P O S T
11 January, 2002
Review of "Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide", by Bat Ye'or. Fairleigh Dickinson Press, 528 pages, $19.95 [paper].
Bat Ye'or, the pseudonym for an Egyptian-born scholar now a British citizen, coined the term dhimmitude to render in western parlance the infamous Arabic dhimma - a status of inferiority imposed by Muslim civilization on Jews and Christians. Her analysis is a quantum jump in understanding the dhimma concept. Ye'or analyzes individual, collective and state conduct in the modern world using the dhimma framework.
This remarkable work is, in a way, the summation of Ye'or's scholarship over the past quarter century, which has centered around the essence of jihad and its repercussions on the political theory of Islam since the religion's inception.
Ye'or has demonstrated that dhimmitude did more than merely place Jews and Christians in a subservient juridical, economic and social status in Muslim society. It even did more than foster centuries of discrimination and humiliation of Jews and Christians. Dhimmitude became a state of mind, "so deeply internalized that it escaped critical evaluation and invaded the realm of self-image." It not only makes Jews and Christians an oppressed - though patronizingly "protected" - inferior minority, it is a psychological mechanism of oppression.
This book, translated from French by Miriam Kochan and David Littman, covers some of the same ground as Ye'or's earlier works - The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians Under Islam and The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude, 7th to 20th century.
But the previous scholarship doesn't reduce the impact of this book's troubling message. Ye'or has sharpened her thesis and shed new historical, contemporary and existential light on this complex topic.
To this day, dhimmitude influences Islamic history, politics, philosophy and behavior. Ye'or has succeeded in weaving together disparate threads in Muslim society, depicting historical events from a 19th century blood libel and the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion to the Holocaust and the current intifada - all to illustrate how the dhimmi idea has played out.
The horrors of September 11 and increased debate over whether there is a "clash of civilizations" between Islam and the West are certainly given context by the analysis that runs through this prophetic book. Unlike her previous volumes, which are devoted to the study of dhimma since its inception, Islam and Dhimmitude, mainly covers the modern and contemporary world. Also in contrast to previous works, there is a much larger proportion of the author's own analysis as compared to outside documents.
book will no doubt create controversy. There are still Muslims and
Westerners who have a hard time waking up to the realities of the post-September
11 world. The writing had been on the wall, but they ignored it.
Students of history, politics and Islamic society would be wise to study
the harrowing messages of this book and hope that it is not already too
late for Western society to internalize its lessons.
© Bat Ye'or 2002