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Interview By Michael Cromartie


The Myth of Islamic Tolerance

Muslim "protection" of Christians and Jews has actually been oppression, says scholar Bat Ye'or.

It is standard fare in many college and university courses today to contrast the history of Christian treatment of religious minorities, particularly Jews and Muslims, with the history of Jews and Christians under Islam. According to this politically correct scenario, Christians have been brutally intolerant while Muslims have generally been quite benign (except in response to Christian provocations, from the Crusades to colonialism).

Alas, the charge of Christian intolerance has a good deal of substance, though the historical record is not as uniformly bad as it is often said to be. But what about Islamic tolerance of Jews and Christians?

Bat Ye'or (a pseudonym meaning "daughter of the Nile") is an Egyptian-born Jewish scholar. In articles and books such as The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude (Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press), she has argued that Islamic tolerance is a myth of modern origin, born of the converging interests of the Islamic states and the Western colonial powers. The actual condition of the dhimmi—that is, the indigenous Jews, Christians, and other non-Muslims under Islamic law as a result of conquest—was one of fundamental subjection that permitted only the private exercise of religion. To describe the historical reality of Jews and Christians under Islam from the seventh century to the present, she has coined the term "dhimmitude."

This revisionist history is important for its own sake, to set the record straight. But it is particularly significant, Bat Ye'or argues, at a time when many Muslim intellectuals are neither discarding their faith in favor of Western models nor accepting uncritically the dictates of Islamic traditionalists but rather are seeking a reform of Islam from within.

Michael Cromartie interviewed Bat Ye'or this spring in Washington, D.C., where she was speaking at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

You have challenged the alleged tolerance of Islamic regimes toward Christians and Jews. ...

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