Book Review: The Dhimmi

I've recently put up a list of books I've either read in the past months or am in the process of reading now. I'd like to give a general review of each book as I finish, but I also have a bit of a backlog in that area.. so here's the first one.

The Dhimmi: Jews & Christians Under Islam, by Bat Ye'or

I read this book sometime in the past year, and it is not as fresh in my mind as it was when I first read it. However, there were some points in it that made quite an impression on me.

To understand the book, I think it is first important to understand the author. Bat Ye'or is a pseudonym, meaning "Daughter of the Nile" in Hebrew. Bat Ye'or was indeed a Daughter of the Nile - a Jew, she was born in Egypt. Due to their Judaism her family was forced to flee, leaving Egypt in 1957.

I had witnessed the destruction, in a few short years, of a vibrant Jewish community living in Egypt for over 2,600 years and which had existed from the time of Jeremiah the Prophet. I saw the disintegration and flight of families, dispossessed and humiliated, the destruction of their synagogues, the bombing of the Jewish quarters and the terrorizing of a peaceful population. I have personally experienced the hardships of exile, the misery of statelessness−and I wanted to get to the root cause of all this. I wanted to understand why the Jews from Arab countries, nearly a million, had shared my experience.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part gives an analysis of the laws discrimminating the Dhimmi (ie, Jews and Christians) in the Muslim world, as well as the various safeguards, such as consular protection and then the emancipation forced by the European powers that helped them escape their downtrodden condition. Bat Ye'or then moves on to a discussion of how the Muslims view the Dhimmi today, how they use these terms and what has evolved/changed in the past century. So, for example, we see in the recent past the claims that the Muslims are the real Jews (ie, taking away the Dhimmi's very existence in history) and there are similar claims regarding Christianity.

The 2nd part, which is much more extensive (~250 pages), consists of documents from different time periods and different locations throughout the Arab world showing how the Dhimmi were treated. Bat Ye'or brings documents from Muslim jurists, Dhimmi observations of their own situation as well as documents from travellers who passed through Muslim lands and recorded their impressions.

I confess I did not read all the documents, but mainly the documents referenced in the main part of the text.

I was already aware of the general condition of the non-Muslims in Muslim countries, having studied this subject in the past, but there were several points which struck me when I read this book.

1. The book shows how noble are those peoples who have managed to hang on to their religion through the ages of Muslim rule. Yes, there have always been time when the situation wasn't as bad as it could be, but there were other times when most people either fled or converted to Islam. In discussions about the minorities under Islam it is important to keep in mind that the minorities which remained did so despite enormous pressures. In some places - such as Arabia - they have been completely wiped out.

2. Most Jewish communities in Muslim lands have been decimated, the Jews forced to flee in the past 50 years, but there are still minorities in existence, mainly the Christians. According to Bat Ye'or the Christian community is in a very difficult situation, mainly because they see themselves as Arab and feel they share in the Arab destiny. Though on the surface they are accepted, Bat Ye'or feels (and brings quotes to support her position) that this is only a temporary situation. Many Muslims tolerate the Arab Christians and enable them to fight "for the cause", but feel that once these goals will be achieved, they would then be able to turn to "cleaning out" the Arab nation and making it into a fully Muslim one, as it should be.

3. I got a general impression from the book that there is nothing to be done. The relation of the Muslim to the non-Muslim is inherent in Islam. It is very hard for me to accept, as I believe that people can change. However, I do realize where Bat Ye'or is coming from. Having grown up believing she was part of the society in which she grew up, she was forced to realize that indeed she wasn't - it did not matter that her family had lived in Egypt for generations, she was still an outsider in a Muslim country.

I still think that we cannot face the future without believing that this situation can be changed. In fact, I think that it is wrong to face the future otherwise. This situation will never change as long as the world as a whole accepts the fact that Muslims cannot live alongside non-Muslims (as it did this past August when all Jews were forced out of Gaza and as it does when it stays silent when Christians are oppressed). It is up to the Western world to press the point and to make sure that non-Muslims can live safely within Muslim countries, just as Muslims can live safely in non-Muslim lands.

9 comments:

Pim's Ghost said...

Excellent review. I am familiar with the works of Ye'or, and treasure them. The situation of Dhimmis in the world is an outrage that remains almost unnoticed, which is why works like those of Bat Ye'or are so important.

I myself am a descendent of Ionian Greeks who were forced to flee from Asia Minor after the Turks began to slaughter the native Christian population of that land, another outrage that has remained for the most part covered up. Without scholars like Bat Ye'or and Ibn Warraq (among others) to write about the plight of non-muslims in muslim lands, their constant abuse would be completely invisible.

Snouck said...

Esther
"3. I got a general impression from the book that there is nothing to be done. The relation of the Muslim to the non-Muslim is inherent in Islam. It is very hard for me to accept, as I believe that people can change."

Snouck:
Yes, people can change. For the better. And for the worse. Do not make your self dependent on it.

Esther:
"In fact, I think that it is wrong to face the future otherwise."

Snouck:
Obviously I disagree. Your and mine future does not and cannot depend on the behaviour of others. Westerners should make themselves strong, so that others can not damage them.

Westerners should also leave Muslims alone. If they want to remain idiots, they are free to do so. That is why I do not agree with democratisation of the Middle East, using military force.

Esther:
"as a whole accepts the fact that Muslims cannot live alongside non-Muslims (as it did this past August when all Jews were forced out of Gaza and as it does when it stays silent when Christians are oppressed). "

Snouck:
That is a VERY good point and it needs to be repeated often.

Esther said...

Snouck, I'm not sure I understood what you do or don't agree with. Do you agree that the Western world should demand that Muslims enable non-Muslims to live peacefully among them?

I do not expect people to change on their own, but I think that just in the past decade we have seen far reaching changes (ie, the fall of communism) that nobody had expected earlier, and these changes were forced by the Western World waking up and deciding to do something about the current situation, with either political pressure but more importantly - economic pressure.

As for democratization - I think that calling what's happening in Iraq "democracy" is misleading. Giving people the right to vote and putting up democratic institutions is just the first step in democracy. What democracy really means is protection of basic human rights, and that is something that currently does not exist in Iraq.

The West is so gang-ho on elections that they do not realize that there are far more important things. The best example being Hamas's election in the Palestinian Authority. Yes, the Palestinians got their right to free vote, but Hamas stands against basic human rights and even worse - their rise to power ensures that there will be no democractic reform in any other Arab/Muslim country.

I hope to right up an article on this issue in the near future.

Pim's Ghost said...

Considering the history of non-muslims in muslim ruled lands, or the dhimmis, I would say that laws preventing the enactment of the "dhimma" (the actual "agreement" by which non-Muslims are subjugated be put in place universally. There is nothing in Islamic history that would suggest that treatment of the "infidels" would not continue if they were to gain a significant power base in the West. Especially as dhimmis provide revenue in the form of the forced "jizya", or poll tax and are often refused the opportunity to even convert to Islam so as to preserve this revenue.

As such, I agree with Snouck, we must make ourselves strong. We must not be made dhimmis in our own lands. Dhimmitude has reigned long enough in this world as it is!

Esther said...

I see no contradiction here. The West should make sure it can protect itself, and force the Muslim world to upkeep human rights.

As Muslims like to point out, being a Jew throughout most of Europe's history was not easy. Jews were taxed special taxes as well and kept around only as long as they could keep the feudal lord rich. However, just as Europe changed its ways, so can the Arab lands.

Many leftist groups think it is unjust to tell other cultures how to act. However, when it comes to basic human rights, assuming that it is "ok" for others to ignore them is latent racism.

Snouck said...

Esther:
"Do you agree that the Western world should demand that Muslims enable non-Muslims to live peacefully among them?"

Snouck:
well, we could ask them politely, but we can demand nothing. If they want to be nice to minorities, they will be nice to them. If they want to be nasty to them we can stand on our heads, shout at them, bomb them or occupy their countries, but it will not help the minorities one little bit. Outside forces cannot create tolerance and understanding. Look at the "peace force operations". The Dutch send troops all over the world under the flag of the UN to go to countries were there is civil war and all they can do is look on while the locals kill each other.

Same with Lebanon after the Israeli invasion on 1982. The Israelis were just sitting there in the Shouf mountains while the Christians and Druze were killing each other. So you got one of the most feared armies in the world and a bunch of Mafiosi with machine guns and still the Israeli army could not stop the fighting.

Same in Iraq now. Sunnis and Shias fighting. Most expensive army in the world trying to built a peace. But the fighting is only getting worse.

What on Earth can Israel possibly to the Palestians to make them stop killing each other and stop attacking Jews? The only thing that seems to be helping is the wall. Keep them out. And wait.

Esther:
"I do not expect people to change on their own, but I think that just in the past decade we have seen far reaching changes (ie, the fall of communism) that nobody had expected earlier, and these changes were forced by the Western World waking up and deciding to do something about the current situation, with either political pressure but more importantly - economic pressure."

Snouck:
Well, communism and Islam are not the same. Communism promises heaven on Earth and everybody could see that it was not. Islam promises Heaven after death. Well, nobody can check that one out, can they?

Esther:
"As Muslims like to point out, being a Jew throughout most of Europe's history was not easy. Jews were taxed special taxes as well and kept around only as long as they could keep the feudal lord rich. However, just as Europe changed its ways, so can the Arab lands."

Snouck:
We will have to see how long the West keeps on being so nice to minorities. My prognosis is that this system will break down because it is pushed too hard by the elite on the people. And if I were a Jew I would not trust the Europeans too much. That is why you have Israel, to be the masters of your own fate. So keep control of your own destiny and do not depend on the Muslims to change for the better.

Btw, if I were a Muslim I would be really annoyed by a Westerner who tried to tell me how to treat my minorities.

People are not like computers, you can not program with tolerance from outside. And dragging "racism" in the debate is silly. The causes of the behavior of large groups of people (nations, religions) are multifold, therefore isolating one possible cause and then using it as an argument against a position is illogical.

I could write more, but it is getting late. I'll drink my tea and go to bed. Sleep well in Israel!

Esther said...

Snouck,

I think this debate requires more than just what blogspot offers on comments. But in any case.. I was not talking about forcing people by force. There are far better ways to convince people to change their ways. The West should not come with guns blazing into Saudi Arabia and force them to allow Christians to enter Mecca. They can simply stop exports/imports. Nobody is forcing anybody here - it is the Muslim's right to ignore basic human rights, and it is the West's right to decide whether in that case they will conduct business with them.

I know things are not easy, diplomatically speaking, but that is my general outlook.

The West decided now to continue supporting the PA despite them electing a non-democratic, pro-Islamic state terrorist organization. It is their right to elect whoever they wish, and it is the US/Europe's right to demand that such groups will not be on the ballot if they are to continue receiving aid.

What else can be done? As you said, the West should make sure it keeps to its own freedoms and beliefs. Additionally, the West should do as much as possible to protect its own people who are living under Muslim control.

As for Europe and the Jews.. I tend to agree. As I once wrote to a Muslim debater - the first people to suffer from Muslim hatred in Europe will be the Jews. Indeed, I think that right now they are suffering from both sides and it is no coincidence that the Jews are fleeing France now, the European country with the highest percentage of Muslims.

Snouck said...

Esther:
"But in any case.. I was not talking about forcing people by force."

Snouck:
Haaa, so you want to force people using warm, fuzzy, furry, cuddly stuff.

... could not resist it. Snideforce too strong.

Esther:
"They (the West) can simply stop exports/imports. Nobody is forcing anybody here - it is the Muslim's right to ignore basic human rights, and it is the West's right to decide whether in that case they will conduct business with them."


Snouck:
well, the West would not agree. Only when its core would obviously undeniably be threatened would the West respond as a block. Even if there was a partial boycott then part of the West or Asia would supply that which Saudi needs. And I would be there trying to make money too. Yep, I am that kind of bastard.
Look my uncle works in Saudi three months per year. He is a Christian. He thinks the people are idiots. Still, the money is good. He gets along with the people and likes adventure. No problem really!

Esther:
"The West decided now to continue supporting the PA despite them electing a non-democratic, pro-Islamic state terrorist organization. It is their right to elect whoever they wish, and it is the US/Europe's right to demand that such groups will not be on the ballot if they are to continue receiving aid."

Snouck:
You are right. Supporting these Hamas terrorists is wrong. I really wish my country and the EU of which I am an unhappy part would stop it. Perhaps when things get worse here we can get the bosses of UN to change this policy. If terrorist attacks keep on hitting Europe people will start to see it is wrong to support terrorists elsewhere.

Esther:
"the first people to suffer from Muslim hatred in Europe will be the Jews."

Snouck:
The Jews are our canary in the coal mine. What will happen today to the Jews will soon happen to the other Europeans. In fact this already started. People are leaving Holland because of problems with Muslims.

Esther said...

Snouck,

Sadly, I agree with you. People will go for the money, even when they support their worst enemies by doing so. Cause and effect are not easy to see in life, and even when they are, temptation's too strong.