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Is tolerant Islam a myth?

At its best, Islam offers only paternalistic tolerance for despised minorities, says an acclaimed author.

It appears to be a sign that you’re doing something abundantly right when the leaders of major Arab and Muslim groups demand that your conference be monitored by the thought police to make sure nothing too incendiary is being said.

This happened in Canada recently when the Canadian Arab Federation and the Canadian Islamic Congress insisted that a gathering entitled, "On The Front Line of Immigration, Terrorism, and Ethno-Politics" by investigated by the Toronto Hates Crimes Unit.

We’ll never know if the boys and girls in blue in the True North Strong and Free –- a quote from the Canadian national anthem that only just still rings with an authentic tone -- responded to these somewhat hysterical cries.

But one of the speakers, internationally renowned author Bat Ye’ or, is more than used to such persecution. This diminutive, gentle and brilliant woman in her late 70s seems to positively terrify her critics. Being deported because of Arab anger would, however, be nothing new to the author of a host of internationally acclaimed historical works on the history of Islam and its treatment of Jews and Christians.

She and her family were forced to leave their native Egypt in 1957, part of the more than a million Jews who were exiled from Muslim states after the Second World War and the foundation if Israel. Bat Ye’or’s name roars the horror of it all. It is a pseudonym, meaning Daughter of the Nile in Hebrew. Her given name is Gisele Orebi.

The persecuted Jews of the Middle East. The silenced catastrophe. A wave of innocents whose existence in Arab lands pre-dated the birth of Islam. Their numbers were greater than those of Palestinian refugees and they were frequently treated far more harshly. Yet the world said very little and today the Islamic bloc and their allies in the United Nations and elsewhere pretend the post-Biblical exodus did not happen.

"It is, I suppose, deeply ironic that I was told that I was not allowed to live in Egypt when I was a girl and now as a grown woman I’m told, in part by people from Egypt, that I shouldn’t come to Canada either. As for Israel, they’d like that to disappear," she says, more bemused than bitter.

"Where ought I to go? No matter. The story has to be told, the true story of how Islam has treated and still does treat its minorities."

It is her collection of work on the Islamic conquest of the Christian heartlands of Egypt, Palestine, Syria and North Africa that have caused so much frustration from Muslim opponents. She writes in detail of Dhimmitude, the method in which Jews and Christians were subjugated and humiliated.

"As late as the early twentieth-century in some Muslim countries Jews had to remove their shoes when they left their own quarter, were not allowed to ride a horse, were treated as second-class citizens. This idea of equality is nonsense. Their numbers were restricted, especially in the Holy Land, and the same was true of Christians. There were periodic pogroms, right up till the 1940s."

A pause, searching for the right words. "What occurred back then is history, but history has to be understood and accepted. What we have now is revision, denial. Muslim immigrants are taking this false idea of the past to Europe and North America, along with a culture that does not share the Western notion of tolerance, equality, criticism of religion and freedom."

The concept of dhimmitude is little known in the West but Bat Yeor is doing a great deal to correct that state of affairs.

"The whole notion differs fundamentally from the Western, Christian idea of tolerance" she explains. "Obviously Christians have not always lived up to this idea but modern pluralism is a direct result of Christian thinking. Islamic ideology, on the other hand, aspires to something entirely different. At best it is a paternalistic tolerance for a despised minority but often outright persecution. This is what has happened in contemporary Egypt."

Indeed so. Christians enjoyed a relatively open and equal citizenship under more secular Cairo governments but under a more aggressive Islam they are persecuted, attacked, forcibly converted, exiled and killed. "Part of the horror is the pain they suffer," she explains. "The other is the denial we see and hear from Egypt and from Muslims throughout the world. The same applies to Pakistan, Sudan, Turkey and so many other Islamic societies."

So the idea of Islamic tolerance is untrue?

"Completely so. Dhimmitude is the natural consequence of the jihad mindset. As a Muslim you conquer, dominate and convert because Islam is to triumph. That you would then respect those who do not become Muslim is self-contradictory. Those who reject Islam are considered immoral and the immoral are never to be trusted. This is why it is so difficult to form a working relationship between the West and genuine Islam, even when it appears to be moderate. We have to question motives, we have to understand intentions."

This thesis of the spread of such ideas is discussed at length in what may be her most famous and controversial book, Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis. In it she argues that Islamic fundamentalism has found its way to Europe because most Muslim moderates are frightened of speaking out and European intellectuals and activists have been seduced by its anti-American dynamic.

"I cannot stress enough the incompatibility between the concept of tolerance as expressed by the jihad-dhimmitude ideology, and the concept of human rights based on the equality of all human beings and the inalienability of their rights. In Europe there is a connection between local socialism, communism and neo-fascism with the judeophobia and anti-imperialism of the new Muslim communities.

"There are courageous Muslims who do resist but it is difficult and dangerous. There is an underground of sharia law across Europe, with terrible treatment of women. This is combined with the threat of violence aimed at anybody who speaks out against what is going on. Censorship through fear. We even see this to a mild degree in Canada, an example being the attempt to stop me entering the country."

The cause of Palestine, she emphasises, is at heart about the triumph of Islam. "Most of Palestine is in Jordan but we do not hear cries for Jordan to return land. This isn’t about the rights of the Palestinians but about the refusal to accept a non-Muslim state in the region. Palestine has become the fashion of the West, without them understanding the deeper issues of the conflict."

Paradox wrapped around irony packaging hypocrisy. Untied by a brave and wise woman who wants only peace and juctice but who is still being persecuted for what she is and what she says. A daughter of the Nile, a teacher for the world.

Michael Coren is a broadcaster and writer living in Toronto, Canada.

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