Stacey Philbrick over at al-Hiwar: Words Matter has an interesting post about dhimmitude and how we understand the ways that Western nations attempt to cope with their Islamic populations. I must confess that I was unfamiliar with the term dhimmi, so all of my information regarding it comes from the links she provides. Given her expertise, I'll assume that her links are reputable.
As I understand it, dhimmi are non-Muslims living in Muslim areas who compromise certain principles in order to be protected by/from the dominant Muslim population (I trust if this is an inaccurate understanding my kind readers will comment with corrections). Her post comments on the idea that a particular anti-Islamic website labels countries where no one has reprinted the cartoons at the center of the current violence as "Neutral/Dhimmi" (map here). She takes issue with the idea that refraining from reprinting the cartoons is a tacit agreement to be subjugated to Muslim dominance.
I started thinking about the concept of dhimmitude, a new idea for me, and I began to wonder about the constant complaints of Western media that moderate Muslims often fail to speak out forcefully against violence. Occasionally, they do, as CAIR did on this issue (yes, I know that CAIR tried to recast the issue as one of "incitement," but given how often CAIR speaks with a forked tongue, I think their press release was about as strong as we could hope for). Nevertheless, if moderate Muslims are in the majority, they certainly seem to speak sotto voce compared to the amplified voices of their more radical compatriots.
I think often this leads non-Muslims in the West to assume that there really isn't any such thing as a "moderate" Muslim -- just violent, death cultists who occasionally restrain their rhetoric when on TV. Perhaps a better way to construct our thinking would be to temper it with the idea of dhimmitude, in which moderate Muslims take on the de facto position of dhimmi within a more totalitarian Islamicist community. Since my understanding of dhimmi is that the term properly only refers to non-Muslims, let me call this community the pseudo-dhimmis.
Let me give you a couple of examples of pseudo-dhimmi moments. Once I was talking to a Muslim student, and she was very shocked. She had just discovered that one of her classmates was a Wahabbist. Apparently, her home country had very few Wahabbis. "Those guys are crazy," she whispered. "I'm going to have to watch out for him." From that point forward, the student never spoke in class -- instead she would come to my office after class to ask questions. She was afraid, as a woman, to answer questions I posed in the presence of her Wahabbi classmate. This seems to me to be a pseudo-dhimmi moment, in which a moderate Muslim acquiesced to domination by a more radical Muslim out of fear of confrontation or violence.
Or, here was another pseudo-dhimmi moment. I was teaching a literature class that involved readings from the Koran. I have often had to excuse more conservative Muslim students from the assignment since it involved reading the Koran in translation (translating the Koran is forbidden by some more conservative sects), and they could not read it in the original language. When I was teaching in the Detroit area (with a very large Muslim population) this occasionally resulted in the bizarre situation in which I would be teaching the Koran only to non-Muslims, with all the Muslims adopting to do a research paper instead. In any case, on one occasion I had a Muslim student who came to my office to confess that he had been secretly reading the Koran, and he wanted to ask me some questions about it. I told him that I'm a Christian and not particularly knowledgable about Islam beyond literary issues, and suggested instead that he go ask one of his own clergy some of the thorny theological questions he was posing to me. The young man became horrified that they might find out that he had read the Koran in translation, and made me promise not to reveal to anyone what he had done. A Muslim studying Islam in secret from other Muslims seems to me to be a pseudo-dhimmi moment.
What I am suggesting is that possibility that many, perhaps most, Muslims oppose the rioting and arson that we see around the world at the moment, but as pseudo-dhimmi, they exist under the domination of more radical Muslims, and so must make compromises for a relatively peaceful co-existence. They would like to speak out but, like my students, refrain from comment out of fear of condemnation or violence.
I suppose one might also take the idea of the pseudo-dhimmi to claim that Muslims living in non-Islamic territory moderate their rhetoric only because they are the counterparts of the dhimmi in Islamic lands, and are at heart radical death cultists -- but I prefer the more charitable interpretation.