Once more! Recent demonstrations in the Muslim world bring our attention to the dramatic gulf between the Western world and the Muslim Middle East. Not only is the violence and murder of the America diplomat and his staff horrendous, but several Muslim leaders are demanding the arrest and prosecution of the producer of the film that allegedly fomented this current round of hysteria.
Where does this wellspring of anger, protest and violence come from? How can a culture and people think that its values can be enforced in another country? There is, after all, this small question of national sovereignty, of jurisdiction, i.e. the natural jurisdiction that results from the intersection of society, politics, history and geography that produces a particular culture with its own manners, mores and customs. There is an evolutionary quality to it. And obviously people are different in different parts of the world. That is supposed to be a good thing. The Left calls it diversity. But no! Radical Muslim jihadists see it as their injunction to impose and submit all those who presently stand outside their purview. This view divides the world into the traditional Muslim duality known as the “zone of peace” (dar al-Islam) and the “zone of war” (dar al-harb). The West is in the zone of war.
Recall the Fatwa against Salman Rushdie in 1989 and the violence that ensued over his book, published in the liberal secular West, yet denounced half a world away in theocratic Iran by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Mr. Rushdie’s characterization of Muhammad was so offensive to Muslims that he was readily made into a target for death. A Japanese publisher and an Italian book dealer were meted out this “rough justice”. So far, Rushdie has managed to elude this fate. This is the state of affairs we find ourselves in 23 years later. Culture matters, in spite of what the Left says.
There are many examples of this imposition of global jurisdiction being made by the radical Muslim jihadists. For example, various attempts at adoption of sharia law in the United States, Canada, Holland, Great Britain and other Western countries, and the banning of artistic and cultural events in Europe due to radical Islamic threats. It is one thing to think that one’s ideas and views should be adopted by everyone, it is quite another to inflict violence and death immediately when there is some disagreement with that view in any part of the world.
What then is the responsibility of the Western world? One imagines it would be to uphold adherence to the principles of classical liberalism from which the West’s ideas of openness, tolerance and pluralism come. These imply an acceptance of the multiplicity of perspectives, an openness to inquiry, and self-criticism. These virtues developed over time. They needed to be discovered and the West has made such discoveries. Its history attests to that. The worst thing the West can do is to fall victim, to this irascible and unremitting radical Muslim assault, and embrace cultural relativism and deny its unique cultural heritage.
Yet this is what appears to be happening. Many see it. It rears its ugly head as “political correctness”, as apologies in form or another to the religion of the perpetually aggrieved, petulantly whining about being victimized, then justified in demanding compensation in some form, either through a judicial or social remedy and even violent confrontation. The Muslim world’s form of justice is to impose a fundamental condition of submission called "dhimmitude". Actually, in the parlance of Islam this is a condition of protection. Protection against what? Against them.
Is the claim of offensiveness enough to censor the free exercise of opinion? This is the dilemma of modern progressive liberalism, i.e., that it would tolerate that which seeks to violate its own core principles, the very tenets of constitutional democracy.
This condition of "dhimmitude” describes the legal and social conditions of populations living under Islamic rule or Sharia law. It is conveyed upon all non-Muslims who do not convert to Islam. Though dhimmitude is a modern term, it has a long pedigree. The Koran relates its first occurrence when Muhammad imposed a peace with certain penalties (usually payment) on the Jews. The Chach Nama, an 8th century Muslim chronicle of the conquest of South Asia, says that in a country governed by Sharia law, all non-Muslims are to live as dhimmis. According to Bernard Lewis, a preeminent scholar of Islam, being a dhimmi involves -- not surprisingly -- not insulting Islam or Muhammad; not holding authority over Muslims; not bearing arms; not bearing witness against Muslims in a court of law; not building new churches, synagogues, or temples, nor renovating old ones; and paying a special tax called a jizya.
What the West can do about Dhimmitude and Jihad
Islam is on the move. Its expansion has waxed and waned since its inception. The West is again in the throes of an age old confrontation. What is to be done? Some noted thinkers on the dilemma the West faces have recommended that the liberal democratic governments initiate full scale projects to find new energy sources to wean itself off of dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Make Western aid to Muslim countries contingent upon renunciation of the jihadist ideology. Call upon the Muslim advocacy groups in the West to work against the jihadist ideology. Impose a travel bans on countries listed by Western governments as “state sponsors of terrorism”. And revise immigration policies with the jihadist ideology in view.
In terms of what individuals can do to oppose dhimmi status, some possible recommendations would involve taking classes to learn about current affairs in their broad context and history. Americans are notoriously deficient in this regard. Join civic organizations. Get active in the political process and vote. Get involved in the public debate on this issue. Do research. Engage in private debate. There is a need to look critically at Muslim institutions and individuals, so as to distinguish the radical jihadists from the moderates. And most importantly, there is the need to reexamine the idea of what it means to be an American and what it means to embody classical liberal democratic values.
America and the West have within themselves the capacity to do these things. After all, "Western man is the man who always goes further, beyond the limits set by nature, beyond traditions fixed by his ancestors …"