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Islam vs. liberty

"Islam vs. liberty" Continued...

Issue: "Remembering 9/11," Sept. 10, 2011

Christianity by its very nature is about the one and the many, monotheism with a trinity. Muslims see the tension in holding firmly to both, and they are right. That tension has pushed Christians to build a society that emphasizes both unity and diversity and in that way reflects the Trinity. The U.S. Constitution created a separation of powers, forbidding the federal government from preferring any religion, but Muhammad united religious, political, and military power, and Muslim leaders ever since have aspired to do the same.

This Muslim emphasis on tawhid-making everything united-has enormous cultural and governmental implications. Without a sense of original sin, Muslims do not grasp Lord Acton's idea that (among humans) power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. In Muslim countries a system of checks and balances seems redundant. Originally, Islamic countries had no separation between religious and civil law, between Islam and the state. That's how Muslims want things to be once again.

Because Islam in many ways trains people not to govern themselves but to be governed by dictates, Muslim countries frequently have dictators in charge. Abraham questioned God about the destruction of Sodom, but even the word Islam means "submission." Those who don't submit jeopardize their lives: Hisham Kassem of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights says, "It's not safe to think in this part of the world."

Although the Quran states that "there is no compulsion in religion," Islamic nations often interpret that to mean that "there is no competition in religion" within their borders. Here's a typical Muslim definition of freedom (from Mumtaz Ali Khan, an Indian sociology professor and cabinet minister): "Freedom of religion means the right of an individual to practice, profess and propagate his religion. . . . Freedom of expression means the liberty that every individual has to convey his thoughts. . . . But he should not express his views in a manner that offends the feelings of the general community to which he belongs."

A Muslim who becomes a Christian offends his general community. A Christian who evangelizes in Muslim countries offends the community. Some say Christians should be shunned. Others say they should die. In that environment, devout Muslims have shot or knifed critics of Islam, even gentle critics like Egyptian Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz.

Historically, Muslims have usually not killed the civilians they conquered. Usually, for almost 1,500 years, they have given Jews and Christians living in Muslim-ruled lands a special status as dhimmis (Arabic for "protected people"). The word dhimmi became historically significant in A.D. 628 when Muhammad's forces defeated a Jewish tribe that lived at the oasis of Khaybar and made with them a treaty known as the dhimma. The treaty allowed Jews to continue cultivating their oasis, as long as they gave Muhammad half of their produce.

Crucially, Muhammad reserved the right to break the deal and expel the Jews whenever he wished. That agreement has served as a model for Muslims over the centuries. Dhimmis, as historian Bat Ye'or has shown, typically had to pay discriminatory taxes acknowledging publicly their status as second-class citizens. They were on the hook for additional sums payable on Islamic demand. They had to supply forced labor on demand. They were ineligible for any public office and were without the right even to testify in legal battles.

Dhimmis were not allowed to construct new places of worship, but sometimes received permission to worship in buildings that predated Muslim conquest. (The buildings had to be dilapidated, with no crosses or bell-ringing allowed, and Muslims able to ransack them at will.) Dhimmis were not allowed to possess weapons, marry Muslim women, meet with others on the streets, or ride horses or camels (the two "noble animals"). Dhimmis had to wear special clothes, walk with eyes lowered, and accept being pushed aside by Muslims.

The Muslim goal in collecting taxes from dhimmis was to maximize not only revenue but abuse. North African 19th-century theologian al-Maghali advised that dhimmis be assembled on tax day "in the lowest and dirtiest place," with threatening officials placed above the dhimmis "so that it seems to them, as well as to the others, that our object is to degrade them." With the stage set, al-Maghali advised, officials could play out a little drama of dragging dhimmis "one by one (to the official responsible) for the exacting of payment. . . . This is the way that the friends of the Lord, of the first and last generations will act toward their infidel enemies."

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