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Before it was innocuously renamed Park 51, the Ground Zero mosque development had been known as the Cordoba House, which proponents claimed referred to a supposed golden age of multi-faith tolerance under Islamic rule. What they neglect to mention is that historically, non-Muslims under Muslim rule have been presented with three choices: conversion to Islam, death, or the subservient status known as dhimmitude.
A new book sheds light on that little-understood condition and its contemporary relevance. The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude and Freedom by Dr. Mark Durie was released in February by Deror Books and short-listed for Australian Christian Book of the Year. A former linguistics scholar, Durie is now the Vicar of St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Caulfield in Melbourne, Australia. He writes and speaks extensively in Australia and internationally about Islam, interfaith dialogue, religious conflict, and the persecution of religious minorities, especially Christians living under Sharia law.
I caught up with the author just prior to his recent arrival in Los Angeles to promote the book.
MT: Dr. Durie, I’d like to begin talking about The Third Choice by asking what inspired you, as an Anglican priest, to write a study of Islam and dhimmitude?
MD: I first became interested in Islam when doing linguistic field work in Aceh, Indonesia, in the early 1980’s. The Acehnese people are proud of their Islamic identity, but despite enjoying countless discussions about religion with them, I made no attempt to study Islam formally; my whole focus was on linguistic research. But I couldn’t escape learning about jihad, because it played such a large role in the historical consciousness of the people. An amazingly large number of works of Acehnese literature are jihad epics. Another aspect of my experience was contact with local Christians; this is how I came to know of the difficult circumstances of non-Muslims living in an Islamic society.
When I left academia to become an Anglican minister, around 1998, I thought I was leaving Islamic jihad well behind me. I had no idea of the depth and breadth of the global Islamic movement. Then as I watched the burning World Trade Center towers collapse in the New York morning sunshine, I knew there was no ideology on this earth other than Islamic jihad which could have inspired such an attack. It was no surprise when verses from the Koran reportedly found in the backpacks of the terrorists were exactly the same verses which had figured so prominently in Acehnese jihad epic poems from over a century ago.
At that point I knew I had to try to understand Islam properly. So I read the hadiths, the Koran, and Ibn Ishaq’s biography of Muhammad in the months after 9/11, with the eye of a theologian – I was constantly asking how this material would form people’s spiritual identity. This exploration made me deeply troubled. The persona of Muhammad which arose before me from Islam’s primary sources shocked me to my core. I thought, “If this man’s life is supposed to be the best example, we are all in deep trouble.”
I went to the Islamic Council offices in Melbourne and bought more books about Islam. One was Maududi’s Let Us be Muslims. This only increased my concern. After chapters on all the essentials of Islam, such as the pillars of faith, Maududi concludes the book with a call to jihad. Everything else in Islam, he said, was but a preparation for toppling governments, taking power, and establishing Islam in the world. I thought this was an ideal book for turning a pious young Muslim into a jihad-ready militant.
At that time I began to write and teach on Islam, and I’ve been going ever since. I wrote The Third Choice to help people understand Islam from the ground up, and to know what it really means to depend upon the benevolence of an Islamic state from the perspective of a dhimmi – a non-Muslim living under Islamic rule.
MT: How is your book different from other works about the topic by scholars like Andrew Bostom or Bat Ye’or, who actually wrote your foreword?
MD: Their books are great, and I could not have written The Third Choice without them. But they are long and academic. Their focus is on specific historical manifestations of Islam: jihad, dhimmitude and anti-Semitism. They also include large chunks of primary source material. This is great for the researcher, but for many readers it is just too much to digest. Also, their books don’t attempt to explain Islam itself as a total system. One of my central goals is to make Islam itself clear and plausible. This is very necessary. Also I approach the subject as a theologian – I focus on ideology: how it shapes people’s worldview, and how we can find freedom from it. The Third Choice is a one-stop shop for understanding Islam and the dhimmi condition.
MT: Where and in what ways do you see dhimmitude at work in the West?
MD: Gradually, and in countless ways, the West is accepting that Islam deserves to be treated differently and preferentially. We are finding it perfectly normal to make concessions to Islam which would never be made to other faiths. The “third choice” of my title is the alternative to conversion to Islam or the sword. This is the choice to give up fighting, and surrender to Islam, and live as a non-Muslim under Islamic rule. But there is a price to keeping your head without converting, and this is to serve Islam and to embrace your own inferiority.
The two most characteristic psychological traits of the dhimmi are gratitude and humility. We are seeing both these traits shaping public discourse around Islam. President Obama, for example, has spoken of the “debt” the West owes to Islam. This sense of indebtedness is being imparted to our schoolchildren through Islamicized history textbooks.
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