Islam and The Crusades

Jeremy Halcrow

The Third Way: Islam, Dhimmitude and Freedom (Deror books, 2010) 
by Mark Durie

God's Battalions: the case for the Crusades (Harper, 2009)
by Rodney Stark

Mark Durie is a first-rate scholar. Formerly head of linguistics at Melbourne University and Australia's leading expert on the Islamic culture of Aceh, Durie is now focussed on the growing discussion around "Dhimmitude'. 

The third way of Durie's title refers to the Islamic law that calls on Muslim rulers to offer Christians and Jews one of three options: death, conversion or to submit to life as a "Dhimmi' "”  effectively a second-class citizen subject to endless humiliations.

The strength of this book is the painstaking way Durie details the array of unequal treatment suffered by Christian communities under Muslim rule, thoroughly exposing the Islamic doctrines that underpin these injustices. That said, Durie is no literary stylist and the forensic way he pieces together evidence from the Islamic texts reads like a solicitor's brief.

The term "Dhimmitude' was coined by the historian Bat Ye'or to explain the plight of Christian and Jewish communities that came under Islamic rule from the 9th century. What this concept aptly communicates is the thorough state of subservience experienced by these peoples, which really can only be compared to the sense of inferiority fostered among African slaves in the Americas.

In Durie's words: "Like sexism and racism, dhimmitude is not only manifested in legal and social structures but in a psychology of inferiority, a will to serve, which the dominated community adopts in self-preservation."  
A plus of Durie's scholarly approach is that he carefully avoids the polar opposite pitfalls that bedevil writers in this field: either assuming that Islam is a "religion of peace' or inherently dangerous.
Durie's work provides a neat bookend to historian Rodney Stark's recently released revision of the Crusades titled God's Battalions. For Christians queasy at demands they apologise for the Crusades, Stark delivers a powerful antidote. It should be remembered that the popular picture of the Crusades has largely been painted by two centuries of atheist writings using the conflict for polemics against the Church.

The conventional view of professional medievalists is that Islamic military expansion finished by the 9th century and the Crusades were the product of religious revival in Western Europe. Stark convincingly argues that the Crusades were "a justified war waged against Muslim terror and aggression".

However, the force of this argument is somewhat weakened by telling the whole story entirely from a Western perspective. Stark does not claim to be a Christian and this book is not an apology for Christ. The West "” even in the period of Christendom "” should not be confused with the Kingdom of God. So be warned: this book moves perilously close to constructing a defence for more recent Western imperialism.

In this light Stark would have benefited from an understanding of dhimmitude and a deeper analysis of the indigenous Christian population of the Levant. Did these Dhimmis feel liberated by the Crusaders? It's a question Stark touches on with regard to Antioch but should have investigated more thoroughly.

In contrast, The Third Choice is far from triumphalist. Durie ends with a forlorn plea: that through "truth applied with love" Muslims of goodwill will recognise the full humanity of other peoples. But there is no doubt Durie is right on one key point. Dhimmitude remains a force in global affairs today. The ongoing persecution of the 8 million strong Christian community in Egypt (see page 10) is but one example. Despite protests around the world, their plight is invisible to most Westerners.

So, is Durie also right when he claims there is a spreading "Dhimmitude of the West', especially in Europe where elite opinion appears to bow to Islamic civilisation?

It seems unfair for Durie to quote leaders speaking in the wake of catastrophic terrorist attacks. These statements are also linked to a fear that anything less than an irenic tone will seed the kind of riot we saw explode on Cronulla Beach.

We are walking a tightrope at this point. There is a danger that Westerners will fall into a different kind of self-denial: blinded to our own responsibility in recent turmoils.

Bat Ye'or, in the book's forward, presents the best articulation of the situation: "Too few Westerners grasp that… dhimmitude is crucial to understanding the relationship between Islam and non-Islam. As Durie argues, through a conspiracy of silence the heads of state, church and community leaders, universities and media smother its reality under a blanket of ignorance."

The Third Choice deserves to be read by every thinking Christian.