Translating Words, Interpreting Events

Collective Punishment Under Islam

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“Wherever You Can Reach Them”

Published in Hudson New York

During a recent altercation in Egypt, a Christian inadvertently killed a Muslim. This incident, according to anAINA report, “turned into collective punishment of all Copts in the majority Christian village.” Two Christians “not party to the altercation” were killed; others were stabbed and critically wounded. As usual, “after killing the Copts, Muslims went on a rampage, looting and burning Christian owned homes and businesses.”

Despite all this, “Muslims insist they have not yet avenged” the death of their slain co-religionist; there are fears of “a wholesale massacre of Copts.” Many Christians have fled their homes or are in hiding.

Collectively punishing dhimmis—non-Muslims who refused to convert after their lands were seized by Muslims, and who are treated as “second-class” infidels—for the crimes of the individual is standard under Islam. In this instance, dhimmis are forbidden from striking—let alone killing—Muslims, even if the latter perpetrate the conflict. Prior to the fight that killed him, the Muslim in question had, through the help of radical Salafis, burned down the Christian’s home and was threatening him over a property dispute. Still, non-Muslims are forbidden to raise their hands to Muslims, even in self defense.

Collectively punishing Egypt’s Christians is common. Earlier this year, when a Christian was accused of dating a Muslim woman, 22 Christian homes were set ablaze to cries of “Allahu Akbar”; when Muslims made false accusations against another Christian, one was killed, ten hospitalized, an old woman thrown out of her second floor balcony, and homes and properties were plundered and torched, as documented in a report aptly titled “Collective Punishment of Egyptian Christians.”

Nor are such examples limited to Egypt: when Muhammad cartoons deemed blasphemous by Muslims were published in Europe, Christians in faraway Muslim countries like Nigeria were killed; when Pope Benedictquoted history deemed unflattering by Muslims, anti-Christian riots around the Muslim world ensued, churches were burned, and a nun was murdered in Somalia. Months ago, when an American pastor from a fringe group burned a Koran, dozens of U.N. aid workers were killed by Muslims in Afghanistan; some were beheaded.

This practice of attacking one set of Christians as retribution for the acts of another set has roots in Islamic law. The Pact of Omar, a foundational text for Islam’s treatment of dhimmis, makes clear the consequences of breaking any of the debilitating and humiliating conditions non-Muslims are made to accept to be granted a degree of surety by the Muslim state: “If we in any way violate these undertakings … we forfeit our covenant, and we become liable to the penalties for contumacy and sedition”—penalties that include enslavement, rape, and death.

As Mark Durie points out in The Third Choice, a book on dhimmitude,

Even a breach by a single individual dhimmi could result in jihad being enacted against the whole community. Muslim jurists have made this principle explicit, for example, the Yemeni jurist al-Murtada wrote that “The agreement will be canceled if all or some of them break it” and the Moroccan al-Maghili taught “The fact that one individual (or one group) among them has broken the statute is enough to invalidate it for all of them.”

It should be noted that this approach applies to all non-Muslim groups —Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc.—living amidst Muslim majorities. Yet, because Christians are the most visible infidel minority in the Islamic world, most examples relate to them. The Copts, for instance, are especially targeted because they comprise the largest Christian bloc in the Middle East. (Centuries before the Muslim conquests, Egypt was a major center of Christianity, and Alexandria arguably equal to Rome in theological authority. The result is, after centuries of persecution, there is still a viable Christian presence in Egypt.)

Today, however, as the world shrinks—and as Muslims conflate the West with “Christianity”—the reasons to persecute Islam’s Christians grow: ethnicity and geography no longer matter; shared religion, even if nominal, makes all “Christians” liable for one another.

Consider Iraq: its persecuted Christians are being targeted in part “over their religious ties with the West.” Last year’s Baghdad church attack, when over fifty Christians were butchered, was initiated in “retaliation” toabsurd accusations against the Egyptian Coptic Church.

Yet, nearly a millennium ago, it was the Copts who were massacred when their western coreligionists—the Crusaders—made inroads into Islam’s domains. Again, the logic was clear: we will punish these Christians (Copts), because we can, in response to those Christians (Crusaders).

It is in this context that one can understand the rationale of the jihadists behind the Baghdad church attack, when they went so far as to threaten all Christians around the world as “legitimate targets for the mujahedeen[holy warriors], wherever they can reach them.”

Bold as that seems, “wherever they can reach them” simply means that it is the Islamic world’s accessible, vulnerable non-Muslims—Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus—not their Western counterparts, who will continue to be targeted, even as the West looks the other way.

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