Understanding Dhimmitude by Bat Ye'or
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
THe publication and my reading of this book could not have been more timely . Owing too the current crisis happing in Iraq and Syria with Christians being slaughtered by ISIS, a fundamentalist group, this book examine the place in society occupied by Christians, Jews and other people of the book. The book means the Bible. The concept of Dhimmi is supposed to to convey a protected status, albeit one that is not completely equal with the majority stakeholders of society. In Islamic and Arabic society the majority stakeholder were Muslims and the minorities were mostly Christians and Jews.
To be a Dhimmi meant that one had to pay a protection tax, could not own land and even had to pay a tax onland that was not yours but only that you were using. Once the tax was paid the Dhimmi was left alone in almost complete autonomy. Yet, there were other strictures that had to be complied with. Christians and Jews could not repair their houses of worship save by special permission from Muslim authorities this led in certain places to houses of worship being in a state of disrepair. In other places the Muslims were more liberal about this and their were some pretty nice houses of worship .
Dhimmis could not own weapons, nor could they defend themselves, if faced with an attack they could only beg for mercy. Dhimmis could not defend or testify in a court of law.
That being said there is considerable debate both within the Jewish community and without as to whether the Jews in Arab lands fared better or worse then their co religionists in Europe. Jewish authors like Mark Cohen and Joel Benin would argue that Jews had a good time, while other scholars which the current author Bat Ye'or would maintain that the concept of Dhimmitude made life miserable for Christians and Jews. Of course things depended on where you lived and on how the authority choose to interpret Islamic Law. Some places were more lenient then others.
The author argues and with a certain amount of validity that the concept of Dhimmitude was designed to humiliate and subjugate Christians and Jews who were following a corrupted religion based in the the true revelation. THe author notes that prior to the first wave of conquest from Islam the Arab lands were mostly Christians with strong Jewish communities. Dhimmitude made the original inhabitant slaves in their own land. Dhimmitude was meant to waste away the community and fossilize it.
While the author maintain that life as a dhimmi was bad it did get better under colonial administration post World War 1. Then there was equality. When the colonial powers left. Things got bad for the Jews because of Zionism. Christians joined with the Muslims against Zionism in order to cement their place in society and escape Dhimmitude. This ended up back firing.
THe author paints a negative picture of Islam, and I am not so shire that it was all that negative. First off it was Christians who were the first anti-Semites . The Dhimmi laws were inherited from the Byzantines. It was Christians who promulgated the first ant- Jewish laws. Many Christians helped the Muslims conquer their lands both out of self gain and because their Christians government became corrupted. It was Muslim armies who allowed some Jews to be resettled in Israel/Palestine after the Romans expelled them. Christian clerics upon being conquered so long as the Jews were right beneath them. In Iraq scholars from the three monotheistic faiths would consult on another on various religious issues. Rambam had many positive things to say about the Muslims and Islam.
In the end I would say that Jews and Christians enjoyed both prosperous times and times of persecution depending on the time and place. At least their were no major holocausts like their were in Europe. The book comprises 21 speeches or lectures given over by the author along with some given over by her late husband David Littman. The past needs to be studied more objectively from both angle and I think that as we move toward the future the best solution is a separation of religion and state and that secular democracy is the way to go.
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