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.
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.