Anything is possible…

One upon a time there was a powerful Empire upon which the sun never set. When I was growing up they taught us about this at school in England. But, soon after WWII that Empire crumbled away. Once there was another Empire based on the Communist manifesto, “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” But, this pleasing dogma resulted in the deaths of millions and the Soviet Empire it spawned collapsed due to its internal contradictions and is no more. Once the Jews were a powerless and defeated people and now we have the best army in the world. At the time such outcomes seemed impossible. There are of course manifold examples of Empires and dogmas that seemed powerful and permanent at the time, but that have entered the “dustbin of history.”

I am reading “In Ishmael’s House:a history of the Jews under Islam” by Martin Gilbert, which for the most part is a sordid tale of how Islam mistreated, exploited and massacred the Jews, century after century. It gives little hope, given the current upswing in Islamist political power, that there could ever be a reconciliation between Islam and the Jews or the west in general. Must there be “permanent war” between us, as Trotsky envisaged between communism and democracy.

But, then I came across this – in 1856 Sultan Abdul Mejid ordered the end to dhimmi status within the whole of the Ottoman Empire! That brought me up with a start, since the laws covering dhimmi status had existed since the 9th century from the time of the third Caliph Omar, who decreed that Jews and Christians were a special category of infidel (kaffir) who were the “people of the books” (Old and New Testaments, that are considered sacred to Muslims, although far below the Koran) and their status was “protected” from murder or forced conversion. For this special status they were required to pay a special tax, the jizya, that was determined by the local Muslim ruler and was not required to be paid by Muslims.

This dhimmi status was equivalent to a permanent degraded position, in which Jews especially (Christians had the Christian “Franks” and others to protect them) were at the mercy of the Muslim ruler or the Muslim mob. If the local Muslim ruler decided not to protect the Jews, then they were subject to the whims of the Muslims, either being robbed, murdered or massacred. But, the only exception I have ever heard of in regard to this degrading treatment was this decree of Sultan Mejid suspending the dhimmi status of the Jews (his successor reinstated it). Until now, I regarded the dhimmi status as being completely contradictory to any possibility of democracy in a Muslim country, since all non-Muslims are either infidels or dhimmis, and could not be considered equivalent to Muslims, whereas in democracy on the contrary minority status is protected. But, if dhimmi status can be suspended, then there is the possibility that a Muslim country could become fully democratic. However, this is only a theoretical possibility, we await the practical outcome. If the British Empire and the Soviet Union could collapse, if the Arab dictators could be swept away, then any kind of change is feasible.

The dhimmi status for Jews under Islam was equivalent to the protected status that Jews had under local rulers throughout Christian Europe. But, this only lasted while the local rulers held power, once they were swept away by revolutions, whatever theroretical rights Jews were granted in the national states that arose, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, etc.there was noone to protect the Jews from the local mobs. So you had more extreme persecution throughout Europe, especially in Germany, that led to the Holocaust of WWII. This is equivalent to the loss of strong Arab rulers like Mubarak in Egypt, who protected the peace treaty wth Israel. Now that the “mob” is in charge in N. Africa, then the Jews once again become the scapegoat for all their wrongs. We probably have to go through another period of wars and struggle, before the Arab/Muslim nations become secular and democratic and accept Israel and the Jews as they are. At least it is theoretically possible that a Muslim nation state could decree that dhimmi status of Jews and Christians is eradicated. But, this will only happen when women have equal rghts to men and that is not on the horizon either.

About the Author
Jack Cohen was born in London and has a PhD in Chemistry from Cambridge University. He moved to the US and worked at the National Cancer Inst. and then Georgetown Medical School. In 1996, he Moved to Israel and became Chief Scientist of the Sheba Medical Center. He retired in 2001 and worked as a Visiting Professor at Hebrew University Medical School for 5 years.