’s charitable actions and teachings)James B. Mayfield, “Ishmael, Our Brother” (Including ways that Islam was a significant step forward compared to many of the pagan customs that preceded it)Hugh Nibley, “Islam and Mormonism—A Comparison” (Including some of the interesting parallels between the two)

  • Rodney Ross

    I am far from an expert on Islam, but I am disappointed that no one has given Islam credit for great art, algebra, the preservation of ancient Greek civilization, literature and mythology, Arabic numerals, etc., etc.. I’m sure Dr. Peterson could go on and on. I hope he will take that opportunity along with his other multiple opportunities.

  • Rodney Ross

    This is a good, brief slide presentation on the contributions of Islam. I missed that the number 0 comes from Islamic math. I suppose it is a good thing or else some of my math teachers could not have scored some of my tests.


    • Lucy Mcgee

      Per the slide show you offered, it should be noted that the astrolabe was not an Islamic creation. Some historians attribute its invention to Hypatia of Alexandria, and possibly before. It was, however, perfected in the Islamic culture.

      I can’t express strongly enough, my belief that any religion, despite it cultural contributions, which discriminates so openly against women, can offer a compelling future to the humans living on our planet. The ignorance found within Muhammad’s ancient writings continue to contribute to warfare and strife across the globe. Many claim that his writings are taken out of context, and so on, but when 10-20 percent of the Islamic nations (or more according to Pew) have a favorable view of al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas or the Taliban, one is left to believe that there is serious work to be done. When young boys are saturated with hate infused scripture, what can be expected of them?

  • Erich Zann

    Islam isn’t a monolith. Maybe some Muslims discriminate against women; many others don’t. Nor are all Muslim boys brought up on “hate infused scripture.”

  • http://nathanrichardson.com Nathan

    Lucy, are the openly discriminatory aspects of Islam you refer to inherent parts of the religion or cultural aspects that have paralleled it? (That’s not a rhetorical question; I really don’t know.) One could look at passages in the the Torah and conclude that Judaism is hopelessly misogynistic (I think they’d be wrong, by the way). Yet it would be an understatement to say that Judaism has offered a compelling future to humans.

    And sorry for the messy comment above. Apparently this site doesn’t allow list/bullet tags.

    • Lucy Mcgee

      One person I’ve listened to is Ayaan Hirsi Ali who grew up under Islamic law. She has written several books which detail her life and transition away from Islam and which is a harrowing and sorrowful tale. Anyone interested in her journey can find plenty of available material. Here is one lecture:

      • danpeterson

        She’s an important voice on contemporary Islam. But she doesn’t sum up fourteen centuries of Islamic civilization. And that is what certain critics of Islam — perhaps not you — need to understand.

  • http://nathanrichardson.com Nathan

    MP, one more recommended reading: the opening comments by Boyd K. Packer when he introduced Dr. Alwi Shihab (professor of Islamic Studies at Harvard University, and “Secretary of State” of Indonesia) at a BYU forum/devotional a few years ago. Among other things, Elder Packer said,

    “Church members and Muslims share similar high standards of decency, temperance, and morality. We have so much in common. As societal morality and behavior decline in an increasingly permissive world, the Church and many within Islam increasingly share natural affinities. …

    It is important that we in the West understand there is a battle for the heart, soul, and direction of Islam and that not all Islam espouses violent jihad, as some Western media portray.

    It is as well important that friends in the Islamic world understand there is a battle for the heart, soul, and direction of the Western world and that not all the West is morally decadent, as some Islamic media portray.”