Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

The Civilization of Dhimmitude

by Bruce S. Thornton

Private Papers

A review of Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis, by Bat Ye’or. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 384 pages, $23.95

One of the first requirements in any conflict is to know the enemy—how he thinks, what he values, what his goals are. In the current war against Islamism, we in the West have done and are doing a poor job of understanding our enemy on his terms; rather, we have reduced his behavior to our own particular prejudices and categories. Indeed, our enemy has been much better at knowing where we come from and exploiting our cultural ideals and weaknesses than we have been in understanding his.

We Westerners are a people increasingly secular, materialistic, and ignorant of the past. We see all causes as material, all behavior as the result of the physical environment or of psychological forces that also have their origins in immediate material or environmental conditions. Islamic terrorism thus is explained as a response to ignorance and poverty, or to wounded nationalist self-esteem, or to autocratic tyranny, or to post-colonial and post-imperial fallout. The proposed solutions are likewise material: increase development aid to reduce poverty and the despair it breeds; compel Israel to weaken itself in order to remove the constant irritant to Arab nationalist and ethnic esteem; promote democratic institutions to subvert tyranny; and provide rhetorical and fiscal reparations to compensate for colonial and imperial guilt.

Such analyses of the roots of terrorism, of course, reduce the Islamist to Western materialist categories. They either ignore completely or discount the historical, spiritual, and cultural dimensions of his motives, reducing those to mere epiphenomena of some deeper material cause. They also beg the question of why other peoples, poorer and more oppressed than those in the Middle East, do not resort to terrorism. As a way of getting at the roots of Islamist terrorism, these material-based analyses obscure more than they enlighten—particularly since for years the enemy has become adept at manipulating these Western assumptions, which they also see as weaknesses, the symptoms of spiritual bankruptcy and cultural inferiority.

Bat Ye’or’s Eurabia is an important exception to the above generalization, and as such should be read carefully by everyone interested in learning the motives of the Islamist on his own terms rather than in the reductive categories of Westerners. Ye’or is a scholar of the Islamic institution of “dhimmitude,” her word to describe the condition of those peoples conquered by Islam who remain unconverted, the “subjugated, non-Muslim individuals or peoples that accept the restrictive and humiliating subordination to an ascendant Islamic power to avoid enslavement or death.” Dhimmitude is “the direct outcome of jihad,” the military conquest of non-Islamic territory mandated by Allah as a spiritual obligation for every individual Muslim and Muslim community. Historically, Islam spread through violent conquest of non-Muslim lands; consequently, “Beginning early in the eighth century, a formal set of rules to govern relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims was elaborated, based upon Islamic conquests, practices, theology, and jurisprudence.” This “doctrine of jihad established the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims in terms of belligerency, temporary armistices, and submission.”

Jihad can be pursued through force or peaceful means such as propaganda, writing, or subversion against the “enemy,” which comprises “those who oppose the establishment of Islamic law or its spread, mission, or sovereignty over their lands.” All non-Islamic land is considered the dar al-harb, the “region of war,” until it submits to Islamic rule and enters thedar al-Islam. The infidel enemy thus falls into three categories: those who resist Islam with force, those living in a country that has a temporary truce with Islam, and those who have surrendered to Islam by exchanging land for peace—the dhimmi, who live in a system that “protects them fromjihad and guarantees limited rights under a system of discriminations that they must accept, or face forced conversion, slavery or death.”

The concept of jihad is not a historical artifact irrelevant to the modern world; it continues to be studied, invoked, and passionately believed in by millions of Muslims and numerous Islamic religious scholars, for it expresses a potent spiritual reality and belief which holds that all the world will one day become Islamic to fulfill the will of Allah. Thus the natural state of affairs between a Muslim and non-Muslim country is war. If Islamic armies are unable to prevail militarily, then a period of “truce” exists, a truce subject to several conditions, including allowing Islam to be propagated: “The refusal to allow the propagation of Islam in the lands of truce is tantamount to a casus belli, and jihad can resume.

Western apologists and Westernized Muslims discount the ideology ofjihad or try to rationalize as it as a sort of self-improvement, but the evidence of history confirms that for a chauvinistic Islamic civilization, war is a necessity occasioned by the infidel’s refusal to submit to Islam and recognize it as the highest spiritual reality as willed by Allah for the whole human race. Thus Western notions of nationalism, peaceful co-existence between states, resolution of conflict through diplomatic dialogue and negotiation, tolerant cosmopolitanism, human rights, separation of church and state, and liberal democracy are all subordinated to the spiritual demands of religion, manipulated during time of “truce,” or completely discarded if incompatible with those demands. No doubt, many Muslims today reject this vision of Islam and sincerely desire to adapt their religion to these modern Western goods, but the scourge of Islamist terrorism, and the widespread support it receives among millions of Muslims, suggests that such accommodationists are a minority.

Ye’or’s thesis in Eurabia is that in the last thirty years jihad has reappeared as “a powerful factor in European affairs,” one that has been virtually ignored in contemporary analyses. From the high tide of Muslim ascendancy on September 11, 1683 before the walls of Vienna, the subsequent centuries saw the contraction of Muslim power and the growing interference of Europe in the affairs of the Middle East, a retreat confirmed by the deep humiliation of the Ottoman Empire’s dismemberment after World War I. And any hopes that Islam could regain its lost glory militarily were dashed when a tiny Israel three times defeated Arab armies. These further defeats confirmed that jihad could not be pursued with military force and that other means would have to be pursued. King Hassan II of Morocco said as much at the meeting of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers in 1980: “The significance of Jihad, in Islam,” the summary of his remarks states, “did not lie in religious wars or crusades. Rather, it was strategic political and military action, and psychological warfare, which, if employed by the Islamic Umma [the worldwide Islamic community], would ensure victory over the enemy.”

For thirty years, these other means of waging jihad have been remarkably successful in effecting “Europe’s evolution from a Judeo-Christian civilization, with important post-Enlightenment secular elements, into a post-Judeo-Christian civilization that is subservient to the ideology of jihadand the Islamic powers that propagate it,” with the result that Europe is turning into Eurabia—a “civilization of dhimmitude,” content to sacrifice Israel today, and its own cultural identity in the future, for temporary peace of mind and economic benefits.

In Eurabia Ye’or documents both the “jihad by other means” that the Arab states have waged against its traditional enemy, and the craven appeasement with which the European political elite has faced a threat that their ancestors met and turned back at Poitiers, Andalusia, Lepanto, and Vienna. In contrast, “Europe, as reflected by the institutions of the EU, has abandoned resistance for dhimmitude, and independence for integration with the Islamic world of North Africa and the Middle East.” Ye’or’s analysis shows us the various ways that this slow-motion Munich has taken place, and the interests and pathologies that facilitated this appeasement.

The central factor in this process is Israel and the adjustment the Arab world had to make after 1973, its last failed attempt to destroy the Jewish state. One of Ye’or’s most valuable services is to show that the war against the Islamists and terrorism cannot be separated from the fate of Israel, that indeed Israel has been fighting for sixty years a war that the United States has just recently been forced to enter by 9/11. Israel’s existence is the most painful and humiliating sign of the West’s ascendancy over Islam, even more so than were the short-lived Crusader kingdoms or the European colonial presence. For Israel not only exists in lands the Arabs consider rightfully conquered from a people they can tolerate only as subservientdhimmi, but it flourishes in ways that expose the cultural and political inadequacies of the oil-rich Arab countries. The destruction of Israel, then, would mark a major step in reasserting simultaneously the rightful superiority of Arab Islamic civilization and the decadence of a West that abandoned its cultural kin because of fear, moral exhaustion, disbelief in its own cultural ideals, economic interests, and its own peculiar evil of anti-Semitism. The defeat of Israel would then become a model for the subsequent recovery of the Islamic superiority lost over the last three centuries.

According to Ye’or, the most obvious signs of this European appeasement of Islamic aggression are “officially sponsored anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism/anti-Zionism and ‘Palestinianism.'” Anti-Americanism is important for several reasons: the United States is the most complete and most powerful embodiment of the modern West the Islamists despise, a dislike that finds solidarity in the European resentment of American military, cultural, and economic preeminence; and, of course, the United States is Israel’s staunchest ally. Anti-Semitism likewise marries Arab disdain for the conquered people who refused to accept the culminating revelation of Mohammed, with the European fascist hatred of the Jew as embodying the presumed evils of modernity such as capitalism, anti-traditionalism, rootless cosmopolitanism, etc., a convergence obvious in the writings of René Guénon, a French Nazi who converted to Islam and “preached hatred of Western civilization and modern Western secularism, and maintained that Europe could be redeemed only through Islam.”

Finally, “Palestinianism” becomes the vehicle for pursuing the struggle with the West, one that exploits hatred of Jews under the guise of anti-Zionism, thus giving cover to a traditional anti-Semitism driven underground by the Holocaust. Palestinianism also expresses various cultural pathologies of Western societies, such as Western self-loathing, the idealization of the non-Western “other,” the glamour of guerilla resistance, refugee pathos, and a sentimentalized post-colonial guilt. The ultimate goal, however, is not the establishment of a Palestinian state but the prosecution of jihad against the West: “The Arab-Israeli conflict, deliberately blown out of all proportion by the Euro-Arab associative diplomacy, is just one arena of an incessant global jihad that targets the entire West. PLO practices of airplane piracy since 1968, random killings, hostage takings, and Islamikaze bombings have been adopted worldwide as effective jihadist tactics against Western and other civilians, including Muslims.”

Other, more pragmatic forces, however, have been at work as well in the dynamic of European appeasement. With France taking the lead, the unification of Europe to act as a counterweight to American power could be facilitated by increased ties to the Arab-Muslim world. For the French, who considered the Arab and African Muslim world within their sphere of post-colonial influence, “France’s association with a Muslim federation extending over North Africa and the Middle East would bring it an ascendancy that would impress the Soviet Union and rival the United States.” Such a move appealed as well to anti-Semites, neo-Nazis, and ex-Nazis, many of whom found support and refuge in an Arab world that shared their hatred of Jews and Israel: “Two elements thus cemented the Franco-Arab alliance in the 1960s: French anti-Americanism fed by frustrated power ambitions, and a convergence of French Vichy anti-Semitism with the Arab desire to destroy Israel. From then on, America and Israel were inextricably linked in this policy.” France stopped selling arms to Israel and instead began arming Arab dictatorships such as Libya’s Khadaffi and Iraq’s Hussein.

France’s policy became the European Economic Community’s policy after the oil embargo and the quadrupling of oil prices initiated in 1973 by the oil-producing Arab states in response to yet another defeat at the hands of the Israeli army. In November of that year, the EEC issued a joint Resolution that enshrined the “legitimate rights of the Palestinians” as the sine qua non of Middle East peace. This innovative notion of a Palestinian nation was invented as a means of exploiting Western cultural ideals that had little relevance for Arab culture: “Arabs who had settled in the Byzantine Holy Land after the early Arab conquest had never manifested any political or cultural autonomy that differentiated them from other Muslim Arab conquerors in the surrounding regions. The idea of an Arab Palestinian people distinct from the larger Arab-Islamic nation was not only utterly new, but contrary to two fundamental historic concepts: that of the umma (the worldwide Islamic community), and of the Arab nation—the ideology, dating from the 1890s, that promoted a pan-Arab totalitarian nationalism proclaiming the Arabs and superior people and combined with pan-Islamism.” After all, if the Arabs were so interested in creating a Palestinian state, they could have done so any time before 1967, when they controlled Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank.

The recognition of the Palestinian people created the cover that allowed terrorism to be legitimized as well, as evidenced by the status conferred on the terrorist Palestinian Liberation Organization and its boss, Yasser Arafat, who morphed into a head of state treated with all the deference and privilege due to legitimate leaders. Now the rhetoric of “nationalist aspirations” could be manipulated and used to hide the true motive of the PLO: the destruction of Israel, to be accomplished through a “stages” process: “In the name of Palestinian rights, new horrors would soon be unleashed upon Israel and the world.” For the Europeans, however, collusion in the myth of the Palestinian nation bought them protection from terrorism. For example, after Palestinian terrorists attacked the Vienna OPEC meeting in 1973, Austria’s socialist chancellor, Bruno Kreisky, adopted a pro-Palestinian policy, even though the Socialist International had always been pro-Israel. Kreisky became Arafat’s tireless P.R. man, the Socialist International’s policy shifted to advocating a Palestinian state despite the PLO’s commitment to the destruction of Israel, and Arafat was welcomed to Vienna with all the honors given to a legitimate head of state.

The oil embargo was followed by the creation of the Euro-Arab Dialogue (EAD), which in turn spun off numerous organs of European-Arab rapprochement, such as the Parliamentary Association for Euro-Arab Cooperation (PAEAC), all funded by European taxpayers mostly ignorant of what these functionaries and bureaucrats have been doing with their money. For the Arabs, recognition and support of the PLO and its demands were the price for easing European fears of terrorism and opening Arab markets to European businesses: “recognition of the PLO…was an essential condition for the EEC to be granted huge markets in the Arab world.” Economic and political policies would be linked: a Belgian member of the PAEAC wrote in 1975 that support of the Arab states’ campaign against Israel would facilitate further, mutually beneficial economic ties: “The Arab world could contribute manpower and raw material, the Europeans, technology,” particularly weapons and military technology. We see here the beginnings of the European facilitation of Muslim immigration, which would increasingly become a potent weapon in the war against the West.

Thus EAD meetings regularly included declarations from the Europeans that followed to the letter the Arab line, most importantly the “national rights of the Palestinians,” the abandonment by Israel of Jerusalem, and the designation of Gaza and Judea and Samaria (i.e. the West Bank) as “occupied Arab territories,” a dishonest phrase the conceals the facts that these lands are historically Jewish and that until a final settlement establishes borders, these lands are disputed territories whose final disposition has to be negotiated. But politics, fear, and economics shaped European Middle Eastern policy: “Henceforth, Europe would consider the question of Israel’s right to exist only in connection with the European oil supply. In the decade to come, economic realities and jihad terrorist threats would tip the scales in Europe markedly against Israel.”

Playing upon Western ideals of tolerance, multicultural respect for the “other,” cosmopolitanism, etc.—ideals no Arab Islamic culture practices—the Arab representatives to these various institutions were able to make the exchanges between Islam and Europe pretty much a one-way street. Even as Europeans gave in to demands that Arab immigrants be subsidized and allowed to resist assimilation and maintain their loyalty to their countries of origin, no Arab state thought of providing to even their own citizens the same considerations: “While the Europeans did all they could to please their Arab partners, none of the progressive policies the EAD promoted for the Arab world were accepted or applied. Indeed, the EAD trafficked in concepts that were largely foreign to the Arab world. What did freedom of conscience and religion, gender equality, and equality of dignity for all people really mean in societies that practiced segregation of women and infidels, death for apostasy, ‘honor’ killings, female genital mutilation, and even the stoning of women, and which were riddled with the religious fanaticism and hate nurtured by the jihad shari’a values that persisted at the core of Arab/Muslim civilization?”

Meanwhile, as organizations such as the EAD were legitimizing the PLO and its explicit call for the destruction of Israel in its 1964 Charter, terrorist attacks “flourished on an international scale during the 1970s and 1980s with the 1972 massacres of the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games, the blowing-up of airplanes, the attacks and murder of civilians by the Black September group, and the bloody war against the Christians in Lebanon.” Yet at the same time, the PLO became a member of various UN bodies, including the Commission on Human Rights (from which Israel is excluded), and Arafat was received as a legitimate statesman and political leader, a process that culminated in the UN’s notorious Resolution 3379, which labeled Zionism a form of racism, thus giving even more legitimizing cover for anti-Semitism and the murder of Jews.

The bulk of Bat Ye’or’s invaluable study comprises a careful analysis of the transcripts and communiqués from various conferences, seminars, and other functions in which the European appeasement of terror and the demonization of Israel are set out in plain speech. Over and over we can see in these dry records the steady erosion of the European will to resist a culture radically antithetical to its own and contemptuous of its most cherished ideals. As a result, a tiny Israel, under vicious assault for its whole existence, has been turned into an international pariah that must shoulder the blame for its own victimization, as evidenced by French President Jacques Chirac’s statement in 1996 that blamed terrorism on “the slowness of the peace process and the Palestinian people’s frustration.” Centuries of Islamic aggression against the infidel justified by “countless Qur’an verses, hadiths, and Muslim religious jurisprudence” are completely ignored in this reductive, self-serving analysis.

Indeed, the reduction of terrorism to a response to the “Palestinian question” has become a cliché in European foreign policy, thus completely obscuring the long history of jihad: “Hostage taking, ritual throat slitting, the killing of infidels and Muslim apostates are lawful, carefully described, and highly praised jihad tactics recorded, over the centuries, in countless legal treaties [sic] on jihad. Yet [British Foreign Secretary Jack] Straw and [French ex-Foreign Secretary Dominique] de Villepin declared to the press that the Arab and Islamic world were angered by the injustice felt by the Palestinians, and that this was the most important issue in the world and in Euro-Arab relations.” Meanwhile the slaughter of black Christians by Arab Muslims in Sudan has continued apace, the Lebanese are occupied by the Syrians, and the Kurds are denied a homeland despite over 2,500 years of continuous existence in lands now possessed by Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Iraq. On all these issues the European elite whose hearts bleed for the Palestinians has been silent.

Bat Ye’or’s analysis makes a powerful case for understanding European policy in regards to the Middle East as an expression of classicdhimmi psychology: “The dhimmi policies of submission, humiliation, and services, blended with antisemitism and anti-Americanism, have given Eurabian dhimmitude its complex fabric. It follows a historical jihadist pattern by fomenting animosity between dhimmi groups and division between infidel nations.” We have here a compelling explanation for the strange self-debasement of European intellectual, cultural, religious, and political elites, their eagerness to denigrate their own culture and values as inferior to Islamic civilization and to the culture of immigrants who have fled societies whose dysfunctions are in large part an expression of that supposedly superior culture. The dhimmi mentality explains as well the willingness of European governments over the years to pay billions in cash to thug regimes and terrorist groups like the PLO, and to confer legitimacy on murderers and to attend conferences in the capital cities of tyrants who torture and slaughter their own citizens. And this mind-set clarifies the behavior of those European governments that in the last three years have hampered and subverted America’s attempts to end the bad habits of appeasement, whose grisly fruit is that gaping hole in lower Manhattan, not to mention the hundreds of Israelis blown to bits by murderers who have been given psychological and material comfort by the European elite.

In 1973 French travel writer Jean Raspail published The Camp of the Saints, a disturbing allegory of Europe’s cultural suicide in the face of a mass invasion of the Third World poor. Yet as correct as Raspail’s depiction of European moral, cultural, and spiritual exhaustion has proven to be, the European world will not end with such a bang but with the long, slow whimper of appeasement, as Ye’or documents in her powerful analysis. But what about America?

In her conclusion, Ye’or acknowledges the importance of the Bush administration’s actions after 9/11 in beginning the reversal of decades of appeasement: “Integrated in Bush’s declared war against terrorism, the Iraqi conflict has debunked Europe’s complacency and collusion. Furthermore, President George W. Bush has unveiled the lethal danger of Islamist terrorism and placed it on the international world stage, dethroning the ‘Palestinian cause,’ and thus revolting many Europeans by weakening the Euro-Arab struggle against Israel.” True, yet there are considerations that should temper our optimism that the United States can ultimately prevail.

First, the recent election shows that a substantial number of Americans still don’t understand the true nature of the struggle with Islamism. Too many still believe that poverty, or Israeli intransigence, or post-colonial fallout, or Bush’s unilateral gun-slinging, or Western cultural “arrogance” and disdain of the dark-skinned “other” explain Islamist terrorism. Years of therapeutic multiculturalism and leftist-inspired slanders against the West, promulgated in schools and popular culture, have taken their toll. Consequently, many Americans indulge a sentimental cultural relativism and self-loathing that make it easy to avoid moral judgments and assign responsibility for terrorist murder. And of course, sheer ignorance of historical facts leaves many of us vulnerable to the falsifications of history that undergird such relativism.

Next, the President’s policy of facilitating democratic regimes and political freedom in the Middle East short-changes the power of cultural and religious ideals in determining behavior. Democracy is obviously important if the requisite cultural transformations can take place: respect for human rights irrespective of sex, sect, or race; the rule of law; subordination of religion to government; civilian control of the military; an independent and transparent judiciary—all these are necessary for democracy to create political freedom rather than simply ratifying a new tyranny, as the Algerian democratic elections did in 1993. We need to acknowledge the power of spiritual ideals, such as jihad, in driving the Islamists, and not just explain these as the consequences of the lack of elections.

Finally, I’m not sure the President has “dethroned” the Palestinian cause. Since the death of Arafat, the Holocaust-denier and apologist for terror Mahmoud Abbas has been elevated into a statesman and promised millions in aid; the smokescreen of Palestinian statehood continues to obscure the long-term Arab strategic goal of destroying Israel in “stages”; the terrorist organizations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad committed to this goal have not been disarmed and destroyed; and most important, the myth that all disorder and violence in the Middle East result from the lack of a Palestinian state is perpetuated. More and more the current calm resembles those heady days after Oslo, when unrequited Israeli concessions were greeted with Israeli blood and flesh in the streets.

As Ye’or documents, the key to Islamist terrorism is Israel, but not in the way most people think. For the jihadist mentality, Israel must be destroyed, if not by bombs and tanks, then by piece-meal concessions and sheer demography. It make take fifty years, it may take a hundred, but like the medieval Crusader kingdoms, this manifestation of the dynamic power of Western cultural ideals cannot be allowed to survive as a constant reminder of Islamic civilization’s failure. Israel’s war is our war, and until we forcefully assert that linkage in our public pronouncements and more important in our actions, everything else we do just buys some time, in which the forces of appeasement and the murderous energy of the jihadistswill do their work.

©2005 Victor Davis Hanson

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

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