Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Third Choice 3

This is the third and concluding part of my review of Rev. Dr. Mark Durie’s The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude and Freedom, a book on treatment of non-Muslims in Islam. The Rev. Dr Durie is a former academic (linguistics) and Anglican (Episcopalian) preacher. The previous two parts are here and here.

The pact of subjection
Durie then takes us through the doctrine and history of the dhimmi, those who lived under the third choice, the dhimma pact. He starts by noting that Mosaic law requires the Israelites to treat the aliens amongst them well, a point reiterated by Jesus in his parable of the good Samaritan (Pp 117-8):
In contrast to the Biblical principle of compassion for the alien, the traditional Islamic attitude to non-believers living under Islamic rule is based on non-reciprocity, the superiority of the Umma and the necessity to discriminate accordingly between Muslims and non-Muslims. Non-Muslims are to be tolerated, but only as inferiors to Muslims (p.118).
There are two types of submission in Islam: the submission of the believer to Allah and surrender of the defeated non-believer. The final stage of the call to Allah (da’wa) is the conversion or submission of all mankind to Islam (Pp119-20).

Jihad is the:
… struggle to impose the supremacy of Islam throughout the world, and to establish the Dar al-Islam, or house of Islam, which is the region where Islam rules (p.119).
The notion that the “inner jihad” of strengthening one’s own submission to Allah is somehow a substitute for “outer jihad”, extending the territory of Islam, of the submission to Allah, is a theological and historical nonsense. That jihad as fighting until the entire world submits to Islam is fundamental to mainstream Islamic theology Durie can establish from various Muslim authorities past and present, including a former Chief Justice of Saudi Arabia (who died in 1981) and the response of the current Saudi Grand Mufti to Pope Benedict’s Regensburg Speech (Pp119-121).

Durie notes various contemporary Muslim citations of Khaybar (including Hezbollah’s “Khaybar” rocket). Khaybar was the first example of the dhimma or ‘covenant of liability’. Based on Muhammad’s (by definition exemplary) actions here and towards the conquered Jewish farmers of Fadak, Tayma and Wadi-l Qura, the institution of dhimma was developed in Shar’ia:
According to the laws of jihad, the alternatives to the dhimma were conversion, slavery or death. … The dhimma pact fixed the legal, social and economic place of non-Muslims in the Islamic state. In return, the people of the pact, known as dhimmis, were required to pay tribute (jizya) and other taxes, including a land tax (kharaj), in perpetuity to the Muslim Community (the Umma), and to adopt a position of humbl and grateful servitude to it (p.123).
Jizya was a head tax levied on every non-Muslim male in recognition of their defeated status. At first applying only to Jews and Christians (paganism being forcibly extirpated in Arabia) it was later extended to Zoroastrians (declared by the Shafi’i school to be ‘people of the book’) and then to pagan Hindus (in accord with the Hanafi school of Islam) (Pp123-4).

Durie takes us carefully through the implications of the phrase in verse Q9:29:
until they pay the jizya out of hand (’an yadin) and are humbled (saghirun).
Taking us through a series of Islamic authorities and scholars of Islam, Durie establishes that the jizya is compensation paid by the conquered non-believer for not having his head and property taken, part of the logic being the world and everything in it “really” belongs to those who submit to Allah, the Muslims.
… taking jizya from dhimmis is an act of liberation, in which Muslims receive back in compensation what was rightfully theirs as Allah’s servants (p.126).
The word itself means ‘compensation’ or ‘reparations’, as a series of Islamic authorities state (p.127). Those who are liable for the tax are the same as those who can be killed in the course of jihad (p.128). Though practice did not necessarily obey the restrictions of theory. Either way, failure to pay jizya means that jihad could be restarted (p.129).

The phrase ‘out of hand’ (’an yadin) has been interpreted as meaning it is a gift for living, that it be given submissively or that it must be paid in person (p.130). Islamic jurists have used the expression of being humbled or belittled (saghirun) to strongly associate jizya with belittlement. So payment of jizya was often associated with ritual expression invoking the beheading that the payment was avoiding, such that striking on the neck remains a deeply insulting gesture in Arab culture to this day (p.131). Other gestures or ritual symbols used for the same purpose—reaching back into pre-Islamic Arabic practice—was cutting the forelock or the wearing of neck-seals, though neck striking was more common and continued until the C20th (Pp132ff). The jizya thus becomes a blood oath or pact who ritualised payment establishes the humiliation of the dhimmi, as it is intended to (Pp140-1).

But humiliation of the dhimmi was a central and pervasive feature of Shar’ia: it was very much an intended feature and openly stated by Muslim jurists to be such. The aim and the effect was to squeeze out other religious communities and promote conversion to Islam. There were restrictions on:
• conversion,
• marriage,
• worship and practice of faith,
• on opposition to Muslims,
• exercise of authority,
• on housing, public appearance, status and behaviour.
As well there were also:
• imposed vulnerability and legal disability,
• requirements to render assistance and loyalty to Muslims,
• prohibition on critiquing Islam.
All of which Durie takes the reader through (Pp141ff).

The structure of laws took centuries to evolve (p.147) but to a fairly clear inner logic of humiliation and subordination. It is fairly clear that some were adapted from the Code of Justinian of 534. As Durie notes:
It is one of history’s bitter ironies that a legal system designed to oppress Jews and heretics came to be turned back against Christians by their Muslim conquerors (p.147).
And in reverse: when the Normans conquered they reversed the system they found and applied it to Muslims some of which was then applied by the later Spanish rulers or Sicily to the New World (Pp147).

There are passages from the Qur’an which are used to justify the dhimmi system along with many hadith. The problem with the latter is that it is not always clear which came first, aspects of the dhimmi regulations or the justifying hadith since some hadith were clearly developed to provide convenient justifications in the early centuries of Islam before the first compilations were written (Pp148-9). After all, the compilations carefully state the provenance of hadith precisely because of the problems of authenticity.

There were injunctions from Muhammad and the early Caliphs to protect dhimmis but these were significantly vitiated by the structure of the dhimmi laws and their consequences. Dhimmis were particularly vulnerable in times of conflict between Muslims or between Muslims and non-Muslims: a repeated pattern in history which incorporates the Armenian genocide and violence against Christians in present-day Iraq (Pp149ff).

Added to all this is a pervasive spiritual hostility, with cursing dhimmis a widespread historical pattern in Islamic societies. As Durie notes:
It is a crushing psychological and spiritual burden to live from generation to generation under a culture of curses and withholding of blessings (p.153).
Generations of queer folk cannot but agree with him.

In practice
Durie then moves on to what he calls The Lived Reality. He starts with a quote from an Islamic cleric objecting strongly to President Bush II claiming that Islam is peace:
I am astonished by President Bush when he claims there is nothing in the Quran that justifies violence in the name of Islam.
Is he some kind of Islamic scholar?
Has he ever actually read the Quran
The dhimma pact is one that operates to end a past war but always operates under the shadow of a future one—if the dhimmis break any part of the pact. At which point, in accordance with the sunna (example) of Muhammad, the men can be slaughtered, the women and children enslaved and their property confiscated. Moreover, jihad against dhimmis who have broken the dhimma pact is a personal obligation on all Muslims. Indeed, this can extend even to anticipated breaches of the pact, remembering that the Qur’an categories unbelievers as oath-breakers. There is thus a long history of massacres of dhimmis (Pp155ff).
Durie notes that the Armenian genocide followed a (recent and continuing) history of massacres and coincided both with war against Christian enemies and breaching the dhimma pact by aspiring to equal treatment. For a key element of the dhimma pact is that it is communal: both in structure and in implications if broken. This led to continuing concern to do nothing to provoke Muslim hostility since one individual being held to have broken the pact could provoke communal reprisals: a continuing pattern in our time. For, as Durie notes:
It must be emphasized that there need not be actual dhimmi laws in place for reprisals to be enacted which accord with the pattern of the dhimma pact. The dhimma is not merely a legal construct: it is a religious institution which informs and influences the culture and behaviour of whole societies, whether the political authorities uphold the dhimma or not. This was repeatedly demonstrated throughout the Muslim world after the Ottomans officially revoked the dhimma, and the principle continues to be shown today in the enforcement of many dhimma conditions against non-Muslims in Islamic nations (p.161).
Durie cites a Muslim attack on Taiba, a Christian Palestinian village in September 2005 as a contemporary manifestations of these patterns.

Durie goes through various features of the lived reality of dhimmitude including:
• abduction of children,
• rape and abduction of dhimmi women,
• seizure of property
with plenty of C20th examples (Pp161ff).

The actual burden of jizya taxation could be crushing. In the C8th in Egypt, jizya taxes were 1-3 months wages for labourers compared to the tax rate of about one week’s wages for Muslims: remembering that the money went to the benefit of the Muslim community: this without considering all the other taxes and contributions also levied. Since jizya was often levied on whole villages, if one family converted that increased the burden on other families, creating cascading mass conversions (Pp167ff).

Durie examines the more recent pattern of concealment and denial of this historical record by both Muslim and non-Muslim commentators, the former often doing so to defend the dogma of Muslim superiority (Pp169ff).

The impact of the dhimma system was severe. Some dhimmi communities simply disappeared, others declined to shadows of their former selves (p.179). Some of the other effects are more subtle: such as the psychological effect on both dhimmis and Muslims. The latter having a sense of superiority and mastery that inhibits understanding (Pp179ff). Durie examines the tendency of dhimmis to imitate Muslims to “fit in”: to the extent of defending Islam (Pp181ff).

The decline and retreat of Muslim power and the rise of Western power was reflected in a slow process of the retreat from the dhimma system, which reached a peak with the Western imperial occupation of the much of the Islamic world in the C20th. While there are no states currently imposing jizya taxation, there are Muslims who advocated its reinstatement, there have been examples of Muslims levying such taxes on their Christian neighbours and aspects of dhimmitude are beginning to return in the Muslim world (Pp184ff).

Durie points out that about 200million Christians around the world are subject to religious persecution, with Islam being by far the largest source of persecution: a persecution that extends to other religious, including other versions of Islam. With the trend, particularly for Christians in Muslim countries, tending to get worse over the last half-century (Pp187-8).

The patterns of persecution tracks quite closely the dhimma regulations (p.189). There is also advocacy for returning to the dhimma: for example by Sayyid Qutb. The Iranian Revolution moved non-Muslims into legal dhimmi status and there are reports of jizya payments being extorted from Christian and other non-Muslim communities across the Islamic world (Pp189ff).

There has been a growing tendency for Sharia to be re-introduced as the basis for law in Muslim countries. This is then followed by increased discrimination against non-Muslims, examples of which Durie sets out at some length (Pp194ff).

Durie then examines what he calls the dhimmis mimetic tendency. For example, the way Christian Arabs were prominent in promoting Arab nationalism—which has since become a vehicle for Islamization. He cites Edward Said’s Orientalism as a prime example:
By levelling the charge of ‘racism’ against generations of Western scholars of Islam, Said has intimidated many researchers into silence. By blaming the problems of the Arab world on ‘orientalism’—the wicked West’s allegedly racist perspective on the East—he made it very difficult for non-Muslims to critique Islamic theology. By demonizing the West, and silencing a whole generation of Western critics of Islam, Said has ‘encouraged Islamic fundamentalists’ (p.202).
The silly, indeed offensive, term ‘Islamophobia’ does much the same.

Accepting dhimmitude
Dhimmis being banned from criticising Islam has expanded into a pattern of silence and denial where non-Muslims are afraid to speak up to avoid hostile attention, scholarship and local leaders gloss over or deny the problems while “street-level” intimidation is a fact of life (Pp202ff). There is also a history of Western scholarship obfusticating the situation of dhimmis and the implications of the dhimma for a wide range of reasons. The result is:
A regime of silence has descended over the subject of the history of dhimmi peoples. Today many who write and speak about Islam, if they refer to the dhimma, will describe it in glowing terms which are nothing but misleading, and which do not accurately reflect fourteen hundred years of Islamic thought and practice on this subject, let alone the suffering of millions of non-Muslims (p.210).
One wonders if pointing out that the dhimmi regulations are clearly substantively based on anti-Jewish laws of the Christian Roman Empire might change perspectives?

Durie analyses Western responses to Islam has often displaying the patterns of dhimmitude:
The requirement that non-Muslims—at least those that are not enemies—embrace dhimmitude, and affirm, appease and serve Islam, greatly limits the repertoire that Christians can have towards it (p.210).
And non-Christians too. Either way, gross injustices are either passed over, or seem somehow excusable (p.211). The speech of Western leaders shows dhmmitude patterns. In one particularly telling example, he cites excerpts from a speech by Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, that display the classic dhimmitude patterns of gratitude, praise and denial of criticism. The UN more generally tends to buy into such patterns, the term ‘Islamophobia’ being a particularly useful weapon (Pp211ff).

There is a pattern of “Islamizing” history, playing down Muslim aggression and persecution while playing up Western indebtedness to Islam for the transmission of Greek learning. There have also been some privileging of Islam and Muslim communities in policy and the implementation of law in the West (Pp216ff). (All of which is, of course, particularly distressing to refugees from Muslim persecution.)

While Durie makes some powerful points, his history betrays him a bit here. Christianisation had disrupted the transmission and development of Greek science well before the Muslim conquests, which were not, contra Durie’s citing of the Pirenne thesis, in any way responsible for the Dark Ages.

His analysis does raise questions of how things are construed. So when the Episcopalian primate in the US talked of the US as being a ‘superservant’ rather than a ‘superpower’, that played straight into Muslim attitudes of the proper role of dhimmis, so his speech was much relayed in the Muslim world (Pp220-1). Similarly, Western aid to the Muslim world could be construed as a form of jizya (Pp213-4).

Durie argues that the patterns of dhimmitude are not a healthy way for the West to interact with Islam, for either party:
Dhimmitude is also bad for Muslims, for many reasons. It feeds a widespread pattern of Muslims claiming the role of victim, while blaming others for problems they themselves have responsibility for (p.223).
The destruction of any sense of responsibility damages the social and economic development of the Muslim world.

If one side has a structure requiring subordination of outsiders built into its religious worldview that the other side is ignorant of, or otherwise ignores, then there is a real risk that such a framework will become imposed on interactions between them (p.223). Hence the “truth empowerment” that Durie is seeking to provide.

Struggling against dhimmitude
Durie concludes with a short chapter A Way Forward. He starts with an excellent example of mutual miscomprehension: an interfaith service held in Boston shortly after 9/11. The way the event was construed by the Episcopalian minister was utterly different from that of the presiding Musim cleric, who completely interpreted it in terms of Islamic theology of dhimmi gratitude and acceptance of the key points of Islam and Islam’s superiority (Pp226-7). The same cleric, in another letter, noted with satisfaction that the rate of conversion to Islam in the West had doubled since 9/11, reports with satisfaction alleged signs of deteriorating Jewish-Christian relations, cites Jewish interest in interfaith dialogue as being motivated by fear of the implications of Christian-Muslim dialogue and all this as a sign of the humiliation of non-Muslims unless they are under the Muslim covenant of protection (Pp227-9).

The only way out, Durie argues, is the path of truthful engagement—one where truth and love anchor each other—so that both Muslim and non-Muslim can avoid the patterns of the dhimma (Pp231-3). Which still leaves the awkward question of how much that can be done within Islam and how many Muslims have enough reasons or incentives to follow that path. The latter, of course, is affected by what incentives the West generates to follow one alternative over the other.

On the former point, Michael J. Totten made an instructive comment:
One reason non-Arab Muslims tend to be more moderate is because they have non-Arab cultural traditions which clash with the religion. Islam takes up a much smaller psychological and cultural space outside Arab lands.
Engagement with Malay or Bengali Islam (or a post-mullahocray Iran) might well be a lot easier than Arab Islam.

Durie’s analysis of the burden of Islam fits in very well with the comments of a son of a founder of Hamas who converted to Christianity and spied for Israel:
"The problem is not in Muslims," he continues. "The problem is with their God. They need to be liberated from their God. He is their biggest enemy. It has been 1,400 years they have been lied to."
Salvation in Christianity is about love for God and loving treatment of others. Success (falah) in Islam is about submitting to God and treating others according to their submission status. Love is about personal agency and respecting the other person-as-a-person. Submission is about the negation of agency; about status and social role. The former seeks to build a web of moral reciprocity, the latter a structure of hierarchal order. The former sees proper authority as something that is attentive to people, the latter as something people are attentive to. They are profoundly different ways of looking at the world, with very different consequences.

I have read a great deal about Islam, but no book has been as clear in setting out its basic structure as Mark Durie’s The Third Choice.


  1. I have both read about and know Muslims - Westerners who have converted to Islam as Sufis both before and after 9/11. There is, in my experience, definitely a mystical path through Islamic Sufism. I studied and practiced Sufism prior to 9/11 and benefited from it, but did not convert. I recognized 9/11 as a declaration of war - absolute and to the finish. This made conversion out of the question for me, though to be honest the possibility of conversion went from slim to none. My view of Islam is consistent with the the descriptions of dhimmitude and jihad discussed in this review. It is religious totalitarianism and I utterly reject it. Yet there are other sides to Islam. In my experience Indonesian Islam is different (mentioned in the review), although these attitudes are present also. Sufism actually does concern itself with inner jihad and in my experience it is a helpful theological concept as opposed to just a self serving way of deceiving dhimmi. The Shake I practiced Sufism with made the point often and explained the theology in terms of practice. It wasn't just eye-wash, but a useful way to develop inner ruthlessness toward self delusion. However, that same shake also makes the point that all Muslims are fundamentalists including Sufis because they believe the Qran is the word of God - full stop. And that the militant Islam we see today is traditional Islam - not some aberrant form of it. But it is, I believe, infected with something aberrant - fanaticism or more precisely what I think of as totalitarian idealism. So I think it is also true that the jihadis are often much like other totalitarian idealists - Nazis or Communists. The behavior of the jihadis in Anbar province in Iraq turned the Anbar Sunnis against them to the point they temporarily allied themselves with General Petraeus and the American Military - their enemy - to get rid of them. They did it because the jihadis prostituted their sisters and daughters and struck off the hands of their sons for the sin of smoking cigarettes - all the while taking drugs themselves. Unsurprisingly young fools given absolute power go for sex and drugs and turn into degenerates with remarkable speed.

    The strategic problem I see is a large demographically expanding Muslim population that is feeding off the jihadi mentality and a soft and irresolute West unprepared to really defend itself. I believe the jihadis will eventually wear out their welcome. Iran has had a gutfull and the Iraqis just shifted toward secularism in their recent elections. That is why I think that despite its deep historical roots in the Qran that we are also looking at a wave of totalitarian idealism similar to fascism or communism in the mid 20th century in the West. The outcome is uncertain, but even if the West continues to semi unconsciously accept dhimmitude I don't think rising powers like China and India are going to tolerate it.

  2. Yes, in the longer term the demographic realities are against Islam. Christianity is out-converting Islam strongly in Africa, they have very limited inroads in China, India has a large Muslim minority but it is still very much a minority. This is without considering internal patterns, such as the dramatic drop in Iranian fertility, for example. The question is how much damage gets done on the way through.

    Some forms of Sufism are the most attractive version of Islam (along with the Ismailis). The more I study Islam, the more I understand why Sufi thinkers developed the notion of religions as different "masks" for approaching God. The "mask" of Islam is very problematic for any morally serious thinker.

  3. lgude

    The perfect "word of God" cannot be emphasized strongly enough, especially to complacent westerners - atheist and Christian - who are so accustomed to a Christian Bible, whose words are merely 'touched by' or 'inspired by' God.

    The other inextricably linked linguistic fact here, is that The Koran was written entirely in one language - the Arabic still spoken [or at least read] today. Indeed, a large swathe of the world's Muslim population learns to read and write using The Koran, and The Koran only. While it is true, that nowadays many non-Arab world Muslims memorize The Koran in their vernacular, the Arabic language remains indomitably sovereign. Compare the polyglot linguistic mongrel that is Xianity!

    The other point that few Xians and westerners do not realize is that Islam has not even begun the process begun on Xianity in the 19th century of textual criticism, biblical archaeology, and later textual, semiotic, historicist deconstruction.

    The very few brave scholarly souls who have even dared to begin this process on The Koran have been discovered very quickly and duly sent none-too-subtle Salman Rushdie inspired 'Please Explains.' ')

  4. I take some exception to the statement, "While there are no states currently imposing jizya taxation..."

    The U.S. State Department has identified three nations whose governments could be doing more to protect religious minorities from jizya persecution.

    There is also evidence that Pakistan endorsed collection of jizya against the Sikhs as part of a truce with the Taliban, and indications that the government of the Philippines was willing to out-source tax collections to the MILF.

    The problem is not just jizya advocacy. It is actual jizya collection that is either quietly or expressly permitted by several governments in the world today.

  5. AD: You seem to have missed the statement that and there are reports of jizya payments being extorted from Christian and other non-Muslim communities across the Islamic world (Pp189ff). Durie is not claiming it is not levied, merely that it is not being levied officially by states.

  6. And you've missed my point that this is being done under state auspices. Again, letting the MILF collect jizya was a proposal of the Philippine government. Collecting jizya from the Sikhs was based on an agreement between the Taliban and the Pakistani government.

    These activities are not just informal, privately enforced activities. They are the results of governmental arrangements.

  7. Thank you for an introduction to the theology of Islam. Has has anyone sent this to the Archbishop of Canterbury? Has he access to these discussions and scholarship. I really don't mean to be facietious; I am genuinely puzzled. What could he have possibly have intended with his comment on sharia law in England?

  8. Anonymous

    And especially to the incredibly stupid Prince Charles, soon no doubt to be crowned at the Finsbury mosque as His Royal Dhimmness, Keeper of the Dhimmi!

  9. Anonymous: Given the author is an Anglican minister, I think we can leave that to internal Anglican processes. Part of the problem, as Durie points out when questioned, there is also a certain complacent arrogance and wish to be nice involved.

  10. American delight: hate to be picky, but a state tolerating it being levied is not the same as the state officially levying it. Though it does support Durie's contention that persecution of non-Muslims in the Islamic world fits into the patterns of dhimmitude.

  11. Bear with me on a comparison. Our federal government doesn't collect property taxes, but it would be an understatement if somebody said the federal government only "tolerates" the collection of property taxes by state and local governments.

  12. American delight: In the MILF case, it is not actually clear from the sources that the proposal be that the Moros both set and collect taxes, merely that it controls the collection (this is not the same thing: the IRS controls federal tax collection, it does not set the taxes). In the Pakistani case, the Taliban are not a subordinate element of the Pakistani state in the way local and state governments are in the US. I agree that this is getting into a very grey area but it is still not quite at official levying of jizya by the state.

  13. Dhimmitude reaches the Melbourne Left

  14. Peter: I went and read the thread you linked to--I now want my minutes back. But sneering at your own societies does not really count as dhimmitude. (It does, however, make you more vulnerable to the dhimmitude mindset.)

  15. Anonymous: the Archbishop of Canterbury said what he did about sharia law because, I suppose, he had been accepting what Muslim dialogue partners were telling him about Islam, and he had not grasped that Sharia law discriminates against Muslims, especially against women in family law matter. He was naive and ill-informed about contemporary developments, such as a pivotal human rights case in Europe, and the Canadian attempt to introduce sharia for family law. I expect that this ignorance has since been addressed.

    Peter Patton: you are right about textual criticism being barely started for the Qur'an, but it is worse than you say. Modern textual criticism on the Bible really commenced in the 17th century, not the 19th. Quranic textual criticism is still in the 18th century. We haven't even made it to the 19th century yet. There is perhaps a century of work ahead to be done on the Qur'an, but at present only a handful of scholars are doing serious work, in comparison to the huge numbers of scholars who worked on Biblical manuscripts from the 19th century on.

  16. Lorenzo

    I was thinking more generally in terms of high Islamic fertility rates at the end of my comment because I wasn't aware of the population trends you mention. I had thought that the conversion competition in Africa was more closely run, but that is indeed good news. Likewise the Spengler piece on Iran is an eye opener. It puts flesh on the bones of my intuitive sense that what I called 'totalitarian idealism' in my comment is not sustainable. It also exposes the nihilistic underbelly of the high morale Michael J Totten finds among Hezbollah in Lebanon. To your final point I would add that as a modern Westerner I don't believe I would benefit by immersing myself in a mystical tradition - ie Sufism - that is for the foreseeable future deeply engaged in the tension between a fanatical fundamentalism and the direct experience of God.

    Peter Patton

    As it happens I'm neither and atheist nor a Christian and so have no dog in that fight, but I am personally familiar with Christian precincts where the Bible is regarded as the literal word of God and college professors of my acquaintance tasked with teaching 'the Bible as literature' in publicly funded universities know better than to try. Their students wont stand for it. That place would be Louisiana - a state I dearly love. ;-) But to be fair to the youth of Louisiana none of those students feel so strongly about it that they think they can stem the tide of either secular modernism or Islamism by strapping on explosives and blowing up unbelievers. By and large they understand that their's is a minority point of view. So I agree with the main thrust of your point - even among Christian fundamentalists the whole process of modernization is well advanced while it has barely begun in Muslim lands.

  17. lgude

    Point taken. I was emphasizing the way it supposed to be. But skepticlawyer's objection to the "no true Scotsman" defences that often attend this debate is spot on. But as a very wise woman and her son once said, "stupid is as stupid does." And I know there are 497,345,809,234,789 Americans who can barely speak English who yabber on "ah, only know whaaht tha Bable says, and y'all fags are goin' ta hell." To which all once can say really is "which gospel are you getting this one from? And are you reading the Greek Koine, the Latin Vulgate, English King James, Aramaic? And what's your take on the ambiguity in the 3 uses of the Greek logos all in the very first sentence of The Gospel According to St. John?"

    Still, given that the main Xian churches are so hierarchical with an over-class of ludicrously educated chaps at the top who in now way share the ignorance of our Alabama brethren, I still think we can very usefully distinguish between Islam and Xianity, both as they are actually lived and preached on the ground, and what is more accurate of their theologies.

    With Islam, there is no question of The Koran being the direct word for word of Allah. While we can laugh and scoff at the ignorance of our man in Alabama of his own religion, for a Muslim to be told The Koran was not the word of god would not be the best career move. ;)

  18. And just to further clarify, I am not rooting for either religion on this particular score. But I do think it is extremely important to note both the similarities inevitable from their being 2 dizygotic twins separated at birth, but also irreconcilably different due to their different ethnic origins, socio-historical contexts of their emergence - both being a chrysalis; Xianity of Judaism, and Islam of Judaism and Xianity.

    While Xianity emerged from the pupa of Judaism into the magnificence of the syncretic Greco-Roman-Syriac Near East of the greatest empire the world had seen at the height of its magnificence, Islam was born a Frankenstein of Judaism and Xianity in the Arabian desert among a bunch of goat herders and camel-riding petty bandits, who barely had a written language. Unsurprisingly, Islam's theology is far more vulgar than both Judaism and Xianity. Sunni theologians have always loathed the ancient Greeks. A true example of what the Romans use to deride as paganus.

    The incredibly cosmopolitan polyglot milieu into which Xianity was born gave it a flexibility, and an evolutionary fitness, in that it could accommodate incorporating certain aspects of all the polytheistic Greco-Roman - and indeed Gothic/Celtic - cults and religions, while simultaneously totally absorbing those same religions.

    Xianity was wildly successful and very cunning in choosing its evangelising distribution networks to perfectly overlay Rome's administrative hubs and trade routes. When Constantine defeated Maxentius at the Battle of Melvian Bridge in 312 AD, the Xian shadow empire was already well established, well-oiled, and cashed-up, and ready to co-chair empire.

    As Constantine bounded the Capitoline in victory, he eschewed the rituals of thanks to not only the traditional Roman gods, but Jupiter in particular. This snub immediately told all of Rome, that from then on the god the Chi-Ro was the god to whom correct religio must be shown. And boy did the Xians milk it for all its wealth.

    Having said that, while I think Eusebius and Lactantius are worthwhile sources for some issues, I will have none of this malarky that Constantine ever converted to Xianity, not even on his death bed.

  19. cont'd

    OTOH, Islam's inescapable conception and birth among the civilizational deprivation and ethnic/linguistically homogenous sand-dwelling Arabs, made it basically born 'racist' and not as memetically adaptive. Straight away, Sunni Arabs made enemies of the Jews, Xians, Greeks, and especially the Persians. That is not to say Islam has been completely inflexible, as its great imperial successes from Africa to Persia to India to China to Indonesia attest.

    And we must never forget that the Xian subjects of the Byzantine empire conquered by the Sunni Arabs were damned please to see them. And so convenient too that Islamic theology was not afflicted with all that Greek hooey behind the Trinity. No, the defiantly monophysite eastern Roman empire, south of Constantinople found the simplicity of Muhammad and Allah's jib cut identically to their own.

    But once the camel and horse riding sand-barbarians cut a swathe - literally through the near east,north Africa, middle east, and Persia - they were basically stuffed. They had little written language, no idea how to administer an empire, nothing of accounting and Treasury, diplomacy, clueless about science, which at that time overwhelmingly meant astrology. The Arab era was pretty well gone by the 12th century, and the poor things have been bleating 'we was robbed' ever since.

    And THIS is why the Sunni Arabs invented the jizya. Their sand-dwelling existences had hitherto been totally reliant on raiding east-west trading caravans and dividing the booty according to hierarchies of ancient kin feuding.

    With their new vow to unite under Muhammad and Allah, they had a lot more mouths to feed. They needed money, or else the intra Arab uneasy truce would collapse very soon.

    Thus, they did not WANT any more converts to Muhammad initially, because they couldn't afford it. So what they did was fund their newly stolen empire by the money from Jews, Xians, and Zoroastrians, putting to the sword all the other heathens.

    Takeaway: Muhammad's mercy and the jizya were no expressions of Islam drenched in the milk of human kindness; it was a pure calculated economic play.

    It will be very interesting to see which of Xianity, Islam, and atheism is more evolutionary fit over the coming decades. ;)

  20. Peter. Thanks for taking my point about the existence of Christian fundamentalists. Of course they think their 'word of God' view is way it is supposed to be. Nor are they cave men - barely literate and unable to justify their theology by credible Biblical reference. But those people you parody exist. I knew a woman from the panhandle of Florida who's father was a self ordained preacher who discovered Kosher eating rules in the Bible and insisted his family eat Kosher from that day forth. But many Christian fundamentalists in the South are articulate people who have studied the Bible extensively. I also encountered an unlettered old farmer not far from death who confessed to me because I was educated that he doubted the world was only 3500 years old as he had been taught every Sunday all his life. He showed me some of the fossils he had plowed up in his fields with his old worn and cracked hands and said that he just couldn't believe these things were not much older. I smiled and said that by everything I knew he was right. Others I encountered enter non ordinary states and speak in tongues,while sill others can sing in ways that make the hair on the back of one's neck stand up. The South is another land outside the mainstream of Western culture filled with truly surprising things. One of these is that they practice a living Christian faith and are less focused on the intellectual debates we have in a more academic context.

  21. It seems I'm not doing too well in the diplomacy stakes on this thread! :) Having lived and worked in the US, I know it is by far the most diverse nation on earth, with complexities, nuances, and contradictions that so many Australians simply either do not understand, acknowledge, or willfully deny.

    My crass stereotype was never intended as a representation of what I KNOW about the South, and its incredible diversity. I was merely trying to highlight how much I agree with you, and that my original post WAY overstated the extent to which Muslims read their holy texts as the literal word of god compared to individual Christians. Exaggeration can often be an effective rhetorical device to make sure you are communicating the simplicity of the point you are trying to convey.

    And I also know that Christians who read the English language Bible literally, are spread not only across the entire US, leaving no nook or cranny lonely, but ditto for many parts of the world. I must say, I don't detect anything like this literalism/fundamentalism in Australia. But then I am not a Christian, so don't move in those circles. I suppose I just presume that if the literalist/fundamentalist strain of Christianity - with which I am familiar in the US - were just as prevalent in Australia, I would know about it, despite my confinement to more secular pursuits. ;)

    But I still want to reiterate that I think there is something extremely important in keeping at the forefront of our thinking that individual Muslims as well as imams, scholars, and so on ALL read The Koran as the literal word of God spoken in Arabic very clearly to Muhammad.

    The implications of this undeniable sociological, theological, and historical FACT are, I argue, monumental.

  22. One of the ironies of all those westerners - usually atheists - who insist, look Christianity was once awful, but it evolved/progressed, had its Reformation, started a dialog with science, and is now quite tame. So we westerners are very hypocritical and 'Islamophobic' in demanding Islam 'catch up' to the same position that Christianity has in its reasonably peaceful settlements with 21st secular liberal democracies.

    Firstly, it is that very chastisement that is 'Islamophobic' as it assumes that Christianity is the platonic ideal form of 'religion.' Islam started 6/7 centuries after Christianity, therefore to be fair not only must we compare Islam today with Christianity in 14/15th centuries, but we must expect to wait, and give Islam a chance to 'catch up' to the more evolved Christianity.

    I would advise these well-meaning secular westerners against expressing this sympathy to Muslims themselves. They tend to get very cross indeed, if you do not acknowledge that not only is Islam sui generis, but historically and theologically incontrovertibly an improvement/progression on both Christianity and Judaism.

    In other words, the 21st Muslim insists it is Christianity which is the barbaric old-nag. And this is where dhimmitude, Allah and Muhammad's 'mercy', and that Dar al-Islam and Dar as-Salam are co-existent, while the rest of us live in The House of War must be clearly understood by more people.

    Now, while The Koran also allows for the possibility of a half-way house - a kind of geopolitical purgatory - for those nations who make treaties or some other form of formal peaceful arrangement with the Islamic nation, the history of how the Muslims have decided that such treaties have been breached, shows a clear preference for infidel nations to be classified as living in the "House of War," not the purgatory of friendly treaties. The most banal slight is interpreted as an abrogation of the treaty and a declaration of war.

    Recall Muhammad's decision that Jewish actions in Medina breached the non-aggression pact that was the Constitution of Medina, and thus all the women and children were enslaved, while the Jewish men either converted and submitted to Allah, or were put to the sword (which was just about all of them. The Jewish faith has never been very big on converting in or out). Even today, a very prominent and insidious trope among Muslims, is the treacherous Jews, and Muhammad's right not to show 'mercy.'

    Historically, this victory in Medina, and harsh justice for the 'traitor' Jews, made most of the surrounding Syrian, Persian, Byzantines take notice. Muhammad thus used the enticement of the non-aggression treaty with them all, and then he and his successors justified invading anyway on the pretext of some trumped-up breach of a Treaty.

    This geopoltical trope of global conquest and implacable enmity towards the infidels, and the Koranic and hadith command to ultimately get all infidels to choose between dhimmitude and the sword, is a REAL and unique feature of the Muslim religion.

    We should resist the temptation to just dump them all into the same category, whether "monotheistic," "Abrahamic," or similar. SURE, these generalizations CAN be useful as against other religions we might also be discussing in very general terms.

    But this fundamental geopolitical quest that is theologically central to Islam must always be maintained, even if we think that in 2010, geopolitical gains by Islam are unlikely.

  23. Peter Patton.
    “usually atheists” not sure how many atheists you know but it is not common amongst those that I know to suggest that Christianity is now OK and the Islam just needs time. Quite simply atheists reject the validity of any theology, whether one is more correct than another is irrelevant to one who thinks they are all wrong; that discussion can safely be left to the various groups to argue amongst themselves.
    Perhaps you are correct in saying that “we should resist the temptation to just dump them all together”. But in some ways they are all the same. I (or my leader, teacher ...?) am right and everyone else is wrong is dangerous. When you add the concept of a creator to whom we owe not only our lives but complete obedience to his commands, as interpreted by the aforementioned leaders and teachers, we find that these people want to impose some dreadful restrictions on us. Worse they are doing it for the most egregious of reasons; it is “for our own good”. So while Islam is the most aggressive there are many others for whom it is only a matter of degree and opportunity.