Saturday, March 13, 2010

Talk by (Rev. Dr.) Mark Durie

Recently went to a talk by the Rev. Dr. Mark Durie on his book The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude and Freedom.

Mark Durie began by saying he sought to have a conversation and setting out his background. The son of an Anglican (Americans would say Episcopalian) minister, he grew up in an Australia where one could sense some hostility to people of faith. He was aware of how religious ideas can shape us in profound ways and of the power of faith. He feels it is urgently important to engage with Islam: to identity what are the key ideas, what are their implications.

Dr Durie has a Ph.D in linguistics (specifically, the grammar of Aceh). Became an academic at Melbourne Uni. Then felt the call, left and studied theology. He understood the Islamic theology of jihad pretty thoroughly, as it was a big part of Aceh culture.

Then 9/11 happened. He was particularly struck that the same Quranic verses were in the backpacks of 9/11 hijackers as was used a century earlier in Aceh struggle against Dutch. His reaction to 9/11 was to study. He read the Qur’an, volumes of hadith, biographies of the life of Muhammad. 15-16 volumes in all that he had out of Baillieu library for 6 months—this told him no one else was wanting to read them.

What the volumes displayed was a very disturbing vision of the world. The experience left him with a “soul sickness” for some months. He went to the Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV), to see what they had. Was sold a couple of books by an elderly gentleman who was a former Australian ambassador to Saudi Arabia in Pakistan who had converted.

One, written in the 1930s, advocated jihad and toppling democracies. The book is still in print. Durie found it to be a very powerful book and it was deeply disturbing that the ICV sold it. The other book, the best-selling Islamic textbook for US, written by a convert from University of Michigan, was similar. There are also decades of journals preparing for the creation of an Islamic state. On the internet, one can see similar book lists all over Australia.

We don’t get it. The question is: why don’t we get?

The publications he read describe in detail why to deceive people on the way to establish the Islamic state. Durie holds that people are afraid of difficult truth until one can show them a solution.

Informed and energised by what he had read, Durie began to write and preach. In his reading, he was struck by the psychological depth, amount of intellectual power and strength of emotion in the Islamic texts.
The reaction to the Regensburg speech of Pope Benedict was revealing. The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia—a very serious figure—issued a press release where his response was the convert or die was not the only option, the third option of submission was available: he clearly believed this is a reasonable defence of Islam.

Durie’s book is about that third choice.

He is struck by how people are making small choices to surrender all over world. The third way is based on the dhimma: the pact of surrender (literally: ‘pact of liability’). It is based on the fundamental idea that the destiny of Islam is to rule.

The policy for rule of non-Muslims is the dhimma covenant determined by shar’ia. These are not negotiable: you have to accept terms offered, which come straight from Muhammad.

The subject is steeped in denial. Durie has been struck by the lengths people go to deny the reality, including scholars.

Durie himself is aware of the structures of denial from pastoral care: such as battered women, victims of abuse. Denial is a very powerful force: it is protective, enables you to build a coherent world you can live with. In dealing with denial, have to ask, in deep and patient way, what is the horror they are afraid of.

Under the dhimma, a tax is levied as a payment for your head: a compensation for not being slain. This is the jiyza as a “satisfaction for their blood”. The tax is for the benefit of Muslims: compensating Muslims for not killing them, then taking their wives, children, and their property.

In early years, people would have the front of their head shaved or wear head seals. A physical sign of the “Compensation received for being permitted to wear their heads that year”. Other marks include, at time of payment, ritual of blow on neck, or rope, or gesture of throttling. The tax was not light, it was often extremely heavy.

One C18th Morroccan Islamic writer wrote about how a dhimmi must load his soul down with submission. A C19th Iranian Islamic writer wrote about how the dhimma pact was about taking away his soul. The dhimmi was expected to adopt an attitude of gratitude and inferiority.

This attitude is being manifested in the West. It is creeping into public discourse. Such as the notion that the West was rescued from the Dark Ages by Islam: but Greek learning did not have to be rescued by conquest, while the Renaissance was sparked by Greek scholars and books fleeing Constantinople from the Turkish conquest. There is also a historical argument that the shutting down of Mediterranean trade by the Muslim conquest caused Dark Ages.

The aim was to build up a clear and compelling picture of Islam from fundamental principles, one drawn from a wide range of sources. Durie went through every major commentary so as to be sure was not cherry-picking, but examining mainstream Islam.

Around the world, Islam is the biggest problem in persecution of Christian. The liabilities being imposed on non-Muslims in Islamic countries match shar’ia requirements on dhimmis. The underlying themes of gratitude and inferiority are creeping into Western popular culture. It is a live issue.

Why did he write the book? Not to improve personal safety but to understand and explain. The intention is to challenge people’s worldview and to make it intolerable to continue to live with denial.

There was then a Q&A session.

Q: What is it that is so compelling in book on Islam you mentioned?
A: Plays on desire to be connected to God, surrender to God as source of meaning, building on life of Muhammad. Build a structure of how to live one’s life. Anticipates how people’s hearts will move. Islam is anti-reason, hates reason yet great minds have sacrificed themselves to Islam.

Q: How do you talk to friends, acquaintances, family about this and what is their reaction?
A: Stopped just chatting, because it is quite a depressing subject. Need to be clear himself, hence wrote book. People have a lot to lose if abandon lazy good-naturedness. Need to equip people with skills to do that. To know the questions to ask.

Q: On Dark Ages, was the book you used From Muhammad to Charlemagne by Henri Pirenne?
A: Yes, he advances thesis that Islamic conquest shut down Mediterranean. Explains why Northern Europe became more important—so far away from Islam.

Q: Please talk about the despair you felt from studying Islam.
A: Had soul-sickness for six months: gained hopefulness from faith and truth. Had a framework to fit things in. It became hard to read the Old Testament when thinking Qur’an example. One reads the story of Jericho quite differently. In the book, wrote a chapter on how Muhammad responded to rejection. Did all result in him falling in love with Jesus again. The example of Christ became deeply compelling in a new way.

Q: Regarding jiyza, how was level set, did people rebel?
A: Understood to be the inheritance of Muslim, as the whole world belongs to Allah. His people are the Muslims. So taking resources is liberating resources to the people of Allah. In tribal Arabia, one would kill an enemy, take his property, extend your lineage from his wives and children. The jiyza was compensation for foregoing that right. Imposed on every male who had reached puberty and older: the same list of people who can be killed in conquest as paid the tax. Taxed roughly according to capacity to pay.

Study of records show it was 3-4 months salary of an ordinary labourer in C8th Egypt. Would also lay tribute on cities, lands have to pay to avoid tax. Over time people were impoverished. If could not pay, had to hide (even selling children into slavery).

There were public conversions to Islam while keeping secret belief. In the Ottoman Empire, had a tax of children taken to the service of the Sultan.

James Reilly, an American who was shipwrecked and enslaved in Morocco in C19th, wrote of how, if people could not pay, they were gaoled and beaten until died. The tax continued to 1950s in Afghanistan. The mentality still exists: non-Muslims owe Muslims, non-Muslims become strangers in own land.

Q: Please talk more about the example of Christ?
A: Both Muhammad and Christ suffered very similar and intense rejection. Responses were very different. He came to see jihad as catharsis for rejection. He works with people who suffer deep rejection: some of them display self-destructive, hateful responses.

Q: You mentioned the use of the same verses in Aceh and 9/11: could you please talk about the context in Aceh?
A: The people of Aceh fought against others a lot, they were also pirates and slavers. Dutch attempted to clean up the Malacca Straits. Led to 30 years of insurgency. Eventually, a Dutch analyst who had lived secretly in Mecca convinced the Dutch authorities that they were fighting a religious war, religious insurgency. The Dutch changed their strategy and suppressed the insurgency. The people of Aceh are proud of their jihad against the Dutch.

Q: What about the notion of Andalusia, al-Andalus as golden age.
A: The dhimmis lived under system of dhimma. He does challenge the golden age in his book. Finds it an interesting mythology: a poisonous myth that does not do Muslims any favours.

Q: Islamic Forum for Europe are using entryism. Anything similar operating in Australia?
A: One is dealing with different types of groups, those overtly extremist and moderate persona people. People take a long time frame with this worldview. When one looks, all significant organised leadership had some radical connections. They had a free run until 9/11. Only in recent years have they come under scrutiny or pressure.

Q: Muslim conquest caused Dark Ages?
A: Muslim conquered much of Mediterranean, terrorised trade. Northern Europe became isolated from intellectual and mercantile networks.

Q: UK has made so many concessions. Any sign of any stemming of this?
A: The tide is turning in Holland, Italy and France. UK has a long tradition of appeasing Islam. British intelligence deliberately hosted most radical Islamists, for example. Don’t know what will happen. In Australia, a lot Christians are speaking out at various levels. Not so in the UK. Muslim connections have white-anted Christian leaders for years. Sabotaging publication. Those who are aware of the issues are often too combative, not good at building alliances.

It is better to be confrontational about ideas, rather than denying the issue until people are fighting for real.

Q: How long has Australia got?
A: The public culture is very different here: things are discussed much more openly. Some evidence of deliberate suppressing of Muslim immigration and Australia has other sources of migrants.
Muslims can be schooled into a place.

Q: Was the jizya only on men?
A: Yes, but there were other taxes as well.

Q: The Story of O—all about submission: submission as seductive sexually. Submission as joyful or blissful state: is this part of the appeal?
A: Submission does indeed have an appeal in its own right.

Q: What about notion of Islam as transmitter of Aristotle and Greek ideas.
A: Come across idea, there were some translation from Arabic. So what?

Q: Is multiculturalism the greatest gift to Islam?
A: It is very subvertable to Islam. But so are other things in contemporary Western mindset. Islam is a kind of booty civilisation, good at taking things and using it for own purposes. It would get renewed from first few generations of conquered people who had not yet fully absorbed its worldview.

Q: Any comments about rape rates from Muslim men in Western societies?
A: The issue is covered in book. That rape is permitted under Islam leads to a rape culture.

Q: Many Muslims do realise harshness of own religion, have had those conversations with Muslims about this?
A: Have not had those conversations. There does seem to be elements of shame among some Muslims about aspects of Islam.

Q: Why did some cultures resist longer than other?
A: Complex question including historical accident. Copts tattoo cross on their wrist. Sometimes had support from outside Muslim rule. Muslim rule varied in harshness.

Q: Any comments about proper response by the US to 9/11?
A: Start with not saying Islam is a religion of peace, not leaving up to volunteers to ferret out truth in these matters. Noted the role of Grover Norquist pushing engagement with Islam to Republicans. As a result, conservatives not united in US on the matter.

Q: What about the responses of Anglicans, particularly in Britain?
A: Christians in Middle East play a role in serving dhimma system pouring out poison about Israel. Anglicans can also be somewhat arrogant and want to be nice.

Q: In my reading, dhimmitude was an adaptation and expansion of the Eastern Roman laws and Church decrees oppressing Jews.
A: Yes, indeed. It is a great moral parable since the ways that Christians oppressed Jews were then applied by Muslims to Christians. Normans adapted the Muslim system when conquered Sicily and applied it to Muslims as tributo.

Q: How do you deal with deliberate obstructionism?
A: Prayer is a great help. It is a big ask to destroy someone else’s world view for their own good. What one does is wait for an opportunity of glaring inconsistency and work on that. It is important not to bury people in too much information too quickly.

Q: What about the Anglican Archbishop hosting President Khatami?
A: The Archbishop made use of opportunity: the meeting included and Anglican pastor who is a convert from Islam who gave the Iranians a copy of the gospels in Iranian.

Found the presentation powerful and effective. I do not agree with the Pirenne Thesis, but that is hardly central to his argument. On the jiyza tax being often very heavy, a tax that cannot be negotiated, which is levied on people excluded from the political community for the direct benefit of the conquering group is a tax which clearly will tend to be as heavy as is profitable. Or even more, since driving people to convert is a worthy act.

What particularly struck me is how much reading one has to do to really “get” the logic at the centre of Islam. I have read a fair bit on Islam, and some of the above was new to me (or put what I had already read in perspective). A central problem is that the operating assumptions, at the most basic level, are so fundamentally different it can be quite difficult to see how different and what their implications are.

The notion that one should love God and treat others as you would be treated pervades our culture in all sorts of ways and forms. The latter, for example, involves a profound sense of moral reciprocity, the same-rules-for-everyone and morality as a general, even absolute, set of principles. The former treats people are choosing agents, whose emotions and judgements have a certain inherent, implicit authority. The preaching of Jesus is all about choice, love and compassion and its presumptions pervade even our secular philosophies.

Conversely, the notion that one must submit to God, and that the goal to which all moral concern is subordinated is universal submission to Allah conceived as a legislating sovereign have profoundly different implications. A system of submission is also a system of domination where one gives up judgement except as continuing submission and if, as is the case, the level of submission varies then it becomes a system of a hierarchy of domination: believing men dominating women, believers dominating non-believers.

If Allah is the universal legislator, then one is committed to a divine command ethics that pervades life. The divine becomes a crushing presence in one’s life. The objection of John Stuart Mill to divine command ethics—that one is still required to develop a notion of the good since the divine commands do not answer every question—does not apply. But consider what a constriction on intellectual life that is. One ends up with a moral “occasionalism” to go with the causal “occasionalism”. No wonder Islam tends to have a deadening effect on intellectual life and creativity over time. (Much of the “intellectual glories” of Islam were either the product of dhimmis, of recent converts or of transmitting what had been created in other civilisations: in other words, of people not yet fully, generationally, absorbed into the mental map of Islam—one could argue the stagnation of Islam followed from “using up” the intellectual resources of the conquered.)

Then there is the notion that the morally trumping goal is the submission of all to the sovereignty of Allah. Not only does this subvert any notion of morality-as-reciprocity but it also subverts morality-as-constraint. As long as an act serves the goal of spreading submission to the sovereignty of Allah, it is a worthy act constrained only by what submission to the sovereignty of Allah may otherwise entail. One can see how jihadi terrorism, including homicide-bombing, can seem to be a thoroughly worthy act even though it does evade other elements in submission to the sovereignty of Allah. But the mere act of misleading or lying to unbelievers is clearly worthy if it advances the spread of submission to Allah, since the Prophet himself endorsed deception. Consider how subversive and poisonous that is to elementary discourse between believer and non-believer. One simply cannot trust that Muslims will be honest about their religion. A reality that seems so offensive to our base assumptions that it seems outrageous to hold to it: alas, there is so much evidence that this is a real problem.

Hence the importance of studying the original documents: the Qur’an, hadith and life of Muhammad. They are the root sources of Islam and set out its basic logic.

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