The Economist this week demonstrated anew just how deeply dhimmitude has penetrated into Western thinking about Islam. Dhimmitude is the institutionalized subservience mandated by Islamic law, the Sharia, for non-Muslims, primarily Jews and Christians. Dhimmis must endure inferior status under the Sharia; if they protest, they risk forfeiting the “protection” that they buy with their special high tax rate (jizya) and their humiliation.
The elaborate legal superstructure of dhimmitude in Islamic law is founded on the Qur’an’s Sura 9:29, which calls on Muslims to “fight” against the “People of the Book” (primarily Jews and Christians) “until they pay the Jizya [special tax for non-Muslims] with willing submission, feel themselves subdued.” A vast body of Muslim theology and jurisprudence guaranteed dhimmis relative security as long as the jizya was paid; if payment ceased, jihad would resume.
This is the origin of the system of dhimmitude — a vast, uniquely Islamic institution of religious apartheid, implemented for over a millennium across three continents (Asia, Africa, and Europe) and still influential in Islamic nations’ policies toward non-Muslim populations. The native “infidel” populations of lands conquered by Islamic armies were required to pay the jizya, recognize Islamic ownership of their land and accept laws forbidding them to own weapons, ring church bells, build new places of worship or repair old ones, testify in Muslim courts, or dress like Muslims. If they complained about these inequalities, they risked forfeiting their “protection.”
Through political correctness, multiculturalist myopia, and the politicized pseudo-academic writings of dhimmi scholars such as Edward Said and John Esposito, the silence and subservience of dhimmitude has entered the public debate about Islam in America and Western Europe. It threatens to strangle that debate with whitewashes about the roots of jihad ideology, the reality of dhimmitude, and more.
A notable example appears in the September 13-19 issue of The Economist. In an article entitled “In the name of Islam,” Peter David goes so far as to acknowledge what few other analysts have dared to: that the jihad ideology that gives rise to terrorism “has, or claims to have, connections with some of the fundamental ideas and practices of the religion itself.” However, he never provides readers the smallest glimpse of what these fundamental ideas and practices might be. Instead, he shifts direction and explores the thought of the influential Egyptian Muslim radical, Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), who taught that no (Muslim or non-Muslim) state, ungoverned by Sharia, had any right to exist.
David states that much radical jihadist theory “is modern, as political as it is religious, with origins in the late 20th century.” But his Economist piece offers no hint of the great pains that Qutb took in order to show the foundations of his teachings in traditional Muslim sources. David quotes Qutb as dividing the world into the House of Islam (dar al-Islam) and the House of War (dar al-harb) but makes no mention of the fact that this is an ancient distinction established by some of Islam’s earliest theologians and jurists, or that it remains significant to Islamic law today. Qutb himself was not so circumspect: he completed an immense thirty-volume commentary on the Qur’an, In the Shade of the Qur’an, in which he attempts to demonstrate again and again that the pure Islam of the sacred book is today’s radical Islam of blood and terror.
Qutb’s tradition is not the only one in Islam, and millions of peaceful Muslims would reject his theological and political ideas. But to imply that religious violence and religious terrorism are newly minted elements of Islam with no plausible traditional foundations is to ignore how jihad ideologues read (and use to recruit) the Qur’an, the Muslim Prophet Muhammad’s example, an elaborate body of Islamic theology and jurisprudence, and fourteen centuries of Islamic history.
David underscores his omission by breezily dismissing jihadist justifications for violent jihad, stating, “Islam has a concept of jihad (holy war), which some Muslims think should be added to the five more familiar pillars of faith: the oath of belief, prayer, charity, fasting and pilgrimage. But the Koran also insists that there should be no compulsion in religion.” Had David read Qutb further, he would have found, the great Egyptian radical also insisted that jihad in no way involved forced conversion. However, that is not the same as saying jihad is not violent. As I detail extensively in Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West, Qutb drew on traditional concepts of Islamic law to inveigh against the concept of jihad as a forceful means of converting people to Islam. Rather, he insisted, jihad was an offensive struggle to establish the hegemony of the Sharia and subservient dhimmi status for all non-Muslims — who would then be free, of course, to ease the pain of their inferior condition by converting to Islam if they chose.
According to David, “Only a small fraction of [the world’s] 1.5 billion Muslims will have heard of, let alone subscribe to, the ideas of theorists such as Qutb.” These ideas may be more widely diffused than he thinks. A casual look today at the Muslim blogspot www.clearguidance.com, run out of Staten Island, turned up bloggers quoting the writings of Qutb, Osama bin Laden’s mentor Abdullah Azzam, and Osama himself. Maybe there are few people reading such books, but only a few are needed to commit terrorist acts.
David goes on to say that “Islam and Christendom have clashed for centuries. But if there is something in the essence of Islam that predisposes its adherents to violent conflict with the West, it is hard to say what it might be.” The ignorance of this statement is nothing short of breathtaking. According to a traditional source of Islamic law, Muslims must make “war upon Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians . . . until they become Muslim or pay the non-Muslim poll tax.” This obligation is amply delineated in numerous traditional Islamic sources, and it is the foundation for the institutionalized oppression inflicted by dhimmitude laws, under which Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, Hindus and others have suffered for centuries.
Knowingly or not, The Economist whitewashes radical Islam’s sources in Islamic theology and tradition. This plays into terrorists’ hands as clearly and directly as a whitewashed portrait of America’s pre-Civil War South plays into the hands of white supremacists, or a whitewashed picture of Nazi Germany into the hands of anti-Semites. A new organization, Dhimmi Watch, is forming to oppose all such whitewashes — on behalf of human rights victims of jihad and dhimmitude now and throughout Islamic history. Whitewashes have no place in any serious, honest analysis of modern-day terrorism.
Robert Spencer is the author of Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West (new from Regnery Publishing) and Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith (Encounter Books, 2002). He is an Adjunct Fellow with the Free Congress Foundation.