I don’t generally publish older articles — there is so much worthy material out there that if I did, I would do nothing else. However, I have made an exception for this piece from last November by Johannes J.G. Jansen (Hans Jansen), author of “The Dual Nature of Islamic Fundamentalism.” Janssen is one of the most esteemed contemporary scholars of Islam and jihad. His discussion of dhimmitude–a subject he declined to acknowledge until Van Gogh’s murder–is extremely enlightening.
thanks to Looney Tunes for sending the Dutch article, and special thanks to Rogier Van Bakel of Nobody’s Business for very kindly undertaking to translate it.
When I was still young and naÃ¯ve, and while studying in Egypt for a year, I requested an audience with a local Coptic bishop in Cairo to inquire after books about Islam that were written by theologians of the Coptic Church. The Coptic Church is the indigenous, centuries-old Christian ‘people’s church’ of Egypt. The Coptic language is the last form of the hieroglyphs from the Pharaohs’ days. The Church’s liturgy and sermons have been performed in Arabic for centuries. Its following has gradually dwindled since the conquest of Egypt by Islam in 636, from almost 100 percent of the population then, to barely five percent today.
It seemed unthinkable to me that Coptic theologians hadn’t pondered Islam, and that there wouldn’t be any books or articles about Islam from their vantage point. A good topic for a dissertation, I thought. But within three seconds, the bishop had set me straight. No, there were no such books. He pointed out that right next to every church in Egypt is a mosque, its minaret just a bit higher than the neighboring church spire. And also that, especially when the Copts were holding a church service, the mosque’s amplifiers broadcast Islam’s message at full blast, so that it was usually plainly audible inside the church. All of this, he said, had to do with the respect for Islam which was mandatory for Christians in Egypt.
The seriousness of the situation wasn’t immediately evident to me. But I did grasp that this was hardly the stuff of a fun dissertation, and so I went looking for greener pastures. Years later, the meaning of what I’d heard that day became clear to me. The demand for respect sounds normal and good to our ears, but how far can a group go in insisting on it? If pork is anathema to a religious group, may children whose classmates are members of that group still eat ham sandwiches? If conservative dress for women is decreed by that religious group, must female teachers appear in long-sleeved dresses even in the heat of summer?
It usually doesn’t take very long before the group that demands respect forces non-followers to study the details of their sacred teachings. And those non-followers tend to comply. These last few weeks, the newspapers have been full of examples. May one use shampoo during ritual washings? Should Dutch politicians know which imams refuse to shake a woman’s hand and why? To make a slight faux pas in such matters is to invite much whinging and stern comments. Pretty soon, everyone falls prey to a cautionary zeal that causes them to go around walking on eggshells. Writing critically about Islam — just as other religions and ideologies may be critically discussed — becomes out of the question, especially for those with young children.
All it takes for everyone to fall silent is a small avant-garde of Mohammed B’s. Such a group claims an exclusive right to determine what offends Islamic sensibilities, thereby essentially holding other Muslims hostage. Those fellow Muslims won’t want to thwart or contradict said avant-garde. People like Mohammed B., by the way, call themselves an avant-garde, referring to Qu’ran 110:2, a passage that extremists read as a decree by God himself in which He explains to the faithful that once Islam begins to be victorious and triumphant, “God’s people will enter religion in mighty droves.”
The consequence of a permanent, forced respect for Islam is that the Muslim multitudes are never confronted with a sober assessment of their religion. Not by non-Muslims; not by former Muslims who keep mum for safety reasons or are hidden out of view by a government that values civic peace above everything; and certainly not by ‘ordinary’ Muslims, who are being conditioned to leave thinking about Islam to the ‘avant-garde’ and the imams.
The demand for respect sounds inherently reasonable, but the consequences of such respect — when it is forced — are like an ever-expanding oil spill. When non-Muslims such as bishops, mayors, cabinet ministers, and members of the royal family time and again pronounce their respect for Islam, Muslim doubters (of which there are tens of thousands, of course) can be forgiven for thinking that if such august persons voluntarily and contrary to their own interests show respect over and over, Islam must be something special indeed; and that he or she would do wise to abandon thoughts of leaving Islam behind, resolving instead to strictly adhere to such an exceptional faith.
In many countries, respect for Islam has led to peculiar measures. The sale of wine in an ordinary supermarket can no longer be permitted, because Islam forbids the consumption of wine. And can we really tolerate advertising for mortgages and other interest-based loans when Islam forbids charging interest? Eating in public during the month of Ramadan? May restaurants even stay open then? Can one pour beer in an open-air cafÃ© if the place is situated on the same square as a mosque? Might it be a sign of disrespect for Islam to have a Muslim suspect appear before a non-Muslim judge? Or to have a female bureaucrat or politician make far-reaching decisions involving Muslims?
The blasphemy question is a particularly dangerous trap. What will be the consequences for a judge who dismisses the case against an anti-Muslim blasphemist, or gives him a too-light sentence? In the views of the extremists, such a magistrate clearly shows his lack of respect for Islam, and he faces severe risks if his lenient verdict brands him the blasphemist’s accomplice. It is all but assured that the avant-garde of characters like Mohammed B. will pose a real threat to the judiciary in blasphemy cases.
Respect and extreme caution have introduced many odd scenes in the Netherlands since the murder of Theo van Gogh — despite the fact that Muslims are a minority. It’s clear that once muslims are the majority, as they are in the Middle East, more respect and cautionary zeal will have to follow. Inevitably, there’s a technical term for this phenomenon, coined by a French-speaking scholar: dhimmitude (pronounced more or less as zimmie-tuude). The word was thought up by a writer with the pen name Bat Ye’or, which is Hebrew for “daughter of the Nile.’ She is a Jewish researcher of Egyptian origin, whose work has focused on the history of Jews and Christians under Islam of the past fourteen centuries. The picture she paints based on archives and memoirs is rather depressing.
Dhimmitude comes from the Arab word dhimmi. A dhimmi is a Jew or a Christian who recognizes the authority and superiority of Islam. If he doesn’t, Islamic law is unforgiving. A rebellious dhimmi can be killed or sold as a slave. Many dhimmis have internalized their respect for their Muslim masters, and only think and say positive things about Islam. Their lives are pathetically overshadowed by extreme caution toward the dominant religion. In her books, Bat Ye’or gives hundreds of pages worth of examples. These books have been translated into English but have not been reviewed in the Netherlands. Among others, they are The Dhimmi (1985), The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude (1996), and Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide (2002).
The most curious thing about dhimmitude is that it even occurs where Islam is not the state power. A recent Dutch example from the town of Uden. After the fire, prime minister Balkenende had a conversation with a little boy who said his burned-down school, once rebuilt, shouldn’t have a sign that identifies it as Islamic. Balkenende might very well have said, “Yes, if there are more murders like the one of Theo van Gogh, Islam and Muslims will get a very bad reputation in the Netherlands. Let’s you and I make sure that murders in the name of Islam will not happen anymore, so we can call your school Islamic again without worrying.” But Balkenende said nothing of the sort. He only spoke vaguely of “never again”and muttered something about guarantees. In short, Balkenende showed his deep respect for Islam and was virtually paralyzed with cautionary zeal.
Second example: Hours after the murder of Theo van Gogh, Ms. Florax, the spokeswoman for the Amsterdam police force, still talked about a killer who was possibly disguised as a muslim, or words to that effect. In the first live TV broadcasts she plainly contended with the possibility that the killer hadn’t really acted on behalf of Islam, but had only pretended to do so. How different things were after the arson case in Uden. Apart from Matt Herben, not a single TV host or journalist surmised that muslims themselves had committed the crime, Jules Croiset-style, to raise shock and sympathy. It’s caution gone mad to not even face that possibility. By the way, the alleged arsonists have been apprehended; they’re autochthonous children.
Holland has a four-centuries-long tradition when it comes to pacifying subsets of the population. The Dutch elite reckons that the country will ultimately also succeed in pacifying muslims. But Islam has a fourteen-centuries-old tradition of resisting any kind of pacification. The Roman empire was virtually without equal in assimilating new groups: the Huns, the Goths, the Germanic tribes, the Gauls; they almost tripped over themselves to become Romans as they approached Rome. But the Arab Muslims never submitted to the Roman influence. The Algeria of church father Augustine was entirely Roman; now it’s completely Islamic. The Arabs stripped Egypt and Syria away from the East-Roman empire, and it was ultimately conquered by the Turks who were on a quest to create the Ottoman empire. Will the Dutch political elite fare better than the ancient Romans did?
Over the last few weeks, the government has probably exaggerated the acute threat of Muslim violence in the Netherlands, so as to force Ayaan to go underground and, in a sense, to silence her, as this would satisfy the Muslims and keep things from spinning out of control. This approach, unfortunately, has had the side effect of rendering opinion makers more afraid than is warranted. Their cautionary zeal has noticeably increased.
That Ayaan has been silent for so long sends the wrong signal to Dutch Muslims. The threats against Job Cohen and Ahmed Aboutaleb reveal what’s really going on. The movie Submission and Theo’s term ‘goat f**kers’ are invoked in every discussion, to make it easier for those who seek to excuse or trivialize the first Islam-inspired murder in the Netherlands. At least it’s possible to say something critical of Theo and Ayaan, but what in god’s name are the sins of Job Cohen and Ahmed Aboutaleb? Why have these two raised the wrath of the extremists? It’s ultimately not about Submission, nor about the characterizations that Theo van Gogh was famous for; it’s all about adopting ‘respect’ for Islam, respect that is forced on the Dutch by a ruthless avant-garde of extremists who think nothing of intimidating a cross section of the country’s elite ‘in the name of Islam.’
The limp brand of caution displayed by Balkenende and Donner is the last thing we need right now.
By Johannes (Hans) Jansen, www.arabistjansen.nl
First published in the Dutch broadsheet Trouw, November 27, 2004
Translated from the Dutch by Rogier van Bakel, www.nobodysbusiness.typepad.com