The person above is a professor at a “Research 1” university. He clearly does not know that Cato was a Plebian. That he held the position of Tribune of the Plebs, which existed to allow for Plebian political rights within the Roman system when Patricians were dominant.
As it is, decades before Cato the Younger’s career, the Plebian nobility had obtained nearly all the privileges of the Patricians. The main exceptions were particular religious priesthoods. In some ways, this left the Plebian nobility with more power than Patricians, because they also were able to become Tribunes of the Plebs, an office banned to Patricians (The Patrician Publius Clodius Pulcher had himself adopted by a Plebian so he could obtain this office).
In any case, this broadside against the Cato Institute because it is named after a “bad bad man” has prompted me to write about something that has been on my mind: two billion human beings see in Muhammad an exemplar, but the Muhammad himself is eminently cancelable.
There are two primary issues I want to bring up:
1) Muhammad owned slaves. Yes, he was kind to them, but the Prophet of God owned slaves.
2) The consummation of his marriage to Aisha when she was nine years old seems highly likely if the historical Muhammad existed.
As most of you know, I have been reading Muhammad and the Empires of Faith. The author’s analysis comes to the conclusion that the tradition that Muhammad married Aisha when she was six and consummated the marriage when she was nine is credible. Aside from the traditional textual analysis, it seems that this practice was actually known in Arabia at the time. In other words, it was socially normative in the milieu in which Muhammad existed. Jonathan Brown, a noted historian, and conservative Muslim, also accepts the validity of this tradition of Muhammad and Aisha’s relationship.
Where does that leave us? I am not a Muslim. I am an atheist. I think someone like Muhammad did exist, but my confidence is modest. Additionally, I’m still not sure that this tradition is accurate, and reflects reality. But, the joint probability is probably in the range of 50% in my estimation.
But, I was raised a Muslim, and I remember what we were taught about the Prophet, Peace Be Upon Him. He was understood to be an exemplar of humanity. There are various reasons to be skeptical of this…he was, after all, a man of the sword as well as religion. But the fact that may have consummated his marriage with Aisha at the age of nine leaves me appalled in a very deep way.
At the time I was reading Muhammad and the Empires of Faith this very popular tweet about Joseph Smith was brought to my attention:
There are a few details that need to be fleshed out. Smith had sex with teens. He was technically an ephebophile. Second, Mormonism was not notably racist during the period of Smith’s life. Much of the racism came to the fore under Brigham Young and his successors. Also, Mormon racism was general but particularly notable against people of African ancestry (other nonwhite people were seen somewhat differently).
I think Joseph Smith is much more likely to be “canceled” than Muhammad. First, Smith lived in the 19th century. That’s much closer to us. Second, the Church of Latter-Day Saints is perceived to be white, even though most of the world’s LDS are now nonwhite. Finally, the LDS and affiliated movements have active memberships in the range of tens of millions. There are two billion Muslims.
The question of Muhammad is only interesting because it illustrates the calculus of cancellation. We know that it is unlikely there will be a Twitter hashtag #cancelMuhammad outlining his ownership of slaves, his genocide against defeated foes, in particular Jews, and, his pedophilia. In fact, I am very careful not to say stridently anti-Muslim things on Twitter, because past experience indicates that Twitter is very censorious of this. A #cancelMuhammad hashtag would probably get you canceled from the platform!
As Ezra Klein has said, questions of speech and freedom are about power. The Ummah has power, and it shall never err in consensus.
Always mind the power-level when you target someone.