Which Countries Are Apartheid States?

Apartheid word in old textured dictionary (Shutterstock).
Apartheid word in old textured dictionary (Shutterstock).

“A Nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”

Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom

Although Israel is frequently accused of being an “apartheid state,” few of those who hear the accusation and none of those who make it understand what it actually means. Apartheid is the legal, institutionalized segregation of a country into a caste system. It forcibly separates a society by gender, by race or a combination of the two.

Apartheid originally described the system of state-enforced repression of blacks in South Africa from 1948 and into the early 1990s. Codified discrimination mandated that public facilities and social events be segregated, that housing and employment opportunities be dictated by race and that marriages and even relationships across racial lines be prohibited. Non-white South Africans were removed from their homes and driven into segregated neighborhoods. Apartheid ideology was based on the belief of racial superiority of the minority ruling class.

Recently, the term ‘apartheid’ has been hijacked by the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement and, absurdly, applied to Israel, where it does not exist. Christian Arabs, Muslim Arabs and Jewish Israelis all share in Israeli society and all fully participate under the legal system. All may be citizens, all may serve in the Parliament and judiciary, all may partake of the education offered in Israeli universities and all are free to become doctors, lawyers, bankers or whatever they choose – and they do. The same holds true for Israeli women, who thrive in its open society and, like the men, serve in its defense forces. Based on the central value of equality of all citizens before the law, Israel is a flourishing democracy which actively encourages vibrant debate, including a free press, and civic participation among all its citizens regardless of race, creed or gender.

In stark contrast to Israel, apartheid – against non-Muslims and also against Muslim women – is actively enforced in the Muslim countries which surround it. In fact, apartheid is part of every Islamic state by definition. That is because “an Islamic state is essentially an ideological state, and is thus radically different from a national state,” writes Samuel Shahid in “Rights of Non-Muslims in an Islamic State.”

Islamic ideology intentionally institutionalizes discrimination against people according to their religious affiliations (believers and non-believers) and segregation between men and women.

In an Islamic state, non-Muslims (“dhimmis”) are considered inferior to Muslims; dhimmis, even those native to the country, are not allowed to hold citizenship. Responsibility for policy and administration “should rest primarily with those who believe in the Islamic ideology,” according to Shahid. Religious freedom is non-existent.

In an Islamic state, dhimmis must pay Jizya (a special penalty or tax) to the government as a calculated symbol of humiliation and submission. Jizya necessarily prevents dhimmis from being an essential part of the community. How could dhimmis feel welcome in their own country, among their own people, under their own government, knowing that they must submit to this humiliation? Even if a dhimmi embraces Islam, the obligation to pay Jizya is not automatically abrogated, making the Islamic caste system nearly unalterable.

Among restrictions on dhimmis are the following: they may not build churches, temples or synagogues; they may not pray or read their sacred books out loud at home or in churches, lest Muslims hear their prayers; they may not print their religious books or sell them in public places and markets; they may not install a cross even inside their homes or churches since it is considered a symbol of infidelity; they may not broadcast or display their ceremonial religious rituals on radio or television or use the media or publish any picture of their religious ceremonies in newspapers and magazines; they may not congregate in the streets during their religious festivals; they may not enlist in the army unless there is indispensable need for them in which case they are not allowed to assume leadership positions but are considered mercenaries; and they can not be issued licenses to carry weapons.

A dhimmi, regarded as an infidel, cannot testify against any Muslim regardless of his moral credibility. Muslims cannot work for dhimmi employers. It is not permissible for a Christian to be in charge of Muslims by the virtue of the Islamic belief in the superiority of Muslims over others.

In a Muslim country, it is illegal to criticize the government or the head of state, and the press is not free. Many political prisoners are confined to jails for expressing views critical of the government. Muslims are not permitted to criticize Islam without being persecuted or sentenced to death.

Existing along with the dhimmi caste system in Islamist states is gender apartheid. Female inheritance is half of male heirs. In Sharia courts, women’s testimony carries half the weight of men’s – except for criminal trials, in which women’s testimony is not even allowed. Girls of 10 may be married off to older men and women can obtain a divorce only with consent of her husband or judicially if he has harmed her. Men, on the other hand, can divorce their wives without justification, immediate effectively, and are obligated to their wives financially for only four months and ten days thereafter. Female genital mutilation is common practice. A special committee of men called the “religious police” control women’s bodies through enforced separation (they may not even sit with men in a restaurant) and attire (they must be fully covered in a loose fitting head to toe robe-like garment).

In Saudi Arabia, women were given the right to vote only in 2015. It was only in 2017 that women were allowed access to education and healthcare without the need of a consenting male guardian. In 2018, King Salman lifted the ban on women drivers but women may drive in a car with a man only if he is a husband or close relative.  

Muslim activists such as Wajeha Al-Huwaider have compared the condition of a Saudi woman to slavery.

The legal caste system in Islamic countries and its restrictions on non-Muslims and women are indeed like chains from which it is very difficult to free oneself. Recently, Saudi woman Rahaf al-Qunun renounced Islam and had to flee for her life, seeking refuge in Canada, after receiving death threats and being hunted.

Irwin Cotler, a former lawyer for Nelson Mandela, has recognized that calling Israel an apartheid state is simply an act of anti-Semitism and an attempt to delegitimize Israel, and dismantle it just as opposition to actual apartheid had been used to dismantle South Africa.  

So, which countries are truly apartheid states? And which one, in particular, is not?

About the Author
Karen Hurvitz is a Boston-based lawyer and on the board of American Friends of LIBI.
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