Defying the pervasive legacy of intellectual terrorism engendered by the late Edward Said’s Orientalism—a profoundly flawed work, which nevertheless, almost 30 years after its publication, continues to inspire, or intimidate, a distressingly dominant proportion of today’s Middle East Studies academics—Professor Efraim Karsh stands out as a brave and insightful scholar.
For example, Karsh’s 1997 Fabricating Israeli History deconstructed the revisionist narrative of so-called “Post-Zionist” Israeli historians. His meticulous analysis of the documentary record revealed their egregious offenses, ranging from grossly pseudo-scholastic imputation, to outright, and apparently deliberate distortion. Empires of the Sand, released in 1999 (and co-written by Efraim and Inari Karsh), made these cogent and iconoclastic arguments: even at their nadir of power in the modern era, following World War I, “Middle Eastern actors were not hapless victims of predatory imperial powers but active participants in the restructuring of the region”; and the regional influence of the Great Powers, albeit considerable, “…played a secondary role, constituting neither the primary force behind the region’s political development nor the main cause of its notorious volatility”.
Karsh’s latest work, Islamic Imperialism—A History, expands upon themes developed in Empires of the Sand, linking the contemporary imperial aspirations of Middle Eastern Muslim “actors” to the ancient, but living Islamic institution of jihad war. From the outset, Karsh rejects two widely prevalent paradigms invoked post-9/11 to explain the “root causes” of this cataclysmic event. Despite their divergence, these views share the presumption that the Islamic Near East remains merely reactive to the traumatic exploits of Western imperialists in the region.
Thus Karsh does not accept Bernard Lewis’ assertion that Islamic “fundamentalism” and its accompanying “Muslim rage” derive exclusively from a steady decline in the geopolitical power of Muslim states, evidenced, most dramatically, by the official dissolution of the Ottoman Caliphate after World War I, and the creation of the State of Israel after World War II. He also dismisses the even more commonly held apologetic which casts Osama Bin Laden as a fringe, demonic aberration of the “true” Islamic precept of jihad, which even at its most aggressive, remains mere bloodless “striving” in missionary activity for the pacific propagation of the great faith of Islam (for a deconstruction of this apologetic, see here, here, and at length, here).
Instead, argues Karsh, the Middle East’s thousand year legacy of jihad—what he terms its “millenarian imperial tradition”—has been, and remains the most potent historical force shaping the region. And Karsh, in referring to Bin Laden’s August, 1996 “Declaration of Jihad Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places”, has the perspicacity and sheer courage to note that the Saudi jihad terrorist represents the modern apotheosis of this Muslim institution:
Bin Laden’s proclamation of jihad was no novelty in and of itself; declaring a holy war against the infidel has been a standard practice of countless imperial rulers and aspirants since the rise of Islam. Nor does bin Laden’s perception of jihad as a predominantly military effort to facilitate the creation of the worldwide Islamic umma differ in any way from traditional Islamic thinking…
The first and strongest chapter of the book, “The Warrior Prophet”, is a focused biography of the Muslim prophet Muhammad. Here, Karsh provides the quintessence of his thesis:
Aside from its divinely ordained universalism, the socio-economic structure and political modus operandi of Muhammad’s umma, endorsed by successive generations of Middle East rulers to remain the basis of the Islamic perception of international relations to the present day, contained strong imperialist elements.
As Karsh emphasizes, September 622 C.E. marks a defining event in Islam—the hijra. Muhammad and a coterie of followers persecuted by fellow Banu Quraysh tribesmen, fled from Mecca to Yathrib, later known as Medina. The Muslim sources described Yathrib as having been a Jewish city founded by a Palestinian diaspora population which had survived the revolt against the Romans. The Jews of the north Arabian peninsula were highly productive oasis farmers. These Jews were eventually joined by itinerant Arab tribes from southern Arabia who settled adjacent to them and transitioned to a sedentary existence.
Following Muhammad's arrival, he re-ordered Medinan society. The Jewish tribes were isolated, some were then expelled, and the remainder attacked and exterminated. Muhammad distributed among his followers as "booty" the vanquished Jews property—plantations, fields, and houses—using this “booty” to establish a well-equipped jihadist cavalry corps. For example, within a year after the massacre (in 627) of the Jewish tribe the Banu Qurayzah, Muhammad, according to a summary of sacralized Muslim sources,
. . . waited for some act of aggression on the part of the Jews of Khaybar, whose fertile lands and villages he had destined for his followers . . . to furnish an excuse for an attack.
But, no such opportunity offering, he resolved in the autumn of this year [i.e., 628], on a sudden and unprovoked invasion of their territory. Ali (later, the fourth “Rightly Guided Caliph”, and especially revered by Shi’ite Muslims) asked Muhammad why the Jews of Khaybar were being attacked, since they were peaceful farmers, tending their oasis, and was told by Muhammad he must compel them to submit to Islamic Law. The renowned early 20th century scholar of Islam, David Margoliouth, observed aptly:
Now the fact that a community was idolatrous, or Jewish, or anything but Mohammedan, warranted a murderous attack upon it.”
Muhammad's subsequent interactions with the Christians of northern Arabia followed a similar pattern, noted by the scholar of Islam’s origins, Richard Bell. The “relationship with the Christians ended as that with the Jews (ended)- in war”, because Islam as presented by Muhammad was a divine truth, and unless Christians accepted this formulation, which included Muhammad's authority, “conflict was inevitable, and there could have been no real peace while he [Muhammad] lived.”
The modern Muslim scholar Ali Dashti's biography of Muhammad 23 Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Mohammad has also chronicled Muhammad’s “changed course” at Medina, where the Muslim prophet begins to “issue orders for war” in multiple and repeated Koranic revelations (chapter [Sura] 9 being composed almost entirely of such war proclamations—permanent injunctions against pagans, Jews, and Christians). Prior to enumerating the numerous assassinations Muhammad ordered, Ali Dashti observes:
Thus Islam was gradually transformed from a purely spiritual mission into a militant and punitive organization whose progress depended on booty from raids and [tax] revenue….The Prophet’s steps in the decade after the hejra [emigration from Mecca to Medina] were directed to the end of establishing and consolidating a religion-based state. Some of the deeds done on his command [were] killings of prisoners and political assassinations…
Muhammad himself waged a series of proto-jihad campaigns to subdue the Jews, Christians and pagans of Arabia. “Ecce Homo Arabicus”, as Karsh’s astute analysis suggests, and numerous modern day pronouncements by leading Muslim theologians confirm (see for example, Yusuf Al-Qaradawi’s, “The Prophet Muhammad as a Jihad Model”), has been the major inspiration for jihadism, past and present.
Karsh’s terse presentation makes clear the imperial aspirations—and enumerates the spectacular conquests—of the Muslim Caliphs who succeeded Muhammad, and the major Islamic dynasties, from the Umayyads (661-750) and Abbasids (750-1258), to the Ottomans (1290-1923). However, constrained by an untenable ancillary hypothesis—that the specific “millenarian imperial tradition” under examination, i.e., jihad, is ultimately a mere generic, desacralized imperialism, the remainder of Karsh’s analysis includes only cursory information regarding critical and demonstrably unique features of the jihad.
For example, in a full chapter entitled, “The House of Islam and the House of War”, beyond a now frequently cited (and truncated, see in full here p. 161) quote by Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406), renowned Muslim philosopher, historian, sociologist, and (Maliki) jurist, there is no discussion of the vast and uniquely Islamic jurisprudence on the institution of jihad war against the infidels. This enormous output (detailed here, pp. 141-250; and summarized here, pp. 27-28 and within this essay, which includes the truncated Ibn Khaldun quote) represents an extraordinary consensus of Muslim opinion, across time and space, from all major Sunni schools of Islamic Law (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali), as well as Shi’ite jurists, and Sufi jurists—both Sunni and Shi’ite. Admittedly “dry and forbidding” as laid out in this Muslim legal superstructure, the theological underpinnings, and tactical and procedural details of the jihad, in addition to the regulations to be imposed upon the vanquished infidel populations, are of paramount importance in understanding the observed practice of this Islamic institution, through the present.
And nowhere in this same chapter, ostensibly devoted to a discussion Dar al Islam (and) Dar al Harb (Arabic for its title, “The House of Islam and the House of War”), does Karsh evidence having grasped (or perhaps more aptly, accepted, given his apparent desire to desacralize the jihad) the analysis of Dar al Harb provided by the leading 20th expert on this Muslim conception, Armand Abel:
Together with the duty of the “war in the way of God” (or jihad), this universalistic aspiration would lead the Moslems to see the world as being divided fundamentally into two parts. On the one hand there was that part of the world where Islam prevailed, where salvation had been announced, where the religion that ought to reign was practiced; this was the Dar al Islam. On the other hand, there was the part which still awaited the establishment of the saving religion and which constituted, by definition, the object of the holy war. This was the Dar al Harb. The latter, in the view of the Moslem jurists, was not populated by people who had a natural right not to practice Islam, but rather by people destined to become Moslems who, through impiousness and rebellion, refused to accept this great benefit. Since they were destined sooner or later to be converted at the approach of the victorious armies of the Prophet’s successor, or else killed for their rebelliousness, they were the rebel subjects of the Caliph. Their kings were nothing but odious tyrants who, by opposing the progress of the saving religion together with their armies, were following a Satanic inspiration and rising up against the designs of Providence. And so no respite should be granted them, no truce: perpetual war should be their lot, waged in the course of the winter and summer ghazu. [razzias] If the sovereign of the country thus attacked desired peace, it was possible for him, just like for any other tributary or community, to pay the tribute for himself and for his subjects. Thus the [Byzantine] Empress Irene [d. 803] “purchased peace at the price of her humiliation”, according to the formula stated in the dhimma contract itself, by paying 70,000 pounds in gold annually to the Caliph of Baghdad. Many other princes agreed in this way to become tributaries – often after long struggles – and to see their dominions pass from the status of dar al Harb to that of dar al Sulh. In this way, those of their subjects who lived within the boundaries of the territory ruled by the Caliphate were spared the uncertainty of being exposed arbitrarily, without any guarantee, to the military operations of the summer ghazu and the winter ghazu: indeed, anything within the reach of the Moslem armies as they advanced, being property of impious men and rebels, was legitimately considered their booty; their men, seized by armed soldiers, were mercilessly consigned to the lot specified in the Koranic verse about the sword, and their women and children were treated like things.
The widely revered contemporary Muslim cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, “spiritual” leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, head of the “European Council for Fatwa and Research”, and popular Al-Jazeera television personality, reiterated almost this exact formulation of Dar al Harb in July 2003, both in conceptual terms, and with regard to Israel, specifically:
It has been determined by Islamic law that the blood and property of people of Dar Al-Harb [the Domain of Disbelief where the battle for the domination of Islam should be waged] is not protected…in modern war, all of society, with all its classes and ethnic groups, is mobilized to participate in the war, to aid its continuation, and to provide it with the material and human fuel required for it to assure the victory of the state fighting its enemies. Every citizen in society must take upon himself a role in the effort to provide for the battle. The entire domestic front, including professionals, laborers, and industrialists, stands behind the fighting army, even if it does not bear arms.
In fact the consensus view of orthodox Islamic jurisprudence regarding jihad, since its formulation during the 8th and 9th centuries, through the current era, is that non-Muslims peacefully going about their lives—from the Khaybar farmers whom Muhammad ordered attacked in 628, to those sitting in the World Trade Center on 9/11/01—are “muba'a”, licit, in the Dar al Harb. And these innocent non-combatants can be killed, and have always been killed, with impunity simply by virtue of being “harbis” during endless razzias and or full scale jihad campaigns that have occurred continuously since the time of Muhammad, through the present. This is the crux of the specific institutionalized religio-political ideology, i.e., jihad, which makes Islamdom’s borders (and the further reaches of todays jihadists) bloody, to paraphrase Samuel Huntington, across the globe, notwithstanding Karsh’s desire to desacralize the jihad, and his insistence that there is “no clash of civilizations”.
Not surprisingly, while highlighting transient alliances between Muslim and non-Muslim states (which often proved dangerous for these infidel leaders and domains), Karsh also omits any detailed discussion of how jihad campaigns were actually waged against non-Muslim societies (see here for example, pp. 37-105; 383-404; 419-432; 433-517; 589-681). Certainly a few illustrative historical examples would have been possible, and should have been included.
Ibn Hudayl (see p.40), a 14th century Granadan author of an important treatise on jihad, elucidated the allowable tactics facilitated the violent, chaotic jihad conquest of the Iberian peninsula, and other parts of Europe:
It is permissible to set fire to the lands of the enemy, his stores of grain, his beasts of burden – if it is not possible for the Muslims to take possession of them – as well as to cut down his trees, to raze his cities, in a word, to do everything that might ruin and discourage him…[being] suited to hastening the Islamization of that enemy or to weakening him. Indeed, all this contributes to a military triumph over him or to forcing him to capitulate.
And these repeated attacks, indistinguishable in motivation from modern acts of jihad terrorism, like the horrific 9/11/01 attacks in New York and Washington, DC, and the Madrid bombings on 3/11/04, or those in London on 7/7/05, were in fact designed to sow terror. The 17th century Muslim historian al-Maqqari explained (see p.40) that the panic created by the Arab horsemen and sailors, at the time of the Muslim expansion in the regions subjected to those raids and landings, facilitated their later conquest,
Allah thus instilled such fear among the infidels that they did not dare to go and fight the conquerors; they only approached them as suppliants, to beg for peace.
The essential pattern of the jihad war is captured in the classical Muslim historian al-Tabari' s recording of the recommendation given by Umar b. al-Khattab (the second “Rightly Guided Caliph”) to the commander of the troops he sent to al-Basrah (636 C.E.), during the conquest of Iraq. Umar reportedly said (see p. 26):
Summon the people to God; those who respond to your call, accept it from them, but those who refuse must pay the poll tax out of humiliation and lowliness. (Koran 9:29) If they refuse this, it is the sword without leniency. Fear God with regard to what you have been entrusted.
By the time of al-Tabari's death in 923, jihad wars had expanded the Muslim empire from Portugal to the Indian subcontinent. Subsequent Muslim conquests continued in Asia, as well as Eastern Europe. Under the banner of jihad, the Christian kingdoms of Armenia, Byzantium, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, and Albania, in addition to parts of Poland and Hungary, were also conquered and Islamized by waves of Seljuk, or later Ottoman Turks, as well as Tatars. Arab Muslim invaders engaged, additionally, in continuous jihad raids that ravaged and enslaved Sub-Saharan African animist populations, extending to the southern Sudan. When the Ottoman Muslim armies were stopped at the gates of Vienna in 1683, over a millennium of jihad had transpired. These tremendous military successes spawned a triumphalist jihad literature. Muslim historians recorded in detail the number of infidels slaughtered, or enslaved and deported, the cities, villages, and infidel religious sites which were sacked and pillaged, and the lands, treasure, and movable goods seized.
This sanctioned, but wanton destruction resulted, specifically in: the merciless slaughter of non-combatants, including women and children; massive destruction of non-Muslim houses of worship and religious shrines—Christian churches, Jewish synagogues, and Zoroastrian, Hindu, and Buddhist temples and idols; and the burning of harvest crops and massive uprooting of agricultural production systems, leading to famine. Christian (Coptic, Armenian, Jacobite, Greek, Slav, etc.), as well as Hebrew sources, and even the scant Zoroastrian, Hindu and Buddhist writings (see pp. 589-681) which survived the ravages of the Muslim conquests, independently validate this narrative, and complement the Muslim perspective by providing testimonies of the suffering of the non-Muslim victims of jihad wars.
Karsh’s failure to grasp the enormous human toll of these jihad depredations—and subsequent near or frankly genocidal campaigns from 1683 through the present (see for examples, pp. 100-103; 573-588; 655-674) —on their primary prey, non-Muslims—is reflected by his undocumented and incorrect assertion (p. 233) that,
…infighting within the House of Islam has exacted far more numerous casualties than conflicts between Muslims and non-Muslims.
K.S. Lal analyzed Indian demography for the period between 1000-1525, from Mahmud of Ghazni, through the end of the Delhi Sultanate. This half millennium was an era of Islamic invasion and rule during which endless jihad campaigns were waged by Muslim leaders (see here, pp. 77-85; 433-461; 631-653)—including Qutbuddin Aibak, Alauddin Khalji, Muhammad and Firoz Tughlaq, and of course Amir Timur—all of whom were celebrated in Muslim chronicles as “killers of lakhs” (each lakh= 100,000) of Hindus. Lal estimates that the numbers of Hindus who perished as a result of these campaigns was approximately 80 million—which far exceeds the toll of internecine violence between Muslims for this, or any other historical period. And even in Karsh’s recognition of the Armenian genocide (see pp. 108-113), he fails to acknowledge that the Ottoman Turks committed a jihad genocide (see here, and here) against a non-Muslim population desiring merely to be free of the yoke of dhimmitude.
While Karsh does include a very schematic overview (i.e., one paragraph) of the dhimmi status imposed upon the Christian and Jewish populations vanquished during the waves of Arab and Ottoman Muslim jihad, even the two brief summary assessments, below, by experts on the institution of dhimmitude, Sir Jadunath Sarkar, and Bat Ye’or, provide a fuller and more accurate depiction, extending to the plight of Hindus:
Sir Jadunath Sarkar, 1920:
Islamic theology, therefore tells the true believer that his highest duty is to make "exertion (jihad) in the path of God", by waging war against infidel lands (dar-ul-harb) till they become part of the realm of Islam (dar-ul-Islam) and their populations are converted into true believers. After conquest the entire infidel population becomes theoretically reduced to the status of slaves of the conquering army. The men taken with arms are to be slain or sold into slavery and their wives and children reduced to servitude. As for the non-combatants among the vanquished, if they are not massacred outright, - as the canon lawyer Shaf'i declares to be the Qur'anic injunction,- it is only to give them a respite till they are so wisely guided as to accept the true faith.
The conversion of the entire population to Islam and the extinction of every form of dissent is the ideal of the Muslim State. If any infidel is suffered to exist in the community, it is as a necessary evil, and for a transitional period only. Political and social disabilities must be imposed on him, and bribes offered to him from the public funds, to hasten the day of his spiritual enlightenment and the addition of his name to the roll of true believers...
A non-Muslim therefore cannot be a citizen of the State; he is a member of a depressed class; his status is a modified form of slavery. He lives under a contract (zimma, or "dhimma") with the State: for the life and property grudgingly spared to him by the commander of the faithful he must undergo political and social disabilities, and pay a commutation money. In short, his continued existence in the State after the conquest of his country by the Muslims is conditional upon his person and property made subservient to the cause of Islam.”
He must pay a tax for his land (kharaj), from which the early Muslims were exempt; he must pay other exactions for the maintenance of the army, in which he cannot enlist even if he offers to render personal service instead of paying the poll-tax; and he must show by humility of dress and behavior that he belongs to s subject class. No non-Muslim can wear fine dresses, ride on horseback or carry arms; he must behave respectfully and submissively to every member of the dominant sect.
The zimmi is under certain legal disabilities with regard to testimony in law courts, protection under criminal law, and in marriage…he cannot erect new temples, and has to avoid any offensive publicity in the exercise of his worship…Every device short of massacre in cold blood was resorted to in order to convert heathen subjects. In addition to the poll-tax and public degradation in dress and demeanor imposed on them, the non-Muslims were subjected to various hopes and fears. Rewards in the form of money and public employment were offered to apostates from Hinduism. The leaders of Hindu religion and society were systematically repressed, to deprive the sect of spiritual instruction, and their religious gatherings and processions were forbidden in order to prevent the growth of solidarity and sense of communal strength among them. No new temple was allowed to be built nor any old one to be repaired, so that the total disappearance of Hindu worship was to be merely a question of time. But even this delay, this slow operation of Time, was intolerable to many of the more fiery spirits of Islam, who tried to hasten the abolition of ‘infidelity’ by anticipating the destructive hand of Time and forcibly pulling down temples.”
When a class are publicly depressed and harassed by law and executive caprice alike, they merely content themselves with dragging on an animal existence. With every generous instinct of the soul crushed out of them, the intellectual culture merely adding a keen edge to their sense of humiliation, the Hindus could not be expected to produce the utmost of which they were capable; their lot was to be hewers of wood and drawers of water to their masters, to bring grist to the fiscal mill, to develop a low cunning and flattery as the only means of saving what they could of their own labor. Amidst such social conditions, the human hand and the human spirit cannot achieve their best; the human soul cannot soar to its highest pitch. The barrenness of the Hindu intellect and the meanness of spirit of the Hindu upper classes are the greatest condemnation of Muhammadan rule in India. The Islamic political tree, judged by its fruit was an utter failure.
Bat Ye’or, 1985 and 1996:
..These examples are intended to indicate the general character of a system of oppression, sanctioned by contempt and justified by the principle of inequality between Muslims and dhimmis…Singled out as objects of hatred and contempt by visible signs of discrimination, they were progressively decimated during periods of massacres, forced conversions, and banishments. Sometimes it was the prosperity they had achieved through their labor or ability that aroused jealousy; oppressed and stripped of all their goods, the dhimmi often emigrated.”
…in many places and at many periods [through] the nineteenth century, observers have described the wearing of discriminatory clothing, the rejection of dhimmi testimony, the prohibitions concerning places of worship and the riding of animals, as well as fiscal charges- particularly the protection charges levied by nomad chiefs- and the payment of the jizya…Not only was the dhimma imposed almost continuously, for one finds it being applied in the nineteenth century Ottoman Empire…and in Persia, the Maghreb, and Yemen in the early twentieth century, but other additional abuses, not written into the laws, became absorbed into custom, such as the devshirme, the degrading corvees (as hangmen or gravediggers), the abduction of Jewish orphans (Yemen), the compulsory removal of footware (Morocco, Yemen), and other humiliations…The recording in multiple sources of eye-witness accounts, concerning unvarying regulations affecting the Peoples of the Book, perpetuated over the centuries from one end of the dar al-Islam to the other…proves sufficiently their entrenchment in customs.
Karsh’s flawed ancillary hypothesis that jihad (or “Islamic imperialism”, or “Islam’s millenarian imperial tradition”) is simply a generic imperialism (indeed, why even call it “jihad” or “Islamic”, why not, “a generic imperialism of Middle East origin”?), hinges ultimately on a loose amalgam of anecdotes and assertions. According to Karsh, certain Umayyad and Abbasid rulers—whom he declines to name—were personally lax in their Islamic practices, indulging in vices, and even consuming alcohol—the latter clearly forbidden by the nascent Shari’a. (The Shari’a, during both the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties, prescribed severe punishments for dhimmis selling alcohol to Muslims, or even displaying it in the presence of Muslims. As revealed by Muslim juridical documents, these punishments were enforced. One wonders, more importantly, what punishments were imposed for these “offenses” by dhimmis during the reigns of Karsh’s unnamed, personally impious rulers). Epitomized by Saladin (and in the modern era, Karsh maintains, such contrasting figures as the Baathist Saddam Hussein, and the profligate son turned pious jihadist Osama bin Laden), Muslim leaders merely espouse “holy war propaganda”, but in reality, they are practical, generic empire builders. As Karsh quips, regarding Saladin (and presumably these modern heirs), “It was strictly business”.
But the stark differences between jihad and a prototypical Western imperial enterprise—British imperialism—are clearly demonstrable if one compares the two (an exercise Karsh does not undertake) from the 19th century, onward. During the 19th century was there never a significant “Shari’a-inspired” slavery abolition movement within the Islamic world, including the Ottoman Empire, comparable to the courageous and successful campaigns led by British statesmen such as the Evangelical Christian Parliamentarian William Wilberforce. The most progressive Muslim regime, the Ottoman Porte, merely issued deliberately limited and ineffectual firmans which failed to discourage East African slave trading, and even British naval power, so successful in the Atlantic and Indian oceans, was unable to suppress the Red Sea slave trade to the Ottoman Empire at the end of the 19th century. Regardless, as Professor Reuben Levy notes:
At Constantinople, the sale of women slaves, both negresses and Circassians [likely for harem slavery and/or concubinage], continued to be openly practiced until…1908.
The Tanzimat reforms, designed to abrogate the Ottoman version of the system of dhimmitude, had to be imposed by European powers through treaties, as so-called “capitulations” following Ottoman military defeats, and even then, were these reforms were never implemented in any meaningful way from 1839, until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. Once again, for example in Palestine, the abrogation of dhimmitude required the World War I defeat of the Ottomans and the dismantling of Ottoman sociopolitical institutions under the British Mandate. Sadly, both jihad slavery (for example its ongoing recrudescence in the The Sudan, pp. 573-588) and more broadly, at least a forme fruste of the institution of dhimmitude (pp. 223-265), persist today in the contemporary Islamic world (i.e., in the Arabian peninsula, Iran, Egypt, the Palestinian Administration, Algeria, Malaysia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan).
The contrast between jihad and British imperialism was equally pronounced on the Indian subcontinent. A millennium of Muslim rule in India, from Muhammad b. Qasim’s invasion and conquest of Sindh (in modern Pakistan) at the beginning of the 8th century, through the collapse of the Mughal Empire after Aurangzeb’s reign at the ouset of the 18th century, never produced—apparently could never produce—a truly ecumenical caretaker like the British imperialist Lord Curzon, who served as Viceroy and Governor-General of India from 1898-1905. Lord Curzon delivered the following speech (pp. 183-185)* on February 7, 1900 at the annual meeting of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, as part of his vigorous campaign to preserve India’s ancient monuments:
If there be any one who says to me that there is no duty devolving upon a Christian Government to preserve the monuments of pagan art or the sanctuaries of an alien faith, I cannot pause to argue with such a man. Art and beauty, and the reverence that is owing to all that has evoked human genius or has inspired human faith, are independent of creeds, and, in so far as they touch the sphere of religion, are embraced by the common religion of all mankind. Viewed from this standpoint, the rock temple of the Brahmans stands on precisely the same footing as the Buddhist Vihara, and the Mohammedan Musjid as the Christian Cathedral…To us the relics of Hindu and Mohammedan, of Buddhist, Brahmin, and Jain are, from the antiquarian, the historical, and the artistic point of view, equally interesting and equally sacred. One does not excite a more vivid and the other a weaker emotion. Each represents the glories or the faith of a branch of the human family. Each fills a chapter in Indian history.
The Indian historian R.C. Majumdar (Vol. 6, The Sultanate of Delhi, p. 623) makes this interesting juxtaposition of Hindu cultural advancement under the lengthy period of Muslim colonial rule, compared to the much shorter interval of British colonial rule:
Judged by a similar standard, the patronage and cultivation of Hindu learning by the Muslims, or their contribution to the development of Hindu culture during their rule…pales into insignificance when compared with the achievements of the British rule…It is only by instituting such comparison that we can make an objective study of the condition of the Hindus under Muslim rule, and view it in its true perspective.
And the scholar Ibn Warraq, a secularist of Pakistani origin, recently offered these impassioned observations:
Do we still have to apologize, for example, for the British Empire, when, in fact, the British presence in India led to the Indian Renaissance, resulted in famine relief, railways, roads and irrigation schemes, eradication of cholera, the civil service, the establishment of a universal educational system where none existed before, the institution of elected parliamentary democracy, and the rule of law? What of the British architecture of Bombay and Calcutta? The British even gave back to the Indians their own past: it was European scholarship, archaeology and research that uncovered the greatness that was India; it was British government that did its best to save and conserve the monuments that were a witness to that past glory. British Imperialism preserved where earlier Islamic Imperialism destroyed thousands of Hindu temples.
Fortunately, Karsh’s own courageous conclusions largely negate his untenable “jihad as generic imperialism” arguments. He seems to realize, in the end, that (even!) historians cannot effectively desacralize the jihad—Muslims must do that for themselves:
Osama bin Laden…is the most recent manifestation of the millenarian jihad for a universal Islamic empire…This vision is by no means confined to an extremist fringe of Islam, as illustrated by the overwhelming support for the 9/11 attacks throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds…Only when the political elites of the Middle east and the Muslim world reconcile themselves to the reality of state nationalism, forswear pan-Arab and pan-Islamic imperialist dreams, and make Islam a matter of private faith rather than a tool of political ambition (emphasis added), will the inhabitants of these regions at last be able to look forward to a better future…
* I am indebted to my colleague Ibn Warraq for making me aware of this speech by Lord Curzon, discovered while Mr. Warraq researched his forthcoming book, Defending the West—A Critique of Edward Said.
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