(Respondents: George Weigel and Paul Marshall)
and Public Policy Center
2 April 1998
Fifteenth St., N.W.
have no pleasure in the death of the wicked;
that the wicked turn from his way and live..." (Ezekiel 33:11)
I wish to thank Elliott Abrams for giving me the privilege of sharing with
you some reflections on the meaning of Testimony vs. Silence. But
we must first ask ourselves - testimony about what? And also - testifying
for which purpose?
To answer the first question, we can say that the Bible - to mention but
this aspect - testifies to a supra-human and an immanent order of values
or, more simply, to a divine presence within the universe and humanity.
The divine spirit abolished chaos, fixed the limits in human behavior of
what is allowed and what cannot be transgressed on the base of the universal
sanctity of the human being, as announced in Genesis 1:27: "in the image
of God created he him; male and female created he them." The immanence
of the divine in man creates an alliance, a partnership between God and
man, a dual responsibility freely accepted by man, for keeping or testifying
to these supreme ethical norms based on the sanctity of all humans, which
cannot be transgressed. The Bible illustrates the constant struggle between
the testifier, and the destroyer of life or the hater of man.
In the context of my remarks today, the meaning of "testimony" is to stand
up against a tyrant, to denounce injustice and to proclaim the dignity
of all humanity. Although the testifier gives testimony because he has
to do so and cannot escape from this duty, his act implies an inherently
optimistic hope and faith in man - the hope that the heart of the tyrant
will change. With the words in the Psalm: "I will speak of thy testimonies
also before kings, and will not be ashamed." (119:46)
In the long, sad, and painful history of the Judeo-Christian relationship,
the people of Israel has always assumed the role of the witness or testifier,
not because it is any better than others, but because history made them
victims of dehumanizing laws. This is the well-known status of Jewry in
Europe that was abolished at the French Revolution of 1789, and later,
in the 19 century, throughout Western Europe. Because of the Jewish roots
of Christianity, this tradition of dialogue and of the contestation of
power was integrated into the dynamic of history. The emancipation of European
Jewry was a Christian political decision, made on humanitarian principles
- the Jews later joining in the fight for the equality of civil rights.
Because Jews and Christians claim the same ethical values of the Bible,
Christians raised their voices against the deliberate dehumanizing policy
of the people who had first proclaimed their knowledge of God. Jewish testimony
was joined, promoted, and sustained by a Christian engagement. Before,
during and after the Shoah, this partnership held firm despite overwhelming
hatred and cruelty. Since then, Christian engagement in a redemptive work
within the Church has become more forceful.
But testifying is no easy task, as it also brings persecution, loneliness
and despair. Challenging "Evil," unveiling it from behind its ubiquitous
masks is dangerous, an unending life struggle. For the lonely, surviving,
remnant of Israel, constantly bearing testimony to the Shoah in an indifferent
world was an agonizing process. In a world of ashes, Jews unceasingly proclaimed
the dignity and sanctity of man. And they were not alone in testifying.
Many Christians joined them: writers, theologians, and anonymous voices
too. Jews and Christians testified together. The result of this common
action, what I consider as a common prayer - by acts and deeds - led to
the revolutionary theological transformation of Church dogma concerning
the Jews. By testifying together, Jews and Christians initiated profound
spiritual changes. One might even say that through the very act of the
rehumanization of the Jewish victim, the Church rehumanized itself in an
internal process of humility, thereby deepening its own theological reflexion.
* * * *
Now, if we turn to the Islamic lands, we found a very different situation,
where Jews and Christians often declare their "gratitude" to the Islamic
society, and yet few Jews exist today in Arab-Muslim lands and the Christians
are on that same road of exile. By the early 19th century, Judaism was
nearly extinguished in Palestine, the very cradle of Jewish history and
civilization. A similar historic process was at work for Eastern Christianity,
whose roots are in the Middle East, nowadays usually referred to as Arab-Muslim
lands. Except for the Copts of Egypt who still form a sizeable minority,
Christianity would hardly have survived in its Oriental homeland - especially
in Palestine - without the permanent support and protection of Europe.
Islamic law, the shari'a, provides "protection" and security for
the People of the Book - the Bible; it is indeed a basic theological principle.
However, Muslim theologians and jurists attached so many conditions and
humiliations to this real protection that the status of the protected Jews
and Christians - the dhimmis - soon became a status of oppression,
deprivation and insecurity.
This status was regulated by several laws that bound them within a social
pattern of discriminations and insecurity. Instead of "Islamic tolerance,"
or of "toleration," I have called this vast political, religious and cultural
world - from Arabia to Spain and the Balkans, including for some time,
part of Hungary and Poland - the realm of "dhimmitude," from the Arabic
word dhimma: a treaty of submission for those peoples conquered
by jihad. The laws that were applied to the dhimmis, I have
called the laws of "dhimmitude," and the special type of civilization that
developed, I have call the civilization of dhimmitude.
The civilization of dhimmitude is based on two main elements: jihad
- that is, a compulsory religious war of conquest that brings non-Muslim
lands into the realm of Islam; and the subjugation of its native populations.
In other words, the choice is between perpetual war or submission. The
civilization of dhimmitude developed in the context of subjugation and
insecurity. Its main features were the payment of the jizya, a koranic
tribute that became a poll-tax. For early Muslim jurists, the jizya
had two purposes: to enrich the umma, the Islamic community; and
a symbolic meaning: it suspended the jihad threat, which was death,
slavery or the expulsion of non-Muslims. The payment of the jizya
procured for the dhimmi the security for his life, his family and
his personal possessions. One important aspect of dhimmitude is the principle
of the dhimmi's inferiority to Muslims in every walk of life. This
civilization of dhimmitude expanded on three continents, representing millions
of peoples. Over the centuries, populations and entire civilizations disappeared,
or barely survived. The civilization of dhimmitude is composed of numerous
ethnic groups, mainly Christian, and rival Eastern Churches. Documentation
abound, and a few sources may be found in my books.
The civilization of dhimmitude is based on the principle of "protection,"
which is the security for life and property pledged by a Muslim ruler to
non-Muslims, who are subjected to certain conditions - tribute money, or
as a temporary protection (aman). This concept implies that the
right to security of life and property are denied to non-Muslims and are
only granted by the Muslim community according to its own conditions. In
other words, the principle of natural rights for all human beings is denied.
The civilization of dhimmitude is engendered by wars and conquest.
Today, Eastern Christianity looks as if it will disappear from the very
cradle of its birthplace, the Middle East, and one may well ask: Is there
an adequate Christian "testimony" of this drama? Let us see how the various
peoples of dhimmitude conceive their own history. The Greeks recounted
their trials under the Turkish yoke; Serbs did the same in the pre-communist
era, as well as Hungarians, Bulgarians and other Balkan peoples. The Armenians
have written abundantly on the Armenian genocide. Yet, the Chaldean Assyrians
of Iraq have hardly protested against their tribulations. Although the
Copts testified from the beginning of the century, few in the West paid
much attention to their grievances. Recently, Coptic Associations in America
and Canada have succeeded in having their courageous protests published
in the national press about the sufferings of their people and the abuses
of their fundamental human rights. Lebanese Christianity fought, suffered
succumbed with little protests coming from Europe or America. The Sudanese
Christians still suffer from an Islamic regime: jihad and slavery,
abduction, force conversions and destruction have been their lot for decades
and only recently have their cries bess heard. Last year, a Christian Coalition
for the defence of oppressed Eastern Churches began a human rights campaign
here in Washington. Only last week, Paul Marshall, my husband, and I were
in Columbia, South Carolina, participating with others at the First National
Conference on the Persecuted Church, titled "Shattering the Silence," which
drew an audience of several hundreds nationwide. So we see
that there are peoples who are still subjected nowadays to dhimmitude.
A whole Judeo-Christian, Aramaic civilization from pre-Islamic times is
slowly agonizing, while a profound silence prevails. Recently, a handful
of books have been written on the subject in French, but generally there
is an unwritten consensus to praise the historico-religious record of "Islamic
tolerance" toward non-Muslims. Let me ennumerate some of the reasons that
have lead to this:
related to the Muslim society:
1. The idea that Jews and Christians have suffered under Islamic
law is totally rejected by the dominant group - the Muslims, and this for
several reasons based on theological grounds:
a) Islamic law cannot be defective since it must be perfect, being considered
a divine law. Therefore it cannot be unjust and the suffering of infidels
under that rule is deserved since it represent the justice of Allah.
b) The shari'a should not be criticized, and Christians and Jews
cannot say it has any defect whatsoever.
c) While, in the Bible, the religious function should be separated from
the political one, in Islam political and religious power must be united.
The non-separation of politic and religion confer a fixed religious and
sacred caracter to politics.
d) An absence of Muslim support on behalf of dhimmis since the conception
of their relations with non-Muslims is determined by the principles of
and protection, which granted to the Muslims the feeling of being generous.
Without this "passport" of protection (aman), no
the name for all non-Muslims from the dar al-harb, the region of
war - could enter the dar al-Islam, the region of Islam, unless
he accepted to become a dhimmi.
related to the dhimmis:
The divisions and conflicts between the diverse dhimmi churches. Any protests
against the oppression of the laws implies a minimum of consensus between
Armenians, Maronites, Assyrians, Copts, Melchites, Greeks and the Slavonic
Churches. Since the laws of "dhimmitude" applied equally to Jews and Christians,
this also required a consensus with the Jews, and this was impossible for
the Eastern Churches.
There are other reasons to explain this political impotence: the vulnerability
of small, insecure, Christian communities; the religious leadership's subserviance
to the Muslim power; their economical interests; the total and deliberate
obfuscation of their dhimmi past.
related to the Western powers:
Here we can mention the pro-Islamic policy of the Western powers; their
economic interests in the Muslim world; the all-too-frequent concealement
of the truth by the media and Western governments; and their deliberate
refusal to transmit this local reality to the public for fear: 1) of Muslim
terrorism; 2) anti-Islamic reactions in the West; 3) economical and political
retaliations from Muslim countries.
Denouncing the injustice of dhimmitude meant a feeling of solidarity with
all its victims - Christians of all denominations, and with Jews. It meant
having the profound conviction that all men are equal, and that no one
should be demonized. Laws that were unjust for Christians cannot be considered
"just" for Jews - unless Jews had first to be demonized. Testifying to
the great tragedy of dhimmitude implied a sense of togetherness that never
I am convinced that Christian involvement in the Arab-Islamic jihad,
first against Zionism in the late 19th century, and then against Israel
- throughout this century - was the main cause for the obfuscation of dhimmi
history and the lack of testimony about the sufferings of Christian dhimmis.
The source of all Evil had to be projected onto Zionism and Israel, whereas
it is an historic fact that the causes for Christian oppression in the
East are rooted in the doctrine of jihad and in the laws and civilization
of dhimmitude. Because the trials and tribulations of Christians in Islamic
countries and their causes - the rules of dhimmitude - had to be hidden,
Christian history became a well-guarded secret, a secret that had to be
concealed and never revealed. The Islamic-Christian alliance in an anti-Zionist
Crusade led the Christians to testify against Israel. And because the significance
of the restoration of Israel in this region of the world symbolizes the
abolition of jihad and of the laws of dhimmitude, the engagement
of Christians in the anti-Israel jihad has contributed to the decline
of Christianity itself.
Let me conclude these brief remarks on a complicated subject. It is this
lack of testimony that has brought back the evils and the prejudices of
the past - the jihad mentality, and the laws of dhimmitude that
were only abolished by the colonial European powers. And now, more and
more, because of this lack of testimony, we see moderate Muslims themselves
being persecuted. Because they were indifferent to the humiliation of Jews
and Christians, because they remained silent and aloof, they now find themselves
- in Algeria, Egypt, and elsewhere - suffering from cruel injustices and
barbarism. Testifying together, giving testimony against dhimmitude, would
have allowed Muslim intellectuals to rethink their whole relationship with
the People of the Bible - and with all non-Muslims, and this without renouncing
their faith. Such an attitude would have brought all of us together in
the fight against tyrannical oppression, against the process of dehumanization.
This is what could had been done and what was not done.
Bat Ye'or is the author of The Dhimmi. Jews and Christians under Islam
(1985, 4th pr. 1996) & The Decline of Eastern Christianity under
Islam. From Jihad to Dhimmitude. 7th to 20th Century (1996) Email [email protected]
Bat Ye'or 2001