Westview Book Reviews: The Myth of Islamic Tolerance: How Islamic Law Treats Non-Muslims by Robert Spencer
"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 this new book is to be believed, these specific Islamic processes are globalizing at a disturbingly rapid pace.
The book, courageously assembled by 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. 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 Islamic University of al-Azhar, "the Jews… are dhimmis, people of obligation, who have betrayed the covenant in conformity with which they have been accorded protection."
The International Institute of Islamic Thought was established in 1981 to Islamify Western history and thought. 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. Only testimony can counter the pathological trends. Thus, Walid Phares and Bat Ye'or tackle the forgotten tragedy of the Middle Eastern Christians-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 cover the rise of anti-Christian persecutions in Nigeria, Sudan, Pakistan and Indonesia since Sept. 11, 2001. Western failure to recognize this subservient condition, much less its historical or contemporary results, has put democratic civilization in danger. All this and much more in this book can help to turn the tide. –
Reviewed at amazon.com by Alyssa A. Lappen