Whitewashing the Caliphate

Whitewashing the Caliphate
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The dominant dogma regarding jihadism, that Islam is a religion of peace that has been hijacked by a tiny minority of extremists who distort its teachings to justify violence, has been put to a severe test by the declaration of a new caliphate in Iraq and Syria. The mainstream media is fighting back.

The Islamic State, as it calls itself, has issued several declarations thick with Koranic citations and mainstream media to explain and justify its positions. Its conscious, explicit, and deeply rooted Islamic character has rattled mainstream media cages -- to the extent that articles have begun to appear claiming that this new caliphate is no caliphate at all, so unlike its illustrious predecessors as to be unworthy of the name.

That was the central claim of an article that appeared in the New York Times Wednesday: "The Caliphate Fantasy" by Khaled Diab, "an Egyptian-Belgian journalist based in Jerusalem." Diab complains: "The problem with this new caliphate...is that it is ahistorical, to say the least." Why? Because "the Abbasid caliphate, for example, which ruled from 750 to 1258, was an impressively dynamic and diverse empire." The Abbasid caliphate, Diab asserts, "thrived on multiculturalism, science, innovation, learning and culture -- in sharp contrast to ISIS' violent puritanism."

Multiculturalism? Bat Ye'or, the pioneering historian of dhimmitude, the institutionalized second-class status Islamic law stipulates for non-Muslims in the Islamic state, notes of Jews and Christians in this "multicultural" caliphate that "it was during the Abbasid period that their degrading status developed and was integrated into the legal system of the dar al-Islam." She writes of the crushing taxes that the Abbasids made the dhimmis pay, in accord with the Koran's dictum that they "pay the jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued" (9:29). "Money was extorted by blows, torture and death," Bat Ye'or writes, "particularly by crucifixion."

Ultimately "the dhimmis, ruined by taxation, abandoned their lands and villages," hoping to escape to the anonymity of the city, whereupon a "drive to track down dhimmi peasants, organized throughout the Abbasid Empire, required a considerable number of participants, who were joined by brigands greedy for plunder and pillage." The plunder and pillage of the minority communities was considered to be their due as a sign of their submission to the Islamic state.

Diab ignores all this, and asserts that Muhammad established quite a different paradigm: "Muhammad, the most 'rightly guided' of all, composed a strikingly secular document in the Constitution of Medina. It stipulated that Muslims, Jews, Christians and even pagans had equal political and cultural rights -- a far cry from ISIS' punitive attitude toward even fellow Sunnis who do not practice its brand of Islam, let alone Shiites, Christians or other minorities." In reality, the Constitution of Medina is of doubtful authenticity: it is first mentioned in Ibn Ishaq's biography of Muhammad, which was written over 125 years after the accepted date for Muhammad's death.

And unfortunately for Diab, Ibn Ishaq also details what happened to three Jewish tribes of Arabia after the Constitution of Medina. Muhammad exiled the Banu Qaynuqa and Banu Nadir, massacred the Banu Qurayza after they (understandably) made a pact with his enemies during the pagan Meccans' siege of Medina, and then massacred the exiles at the Khaybar oasis, giving Muslims even today a bloodthirsty war chant: "Khaybar, Khaybar, O Jews, the army of Muhammad will return." (Indicative of the influence of Khaybar, and not the Constitution of Medina, in the real world outside the pages of the New York Times is the fact that while jihadists frequently repeat the Khaybar chant, no one ever chants, "Relax, relax, O Jews, the Constitution of Medina will return.")

Science, innovation, learning and culture? The Assyrian historian Peter BetBasoo has noted that "when Arabs and Islam swept through the Middle East in 630 AD, they encountered 600 years of Assyrian Christian civilization, with a rich heritage, a highly developed culture, and advanced learning institutions. It is this civilization that became the foundation of the Arab civilization." What happened when Islam encountered this civilization? BetBasoo points out that the early astronomers in the Middle East "were not Arabs but Chaldeans and Babylonians (of present day south-Iraq), who for millennia were known as astronomers and astrologers, and who were forcibly Arabized and Islamized -- so rapidly that by 750 AD they had disappeared completely" -- that is, by the dawn of the Abbasid caliphate.

And if the Abbasid caliphate was really a center of science, innovation, learning and culture, what happened? The greatest indictment of Diab's case is that clearly something happened to snuff out that intellectual exploration, so that the torch of philosophical and scientific inquiry passed to Europe. What happened was summed up in the famous, although possibly apocryphal, quip of the Umayyad caliph Umar when he ordered the ancient, fabled library of Alexandria to be burned: "If the books agree with the Koran, they are superfluous. If they disagree with it, they are heretical."

The new caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, couldn't have put it more clearly.

Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and New York Times bestselling author of Arab Winter Comes to America: The Truth About the War We're In.

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