They said: The Challenge of Islamism Today

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   The Challenge of Islamism Today

  U.S. Congressional Briefing (Open)

  Human Rights Caucus

 Subject: The Persecution of Christians Worldwide

 Guest Speakers:

Bat Ye’or

 The Baroness Cox

 The Revd. Canon Patrick Augustine

  1st Event: Tuesday, 29 April 1997 (2:00-4:00pm)

 Opening Statement


 Bat Ye’or



  The Challenge of Islamism Today




Basic text used by Bat Ye’or for the above event, and also for a Briefing Seminar Freedom House (30 April). With her oral statement at a Congressional Hearing Ceremony on Capitol Hill, this written text was incorporated into the Congressional Record of that day, Thursday, 1 May.




Headline: TESTIMONY: BAT YE’OR. Author (Geneva, SWITZERLAND)


Thursday, 1 May 1997, 10:00 AM SD-419






Panel 1: The Honorable Frank Wolf (R-VA). U.S. House of Representatives


Panel 2: Mr. Steven Coffey (Principal Deputy of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor)


Panel 3: Bat Ye’or; Ms. Nina Shea (Freedom House); Dr. Walid Phares, (Prof. International Relations, Florida Atlantic University, Miami, FL.)



Mr. Chairman, Members of Congress, Ladies and Gentlemen:


PAST IS PROLOGUE. These words are engraved on the pediment of the Archives building in Washington. The English source is probably Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and the original perhaps Ecclesiastes (1:9). I have chosen this motto for my Statement today and shall first give



 An Historical Overview of the Persecution of Christians under Islam.


To fully understand the present tragic situation of Christians in Muslim lands, one must comprehend the ideological and historical pattern that is conducive to violations of human rights, even though this pattern does not seem to be a deliberate, monolithical, anti-Christian policy. However, as this structure is integrated into the corpus of Islamic law  (the shari’a), it functions in those countries that either apply the shari’a in full, or whose laws are inspired by it.


 The historical pattern of Muslim-Christian encounters developed soon after the Prophet Muhammad’s death in 632. Muslim-Christian relations were then regulated by two legal-theological systems: one based on jihad, the other on the shari’a. A Jihad should not be compared to a Crusade – or to any other war. The strategy and tactics of jihad are minutely fixed by theological rules, which the calif or ruler, wielding both spiritual and political power, must obey. The jihad practiced now in Sudan is conducted according to its traditional rules. One could affirm that all “jihad” groups today conform to these decrees.

 It is an historical fact that all the Muslims countries around the southern and eastern Mediterranean were Christian lands before being conquered, during a millenium of jihad under the banner of Islam. Those vanquished populations – here I am referring only to Christians and Jews – were then “protected,” providing they submitted to the Muslim ruler’s conditions. Therefore, “protection” in the context of a conquest is the consequence of a war, and this is a very important notion.


  In April 1992, for instance, religious leaders in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan region – who were “publicly supported at the highest government level” – issued a fatwa, which stated: “An insurgent who was previously a Muslim is now an apostate; and a non-Muslim is a non-believer standing as a bulwark against the spread of Islam, and Islam has granted the freedom of killing both of them.” This fatwa appears in a 1995 Report to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights by the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on Sudan, Dr. Gaspar Biro. (ECOSOC, E/CN.4/1996/62, para.97a) This religious text gives the traditional definition of a harbi (someone living in the Dar al-harb, the “region of war”), an infidel who has not been subjected by jihad, and therefore whose life and property -according to classical texts of Islamic jurists – is thus forfeited to any Muslim. (It also gives a definition of an apostate who can be killed – the cases of Salman Rushdie in 1989, Farag Foda in 1992, and Taslima

Nasreen in 1994 are other examples where the death sentence was decreed)


 Non-Muslims are protected only if they submit to Islamic domination by a “Pact” – or Dhimma – which imposes degrading and discriminatory regulations. In my books, I have provided documents from Islamic sources and from the vanquished peoples, establishing a sort of classification so that the origins, development and aims of these regulations can be recognized when they are revived nowadays. I am only referring to Christians and Jews, because they share the same Islamic theological and legal category, referred to in the Koran as “People of the Book” – the word “people” is in the singular. If they accept to submit to a Muslim ruler, they then become “protected dhimmi peoples” – tributaries, since their protection is linked to an obligatory payment of a koranic poll-tax (the jizya) to the Islamic community (the umma).


 This protection is abolished: – if the dhimmis should rebel against Islamic law; give allegiance to non-Muslim power; refuse to pay the koranic jizya; entice a Muslim from his faith; harm a Muslim or his property; commit blasphemy. Blasphemy includes denigration of the Prophet Muhammad, the Koran, the Muslim faith, the shari’a by suggesting that it has a defect, and by refusing the decision of the ijma – which is the consensus of the Islamic community or umma (Koran III: 106). The moment the “pact of protection” is abolished, the jihad resumes, which means that the lives of the dhimmis and their property are forfeited. Those Islamists in Egypt who kill and pillage Copts consider that these Christians – or dhimmis – have forfeited their “protection” because they do not pay the jizya.


 In other words, this “protector-protected” relationship is typical of a war-treaty between the conqueror and the vanquished, and this situation remains valid for Islamists because it is fixed in theological texts. But it should be emphasized that other texts in the Koran stress religious tolerance and peaceful relations, which frequently existed. Nonetheless, early jurists and theologians – invoking the koranic principle of the “abrogation” of an earlier text by a later one – have established an extremist doctrine of jihad, which is a collective duty.


 The protection system presents both positive and negative aspects: it provide security and a mesure of religious autonomy. On the other hand, dhimmis suffered many legal disabilities intended to reduce them to a condition of humiliation and segregation. Those rules were established as early as the 8th and 9th centuries by the founders of the four schools of Islamic law: Hanafi, Malaki, Shafi’i and Hanbali.


 The shari’a is a complete compendium of laws based on theological sources, principally the Koran and hadiths – that is, the sayings and acts of the Prophet. The shari’a comprises the legal status of the dhimmis: what is permitted and what is forbidden to them. It sets the pattern of the Muslims’ social and political behavior toward dhimmis and explains its theological, legal, and political motivations.


 It is this comprehensive system, which lasted for up to thirteen centuries, that I have analysed in my last book, The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam, as the “civilization of dhimmitude.” Its archetype – the dehumanized dhimmi – has permeated Islamic civilization, culture and thought and is being revived through the Islamist resurgence and the return of the shari’a.


 The main principles of “dhimmitude” are:


1) the inequality of rights in all domains between Muslims and dhimmis;


2) the social and economic discrimination of the dhimmis;


3) the humiliation and vulnerability of the dhimmis.


 Numerous laws were enacted over the centuries in order to implement these principles which remained in practice throughout the 19th century, and in some regions into the 20th century.


    Arab-Islamic civilization developed in conquered Christian lands, among Christian majorities which were eventually reduced to minorities. The process of the Islamization of Christian societies appears at all levels. It is part and parcel of the Christian suffering embodied in laws, customs, behavior patterns, and prejudices that were perpetuated during many centuries. Christianity could survive in some countries like Egypt and the Balkans where their situation was tolerable, but in other places they were wiped out physically, expelled or forced to emigrate.


 During the whole of the 19th century, European governments tried to convince Muslim rulers – from Constantinople to North Africa – to abolish the discriminations against dhimmis. This policy led to reforms in the Ottoman Empire from 1839 – known as the Tanzimat – but it was only in Egypt, under the strong rule of Mohammed Ali, that real progress was made. Improvements in the Ottoman Empire and Persia, imposed by Europe, were bitterly resented by the populace and religious leaders.


 European laws were introduced in the process of Turkish modernization, and in some Arab countries, but it was only under colonial rule that Christian and Jewish minorities were truly liberated from centuries of opprobrium. Traditionalists however resented the Westernization of their countries, the emancipation of the dhimmis and the laws imported from infidel lands. The fight for decolonization was also a struggle by the Islamists to re-establish strict Islamic law.



Why is this persecution ignored by the Churches, governments and media?



 The 19th century – and even after World War I – was a traumatizing period of genocidal slaughter of Christians, spreading from the Balkans (Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria) to Armenia, and to the Middle East. In this context of death, the doctrine of an Islamic-Christian symbiosis was conceived toward the end of the 19th century by Eastern Christians as a desperate shield against terror and slavery. This doctrine – which also inluded anti-Zionism – had many facets, both political and religious. In the long term, its results were mostly negative.


 It is this doctrine – still professed today – that is responsible for the general silence about the ongoing tragedy of Eastern Christians. Any mention of jihad and of the persecutions of Christians by Muslims was a taboo subject, because one could not denounce persecution and simultaneously proclaim that an Islamic-Christian symbiosis has always existed in the past and the present. It is in this cocoon of lies and of a deliberatly imposed silence, solidly supported by the Churches, governments and the medias – each for its own reasons – that persecution of Christians could develop freely, during this century, even until now, with little hindrance. Moreover, this doctrine also blocked the memory of dhimmitude, leaving a vacuum of thirteen centuries whose emptiness was filled with a myth that was useless as a means to prevent the return of old prejudices and persecutions.



  For this reason, dhimmitude – which covers several centuries of Christian and Jewish history, and which is a comprehensive civilization englobing legislation, customs, social behavior, and prejudices – has never been analysed, nor publicly discussed. It is this silence – for which academia in Europe and America bear much responsibility – that allows the perpetuation of religious discrimination and persecution today. There are many factors that explain this silence of governements, Churches, acedemia, and the media on such a tragic issue concerning persecuted Christians in the Muslim world; they are interrelated and, although their motivations are different, they have solidly cemented a wall of silence that has buried the historical reality.



Proposals for redressing these violations of fundamental human rights:



I. To define the ways and means to end this tragedy:



1) Not to foster an anti-Islamic current which would be wrong, as the vast majority of Muslims are themselves victims of Islamists in Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan, Egypt, Turkey, Algeria, etc.



2) Christians must continue to live in their historical lands because it is their right, and only they can transform traditional Muslim mentalities. These dwindling communities should be encouraged to stay,  as their presence will signify that Muslims have accepted that Jews and Christians also possess the right to life and dignity in their ancient homelands – and not under a dhimmi protection, but with human rights equal to those of Muslims. If they fail, it will be our loss in the West too. Islamic countries that once had a Judeo-Christian culture should not become monolithically Islamic – that is, Christianrein, as they have become virtually Judenrein – through a policy of ethnic cleansing that followed a long historical period of discrimination.



3) If the human rights – and the minority rights – of Christians are not respected in those countries that formerly had Christian majorities, then the rights of all non-Muslims will be challenged by the Islamists’ resurgence. It is for Christians worldwide – particularly in America and Europe, and for the international community also – to assure that the human rights for all religious minorities are respected worldwide.



II.  We should realize that those populations are in grave danger and that even Muslim governments cannot protect them from mob violence – sometimes they pretend to be unable to do so, in order to stop foreign pressure or public campaigns. We should also remember that, from the late 1940s, the Jewish communities in the Arab-Muslim world – then more than a million, now less than 1% of that number, under 10,000 and fast dwindling – were the victims of persecution, terrorism, pillage, and religious hatred that forced them to flee or emigrate. Christians were left as the only non-Muslims on whom religious fanaticism and hatred could be focused. Each Christian community tried to resist the return of the old order, following the path of secularism or communism.





  The Islamists reproach Christians in their countries of:


1) being against the implementation of the shari’a;


2) demanding equal rights, basing themselves on International Covenants;

3) seeking foreign help to achieve equality with fellow Muslim citizens.

 For the Islamists, these three accusations alone are tantamount to rebellion. It was these same motives that had justified the first great massacres of the Armenians a century ago in 1894-96, punished for having rebelled and for claiming the reforms that were promised.


 This is why dhimmis communities were always careful to proclaim their enmity to Europe. An outward oppositon to Christian countries being their life-saving shield against threats from their environment, they have interiorized this animosity to the point that they often strive for the triumph of Islam, some of them even becoming the best and most perfect tools of Islamic propaganda and interests in Europe and America. (The late Father Yoakim Moubarac and Georges Corm in France, and Edward Said in America, are but three examples out of many.)



III. In order to avoid mistakes and be more effective, one has to realize the difference of contexts between the campaign for Soviet Jewry in the 1970s and 1980s, and the promotion of human rights for Christians in Islamic lands today. The main difficulty arises because the discrimination or persecution in some countries cannot be ascribed to a deliberate government policy. It is rather a fact of civilization: the traditional contempt for dhimmis – not so different from that of African Americans in the past – and irritation because they are outstepping their rights and must be obliged to return to their former status.


 Sometimes, however, it is imposed by the Islamists, and a weak government doesn’t dare to protect the Christians, fearing to become even more unpopular, because anti-Western and anti-Christian prejudices have imbued Muslim culture and society for centuries.


  1) There are many ways to persecute Christians; some are by legal means, like the laws concerning the building or the repair of churches; others, by terror. A Christian can be killed, not because he committed a crime, but simply because he belongs to a group of infidels, who, allegedly, are in rebellion. Or for reasons of “spectacle-terrorism” that can serve as a deterrent policy to fulfill the terrorists’ aims.


 2) Another point concerns the use of a fatwa. If a fatwa is decreed against an individual, any Muslim is authorized to kill him, and by so doing he is the executor of what is considered the sentence of Allah.



IV. The problem is multifarious; it is not only religious but also cultural. This aspect is more acute with Christian, than with Jewish, communities because Muslims conquered Christian lands and civilization that were then subjected to a deliberate policy of Arabization and Islamization. Take, as an example, Christian pre-Islamic Coptic history: language and culture are a neglected, if not a forbidden, domain because it would imply that Muslim history had been imperialistic. But culture and history are important elements of a group’s identity and there are many Muslims intellectuals who are proud of Egypt’s Pharaonic and Coptic past. It is the Islamists who reject this past, as an infidel culture -a part of the jahaliyah, what existed before Islam, considered taboo.


 Therefore, I would also suggest further goals, such as:



 1) Recovering “Memory,” the long history of the dhimmi peoples, of dhimmitude – the collective cultural patrimony of Jews and Christians -for without their memory, and their history, peoples fade away and die.



 2) Preventing the destruction of Christians historical monuments, either by local governments, or by UNESCO, as was done with Abu Simbel, and other sites that now belong to the World’s cultural legacy.



V. Discussing “dhimmitude” in academia and elsewhere. This is a Judeo-Christian historical patrimony and those whose heritage it is are entitled to know about it. The discussion of dhimmitude with Muslims, however, is fraught with difficulties. In the eyes of Islamists, any criticism of Islamic law and history is assimilated to a blasphemy. For a dhimmi, it is forbidden to imply that Islamic law has a default, or to contradict the ijma, the consensus. Moreover, the court testimony of a dhimmi against a Muslim is not accepted. Therefore, as dhimmitude is the testimony of dhimmi history – of Christians and Jews – under Islamic oppression, it would not be considered valid in traditionalist circles. Besides, the unification of religious and political power transfers the political domain into the religious one, and therefore any criticism of Islamic civilization may become, for Islamists and others, a blasphemy.


 The case of Farag Foda, an Egyptian Muslim intellectual, who defended the Copts and strongly criticized some Muslim religious authorities was exemplary: he was assassinated in June 1992 after a fatwa. In giving his testimony in an Egyptian court of law, the late Sheikh Muhammad El-Ghazali implicitly justified his assassination on the grounds of apostasy; he stated that anyone opposing the shari’a was an apostate, and thus deserved death.



VI. Encourage Muslim intellectuals to strive in their own countries, and in the West, for the defense of equal human rights for Christians and others. The 1981 UNESCO Declaration on Islamic Human Rights and that of Cairo in 1990, both conditional on the shari’a, are insufficient.



VII. Creation of a team of experts and lawyers – and not apologists – in order to discuss the problem, always stressing that the aim is not to foster anti-Muslim or anti-Islamic feelings, but to create peace and reconciliation between religions and peoples, without which the next century will become a bloodbath and a clash of civilizations. (END)




Bat Ye’or is the author of The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians under Islam (1985/1996) and The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam. From Jihad to Dhimmitude: 7th to 20th Century (1996) Both books published by Fairleigh Dickinson University Press/Associated University Presses.

© Bat Ye’or 2001


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