Rewriting History


In a previous post, I discussed the nature of our current war against Islamic terror, and the importance of understanding the religious nature of this war. One of my commenters left a note expressing his dismay that I should have such a poor understanding of history, and asserted that Christianity and Islam were brothers, and had been so throughout their history. He subsequently left a link to a post expanding his thoughts on the matter at considerable length.

His comment and post provided an opportunity to address what I believe are common misconceptions about Islam, and which seem to have percolated through our culture. Whatever the source of my commenter’s opinions, he is far from alone in these conclusions–which have been widely promulgated in the cultural studies, media, and postmodern history so widespread in our higher education system.

The problem I have with such beliefs is not merely one of disagreement based on religious conviction or personal opinion–nor is my position motivated by some blind rage against the Islamic world. The problem is that such opinions rewrite history. In the years since September 11, I have made an effort to familiarize myself with the teachings of Islam, its history, and the historical events which have touched upon it, such as the Crusades. I make no claim to be an expert in such matters–but I have found a number of excellent sources which are both complementary and consistent, and which shatter quite effectively the illusions of Islam as a peaceful religion, happily coexisting for the most part with Christianity, with the exception of a few “excesses”–carried out equally by both sides, of course.

Perhaps the most compelling source I’ve read on this subject is Andrew Bostom’s The Legacy of Jihad. This book is, quite simply, mandatory reading for anyone wishing to understand the history of jihad in Islam. The author, a physician who set out to understand Islam and the concept of jihad after September 11, went to extraordinary lengths to document primary sources–both from Islam, the writings of those whose lands were conquered and occupied by Islam, Islamic scholars and jurists both ancient and modern writing their interpretations of the Koran pertaining to jihad and the fate of the dhimmis (unbelievers or infidels) under the rule of Islamic conquerers. Many of his source documents were translated from Arabic into English for the first time during his research, and provide an eye-opening glimpse for the non-scholar of jihad from the Islamic perspective. The book is not a screed: there is virtually no editorial opinion, but rather page after page of primary source quotes from Islamic scholars, historians, and ancient documents regarding jihad and the fate of those who were its subjects and victims. It’s 700+ pages, plus an additional 100 pages of footnotes and citations, provide an encyclopedic depiction of this period of history so poorly understood and so commonly misrepresented in our modern age.

Bostom cites contemporay historian and scholar Bat Ye’Or in describing much of the current apologetic which whitewashes the history of Islam as:

[H]istorical negationism, consisting of suppressing or sketching … one thousand years of jihad which is presented as a peaceful conquest, generally welcomed by the vanquished populations; the omission of Christian and, in particular, Muslim sources describing the actual methods of these conquests: pillage, enslavement, deportation, massacres, and so on; the mythical historical conversion of centuries of peaceful coexistence, masking the processes which transformed majorities into minorities, constantly at risk of extinction; and obligatory self-incrimination for the Crusades.

Bostom shows in extraordinary detail how the principle of jihad–holy war against the infidel–was not an aberration, but is rather an institutional part of Islam from its very beginning. He details, for example, the laws of Islamic governance of those conquered under jihad, citing the Islamic historian al Mawadi, writing in 1058 A.D., who summarized the principles now understood as dhimmitude, as follows:

 ♦ The native infidel population had to recognize Islamic ownership of the land, submit to Islamic law, and accept payment of the poll tax (jizya).

 ♦ The enemy makes a payment in return for peace and reconciliation, under one of two conditions:

   1. Payment is made immediately and is treated like booty, however it does not prevent a jihad being carried out against them in the future.

   2. Payment is made yearly and will constitute an ongoing tribute by which their security is established. Reconciliation and security last as long as the payment is made. If the payment ceases, then the jihad resumes. A treaty of reconciliation may be renewable, but must not exceed 10 years.

 ♦ The infidel who wishes to pay his poll tax must be treated with disdain by the collector. The collector remains seated while the infidel stands in front of him, his head bowed and his back bent. The infidel personally was to place the money on the scales, while the collector holds him by the beard, and strikes him on both cheeks.

The poll tax was demanded from children, widows, orphans, and even the dead. Tax collectors were accompanied by soldiers, inspectors, surveyors, and money changers who were paid, fed, and lodged for several days at the taxpayers’ expense. Punishment and torture were commonly used by tax collectors to complete the task: people were hung, flogged, crushed under presses, thrown naked into icy water and prevented from escaping by soldiers on the shore until they froze to death. Onerous taxation, combined with indebtedness to Muslim creditors, forced Christian and Jewish peasants to abandon their mortgaged lands to their Muslim overlords, and go into exile or become slaves.

Vanquished infidels were prohibited from owning arms; church bells were forbidden; restoration and building of churches, synagogues and temples was prohibited. Muslims and non-Muslims were not treated equally with regard to taxation and penal law: infidels could not seek redress in court, nor testify against a Muslim. Jews, Christians, and other non-Muslim’s had to wear special identifying clothing, hang heavy wooden crosses around their necks in public, and suffer countless other humiliations–which were institutionalized as permanent strictures of Islamic law. The unbeliever’s house could not be built higher than a Muslim’s; they could not ride horses, but only donkeys–and then only if the saddle was made of wood. They could not walk in the center of the road, and had to wear an identifying patch on the clothing or an identifying body mark in the bathhouses. The goal was the humiliation of the infidel in every way possible.

Bostom’s scope of original sources is exceedingly broad and crosses many cultures other than those of the Christians and Jews. He cites the noted Indian historian Sir Jadunath Sarkar, who in 1920 wrote the following concerning the history of jihad on the indigent Hindus of the Indian subcontinent:

Islamic theology tells the true believer that he is highest duty is to make jihad in the path of God by waging war against infidel lands until they become part of the realm of Islam and their populations are converted into true believers. After conquest the entire infidel population becomes reduced to the status of slaves of the conquering army. The men taken with the arms are to be slain or sold into slavery and their wives and children reduced to servitude. As for the non-combatants among the vanquished, if they are not massacred outright, it is only to give them a respite until they are so wisely guided as to accept the true faith. The conversion of the entire population to Islam and the extinction of every form of dissent is the ideal of the Muslim state.

The Islamic jihad of the seventh and eighth century was not simply a mildly-turbulent cultural shift filling the the vacuum left by the decaying empire of a fallen Rome Empire. It was a brutal conquest of much of the civilized world–whose extent can better be appreciated by viewing a map of Islamic conquests. Rural areas, particularly the plains and valleys populated with hamlets and villages, were ravaged by the Bedouins who set fire to crops, massacred and carried off the peasantry and their cattle, and left nothing but ruins. Towns, protected by their walls, could defend themselves better or negotiate a treaty of surrender on payment of tribute to the Bedouin chiefs. For villages which did not negotiate such a treaty–and therefore did not receive partial protection under Islamic law–slaughter or enslavement of the conquered population and division of their property was the consequence. Frequently, populations of entire towns suffered massacre, slavery, or deportation.

Palestinian sources from the Great Jihad in the years following Mohammed’s death described how a sedentary population of farmers and craftsmen in Syria and Palestine had their towns pillaged and inhabitants slaughtered. In the campaign of 634 A.D., 4000 Jewish, Christian, and Samaritan peasants who defended their land were massacred. Jerusalem and other major cities were surrounded and isolated, protected only by their walls. Churches and monasteries were destroyed, towns sacked, villages burned down, and fields laid waste. Thousands more perished in the famine and plague that resulted from these destructions. Those who escaped the sword became slaves, including women and children. Dramatic persecution were common, often directed specifically at Christians, and included executions for refusing to apostasize to Islam.

During the so-called Golden Age of Islam, starting around 750 A.D.–a period of supposed tolerance of those under Islamic rule–conditions for those living under Islam included the removal of all crosses from churches, bans on church services and teaching of the Scriptures, the eviction of monks from their monasteries, and confiscatory taxation. In eighth century Palestine, the fiscal oppression devastated the peasantry. Jewish and Christian peasants were tortured by tax collectors and forced when unable to pay to abandon their land, which was then confiscated by their Islamic overlords.

In 1009 A.D. a new series of persecutions against the Christians in Palestine and Jerusalem resulted in the destruction of the Church of the Resurrection, razing it to its very foundation, the destruction of Golgotha, the digging up and desecration of Christian graves and looting of church treasuries and furnishings. These historical events are well documented in Christian, secular, and Muslim sources.

The Iberian peninsula was conquered between 710 and 716 A.D., and historical documents detail massive pillaging, enslavement, deportation, and killings. In Toledo, which was conquered in 711, and subsequently staged a revolt in 713, the town was razed and all of the town notables had their throats cut. Bishops were burned alive, the peasantry was subject to extraordinary taxation, and mutilations and crucifixion were common. Should harm come to a Muslim by even one dhimmi, an entire town could lose its protection and become subject to pillage, enslavement, and killing. Christians were enslaved to fight in the Muslim armies, and harems were filled with captured Christian women. In 985, Barcelona was destroyed by fire and nearly all of its inhabitants massacred or taken prisoner.

This is the background to the Crusades which you will not hear in today’s institutions of higher learning or the gratuitous potshots taken by media and modern culture at Christianity’s “violent” history. Our culture, drunk with the heady wine of multiculturalism, prefers to turn a blind eye to such inconvenient history.

This pattern of conquest and brutality did not cease with the Crusades. The jihad against the Balkan Peninsula by the Turks in the mid-15th century resulted in incalculable ruin of material goods, countless massacres, the enslavement and exile of the great part of the population. Under the so-called “tolerant” Ottoman occupation, the children of Christians were forcibly removed from their parents and enlisted his slaves in the Turkish military. Those parents who resisted were hung on the spot; those who sent their children into hiding were tortured.

During the 1860s, due to Britain’s close alliance with Ottoman Turkey, much documentation by British sources on life in the Ottoman Empire exists. Despite many treaties by the Europeans attempting to reform Ottoman oppression of Christians, very little had changed: false imprisonments occurred on a daily basis; Christians had no chance of succeeding against a Muslim in the courts; barriers to property ownership by non-Muslims were enormous; Jews, Christians, and other unbelievers were frequently attacked, wounded, and killed by local Muslim and Turkish shoulders, often for trivial reasons.

Slavery throughout Islamic history has been widespread–including eunuch slavery, wherein boys between the ages of 8 and 12 were castrated in order to serve as supervisors and guards for large harems of female slaves–often comprised of enslaved Christian women. Surgical methods were crude, and castration was associated with extraordinary rates of morbidity and mortality, especially from hemorrhage or infection. Some contemporary sources placed the mortality rate at 90%.

Such details are by no means exhaustive, but rather just a brief summary, of Islam’s dark past with regards to intolerance and persecution of those subjugated by their conquests. While Islam’s Golden Age was in many ways a high point of civilization–with achievements in math, science, architecture and the arts, much of it appropriated from the conquered peoples of India, Greece, and China, augmented by great wealth from plunder and the unrestricted trade of a conquered empire–it was an achievement borne on the backs of the vanquished infidel. The prosperity and accomplishments of Islam’s Golden Age were bought with the blood of the infidel, the plunder of the poor, and the enslavement of all who would not submit to the religion of the sword.

The current state of Islam, with its tendency toward violence and terrorism, its irrational and violent response to criticism, its intolerance and oppression of non-Muslims peoples in states where Islam is aligned with government power, is neither a distortion nor a perversion of a historically peaceful religion. It is instead simply a contemporary manifestation of a religion founded in warfare, conquest, and violence upon those who did not convert. We must understand the nature of the challenge with face, lest we failed to appreciate the power which drives it, to our peril.

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