Public Nuisance

Random commentary and senseless acts of blogging.

The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Friday, July 26, 2002
Dhimmi 'Tude
Nick Denton's suggestion that Muslims in the West be regarded as 'dhimmis', the legal status granted to non-Muslim minorities in the East, has been commented on by Instaman, along with various other bloggers.

Let's turn the system around. In the West, it is the Muslims who are the dhimmis, the tolerated minority; they should be free to practice, so long as their Islam is a diluted Episcopalian version, expressed in a sabbath on Fridays, holidays at unusual times of the year, traditional names for children, and an annual parade through Brooklyn.

In other words, Western governments should make clear that the toleration of Muslim minorities is conditional. The West is a package deal: the prosperity that has attracted Muslim immigrants is a function of the Western tradition. Fundamentalist Islam is not, as the morally ambivalent would have it, as valid as any other system. Here's the Western dhimma: accept the supremacy of Western humanist values -- equal rights for women and sexual minorities, freedom of speech, and family law -- or leave.

This is wrong for some obvious reasons, like presumably putting the INS in charge of determining what is 'proper' vs 'excessive' Muslim observance. But the more subtle reason is that the concept of dhimmis is in many ways exactly what the most radical Islamists are demanding, and exactly what we need to avoid.

Dhimmis in Islamic tradition were communities who had agreed to live under Muslim rule, paid extra taxes, and received a certain degree of communal self-government in return. Under the Ottoman Empire which controlled most of the Middle East for several centuries, there were three millets, or recognized dhimmi communities: the Orthodox under the Patriarch of Constantinople, the Jews, and the Armenians under the Gregorian Patriarch. Gypsies, Monophysite Christians, Assyrians, and various other miscellaneous groups were crammed into the Armenian millet. (The claim which is seen from time to time that the Islamic world under this system was an early home for religious tolerance is largely a myth.)

A similar status is implied by some demands of the radical Islamists, as shown in this heavily blogged essay by Bawer:

In 1999 I moved from Amsterdam to Oslo. I soon found that in Oslo, as in Amsterdam, the cultural gap between natives and the Muslim immigrant minority (which, in Norway, consists largely of Pakistanis) was miles wide. Here, too, the native-born children of immigrants were called "second-generation immigrants," not Norwegians. (Indeed, in Norway these days the words "immigrant" and "Muslim" are effectively synonyms.) Here, too, the authorities, presumably fearing accusations of insensitivity or cultural imperialism, tended to avoid addressing undemocratic practices within immigrant communities.

Forced marriage is one of these practices. Among Muslims in Europe, it’s quite common for young people to be compelled by their parents to accept spouses they don’t want. Some women manage to escape these situations and seek protection in women’s shelters. In 1999 the Guardian published an article by Faisal Bodi, a British Muslim who complained about these shelters, which in Great Britain are called "women’s refuges." Charged Bodi, "Refuges tear apart our families. Once a girl has walked in through their door, they do their best to stop her ever returning home. That is at odds with the Islamic impulse to maintain the integrity of the family." (Bodi made certain to note–as if it definitively established the loathsome character of women’s shelters–"the preponderance of homosexuality among members and staff.") Citing universal Muslim belief in "the shariah, the body of laws defining our faith"–which he described, a bit unsettlingly, as "a sharp sword capable of cutting through the generational and cultural divide"–Bodi argued that British authorities must recognize the Muslim community "as an organic whole" and thus accord it a larger role in resolving conflicts over forced marriage. Bodi’s plaint was phrased with extreme delicacy, but the point was clear: when Muslim girls or women flee the tyranny of father or husband, the government should essentially hand them over to a group of Muslim men. In short, British law should effectively be subordinate to Muslim law. Group identity trumps individual rights.

In other words, they want to be a self-governing community, ignoring Western laws and imposing their own traditions on anybody who steps out of line. A millet, minus the numerous humiliations which were, and often still are, imposed on such communities in Muslim nations. They seek to be granted community rights rather than, in fact in direct opposition to, personal rights. The priority of individual rights over community rights is perhaps the most basic distinction between Western and Islamic culture, and until Western Muslims accept it, they will never become a full part of our society.

For the US, there is no need to import strange new ideas to deal with our Islamic minority. These immigrants, like the rest of us, can practice the religion they prefer in the manner they choose. They are under no obligation, any more than other Americans, to endorse or approve of our laws. They are under obligation to obey them, and forced marriages, female genital mutilation, incitement to violence, physical assaults on those who 'dishonor' families, etc, should be thoroughly punished under existing laws. For those who find that intolerable, then Denton's suggestion applies: they can move to countries whose laws are more to their liking.

For Europeans, the situation is a little more difficult, because they lack American experience in assimilating immigrants into their way of life. Americans understand the exceptional character of our political institutions, but relatively few recognize the same about our idea of citizenship, the belief that anyone can come here and be a full American simply by accepting our values. In Athens, the original home of democracy, citizenship was gained only by descent. Families could, and did, live in the city, pay its taxes, even fight in its wars for centuries without becoming citizens. Some of this exclusiveness remains in most of Europe and will have to change for these countries to successfully assimilate non-European populations. But such change obviously doesn't include the insane suggestion by one Norwegian professor quoted by Bawer that women should 'adapt themselves' to the tendencies of some men from Islamic societies to rape or attack women they consider improperly dressed.