Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide

By Bat Ye'or. Trans. from French by Miriam Kochan and David Littman. Madison, New Jersey: Associated University Presses, 2001. 528 pp. $60 ($19.95, paper).

The scholar who goes by the pseudonym Bat Ye'or has focused her research for three decades on the institution she has dubbed "dhimmitude," meaning the humiliation and vulnerability of being a dhimmi (the Islamic legal term for Jews and Christians who accept Muslim sovereignty). In what is probably her chef d'oeuvre, she completes her trilogy with an exceptionally relevant scholarly study of Islam in triumphant combat against non-Muslims. Islam and Dhimmitude amasses compelling evidence and employs powerful argumentation to expose and explain dhimmitude -- the author's neologism. With impressive erudition and precision-and personal courage- Bat Ye'or here presents both her largest canvas and her most profound analysis of this condition. She challenges powerful misconceptions and establishes a new framework for understanding the inter-relations of the three religious civilizations and peoples.

She makes four main points: (1) The commonly claimed Islamic tolerance of "protected peoples" (dhimmis) is a historical falsehood that conceals the normative reality of jihad (holy war) as much as it does Jewish and Christian subjugation. Islam's doctrinal foundations do not tolerate "infidel" equality with Muslims, much less the self-affirmation as free peoples who aspire to liberate themselves, as in the cases of Jewish and Christian efforts in Israel and Lebanon respectively.

(2) The willingness of many Middle Eastern Christians to accept dhimmitude will result not in their hoped-for symbiotic Christian-Muslim co-existence but in the disappearance of Christianity from the region.

(3) Autonomous Christian civilization is currently withering in its European homeland (North America is another story). Europeans are giving way on many issues concerning Islamic practices to their increasingly assertive Muslim populations, such as permitting the muezzin's call to be broadcast in Oslo and applying the Iranian law of divorce in Germany and looking the other way from bigamy in Spain.

(4) The bond of dhimmitude linking victimized Jews and Christians needs rejuvenation. It is often forgotten, as Bat Ye'or explains, that "if the Jew must be a dhimmi, the Christian, too." The author calls for a Jewish-Christian dialogue and campaign to salvage their civilizations from the Islamic assault. The author does not hold out hope, at this time at any rate, for moderate Muslims to be part of that discussion.

Mordechai Nisan
Hebrew University of Jerusalem