Monday, February 23, 2009

The Legacy of Jihad

It is doubtful that there is any aspect of Islam about which there is more misinformation disseminated – wittingly or unwittingly – than jihad. Typically, such misinformation belittles the role and nature of jihad to make Islam seem as innocuous as possible.

This despite the fact that there is a plethora of Islamic texts and historical accounts which show quite clearly that jihad – offensive war to spread Islam – was a basic feature of Islam from the time of the Prophet onwards, as The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims compiled by Andrew Bostom makes quite clear.

The Legacy of Jihad is a compilation of scholarly articles, original documents, Islamic commentaries and historical accounts from the beginning of Islam to the present. It starts with a Foreword by Ibn Warraq then a series of Parts. The first is a survey of jihad and the imposition of dhimmitude. The second is on jihad in the Qur’an and the hadith, with excerpts from Islamic commentaries on the former. The third is a series of excerpts from Islamic commentaries on jihad from the C8th to C20th. Part 4 is a series of overviews of jihad from C20th scholars. Jacques Ellul’s piece on the (corrupting) influence of Islam on Christianity is easily the weakest, since it makes a series of striking assertions without evidence.

Part 5 is a timeline, maps and period illustrations on jihad from the C7th to C11th. Part 6 is a series of extracts from historians on jihad in the Near East, Europe, Asia Minor and the Indian subcontinent. Part 7 is on jihad slavery. Part 8 is a series of eye-witness and near eye-witness accounts, Muslim and non-Muslim, of jihad campaigns from the C7th to the C20th (the Armenian genocide). There is also a series of useful appendices.

The greatest single power of The Legacy of Jihad is the sheer amount of material. The power of original materials and repetition is great.

The logic of Islam

Islam-the-religion is Submission to God, conceived as Sovereign Legislator: that is its defining principle. Followed by, as a natural consequence, spreading the message of Submission. One can choose to Submit or one can be forced to submit to being ruled, according to the laws of God (i.e. Shar’ia), by those who have Submitted.
The People of the Book are in partial submission, so are permitted to continue in their partial submission, as dhimmis, under the rule of Muslims, the full submitters. Polytheists and animists are not even on the path of submission, so only have the choice of full submission (becoming Muslims) or death. One of the more horrifying sections in The Legacy of Jihad is the discussion of the Armenian massacres and genocide (Pp 518ff), pointing out that later C19th and early C20th agitation for equality before the law within the Ottoman Empire was a breach of the contract of dhimmitude. That contract spares the lives and property of non-believers in exchange for them accepting Muslim rule, including second-class status. If one rejects second-class status, then one has breached the contract and one’s life and property can be taken. As, indeed, happened, both in the “Hamidian massacres” of the 1890s and the genocide proper during the First World War.

Jihad follows naturally from the logic of Islam: particularly the concept of Allah as lawgiver. If Submission to God – and thus to the laws of God – is the highest principle, then spreading the coverage of those laws is a deeply worthy act: both within oneself and across the world. The latter being the more worthy. In the words of one hadith:
It is narrated on the authority of Tariq b. Shihab: It was Marwan who initiated (the practice) of delivering khutbah (address) before the prayer on the 'Id day. A man stood up and said: Prayer should precede khutbah. He (Marwan) remarked, This (practice) has been done away with. Upon this Abu Sa'id remarked: This man has performed (his duty) laid on him. I heard the Messenger of Allah as saying: He who amongst you sees something abominable should modify it with the help of his hand; and if he has not strength enough to do it, then he should do it with his tongue, and if he has not strength enough to do it, (even) then he should (abhor it) from his heart, and that is the least of faith.
Hence aggressive war to spread Submission to Allah was a fundamental part of the mission of the Prophet, the conquests of his Companions and of Muslim rulers for the next thousand years. (The picture on the cover of the paperback edition of The Legacy of Jihad is a C19th rendition of the Prophet and his son-in-law Ali [both represented as flames, being too holy to represent as images] supervising the beheading of the men of Jewish tribe of the Beni Kuraizah [aka Bani Qurayzah].) A pattern of military expansion that only halted because Islam-the-civilization came up against more successful predators.

A clear pattern of operation can be seen, particularly in the pieces on the Turkish advance across Asia Minor and the Balkans. First, regular raids “soften up” the infidel: such raids being sanctioned by the actions and words of the Prophet. Including the taking of booty. In the words of a C14th Granadan writer:
It is permissible to set fire to the lands of the enemy, his stores of grain, his beasts of burden—if it is not possible for the Muslims to take possession of them—as well to cut down his trees, to raze his cities, in a word, to do everything that might ruin and discourage him, provided that the imam deems these measures appropriate, suited to hastening the Islamization of that enemy or to weakening him. Indeed, all this contributes to a military triumph over him or to forcing him to capitulate.
Acquiring booty while doing one’s religious duty (indeed, offering oneself up for potential martyrdom as a ghazi, a holy warrior of Islam) is a highly congruent merging of the spiritual and the material. Such raids de-populated border areas by massacre, by flight and by famine due to the destruction of crops. Having undermined the material basis of any defence, the Muslim armies then move in and take control, with terror being a pervasive part of the process. Once control is established, Muslim peasants and warriors would move into the conquered lands and the process would repeat at the new borders.

While there has been some spreading of Islam-the-religion via trade routes, Islam has overwhelmingly been spread by the conquests of pastoralist nomads (Arabs, "Moors" [i.e. Berbers], Turks, Mongols). The religion suits such: most emphatically jihad with its religious sanctification of raiding.

The historian Vasiliki Papoulia, in an excerpt discussing the effect of devshirme (the tax of dhimmi boys to the Sultan) on Greek society, discusses briefly Arnold Toynbee’s theory of nomadic states collapsing due to not adjusting properly to rule of agrarians (p.556) with Toynbee explaining the longevity of the Ottoman state by its successful development of the slaves of the Sultan as “enforcers” (in effect, “herd dogs” on the peasantry).

There is a narrower point to be made about pastoralist (i.e. nomad) rule. The historian Dimitar Angelov, in his piece on the Turkish conquest of the Balkans, refers regularly to the Turkish “feudal lords”. This is precisely what they were not. The standard way to finance warriors in Islam-the-civilization was either to pay them a direct salary or to assign the right to collect the taxes of peasants in a given area. Land was precisely what they were not given.

The operating principle is a pastoralist notion of peasants as “herd” to be lived off, not land-as-property. The book includes excerpts from early Caliphs explicitly ruling against directly sharing out land so that the peasants could provide revenue (Pp591ff). In pastoralist society, grazing land is communal (which helps cement the solidarity that is a feature of pastoralist life: a recurring pattern is that the infidels were often disunited, even to the point of treachery), it is not a thing owned individually.

The interaction between warriors, peasants and land in Islam-the-civilization was therefore typically quite different from that in Latin Christendom, where the land-owning-and-inheriting warrior elite had strong incentives to concern itself with the productiveness of the land, commerce and productive relations with the peasantry. Over the longer term, the former generated seriously inferior incentives for economic development, while fostering far more centralised concentration of power: especially given the right to tax peasants could be re-assigned at any time and was usually not heritable (particularly not the same set of peasants). Even a late C12th Muslim chronicler, ibn Jubayr, noted with concern that the Crusader states (or Franj, Arabic for “Franks”) treated their Muslim peasants better than did neighbouring Muslim rulers (p.263 of The Crusades Through Arab Eyes):
Upon leaving Tibin (near Tyre), we passed through an unbroken skein of farms and villages whose lands were efficiently cultivated. The inhabitants were all Muslims, but they live in comfort with the Franj—may God preserve us from temptation! Their dwellings belong to them and all their property is unmolested. All the regions controlled by the Franj in Syria are subject to this same system: the landed domains, villages, and farms have remained in the hands of the Muslims. Now, doubt invests the heart of a great number of these men when they compare their lots to that of their brothers living in Muslim territory. Indeed, the latter suffer from the injustice of their coreligionists, whereas the Franj act with equity.
It is noted in one of the contributions to The Legacy of Jihad that slaves were a preferred asset (purchase of slaves represented one of the best investments p.569). This makes sense, since they were direct warrior property as land was not. Jihad slavery – explicitly sanctioned by Islam – was probably the largest manifestation of slavery across human history. Even in our time, Islamism in Sudan has seen a revival of slavery (Pp 579ff).

Indeed, anything one might damn, particularly fashionably damn, Western civilisation for – imperialism, colonialism, religious wars, militarism, misogyny, degradation of “the Other” – Islam did more so, longer, and explicitly religiously sanctioned.

Any claim that the Crusaders (most notoriously the First Crusade) were worse in their homicidal barbarity than Muslim conquerors is completely false. From the beginning of the Arab conquests on, Muslim jihad raids and conquests were marked by massacre, rape, enslavement, looting and destruction. To take but one example, the massacre of the inhabitants of Syracuse, when it was taken in 878, was every bit as horrid the Crusaders massacre and sack of Jerusalem in 1095. And jihad was a hugely bigger phenomena across time and space. For example, the jihad depredations in India were much worse, over much longer period of time, than that of the crusaders in Outremer: since Buddhists and Hindus were “polytheistic idolaters”, their only choices in terms of Islam were Islam (Submission to God) or death, as Islamic clerics kept preaching.

Simple practicality stopped Muslim rulers going all the way with that, but they went horridly far in rape, massacre, pillage and enthusiastic destruction of “idolatrous” art, temples, buildings etc, regularly boasting of how many 100,000s they had killed or enslaved. British rule in India was much less oppressive than Muslim rule, as Indian historians freely acknowledge. In the words of the Amir Timur (Tamurlaine) in 1399 (in a very C19th translation):
My principle object in coming to Hindustan and in undergoing all this toil and hardship, has been to accomplish two things. The first was to war with the infidels, the enemies of the Muhammadan religion; and by this religious warfare to acquire some claim to reward in the life to come. The other was a worldly object; that the army of Islam might gain something by plundering the wealth and valuables of the infidels: plunder in war is as lawful as their mothers’ milk to Musulmans who war for their faith, and the consuming of that which is lawful is a means of grace (p.650).
A very congenial merging of the religious and the material – for the pastoralist raider and conqueror. Working through the material in The Legacy of Jihad, one is struck by the consistency of the reports across the centuries and regardless of region. A congruence of religious belief, institutional forms and cultural outlook. With regular boastings down the centuries of the numbers of infidels slain, women and children enslaved, idolatrous temples destroyed, booty taken and Submissions to God achieved. All of which is impeccably based on the example of the Prophet.

It is a common contemporary notion that people are defined by their beliefs. So, it is held, to criticise Islam is to attack and denigrate Muslims. And that is bad. So, the implication is, one cannot criticise Islam. No matter what its logics and doctrines have led to, again and again and again.

Of course, Islam-the-religion also defines people by their beliefs. Very much so.

So we have an eminent Pakistani Shar’ia jurist, in September 2007, holding that Muslims should live in peace in countries such as Britain where they are free to practice their religion only until they are strong enough to establish Muslim supremacy. An unimpeachably Islamic sentiment.
Equality before the law is un-Islamic. In the words of al-Ghazali (perhaps the most important figure in Islam after the Prophet):
... the dhimmi is obliged not to mention Allah or his Apostle … Jews, Christians and Majians [Zoroastrians] my pay the jizya [poll tax on non-Muslims] … on offering up the jizya, the dhimmi must hand his head while the official takes hold of his beard and hits on the protruberant bone behind his ear … They are no permitted to ostentatiously display their wine or church bells … their houses must not be higher than the Muslim’s, no matter how low that is. The dhimmi may not ride an elegant horse or mule; he may ride a donkey only if the saddle is of wood. He may not walk on the good part of the road. They have to wear [an identifying] patch, even women, even in the public baths … (p.199).
To Western minds – to whom the dominant “template” of what a religion is, is Christianity, followed by post-Diaspora Judaism and perhaps Buddhism – to read excerpts on a serious religious debate (Pp 151ff) about whether it is permissible, under one’s religion, to kill hermits, old people, the insane … during war is a little disconcerting. But we are dealing with a seriously different model of what a religion is and a seriously different civilisation. It is an odd doctrine, this doctrine that we must always “respect” the Other: to hold that cultural differences must be respected and so no differences can be anything other than benign ones.

Yeshua ben Miriam held that His message was reducible to two principles. Love God and love one another. If we abandon the first, there is still the second. In the West, there is an important sense in which we are all heirs of Niccolo Machiavelli and, even more so, Thomas Hobbes: the man who, more than anyone else, changed the big question from God and Man to Man and the World. By contrast, Islam is nothing without God, which is why its politics keep returning there. Few people in Islam are the heirs of Hobbes. We operate across a great gulf in presumptions.

Moreover, the Christian injunction to love one another is a general injunction, it is not restricted or layered by belief. In his 1537 bull Sublimus Dei, Pope Paul III proclaimed, regarding the inhabitants of the Americas, that:
... the said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; and that they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved; should the contrary happen, it shall be null and have no effect.
By contrast, an Islamic jurist wrote, in a book published in 1940, reflecting consistent Islamic jurisprudence about the law of Allah down the centuries:
… the Imam may condemn the population of the conquered countries, in case they do not accept Islam and the Imam does not demand that they shall work and pay the tribute, to be slaves and be divided among the Jihadists as [the spoils of war]. The owner of a slave had the liberty to treat him any way liked. If the slave were a woman, he was allowed to have sexual connection with her without marriage (p.577).
Or, in the words of al-Ghazali again:
… one must go on jihad (i.e. warlike razzias or raids) at least once a year … one may use a catapult against them when they are in a fortress even if there are among them women and children. One may set fire to them or drown them … If a Person of the Book is enslave his marriage is revoked … One may cut down their trees … One must destroy their useless books. Jihadists may take as booty whatever they decide … (p.199).
It is not the Christians adhered to what Pope Paul decreed. It is that Islam has no such higher standard to invoke.

The world would be a better place if Christians more consistently lived up to their religion. It would be a much worse place if Muslims more consistently lived down to all of theirs. As The Legacy of Jihad makes abundantly clear.

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