JNS : When will the ‘happy dhimmi’ myth be discredited? (September 23, 2021 / JNS)
Although anticipated with trepidation, the United Nations’ Durban IV
commemoration, titled “Reparations, racial justice and equality for
people of African descent,” seems to have turned out to have been a damp
But it might not be long before another excuse for an anti-Israel
hatefest presents itself. The propaganda strategy behind the Durban
conference—to paint one nation (and one nation alone) as racist—remains
alive and well on campus and in the media.
We could begin to fight back by making the argument that the
treatment meted out to Jews and blacks was uncannily similar, according
to a recently published book, Poisoning the Wells, edited by the Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy (ISGAP).
Startling parallels between Jews in Muslim lands and blacks in the
American South are revealed in a chapter called “Happy Dhimmis, Happy
Darkeys: Myths past and present,” by Eunice G. Pollack and Stephen H.
According to Pollack and Norwood, Arab leaders and their Western
supporters have spread the myth of “perfect harmony” and “mutual respect
between Arabs and Jews” in the 14 centuries of “coexistence” before the
establishment of the State of Israel. The “paradise” was shattered by
the invasion of the foreign ideology of political Zionism, a movement
supposedly fashioned by European Jews, with no relevance to Jews living
in Muslim lands.
In practice, however, Jews in Muslim lands were treated little better
than black slaves in the cotton plantations of the deep South, claim
Pollack and Norwood. Both groups were seen as cowardly and obsequious.
Jews were dhimmis under the eighth-century Pact of Omar.
Although permitted to practice their religion, they were not generally
allowed to defend themselves. Indeed, they had to pay protection money
in the form of a head tax.
Black slaves were deemed unqualified for military service. When
Confederate soldiers encountered black Union Army soldiers during the
Civil War, they viewed them with disgust; atrocities followed. The
alleged behavior of a Jewish soldier in French uniform set off a pogrom
by Algerian Muslims in Constantine in 1834.
In Arab countries generally, Jews occupied the last rung on the social pecking order.
Pollack and Norwood believe that the Koran set the template for
Islam’s treatment of the “treacherous and cursed” Jews after they
spurned Muhammad’s revelation. The Jewish tribes suffered a brutal
defeat that involved beheading, rape, pillage and the sale of women as
slaves. Both Jews and blacks have been victims of ritual lynchings.
Dhimmis had to submit to restrictions and humiliations.
Raids into the Jewish quarters in North Africa resulted in frequent loss
of life, as well as pillage and rape. Jews were beaten up on the false
pretexts of blasphemy or drunkenness. The assailants, drawn from all
ranks of society, were rarely punished. Under Shi’a Islam, “unclean”
Jews could be punished if rainwater splashed from them onto Muslims.
But the Western supporters of these myths—the dhimmi-deniers—downplay
inconvenient facts. They argue that attacks only took place “once in a
while” or when the Jews stepped out of line (and were thus themselves to
blame), and that the attacks were directed solely at Jews’ property.
The myth of “peaceful coexistence” inspired by the golden age of
medieval Muslim Spain originated in the 19th century and was believed by
many in the West, including Jews. The historian Heinrich Graetz wrote
that life under Islam was far better for Jews than under Christianity.
The young Benjamin Disraeli claimed, “The children of Ishmael rewarded
children of Israel with equal rights and privileges with themselves.”
In reality, even when the dhimmi rules were abrogated in
1856, rights had to be purchased. The Ottomans exhibited the “toleration
of indifference when suitably paid to do so,” to quote the
philo-Semitic clergyman James Parkes.
Colonial rule is considered by Western supporters of the myth to have
disrupted this happy relationship. In practice, the colonial powers
“liberated” non-Muslim minorities from their dhimmi status and granted them better education and security.
Israel became tarred with the brush of imperialism after the Suez
Crisis in 1956 when Israel joined forces with Britain and France to
invade Egypt. Further politicization followed when Israel became an
“occupying” power after the Six-Day War in 1967. Beginning in the 1950s,
Western intellectuals were so bewitched by Third Worldism that when
Tunisian-Jewish writer Albert Memmi moved to France, he was astonished
to have been almost congratulated by left-wingers for having been born
in a country where racism did not exist.
Dhimmi-denial was mirrored in the attitudes of white
Southerners who thought of themselves as upholding Christian values and
even “high civilization.” After losing the cause of slavery in the
American Civil War, they went to considerable lengths to praise
slavery’s “benevolent features.” The master-slave relationship, they
said, was amicable: “The only bonds were those of tender understanding,
trust and loyalty.”
Pollack and Norwood argue that the “happy darkey” myth provided
Southerners with a foundation to justify their “lost cause,” just as
Arabs use the “happy dhimmi” to challenge Israel’s legitimacy.
Nowadays, as statues associated with slavery are being torn down, and
any connection with slavery, however tenuous, is enough to make
historical figures into non-persons, the “happy darkey” myth is
How much longer will we have to wait until the “happy dhimmi” myth is consigned to the dustbin of history?