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The dhimmi syndrome is analogous to that of the battered woman. An abused woman will often vigorously deny that her husband is doing anything wrong, even when her life is daily at risk from beatings. She will be schooled by the violence to be grateful for any small kindness shown to her, and to insist that he loves her. All the abuse is her own fault. The dhimmi syndrome causes victims to go to extraordinary lengths to preserve their worldview of denial.
I respect but deplore the psychological power of this dynamic. Respect, because these are the strategies of survivors. Deplore, because such soul-destroying strategies rob people of freedom and bind them into self-deception. Indeed I was amazed to discover a Moroccan jurist who in his commentary on Sura 9:29 of the Koran said that the purpose of the dhimmi system is to “kill the soul” of the non-Muslim, so he will render willingly everything demanded of him.
MT: What can be done to reverse the trend of surrendering to Islam’s demands?
MD: The most important thing is to understand Islam, warts and all, without camouflage, from the ground up, for ourselves. We must make sense of the theology – or ideology, if you like. We must also insist on reciprocity in all things. We need to recognize that handing over your worldview and allowing it to be shaped by an abuser is a terrible loss of freedom, and no good will come of it. We need to recapture our discourse, and demand that the word jihad be used where it is appropriate. We need to stop talking in circumlocutions which conceal and hide the truth. We need to stop protecting Muslims from being forced to account for their own religion’s teachings.
MT: The Ground Zero mosque controversy has amplified accusations against non-Muslims of Islamophobia, fear and ignorance. Are they legitimate, and can we put our trust in interfaith dialogue to resolve tensions?
MD: There is this idea floating around that those who are speaking up about Islamic radicalism must be bigots and therefore they must be ignorant. Ironically the loudest critics of Islam are usually the ones who have studied the fundamentals of Islam the most rigorously. Those crying “bigot” can be the most ignorant, and will come up with absolute howlers, real nonsense, spoken with a poker face as it were the most serious thing in the world. They decry accurate and reliable information about Islam as “Islamophobic facts,” just as the Soviet courts used to reject what they called “calumnious facts.”
When non-Muslims go into interfaith dialogue without a good understanding of Islam, they are severely handicapped. The dialogue can easily be manipulated to become an exercise in da’wa, or proclaiming Islam. A good example is the label “Abrahamic faith.” This is a Koranic term, and in Islam it stands for the idea that Abraham was a Muslim. According to the Koran, the faith of Abraham is Islam. Getting Jews and Christians to speak about “Abrahamic religions” has been a great coup – it is a manifestation of the Islamization of our religious discourse.
The problem of dialogue is especially acute if your Muslim counterpart subscribes to the doctrine of taqiyya, which favors the use of misleading impressions, or even direct lies. Everyone involved in interfaith dialogue with Muslims needs to understand that under certain circumstances – for example, if Muslims feel threatened – giving a misleading impression could be regarded as a righteous act. Not all Muslims will go down this track, but for some it is a real option, and there are plenty of clear examples of it happening all around us. In The Third Choice I give a very clear explanation of the doctrine of taqiyya, and explain how it arises in Islamic theology, how it is being taught by Muslims, and how it is being applied today.
MT: A distinction is often made between Islam and Islamism. Do you feel that it’s a valid distinction, and is a reformed Islam possible?
MD: A thorough reading through the hadiths, sira and Koran led me to believe that reform in the sense of “improvement” is incredibly difficult. In medieval Christianity, reforming religion meant making it better by going back to its roots, back to the gospels. The problem is, if you reform Islam this way, you go back to Muhammad’s message and example, and what you get is Wahhabism and al Qaida. Reform through reshaping Islam under the influence of external ideas, derived from non-Islamic sources, is conceivable, but the trend of the past 100 years has been just about all in the other direction.
If you put a young God-fearing Muslim in a room with an Islamic radical and an Islamic moderate, both trying to win over the young person’s soul, the radical would win again and again. It is because the canon – hadiths, sira and Koran – are massively stacked in favor of the radical position. Yes, there are violent passages in the Bible too, but it is an uphill battle to build a violent theology based on them. With the Koran, building a violent theology is like rolling balls down a hill. It is a huge uphill struggle building a “moderate” Islamic theology on the basis of the Islamic canon alone.
I think some commentators – whose work I respect and admire – speak of “Islamism” because they don’t want to dignify the radical cause by calling it “Islam.” Also, if they name the problem as “Islam,” it would seem too overwhelming. Nevertheless, I agree with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wafa Sultan and other ex-Muslims that the problem of radical Islam is the problem of Islam itself. The will to dominate is hard-wired into the core texts of Islam, and this cannot be excised from the heart of these texts without a traumatic assault on the fundamentals of Islam. So I don’t like to speak about “Islamism.” To me it feels like a cop-out.
Often I meet people who want to be informed about Islam but will let their minds grasp the problem only if the solution is clear. This is hopeless. You must first live with the problem, even for a long time, before solutions will come. But I am convinced we will find solutions to the challenge of Islam. That is why I wrote The Third Choice – out of conviction that facing the truth will bring liberty.
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