Howard Bloom’s The Muhammad Code is a deeply troubling book. From its opening chapter which discusses the systematized rape and sex slavery perpetrated by ISIS, this is a book that wades deep into the most graphic horrors of war. Making this all the more disturbing is the author’s thesis that this particular war, waged by adherents to the most extreme forms of Islam, is a direct and present threat to the very core of Western ideals: our belief in human rights. It is a terrible vision of bloodshed that is a particularly disturbing read for its target audience of people who want to believe in the potential for a multicultural, pluralistic society.
The Muhammad Code expands on the ideas laid out in Bloom’s controversial 1995 tome The Lucifer Principle. In this earlier book, he lays out the concept that human behavior can be understood in terms of “superorganisms” of cultures that succeed or fail based on their ability to replicate their ideas over the course of generations, and that the most successful superorganisms tend to find that success through violence. It’s Thomas Hobbes’s “nasty, brutish, and short” vision of life, supported by an array of citations drawn from scientific, sociological, and philosophical sources. While a fascinating read, The Lucifer Principle drew criticism for its mix of sources (examples from animal behavior tests, genetic research, history, and more are thrown into Bloom’s ideological blender) as well as for its depiction of extremist Islamic violence. The latter complaints led to Bloom’s publisher requesting a rewrite of that chapter along with the addition of over 350 footnotes to support his claims.
This latest release would seem to be Bloom’s response to this controversy. That Bloom foresees his work will be labeled Islamophobic is made explicit within the text, and it is further anticipated by the presence of 1,930 footnotes that take up over 100 pages. The author can’t be accused of not doing his homework. Written in a disarmingly conversational tone, The Muhammad Code lays out the theory that the most militant forms of Islam pose a direct threat to the secular way of life that exists in Western nations. What is so disturbing about the book is that it posits that the violent atrocities of extremist groups are not anomalies, but are, in fact, in keeping with specific actions of Muhammad during his lifetime. Bloom’s most damning passages target the concept of taqiyya, or “deceit,” which extremist groups believe can be ethically used against non-believers. This concept is leveraged and expanded beyond the threat of the terror groups of the title and into the realm of more mainstream Islam, which finds the book on shaky ground. This is a highly charged—and convenient—theoretical framework that can be used to put words in the mouth of a speaker in a way similar to accusations of “dog whistles” in politics, which are increasingly used to cast doubt on the intended meaning of a particular statement. When Bloom implies that certain groups seen as reformist and moderate are lying and deliberately misrepresenting their faith when speaking to Western audiences, it causes no small amount of discomfort to the reader.
All this might lead one to ask: Who is Howard Bloom, and what are his credentials? He is candid about his Jewish upbringing and discusses this in the book, acknowledging that part of his response to militant Islam is a result of the specifically anti-Semitic beliefs and actions of these sects. Interestingly, he credits his fascination with group behavior and the ways in which these groups can be manipulated to his experience as a publicist for rock and pop acts during the seventies and eighties. Bloom was instrumental in launching Prince to fame, helping the artist latch onto the burgeoning new wave audience. He also formed an organization to protest censorship in the music industry. That Bloom is a man of intellect and big ideas is undeniable, but his research style is that of a deeply curious autodidact. Expanding on thought-provoking ideas by weaving together anecdotes from disparate disciplines puts him in a category that’s different from that of a religious or historical scholar. The Library Journal’s characterization of Bloom’s writing in The Lucifer Principle as “cleverly neat and maddeningly suspicious” perfectly embodies the issues with his latest book. It’s a fascinating document from a specific point of view (and thus another fascinating title from Feral House—a publisher known for its fearless representation of alternative points of view), but deeply flawed as a document of anthropological science.
As an expose of the most militant forms of Islam, The Muhammad Code lays out a nightmarish vision in a compulsively readable format. Where it begins to lose footing is in its assertion that militancy is an inherent part of the religion. By framing Islam as an “empire,” Bloom deliberately sets up an implied life-or-death conflict rather than a difference in belief systems. Though the underpinnings of much of Western government are drawn from Christian sources (as is acknowledged in passing in the book), there is no such accusation of a worldwide Christian empire with its own sinister purpose of regime change and cultural imperialism. As with many true crime books, which have a similar dark appeal up until one realizes the implied agenda of advocating for the prison state and capital punishment, it’s best to approach The Muhammad Code with an ideological distance and an appropriate measure of skepticism as its ideas come from a very specific point of view.