Islam vs. liberty
by Charles Cherry
I especially like the sidebar on Dhimmitude:
Dhimmitude past and future
Today, it’s hard to find a Christian who says slavery was righteous because slaves were kept alive. Muslims defend dhimmitude, however, by saying that Muslim conquerors could have expelled or killed Christians and Jews, but deserve credit for letting them live. (Of course, genocide against the inhabitants of conquered nations would have left Arabs with depopulated areas and not much likelihood of repopulating them.)
Some also have praised Islam for giving opportunities to the children of dhimmis. (Muslims often removed children from their Christian or Jewish parents and brought them up in Islam. That went along with the belief that all children are born Muslims and corrupted by parents.) Other defenders of Islam have asserted that dhimmi status was better than anything offered Jews under Christianity. That is generally not true: For example, under Byzantine authority Jews could not purchase any property that the church had, but under Islam they could purchase no property, period. Under the Byzantines, Jews could act as witnesses, but they could not under Islam.
The books of historian Bat Ye’or are full of specific detail. In Persia in 1890, Jewish women had to “expose their faces in public [like prostitutes]. . . . The men must not wear fine clothes, the only material permitted them being a blue cotton fabric. They are forbidden to wear matching shoes. Every Jew is obliged to wear a piece of red cloth on his chest. A Jew must never overtake a Muslim on a public street. . . . If a Muslim insults a Jew, the latter must drop his head and remain silent. . . . The Jew cannot put on his coat; he must be satisfied to carry it rolled under his arm. . . . It is forbidden for Jews to leave the town or enjoy the fresh air of the countryside. . . . Jews must not consume good fruit.”
Muslims showed great patience in psychologically weakening their opponents. For example, authorities would allow bells inside churches but not outside, anticipating that the bells inside would “eventually fall into disuse. For the bells are normally attached to the church steeple so that when rung they may be heard from afar. If they are obliged to ring them within the church, then no one will hear them or pay heed to them and they will be abolished altogether since they will serve no purpose.”
The result of beating and belittlement was obvious to observers in Turkey two centuries ago, who noted that dhimmis have “the most submissive cringing tone,” and in Morocco during the 1870s, who said Jews had terrorized expressions. Should that be surprising? Didn’t Jews have terrorized expressions in Christian-ruled territories? Bat Ye’or argues that “dhimmitude is in no way comparable with the position of Jews in Christendom.” Jews in Europe were an oppressed minority; Christians and Jews in many Muslim countries were oppressed majorities. Persecution of a majority is no different ethically than persecution of a minority, but it requires establishment of a police state rather than just use of the police.
French philosopher Jacques Ellul, in an introduction to Bat Ye’Or’s The Dhimmi, also differentiated the situation of the dhimmi from that of the European serf in the Middle Ages. Serfdom, he noted, “was the result of certain historical changes such as the transformation of slavery . . . when these historical conditions altered, the situation of the serf also evolved until his status finally disappeared.” Dhimmi status, though, “was not the product of the historical accident but . . . the expression of an absolute, unchanging, theologically grounded Muslim conception of the relationship between Islam and non-Islam. It is not a historical accident of retrospective interest, but a necessary condition of existence.”
If Bat Ye’Or is right, we should speak about the Muslim assignment of dhimmi status not in past tense but in present and future tenses as well. As Ellul wrote, “because of Islam’s fixed ideological mode. . . . one must know as exactly as possible what the Muslims did with these unconverted conquered peoples, because that is what they will do in the future (and are doing right now).” Based on the experience of Christians in Sudan and Indonesia, Ellul’s pessimistic realism is well-warranted. Dhimmitude is not merely something to be studied by historians; it still goes on wherever Islam gains an edge. —