Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Review of "Islam: Empire of Faith"

In his Foreword to Bat Ye'or's book, The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: from Jihad to Dhimmitude, Jacques Ellul, the late Protestant scholar, was concerned about what he called the "Dhimmitude of the West." He was referring to those Western writers and intellectuals who would adopt self-censorship when dealing with Islam. Such behavior is similar to that of the Jews and Christians who came under Islam. The conquering Arab Muslims called them, "Dhimmis." This status conferred upon them the freedom to practice their religion on the condition that they refrain from any criticism of Islam. Furthermore, they were not to propagate their faith. Once a Dhimmi embraced Islam, he or she, could no longer go back to his former faith. Apostasy was punishable by death.
I could not help thinking of his words when viewing a Public Television production, Islam: Empire of Faith. In Chicago, it was aired on May 8, 2001, from 8-10:30 p.m. The majority of the speakers and commentators are Western, and are associated with such institutions as the University of Saint Louis, Columbia University, Boston College, and Edinburgh University. At several intermissions during the two and half hour show, we heard the usual refrain that the documentary was being made available "through viewers like you."
At this point, someone may question whether I am eligible to undertake a review of "Islam: Empire of Faith." After all, I am an Eastern Christian. How could I be free from the prejudices that my people have harbored regarding Islam, ever since the conquest of their homeland in the early seventh century? I admit that I am not entirely free from some bias. But it is an attitude that has a legitimate and reasonable foundation. Furthermore, I do have the credentials to make an assessment of this documentary. I have lived a good deal of my life in the Middle East. I experienced some of the great upheavals that took place in that area in the aftermath of World War II. Even after moving to North America, I have kept up my studies of the history of the Arabs and of Islam, both in Arabic and in English. My credentials are just as valid as those of the speakers who voiced their comments on "Islam: Empire of Faith."

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