"The Islamic State of Eurabia"
We all have them: crazy uncles or senile grandparents raving about one conspiracy theory or the other on the dinner table. “Man landing on the moon was a big hoax,” or something about Kennedy’s assassination. We’d smile and continue eating our leftover mashed potatoes smothered in gravy, then politely ask to be excused on account of work early the next morning, the car ride back home full of mirthful post-dinner analysis of the crazy dinner table conspiracy talk.
So when we first read about Bat Ye’or, a lady with no educational qualifications to speak of, who came up with the crazy conspiracy theory entitled “Eurabia,” we here at LoonWatch barely reacted. If a zany lady comes up with some insane theory, we’re certainly not going to take her seriously, at least not any more than the crazy old McCain lady.
The sad reality, however, is that Bat Ye’or is now being used by leading Islamophobes as a primary source for their research and subsequent analysis. So who is Bat Ye’or? Well, first of all, her name is not Bat Ye’or. That’s just her “screen-name.” For many years, she kept her real identity a secret, and only wrote under this moniker, which is Hebrew for “daughter of the Nile.” She also had another screen-name, which was Yahudiya Masriya, Arabic for “Egyptian Jewess.” Her real name is Gisele Littman, and she’s vitriolically anti-Muslim and anti-Islam.
She has written a handful of articles and books–with the basic theme that Muslims have savagely oppressed Non-Muslims (“dhimmis”) throughout history. These resources written by her are used as reference sources by famous Islamophobes like Robert Spencer (the face behind the xenophobic websites Jihad Watch and Dhimmi Watch). Spencer hailed Bat Ye’or as “the pioneering scholar of dhimmitude, of the institutionalized discrimination and harassment of non-Muslims under Islamic law.” Daniel Pipes, an Islamophobic professor, cites her work numerous times. She has emerged from relative obscurity to fame, her work being the backbone of Islamophobic (mis)characterization of Islamic history.
Pamela Geller, admin of the anti-Muslim site Atlas Shrugs, declares: “Bat Ye’or is the world’s foremost leading scholar on Islam.” Amazing how the “world’s foremost leading scholar on Islam” has no educational background and absolutely no credentials at all from a recognized university; truly amazing that anyone can become the world’s leading scholar on Islam with just a library card, a keyboard and internet connection, and of course the key ingredient of all–an all encompassing hatred of Islam. Can one imagine the world’s leading scholar on Judaism being an Anti-Semite? This just in: the world’s foremost leading scholar on Judaism is an Anti-Semitic Hamas member. Absurd!
Bat Ye’or is Not a Scholar
Bat Ye’or is not a scholar; she does not have the credentials of a historian from any recognized university. She is referred to as an “independent researcher,” a euphemism for a random person who goes to the library, opens up some books, and starts writing. Adi Shwartz, a journalist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, rightfully points out Bat Ye’or’s lack of credentials:
Europe allowed the immigration of millions of Muslims to its territories…and will ultimately…transform Europe into a continent under the thumb of the Arab and Muslim world. Europe is dead, and in its stead “Eurabia” has arisen.
This controversial thesis belongs to Bat Ye’or, the pen name of a self-taught Jewish intellectual who was born in Egypt and who currently lives in Switzerland. She refuses to reveal her real name for security reasons, she says, but her thesis is just the prologue to far-reaching conclusions and extreme statements…While her ideas were once almost completely ignored, nowadays, because of the prevailing consternation in Europe regarding its complex relations with the Muslim world, she is receiving more attention, though she is still quite far from entering the European mainstream…
Bat Ye’or’s opinions have made her a controversial figure, as has the fact that she is not an academic and has never taught at any university. She conducts her research independently.
Professor Robert Wistrich, head of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, says of her:
Up until the 1980s, she was not accepted at all. In academic circles they scorned her publications…A real change toward her emerged in the 1990s, and especially in recent years.
In other words, Bat Ye’or was never taken seriously by academics; it was only recently due to the political climate of Islamophobia that her works have become oft-cited by certain elements of society. Interestingly enough, Bat Ye’or herself admits this:
They didn’t even mention my name in publications. In the United States, I am certain that the September 11 attacks woke people up, including the Jewish community that had previously ignored me…
It truly calls to question the legitimacy of the Islamophobes that they use as their main source a woman who has no credentials and whose work was scorned and ignored by academics and only became popular due to a wave of xenophobia:
[Professor Wistrich said:] “In a survey conducted in Germany recently 83 percent gave the answer ‘fanaticism’ to the question ‘What is Islam?’ Sixty percent said there was a clash of civilizations. This is why Bat Ye’or is getting more attention these days.”
Her opinions on the integration of the Muslims and Europe’s bleak future are acquiring many supporters for her in Europe’s extreme right-wing circles.
Those numbers are staggering, and frightening. An overwhelming majority (83%) of Germans believe that Islam is fanaticism. (One can imagine what a similar poll conducted in the early 1930′s or 40′s-during the reign of the Nazis-would have shown had it asked what their view of Judaism was.) It is such a climate that leads to pogroms, and it seems that Bat Ye’or wishes to tap into this potential. She admits that her works are embraced by “the extreme right and in racist movements.” She gives them the wink and nod, with the usual half-hearted disclaimer that “attacking Muslims, sometimes even physically, is stupid.” Any bigotry short of that, of course, is fine and dandy. Wistrich, who invited her to speak at a conference in Jerusalem, cracked a crass joke:
At the conference I said half-joking that it was possible to call this [her book] ‘the protocols of the elders of Brussels.’
It is interesting that Wistrich could be so mirthful about such a serious topic, as if it is somehow comical for a person to write a document that would result in ethnic strife. Again, a frightening idea. Adi Schwartz, the Israeli journalist who questioned her credentials, aptly titled his article on her “The Protocols of the Elders of Brussels.”
Bat Ye’or: Neutral Academic or Biased Ideologue?
Bat Ye'or: a crazy old lady
Bat Ye’or has an axe to grind; there could be no one more biased than her. Her antipathy towards Islam stems from her stormy past: in 1957, she was expelled from Egypt during the Israeli invasion of Sinai. Although one can and should most definitely sympathize with her plight, it seems that she has–like so many racists before her–reacted to bigotry by becoming a bigot. She was wronged by Muslims, and now she wants to take vengeance, which has blinded her. Bat Ye’or said in an interview:
I wrote these books because I had witnessed the destruction, in a few short years, of a vibrant Jewish community living in Egypt for over 2,600 years and which had existed from the time of Jeremiah the Prophet. I saw the disintegration and flight of families, dispossessed and humiliated, the destruction of their synagogues, the bombing of the Jewish quarters and the terrorizing of a peaceful population. I have personally experienced the hardships of exile, the misery of statelessness-and I wanted to get to the root cause of all this. I wanted to understand why the Jews from Arab countries, nearly a million, had shared my experience.
This is not unbiased and dispassionate academic study; for Bat Ye’or, this is personal. From the above quote alone, one can see the inconsistency in Bat Ye’or’s views. During the Israeli occupation of Sinai, anti-Semitism surged in Egypt and within “a few short years” an end was brought to “a vibrant Jewish community living in Egypt for over 2,600 years.” Does she not see the inconsistency here? Over one thousand of those 2,600 years were during Muslim rule of Egypt, which began in 639 AD. During that time period, there was a Jewish community which thrived, or as Bat Ye’or words it, was “vibrant.” Surely then it makes no sense to generalize the “few short years” to all of Islamic history.
Conspiracy Theory: Palestinians Don’t Exist; Europeans Created Them
It is an irony that Bat Ye’or laments about “the hardships of exile, [and the] misery of statelessness,” which is exactly what the Palestinian people have suffered from. Yet, Bat Ye’or, a fervent supporter of Israel goes even further than some of the most extreme Right-Wing Israelis and even denies the existence of a Palestinian people, arguing that “the Palestinian cause was created mainly in Europe.” To put her quote into context, she says:
The Kurds, the Berbers, the Basques (Spain) and the Corsicans (France) have nationalist characteristics, but not the Palestinians. The Palestinian cause was created mainly in Europe…
So Kurds, Berbers, Basques, and Corsicans are all peoples, but not the Palestinians, who are an imaginary peoples invented by Europe. So why exactly did Europe create the Palestinian people? She explains:
The Palestinian cause was created mainly in Europe, with the purpose to transfer onto the Palestinians the Jewish history in order to delegitimize Israel and to absolve Europe from the Holocaust by throwing onto Israel its own European history of Nazism, apartheid and colonialism.
Let us allow the reader to properly understand her conspiracy theory: she is arguing that the Palestinian people were created by Europe in order to paint Israel as being guilty of Nazism, apartheid, and colonialism–in order to absolve themselves of blame for the Holocaust which created the state of Israel. One can imagine the European leaders convening in some secret lair–shoddy lighting and a room full of cigar smoke–contemplating how to absolve themselves of blame for the Holocaust. “I got it!” exclaims one especially wily European intellectual. “We’ll invent a people–let’s call them ‘Palestinians’–and say that they existed in the land of Israel!” They passed it to a vote, and voila! The Europeans then made a few calls and engineered the Palestinian race. As Jon Stewart said mockingly about the Obama-being-a-stealth-Jihadist-from-Yemen theory: “It was just too easy.”
Bat Ye’or’s conspiracy theory is creative no doubt, but ludicrous. This is the woman whom Islamophobes like Robert Spencer, Daniel Pipes, and Pamela Geller cite as a primary source for their views on Islam, thus highlighting that they have absolutely no academic integrity or credibility.
Conspiracy Theory: Europe Will Become a Vassal State to the Arab World
Bat Ye’or is a fringe conspiracy theorist who argues that “Europe will become a vassal [state], a satellite of the Arab world.” Such alarmist drivel that no sane person could take her seriously. The irony is that the reality is the exact opposite: it is the Arab world that plays second fiddle compared to the West. Tell us, Bat Ye’or, how will the Arabs make a vassal state out of Europe? Them and which army? The combined Arab might pales in front of Israel; how can the Arab world then vanquish all of Europe? Such senseless fear mongering.
Conspiracy Theory: European Universities are Controlled by Palestinians
As part of her global conspiracy theory, Bat Ye’or argues that “[European] universities, for example, are controlled by the Palestinians.” Oh why of course! In fact, the deans of the European universities are all “stealth Palestinians;” every year they travel to the Gaza Strip for an annual ceremony, where Hamas leaders dictate what the curriculum will be for the year, and indoctrinate them in all things jihad. It is in fact funding from Palestine that is keeping the European universities afloat. (deadpan face)
Can one imagine the reaction of Islamophobes if some Moozlim-looking person said that the Western universities were controlled by “the Jews?” They would call such a person not only a crazy conspiracy theorist but a racist, and rightfully so, but the issue here is the profound double standard. You want to say something outlandish about Jews or any other minority? Not acceptable (Rightfully so). But say the same thing about Muslims? Then you get your own show on Fox News, and your books will become best-sellers (of the “What’s Wrong with Islam” or “Why I’m Not a Muslim” variety).
Conspiracy Theory: The Rise of Eurabia
The culmination of Bat Ye’or’s theories is what she coins as “Eurabia,” a (not so) clever combination of the words “Europe” and “Arabia.” Basically, the theory is that Arab and Muslim immigration (of “stealth jihadists”) will soon overwhelm Europe, destroy Western culture and civilization forever, and replace the democratic governments with Taliban style theocracies. While that does sound like an interesting plot for a fictional movie, it is pure insanity to take this seriously. Bat Ye’or is simply delusional. David Aaronovitch, a journalist for The Times, labels Bat Ye’or as a conspiracy theorist:
Pinch me a third time while we get to grips with “Eurabia”. This is a concept created by a writer called Bat Ye’or who, according to the publicity for her most recent book, “chronicles Arab determination to subdue Europe as a cultural appendage to the Muslim world-and Europe’s willingness to be so subjugated”. This, as students of conspiracy theories will recognise, is the addition of the Sad Dupes thesis to the Enemy Within idea.
Aaronovitch would know; he wrote the book entitled Voodoo Histories: the role of Conspiracy Theory in Modern History. (Aaronovitch is no “dhimmi” as the Islamophobes would say; he produced a pro-Israeli documentary titled Blaming the Jews.)
Conspiracy Theory: The Churches of Europe are Colluding with Muslims
Bat Ye’or’s lunacy can be ascertained by some of her even more outlandish claims. For example, she accuses the churches in Europe of being in a state of “collusion with the Muslims,” which she says have of their own volition become “Christian slave militias” that will “spearhead…the Islamic war against Christianity.” According to her, the churches of Europe “reject…the Bible, which they read with a Koranic understanding.” She goes on to say that European Christians “are more inclined to follow the Koranic Muslim Jesus, called Isa, than the Jewish Jesus.” Can any sober academic–or even sensible layman–take such drivel seriously? But perhaps the reader thinks that we have taken her words out of context (after all, who could say something so crazy!), so let us reproduce her entire nonsensical answer verbatim so that her madness can be firmly established in the eyes of the reader:
JW: You’re accusing churches of collusion with the Muslims?
BY [Bat Ye'or]: Yes. Those churches know perfectly well the dire condition of Christians in Muslim lands. But instead of denouncing it, they adopt the militancy of the Janissaries, those Christian slave militias that were the spearhead of the Islamic war against Christianity. They forbid Christians to reveal the iniquities of modern dhimmitude in Arab countries, the enslavement of Christians in Sudan, the abductions and jihadic terror against innocent population. Those churches follow an arcionist theological line which separates the Gospels from the Hebrew Bible. They reject the historical legitimacy of Israel in its own land and, therefore, reject also the Bible, which they read with a Koranic understanding. They are more inclined to follow the Koranic Muslim Jesus, called Isa, than the Jewish Jesus. In my book, I call them the Islamized churches because their rejection of Israel’s history implies their refusal of the Bible and their acceptance of the Koranic version of the Bible that considers Christianity as a deformation of Islam.
This lunacy has been affirmed by another well-known loon–Daniel Pipes–who writes:
The historian Bat Ye’or, the first person to comprehend the gradual process of Europe accepting the dhimmi status, observes that this fundamental shift began with the Arab-Israeli war of 1973, when the continent began moving “into the Arab-Islamic sphere of influence, thus breaking the traditional trans-Atlantic solidarity.”
Translation: not only has Europe fallen under the Arab-Islamic sphere of influence–and not only has it become a subservient “dhimmi” to the Arab world–it is doing so willingly and of its own volition. Riiiight, riiiight. So Pipes is not far behind Bat Ye’or in looniness, which explains his reliance on her work.
Voice of Reason
Adam Keller, a well-known Israeli peace activist and cofounder of Gush Shalom, wrote a letter of protest to the Israeli publisher of Bat Ye’or’s book:
In 1886 the French antisemite Edouard Drumont published ‘La France Juive’ (Jewish France), creating the false nightmarish image of a France dominated by Jews, and sowing the poisonous seeds which came to fruit when Vichi French officials collaborated in the mass murder of French Jewry…
Bat Yeor’, [is] a British inflammatory writer who presumes to be a historian and who, I regret to note, is Jewish. In this book – which, like the other works of this writer, is little more than a rabid anti-Muslim tract – ‘Bat Yeor’ follows in notorious footsteps indeed by creating the false nightmarish image of a Europe dominated by Arabs and Muslims. As Edouard Drumont sought to arouse the French people to persecute and kill their Jewish neighbours, so does Ms. Littman intend to drive Europeans into a continent-wide orgy of hatred and violence against the Muslim immigrants who are now a significant ethnic minority throughout the continent, and the great majority of whom seek nothing but to live useful and fruitful lives in their new homelands.
Ms. Littman’s reasons for writing her racist and inflammatory book are all too obvious. The reasons why you, a respectable publishing house, have chosen to present it to the Israeli public are far more obscure. Whatever these reasons might be, surely – now that you already taken this step – it would be appropriate to complete your task and produce also a companion volume, i.e. a Hebrew translation of ‘La France Juive’? After all, the informed Israeli reading public deserves to be given the chance of comparing the classical work of a master racist demagogue with that of his loyal present-day disciple and successor.
Craigh Smith of The New York Times refers to Bat Ye’or as one “of the most extreme voices” of the right:
A curious thing is happening in Belgium these days: a small but vocal number of Jews are supporting a far-right party whose founders were Nazi collaborators. The xenophobic party, Vlaams Belang, plays on fears of Arab immigrants and, unlike the prewar parties from which it is descended, courts Jewish votes…
Those fears shape some of the most extreme voices on the new Jewish right. Giselle Littman, who was expelled from Egypt in 1957 and now publishes under the pseudonym Bat Yeor, argues in her latest book, ”Eurabia: the Euro-Arab Axis,” that Europe has consciously allied itself with the Arab world at the expense of Jews and the trans-Atlantic alliance.
Johann Hari of The Independent writes of Bat Ye’or:
There are intellectuals on the British right who are propagating a conspiracy theory about Muslims that teeters very close to being a 21st century Protocols of the Elders of Mecca. Meet Bat Ye’or, a “scholar” who argues that Europe is on the brink of being transformed into a conquered continent called “Eurabia”.
In this new land, Christians and Jews will be reduced by the new Muslim majority to the status of “dhimmis” – second-class citizens forced to “walk in the gutter”. This will not happen by accident. It is part of a deliberate and “occult” plan, concocted between the Arab League and leading European politicians like Jacques Chirac and Mary Robinson, who secretly love Islam and are deliberately flooding the continent with Muslim immigrants. As Orianna Fallacci – one of the best-selling writers in Italy – has summarised the thesis in her hymns of praise to Ye’or, “Muslims have been told to come here and breed like rats.”
Rather than dismissing her preposterous assertions, high-profile writers like Melanie Phillips, Daniel Pipes and Niall Ferguson laud Ye’or as a suppressed hero, silenced by (you guessed it) “political correctness”. Her name is brandished as a gold standard in right-wing Tory circles. It’s interesting that writers so alert to anti-Semitism have lent their names to an ideology that is so startlingly similar. In this theory, the Star of David has simply been replaced by the Islamic crescent. If the term has any meaning, this is authentic Islamophobia, treating virtually all Muslims as verminous sharia-carriers. So why are these people still treated as serious and sane by the BBC and its editors?
Selective and Shoddy “Scholarship”
Bat Ye’or’s idea of history is nothing short of propaganda. She said in one interview:
The Arab invaders arrived in [Jerusalem in] the 7th century, devastated the country, massacred and enslaved the population and expropriated the Jewish and Christian indigenous populations, as is related by contemporaneous sources.
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.
As for her actual work on dhimmis (Non-Muslims under Muslim rule) is concerned, it is selective and shoddy “scholarship.” Professor Robert Brenton Betts, a well-renowned American historian who worked for the Library of Congress and the Department of State, criticizes Bet Ye’or’s book:
The general tone of the book is strident and anti-Muslim. This is coupled with selective scholarship designed to pick out the worst examples of anti-Christian behavior by Muslim governments, usually in time of war and threats to their own destruction (as in the case of the deplorable Armenian genocide of 1915). Add to this the attempt to demonize the so-called Islamic threat to Western civilization and the end-product is generally unedifying and frequently irritating.
(source: Robert Brenton Betts, “The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude” Middle East Policy 5-3 ; September 1997, pp. 200-2003)
Professor Michael Sells of the University of Chicago writes:
By obscuring the existence of pre-Christian and other old, non-Christian communities in Europe as well as the reason for their disappearance in other areas of Europe [due to Christian persecution], Bat Ye’or constructs an invidious comparison between the allegedly humane Europe of Christian and Enlightenment values and the ever present persecution within Islam. Whenever the possibility is raised of actually comparing circumstances of non-Christians in Europe to non-Muslims under Islamic governance in a careful, thoughtful manner, Bat Ye’or forecloses such comparison.
(source: The New Crusades: Construction the Muslim Enemy, by Professor Michael Sells, p.364)
In other words, the comparison that Bat Ye’or–and Islamophobes in general–flee from is the one between the Muslim lands in the pre-modern era with the contemporaneous Christian Europe. Instead, they choose to compare medieval Islamdom with post-enlightenment and postmodern standards, a most unequal and unusually obtuse comparison. Jan Platvoet sums it up best with a very nuanced answer (emphasis is mine):
Arab scholars praise the tolerance of Islam towards the ‘protected population’. The Egyptian Qasim ‘Abduh Qasim, for instance, who has published several works on the dhimmis in Muslim lands in general, and Egypt in particular, emphasizes the positive attitude of Muslims towards non-Muslims, even under the regime of the eleventh-century Fatimid caliph al-Hakim, known for his persecution of minorities, especially the Christians.
The opposite point of view is represented by a number of researchers, notably a writer who [uses] the pseudonym Bat Ye’or, i.e. Daughter of the Nile. She has managed to select from the body of historiographical evidence, chronicles and documents, only that material which portrays the negative aspects. Some such materials can occasionally be found, relating to various episodes, periods, and areas; it is therefore no wonder that she has succeeded in filling a complete volume, now published in several languages, on the maltreatment of the dhimmis by Muslims. Bat Ye’or has recently published a new book dedicated exclusively to the long history of Christians under Muslim rule; this book is characterized by the same spirit as her previous book on the dhimmis.
…It seems that the truth lies somewhere in between [Qasim and Bat Ye'or's version]…The life of the dhimmis in the shade of Islam was certainly not easy, but at least their physical security (aman) and the safety of their property was assured, almost without exception.
(Pluralism and Identity, by Jan Platvoet, p.169)
Nazi propaganda showing Jewish octopus taking over the world, not unlike image up top of Islamic crescent taking over Europe
In other words, Bat Ye’or scours historical texts to find all the negative points she possibly can, and then she compiles them into a book. Naturally, the span of Islamic history was over a thousand years, so she can easily fill up hundreds of pages, giving the credulous reader the false impression that Islamic history was incredibly dastardly. To give a suitable analogy, let’s say Rodney King were to scour all the reports throughout the country for the last fifty years for all acts of police brutality–and then compiled them into a book–he could easily fill hundreds of pages. A person who relied on his book would get the false impression that the police were–and are–always brutal, or at least more so than not. One gets a skewed picture from such a selective analysis.
The Islamophobe Robert Spencer argues that Bat Ye’or’s book is convincing because it is “full…[of] almost half primary source documents so that one can see the voracity of what she is saying from very ancient texts.” Yet it is convincing only because it is selective and biased; Bat Ye’or simply sifted throughout Islamic history to selectively find all the instances of anti-Jewish and anti-Christian persecution, ignoring the overwhelming majority of Islamic history which was characterized according to the overwhelming number of scholars by relative tolerance (for the times, and certainly compared to Christendom); if Bat Ye’or could fill a book with her quotes, it would only be a slight exaggeration to say that we could fill an entire anthology with quotes highlighting the relative tolerance of Muslims. Taken selectively, Bat Ye’or’s choice of quotes seem damning, but diluted within the proper context, they would be less convincing of an argument. One can easily carry out such a hatchet job on Christian (and even Jewish) history in a similar fashion.
World renowned Jewish-Israeli historian Nissim Rejwan warns:
By way of conclusion, a word of caution is in order…It must be pointed out that the picture has not been uniformly so rosy and that instances of religious intolerance toward and discriminatory treatment of Jews under Islam are by no means difficult to find. This point is of special relevance at a time in which, following a reawakening of interest in the history of Arab-Jewish relations among Jewish writers and intellectuals, certain interested circles have been trying to…[question the] Judeo-Arabic tradition or symbiosis by digging up scattered pieces of evidence to show that Islam is essentially intolerant…and that Muslims’ contempt for Jews was even greater and more deep-seated than that manifested by Christians…
Such caricatures of the history of Jews under Islam continue to be disseminated by scholars as well as by interested publicists and ideologues. Indeed, all discussion of relations between Jews and Muslims…is beset by the most burning emotions and by highly charged sensitivities. In their eagerness to repudiate the generally accepted version of these relations (a version which, it is worthwhile pointing out, originates not in Muslim books of history but with Jewish historians and Orientalists in nineteenth-century Europe), certain partisan students of the Middle East conflict today seem to go out of their way to show that, far from being the record of harmonious coexistence it is often claimed to be, the story of Jewish-Muslim relations since the time of Muhammad was “a sorry array of conquest, massacre, subjection, spoilation in goods and women and children, contempt, expulsion-[and] even the yellow badge…”
Informed by a fervor seldom encountered in scholarly discourse, some of these latter-day historians have gone so far as to question even the motives of those European-Jewish scholars of the past century who virtually founded modern Oriental and Arabic studies and managed to unearth the impressive legacy of Judeo-Arabic culture, a culture that was undeniably an outcome of a long and symbiotic encounter between Muslims and Jews.
…[But] by the standards then prevailing-and they are plainly the only ones by which a historian is entitled to pass judgment-Spanish Islamic tolerance was no myth but a reality of which present-day Muslim Arabs are fully justified in reminding their contemporaries…Tolerance, then, is a highly relative concept, and the only sensible way of gauging the extent of tolerance in a given society or culture in a given age is to compare it with that prevailing in other societies and cultures in the same period…
The only plausible conclusion one could draw from the whole debate is that, while Jewish life in Muslim Spain-and under Islam generally-was not exactly the idyllic paradise some would want us to believe, it was far from the veritable hell that was the Jews’ consistent lot under Christendom.
Bat Ye’or: The Pioneer of “Dhimmitude”
The Usual Suspects: Bat Ye'or and Robert Spencer
It should be noted that the Islamophobe Robert Spencer refers to Bat Ye’or as “the pioneering scholar of dhimmitude” (emphasis is ours). The word “pioneer” indicates that she is the first to voice such views. In other words, the traditional and long-established understanding of academics and historians is at variance with Bat Ye’or’s assessment: Muslim history was characterized by relative lenience and tolerance towards dhimmis. (Again, all things are relative; while certainly it wouldn’t be considered tolerant to today’s standards and norms, back then it certainly was, evidenced by historical statements from the “dhimmis” themselves.)
The fact that Bat Ye’or is the first to challenge traditional and established opinion is evidenced by what J.G. Jansen, an outspoken Dutch critic of militant Islam, says:
In 1985, Bat Ye’or offered Islamic studies a surprise with her book, The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians under Islam, a convincing demonstration that the notion of a traditional, lenient, liberal, and tolerant Muslim treatment of the Jewish and Christian minorities is more myth than reality.
While Jansen’s view that Bat Ye’or’s book is “convincing” is certainly questionable coming from him, his quote is significant in that it shows that up until Bat Ye’or’s book the traditional and predominant scholarly opinion was that Islamic history was characterized by relative tolerance, certainly in comparison to contemporaneous Christendom. Bat Ye’or is after all the one who coined the term “dhimmitude,” which Islamophobes–including Robert Spencer and Daniel Pipes–make recurrent use of.
The Usual Suspects: Bat Ye'or and Pamela Geller
The fact that Bat Ye’or is the first to counter traditional opinion does not mean that the predominant view of scholars has changed, as Bat Ye’or “is still quite far from entering the European mainstream,” according to Shwartz. But–according to Wistrich–”a real change toward her emerged in the 1990s, and especially in recent years,” as she became accepted in “extreme right-wing circles.” It is this motley group which is trying through sheer force and fear to influence academia, and push pseudo-intellectuals like Bat Ye’or into the arena of historical discourse. The fact that the leading Islamophobes reference her (including Robert Spencer, Daniel Pipes, and Pamela Geller) indicates the weakness of their sources, and calls to question their own credibility.
Spencer argues that it is only “political correctness” that prevents people from taking Bat Ye’or seriously; no, my Islamophobic friend, it is not political correctness, but academic integrity. When you consider an Islamophobe to be the leading scholar of Islam in the world, then something is profoundly wrong. Simply substitute the word “Jews” for “Muslims” in the following sentence and the matter becomes clear: “Muslims will take over Europe.” Anyone who said that about Jews would be branded an Anti-Semite and academically ostracized, yet hey, it’s open season for Muslim-bashing!
The Bottom Line
Even if we were to accept the fallacious argument that Muslim history was characterized by profound and incessant intolerance, then what does that mean for us today? The Mongols were historically known to be intolerant, at least the Genghis Khan variety; how should that affect our opinion of Mongolians today? Do we discriminate against them based on their historical record? What do the present day Mongolians have to do with those of the past? Do people inherit sins?
The relevance of Islamic history to today’s popular discourse is questionable. It is in fact designed to demonize Muslims, but the reality is that the question shouldn’t even arise. Why is it that Muslims of today are on trial for what their ancestors supposedly did? Should all nations now demand their pound of flesh from all who wronged their people in ancient times? Maybe we should create a system of reparations…?
Then what is the end goal for Islamophobes like Bat Ye’or? Why does she spend so much time pontificating about the historical record? It all boils down to one thing: immigration. She has highlighted the negative aspects of Islamic history in order to push the argument for a tight control (or rather, full cessation) of Arab and Muslim immigration to Europe. Indeed, Islamophobia is simply another flavor of xenophobia.
In every generation, there have been xenophobes, who have this irrational fear of the other. In American history, it started with the Irish and Italian immigrants who were both heavily discriminated against due to their religion and skin color. Then it was against the Chinese who were brought to build railroads, the Japanese in World War II, and so on. What history has born out consistently however is that the xenophobes always end up with egg on their faces. They are on the wrong side; tolerance and multiculturalism always win out over intolerance and bigotry. The question is: which side are you on?
UPDATE: A related article on dhimmitude can be found here.