Review: The Myth of Islamic Tolerance: How Islamic Law Treats non-Muslims, Edited by Robert Spencer, Prometheus Books (2005)
“A thing without a name escapes understanding,” warns preeminent Islamic scholar Bat Ye’or of jihad and dhimmitude—the Islamic institutions of, respectively, war and perpetual servitude imposed on conquered non-Muslim peoples. Both, Ye’or notes in an essay entitled “Historical Amnesia,” are in the process of globalization.
This is not the benign economic globalization that most Westerners laud. Islamic jihad and dhimmitude trade in every available means—military, political, technological and intellectual. And if the towering collection of 63 essays (including Ye’or’s) contained in the new book The Myth of Islamic Tolerance: How Islamic Law Treats Non-Muslims is to be believed, these specific Islamic processes are globalizing at a disturbingly rapid pace. The book, courageously assembled by JihadWatch director and FrontPage columnist Robert Spencer, provides historical and contemporary profiles of jihad and dhimmitude.
In six sections, the book delineates how Islamic ideology has affected non-Muslims both historically and in the contemporary world. The first three sections cover the myth vs. historical realities and Islamic law and practice regarding non-Muslims. The last three sections cover how the myth of Islamic tolerance has affected contemporary geopolitics, power politics at the United Nations and, finally, academic and public discourse. It is Ibn Warraq’s forward and the latter 400 pages in which this book really shines. He explains:
Islam is a totalitarian ideology that aims to control the religious, social and political life of mankind in all its aspects; the life of its followers without qualification; and the life of those who follow the so-called tolerated religions to a degree that prevents their activities from getting in the way of Islam in any way. And I mean Islam, I do not accept some spurious distinction between Islam and ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ or Islamic terrorism’.
The September 11, 2001 murderers acted canonically. They followed Sharia, a collection of theoretical laws and ideals “that apply in any ideal Muslim community.” This body of regulations, based on divine authority, according to devout Muslims “must be accepted without criticism, without doubts and questions.” It sacrifices the individual’s desires and good to those of the community.
“Expressing one’s opinion or changing one’s religion” are punishable by death. That apostasy is not today mentioned in the legal codes of most Islamic countries, Warraq notes, hardly implies freedom of religion for Muslims in those states; their penal codes are filled with Islamic laws. The myth of Islamic tolerance is defied by the massacre and extermination of the Zoroastrians in Iran; the million Armenians in Turkey; the Buddhists and Hindus in India; the more than six thousand Jews in Fez, Morocco, in 1033; hundreds of Jews killed in Cordoba between 1010 and 1013; the entire Jewish community of Granada in 1066; the Jews in Marrakesh in 1232; the Jews of Tetuan, Morocco in 1790; the Jews of Baghdad in 1828; and so on ad nauseum.
Ironically, despite Islam’s immutability, the myth evolved through the Western propensity to criticize its civilization. In 98 CE, Roman historian Tacitus in Germania compared the noble simplicity of the Germans with the vices of contemporary Rome. Michele do Montaigne (1533-1592) in circa 1580 painted noble savages based on dubious secondhand information in order to condemn his own civilization.
Later writers substituted Islam for savages to condemn Christendom and materialism. In 1686-89, for example, Huguenot pastor Pierre Jurieu exclaimed that Christians had spilt more blood on St. Bartholemew’s Day than had the Saracens in all their persecutions of Christians. Of course, Islam had claimed millions of lives—in 1399, Taimur killed 100,000 Hindus in a single day. But during the 17th century, and later the Enlightenment, writers perpetuated the “two ideal prototypes, the noble savage and the wise and urbane Oriental,” substituting Turks for Muslims, and Islamic tolerance for Turkish tolerance.
Actually, 18th century Turkey was no interfaith utopia. In 1758, a British ambassador noted that Sultan Mustafa III had non-Muslim Christians and Jews executed for wearing banned clothing. In 1770, another ambassador reported that Greeks, Armenians and Jews seen outside their homes after dark were hanged. In 1785, a third noted that Muslim mobs had dismantled churches after Christians had secretly repaired them.
“The golden age of equal rights was a myth, and belief in it was a result, more than a cause, of Jewish sympathy for Islam,” Bernard Lewis wrote in 1968 in the Encyclopedia of Islam. “The myth was invented in 19th century Europe as a reproach to Christians—and taken up by Muslims in our own time as a reproach to Jews….”
Until the late 19th century, Jews in North Africa, Yemen and other oriental Muslim lands, were obliged to live isolated, in special quarters, and “were constrained to wear distinctive clothing.” They could not carry arms (including canes), and could not give sworn testimony in Muslim jurisdictions. Even in 1968, an Egyptian sheikh explained at Cairo’s preeminent Islamic University of al-Azhar, “we say to those who patronize the Jews that the latter are dhimmis, people of obligation, who have betrayed the covenant in conformity with which they have been accorded protection.” The late president Anwar el-Sadat declared in 1972, “They shall return and be as the Koran said of them: ‘condemned to humiliation and misery’.”
Western failure to recognize this subservient condition, much less its historical or contemporary results, has put democratic civilization in danger. Organizations have been founded to promote jihad and dhimmitude through the imposition of the Sharia. The International Institute of Islamic Thought, for example, was established in 1981 to Islamify Western history and thought. Similarly, the Organization of Islamic Conference ruled in 1990 that the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam—implementing the Sharia—supersedes the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Even Arabist calls for universal mobilization of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are a form of jihad, as was Egyptian attorney Fouad Abdel-Moneim Riad‘s call to treat all Israeli civilians as war criminals. The notion here—categorization and demonization of all infidels—is fundamental to jihad. Thus when church spokesman Archbishop Desmond Tutu supports Riad’s pronouncement, he too supports jihad.
In this context, “Servile flattery is the ransom [paid to avoid] economic and terrorist reprisals.” Thus Western thinkers succumb to jihad and dhimmitude when we refuse to identify the Turkish perpetration of Armenian genocide, or (conversely) present Andalusia—complete with harems, eunuchs, and Christian slaves—as a perfect model of multicultural societies for the West” to emulate in the 21st century.
The West has built historical negationism as the “cornerstone of its economic, strategic, and security relationships with Muslim countries.” One sign is the increasingly hostile international attitude towards Israel. Failing to recognize the Muslim jihad against Israel, which “symbolizes the liberation of the Jewish people from dhimmitude in their homeland,” also adversely affects remnant indigenous Christian communities throughout the Middle East. Their dhimmitude has deteriorated since the Armenian genocide and the 1933 massacres of Christians in Iraq. Historical amnesia, Bat Ye’or warns, allowed the decolonization of Arab Muslim nations to be accompanied by re-introduction of jihad, dhimmitude and sharia.
Only testimony can counter the pathological trends. Thus, Walid Phares and Bat Ye’or tackle the forgotten tragedy of the Middle Eastern Christiansâ€”10 to 12 million Egyptian Copts; 1.5 Lebanese Maronites, Orthodox, Melkites and others; 7 million Anglican, Protestant and Catholic southern Sudanese Africans; 1 million Christian Syrians; 1 million Iraqi Assyrians, Nestorians, Chaldeans, and Jacobites; 500,000 Iranian Persian, Armenian and Assyrian Christians; and perhaps 100,000 Christian Arab Palestinians. Patrick Sookhdeo and Mark Durie also cover the alarming rise of anti-Christian persecutions in Nigeria, Sudan, Pakistan and Indonesia. After September 11, 2001, attacks on Christians increased precipitously.
Ironically, what caused obfuscation of minority Christians’ situation was 19th and 20th century Christian involvement in the Arab-Islamic jihad—against Zionism and Israel. Whereas Christian oppression in the East is “rooted in the doctrine of jihad—and dhimmitude, projecting all evil onto Israel and Zionism prevented testimony and hid Eastern Christian history and suffering.
But for decades, secretly or openly, Middle Eastern Christians have praised the Israeli liberation model, and hoped to emulate it. The Arab reaction has been to falsely claim the Middle East as an Arab and Muslim region, denying the rights of all non-Arab, non-Muslim populations, to isolate these minorities from one another and somehow eliminate them within predominantly Arab and Muslim states.
Another arena requiring testimony is dhimmitude in Western institutions. This is “epitomized,” writes Mark Durie, “in the slavish attitude adopted by Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,” in a 2002 statement to the Organization of the Islamic Conference Symposium on Human Rights in Islam in Geneva. Like a dhimmi, she affirmed the greatness and moral superiority of Islam, implying inferiority of non-Muslim infidels, and denied any possible voice of protest against Islamic abuses of human rights.
Not surprisingly, Islamism is growing at the UN, too. On August 5, 1990, explains David Littman, the 19 members of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers adopted the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI). This document very specifically subjugates all human rights to those accorded by Islam.  The CDHRI totally contradicts the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Yet the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in December 1997 published it, establishing its authority as a quotable UN source. For example, the 26-member Sub-Commission on Human Rights referred to it in the preamble of a resolution adopted on August 21, 1998. That Islamic human rights is gaining ascendancy and credence at the UN should be of concern to all Human Rights activists and organizations.
Dhimmitude is also developing at universities and in governments worldwide. This owes to the nearly ubiquitous influence of Edward Said, according to Ibn Warraq, despite his “third world intellectual terrorism.” The tautology-filled Orientalism accuses orientalists of somehow preparing the ground for western imperialism, but haughtily dismisses “books and journals in Arabic (and doubtless in Japanese, various Indian dialects, and other Oriental languages)” revealing “contempt for the non-European, negative attitudes toward the Orient far greater than that of some imperialists he constantly condemns.” Worse, Said ignores innumerable orientalists—including the German school that created the Middle Eastern, Islamic and Arabic Studies field—and hailed from a nation with zero imperial interests.
To break the disastrous logjam created by this trend, it is essential to discuss the heretofore taboo subjects of jihad dhimmitude in policy and educational forums. This book can help to turn the tide, if only significant numbers read it.
Articles 24 and 25 of the CDHRI state “All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Shari’a” and “This Islamic Shari’a is the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification of any of the articles of this Declaration.”
 The preamble expressed dismay and concern were over women’s rights in Afghanistan, but nevertheless, stated that it was “fully aware that the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam… guarantees the rights of women in all fields.”
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