Bat Ye’or

[Presentation to the the International Conference at the
Simon Wiesenthal Centre, Paris, on Monday 11 June 2001]

The perception of the Other in contemporary Arab and Muslim societies is very differentiated; the situation in Turkey can not be compared with the situation in Afghanistan.  Perception of the Other is clearly influenced by history and culture, and if traditional prejudices have never been condemned in a society, they will be all the more meaningful, particularly if they are justified by religious interpretations

At the end of the twentieth century the spiritual leader of the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ movement, Sheikh Yusef al-Qaradawi - interviewed after the visit by Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, Israël Lau, to Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, Sheikh of al-Azhar, on 15 December 1997 - said in a reply that Islamic law divided the People of the Book – Jews and Christians – into three categories:
  1)  non-Muslims in the lands of war;
  2)  non-Muslims in lands of temporary truce;
  3)  non-Muslims protected by Islamic law, that is to say, the dhimmis.  (1)

 The Sheikh made it clear that Islamic law had established different rules for each of these categories.  In a few words the Sheikh had thus summarized the theory of jihad which regulates the relations of Muslims w ith non-Muslims.  This theory was codified and institutionalized as early as the eighth century by Muslim theologians and jurisconsults.  Now, as we see from innumerable calls for jihad and by the day-by-day situation, this ideology impregnates currrent thinking and conduct.

 The inhabitants of the lands of war are people to be fought because they oppose the introduction of Islamic law to their country.  These infidels have no rights, their person and their posessions are licit – to employ the usual formula – for any Muslim whomsoever he may be.  This explains the murders and assassinations of civilians on the roads when occasion presents itself.  Their very existence is considered illegal.
 The infidels from a land of temporary truce are in a state of a respite between two wars.

 The dhimmis are former harbis who have moved from one category - the domain of war (the dar al-harb) - into the category of being a ‘protected’ people (within the dar al-Islam).  They have brought the jihad which threatened them to an end thanks to the magic formula:  ‘land in return for the peace and security of dhimmitude’.  They have ceded their land in exchange for protection.  Islamic law defines their rights which it protects under certain specific conditions (by the dhimma).  This means that the non-Muslim has no rights beyond those specified and protected by Islamic law. This law is the source of non-Muslim rights.  Today, in all the societies mobilized by jihad, this is the interpretation which prevails – and even in Egypt.

 Jihad is a war which would be described as genocidal today, since it orders men to be massacred and women and children to be enslaved, if there is resistance.  These rules were applied during the twentieth century and continue up to the present day in Southern Sudan with the enslavement of the wives and children of rebels.

 The laws of ‘dhimmitude’ – that is to say the relationship with non-Muslims – obey three basic principles:
 - The inferiority of non-Muslims in every domain.  This situation exists today in practically all the Arab countries, in Iran, in Afghanistan, and other countries.
- The vulnerability of the infidel, achieved in the past by the prohibition on his bearing arms and of testifying against a Muslim - which involved a mortal danger in the case of an accusation of blasphemy, a situation which still exists, particularly in Pakistan, and which has caused the assassination of innocent Christians. John Joseph, Bishop of Faisalabad, chairman of the Human Rights Commission establsihed by the Catholic Bshops’ Conference of
Pakistan, committed suicide on 6 May 1998, in order to draw the injustice of these blasphemy laws to the attention of the world.
 - The humiliation and degradation of the non-Muslim, imposed by a very precise body of rules.

 Apart from the military, juridical and social domains just mentioned, which have formed the basis of Muslim and non-Muslim relations for more than a millennium, the divergences also appear in the theological domain, particularly between Jews and Christians on the one hand, and Muslims on the other.  The Islamists believe , on the basis of numerous verses in the Koran, that Islam appeared at the beginning of the Creation and therefore preceded Judaism and Christianity.  Adam, Eve and Noah, regarded as the progenitors of mankind, were Muslims and professed Islam.  It follows from this that mankind is Islamic and, according to a hadith, all children are born Muslim.  This belief authorized the abduction of children from dhimmi communties, a scourge which was endemic throughout the dar al-Islam.

 According to this interpretation, the prophets and personalities mentioned in the Koran, in a version which differs from the Biblical account - are Muslims.  Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Jesus and the apostles, are revered as Muslims and prophets who professed Islam.  It follows from this that the Bible is a falsiified account and that the whole salvific history of Israel, on which Christianity also depends, is an Islamic history.

That is why the rights of Israel in its country are not recognised.  The Jews do not have a history.  The Bible is only a collection of stories.  The history of Israel can be found in the Koran and it is an Islamic history.  In this context, it is clear that references by Israel to Biblical history as being their own, to their kings, to their towns and villages, and to the Jewishness of Jesus, of Mary, and the apostles can only exasperate Islamists.  Naturally, this Islamization of the Bible concerns Christians as much as Jews.

 There is obviously a real problem in the acceptance of the Other, that is to say of otherness.  Mankind is Muslim – although one can find an acceptance of diversity and pluralism in the Koran.  But the theory of jihad has structured the relations with the Other, either through hatred, or in a latent hostility toward the people living in the domain of truce, or the contempt inherent in the condition of dhimmitude.

Every society and religion has developed its own form of fanaticism.  In the Judeo-Christian societies, however, the separation of politics and religion – sometimes, it is true, entirely theoretical - has permitted intolerance and oppression to be challenged.  This is the case in secular Turkey.  The men who fought for the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of the Jews were Christians.  Jews and Christians struggled side by side for the recognition of human rights.  This challenge does not appear in the Muslim world.  There has never been that generosity of spirit toward the oppressed dhimmi, that vision of a brotherhood of man in which the degradation of the dhimmi would represent a crime against mankind.  The Muslim intelligentsia has never condemned jihad as a genocidal war which has exterminated entire peoples  - nor dhimmitude as a dehumanizing and exploitive institution which has given rise to expropriation, slavery, and the deportation of populations whose cultural and historic heritage has been totally destroyed.  As long as this process of self-criticism of its own history remains unaccomplished, it will be impossible to rehabilitate the Other in a human dimension, and past prejudices will continue to be rampant.  It is within this context of jihad  and dhimmitude that the Arab-Israeli conflict is situated, because Israel represents the liberation of its country from the laws of dhimmitude.
(1)  Saut Al-Haqq wa Al-Huriyya, 9 January 1998 (MEMRI, 8 Feb. 1998 (Special Report:  Meeting between the Sheikh of Al-Azhar and the Chief Rabbi of Israel).

* 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


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