Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The Armenian Genocide and Dreams of Sharia

It is my belief that one of the chief reasons for the complete indifference of many people to the possibility of the Islamisation of our societies is a major lack of understanding about what it means for a state to be Islamic - that is, to be governed by sharia law. "So what if some country starts governing according to sharia?" is the general attitude among many. "Isn't that their right? And how bad is it, really? Would life really change all that much?"

The best way to answer such a question is to look at the application of sharia in the past, and see whether it worked out well or not. That's what I'm going to do in this article - and I'm not even going to go that far back in history to do it.

The Armenian genocide consisted of two major massacres: first that of 1894-96, and second that of 1915. To this day the Turkish government denies that this ever happened, but even in saner places surprisingly little is known about the motivations behind this tragic historical reality.

Under the Muslim Ottoman Empire, the Christians of Armenia lived as a servile subject people called dhimmis. Subject to Ottoman control, they were allowed to practise their own religion, but only under a series of oppressive conditions that denied them basic freedoms and human rights (conditions which, incidentally, were not unique to the Ottoman Empire, but have been witnessed in all great Muslim dynasties throughout history). Some of these conditions were: forced payment of a special tax called the jizya, which only non-Muslims had to pay and which was often collected in a deliberately humiliating manner; denial of the right to bear arms and to give legal testimony in Muslim courts; and strictly enforced dress codes.

(It must be pointed out that all of these regulations are consistent with orthodox Islamic law regarding dhimmis, but this is something I plan to elaborate on further at another time.)

These discriminatory conditions were enforced consistently throughout the Ottoman period of rule. Even the Tanzimat “reforms” (1839-1856), which were initiated after intense European pressure on the Ottoman Empire to improve the treatment of its non-Muslim populations, failed to rectify or end this institutionalised discrimination.

The turning point came when the oppressed Armenian dhimmis began appealing to European powers for help. At this point, the Ottomans (once again consistent with sharia law) began to see such defiance as a betrayal of the Armenians' agreement of "protection", which made them licit for extermination by jihad. Speaking of the 1894-96 massacres, the Chief Dragoman (Turkish-speaking interpreter) of the British embassy reported:

“[The perpetrators] are guided in their general action by the prescriptions of the Sharia Law. That law prescribes that if the 'rayah' [dhimmi] Christian attempts, by having recourse to foreign powers, to overstep the limits of privileges allowed them by their Muslim masters, and free themselves from their bondage, their lives and property are to be forfeited, and are at the mercy of the Muslims. To the Turkish mind the Armenians had tried to overstep those limits by appealing to foreign powers, especially England. They therefore considered it their religious duty and a righteous thing to destroy and seize the lives and properties of the Armenians.”

The religious motivations for the massacres are well attested to. Eyewitness accounts from the era describe Muslims (not just government officials but ordinary Muslims, as well) attacking innocent Armenians on the streets and in their homes and churches, while chanting "Allahu Akbar" and "Believe in Muhammad and deny your religion". Around one and a half million Armenians are estimated to have been killed.

The Armenian genocide is also notable for having served as inspiration for Adolf Hitler prior to the Holocaust. During a 1939 speech in preparation for the invasion of Poland, he made an explicit reference to the genocide, saying, “Who after all is today speaking of the destruction of the Armenians?” Hitler justified their annihilation and stated that the world's consignment of this tragedy to the dustbin of forgotten history was only natural, because “[t]he world believes only in success.”

In the Armenian genocide, we have a striking case study of what can happen - and what has happened, throughout history - when sharia law is enforced by Muslim governments. This alone is reason enough to oppose the application of sharia anywhere in the world.

The final question is: how likely is it that this brutal totalitarian system will return in force one day? Some alarming facts suggest that if the Muslim popular will is anything to go by, it might happen sooner than we would like. Recent polling data suggests that around 80% of Muslims in Egypt and Pakistan desire a strict enforcement of sharia in Islamic countries. And even in this country (the UK), some 40% of Muslims have openly admitted that they would like to see our legal system replaced with sharia.

Such results should greatly alarm us, for they demonstrate that while only a minority of Muslims agree with the terrorist tactics of al-Qaeda, a significantly larger proportion - maybe even a majority in some areas - approve of al-Qaeda's ultimate goals: the implementation of sharia and the re-creation of a global Islamic state, or Caliphate.

We have seen what sharia can do. That's why it is so important to understand the threat that it - and the widespread Muslim support for it - poses to Western societal values.

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