In the 21st century, an ominous paradox developed: on the one hand, progressives increasingly demanded the banishing of hate speech, in some cases down to micro-aggressions. And yet within this increasingly severe approach, Islam became a double exception to the rule. Islamist hate speech did not count; negative criticism about Islam and Muslims, even when accurate, also could qualify as hate speech. Nor was this kind of behavior merely the occasional choice of people driven by ideology; it became a broad consensus, that eventually viewed dissent from that very consensus, as hate speech that inflamed the forces of global Jihad.

The following list offers a variety of examples of this contradictory attitude from the last twenty years.

The Incidents:

  • Paris, France on October 6, 2000, at a demonstration held at Place de la Republique to protest Israel’s unsubstantiated murder of Muhammad al Durah. Muslims held aloft a banner that used the just recently reported murder of Muhammad al Durah to equate Israel and the Nazis, and shouted “death to Jews,” the first time that cry had arisen in the streets of Paris since the Libération. The progressive French co-demonstrators did not rebuke them; nor did the journalists mention the cry in their generally favorable reports of the manif. For months to come, the news media would replay the scene of Muhammad al Durah in a feedback loop – l’image choc de l’intifada – despite the fact that they were thereby also waving the flag of Jihad and Jew-hatred in front of their Muslim population.
  • On September 15, 2001, days after the attacks of 9/11, President George W. Bush spoke at the Islamic Center of Washington DC. With members of the Muslim Brotherhood at his side, the President insisted that Islam was a religion of peace, that the good people with him and Muslims all over the world were as appalled as Americans at what had happened, and then cited a passage from the Koran that promised punishment to all those who “reject the signs of Allah and hold them up to ridicule,” as proof of Islam’s “peaceful nature.”
  • Barcelona, Spain in April 2002: Spanish fashion models, demonstrating against the falsely reported “Jenin massacre,” wear nothing but suicide belts to show their solidarity with the Palestinian “freedom-fighting resistance,” thus cheering on a Jihadi weapon soon to be turned on them.
  • During the Danish Cartoon Scandal (2005-2006), Caliphator radio stations and mosques broadcast the “Yassin Tapes,” filled with genocidal and racist hatred of Jews: “sons of pigs and monkeys,” “killers of innocent children,” evil, to be “exterminated.” Sweden’s Chancellor of Justice, Goran Lambertz, ruled that this speech should be judged differently and allowed “because they [Muslims] are used by one side in a continuing profound conflict, where battle cries and invectives are part of everyday occurrences in the rhetoric that surround the conflict.” Hence, these tapes – even though their purpose was precisely to fuel the most merciless conflict – did not qualify as “incitement against an ethnic group according to Swedish law.”
  • In the Spring of 2014, Brandeis University announces an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born former Muslim, whose criticism of patriarchal violence in Islam had aroused the ire of, and death threats from, Muslim leaders, including in the United States. In response to the Brandeis announcement, a faculty group – with women’s studies faculty in the lead – objected indignantly to honoring such an “Islamophobe,” declaring that it sent a terrible message to Muslims and did not reflect Brandeis’ values. In so doing, they publicly shamed a Black African feminist, while showing respect for belligerent, patriarchal, triumphalist Muslims.
  • Paris, France on January 15, 2015: Two Jihadi brothers execute 12 people at the offices of Charlie Hebdo; two days later in Paris, a lone Jihadi enters the Hypercacher kosher supermarket and executes four Jews. BBC’s Tim Wilcox interviews an elderly Jewish woman. When she begins to describe Jews as victims “as in the ‘30s…” he cuts her off: “Many critics of Israel’s policy would suggest that the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well.” Although Wilcox later apologized for the “unintentional offense” that his “poorly-phrased question” (sic) may have caused, he clearly had no inkling that he had just used a jihadi narrative (Muslim terror is a product of their victimhood), to interrupt the Jewish (and civil society) narrative about infidel civilians – citizens – being targeted by Jihadis.
  • Paris, France on April 4, 2017: Policemen, on orders from central, stand on the balcony outside Sarah Halimi’s door while her attacker, quoting Koranic verses, tortured her to death. The murderer was immediately sent to a mental hospital, and the press reluctantly reported any association of his deeds with Islam. Only major demonstrations led by the Jewish community got the courts to even consider the role of Islamic antisemitism in the murder; public officials, journalists, the courts, covered it with an “an icy silence.

The brutal murder of Sarah Halimi in some ways is the inverse of the al Durah affair. In the first incident, the French public sphere seized upon the staged lethal narrative in order to indict Israel of Nazi-like behavior (despite the fact that the Palestinian who filmed the highly problematic footage never underwent critical questioning). They then made the otherwise forbidden “amalgame” (the lumping) that indicted France’s Jews of being co-responsible (Wilcox’s interjection).

With Halimi, where the real murderer’s Jew-hatred and Islamic inspiration were amply documented within the murderer’s community, the news media refused to believe the details about Muslim hatred of Jews –and the courts did their best to avoid mentioning Muslim antisemitism. While French courts repeatedly found in favor of France2’s journalist Enderlin and against his critics claiming an al Durah hoax (with one brief exception), in this case, they decided Halimi’s executioner’s psychopathologies, combined with smoking too much marijuana, made him mentally incompetent to stand trial. In that sense, “Halimi’s law” embodies the problem highlighted by my list: in France a Muslim can torture and murder a Jew and not stand trial, while a man can go to prison for throwing his dog off the balcony.

Islamophobia and the Erasure of Caliphator Aggression

Embedded in every incident cited above, we find elements of the adoption by Western leaders of a narrative that corresponded closely with that put forth by Muslim spokespeople:

Islam is a religion of peace which has nothing to do with the mad Jihadis who have hijacked our religion and attacked you; to suggest any connection between our “true” Islam and these hijackers, is “hate speech” and insults and alienates Muslims. Israel is the new Nazi committing genocide against the Palestinians and should be destroyed for the sake of justice.

Not only do many Western leaders adopt all aspects of this contradictory narrative as a description of reality, but they consistently ignore counter-evidence and aggressively attack those who raise that counter-evidence.

As a result, there exists a remarkable inconsistency and a radical lack of reciprocity between what the Western public sphere considers to be unacceptable Islamophobia and what they consider acceptable criticism of Jews, expressed by the very Muslims who insist on criminalizing Islamophobia. The Swedish case was merely a nadir at a time when Western leaders, diplomats, opinion shapers, and scholars granted relatively mild caricatures of Mohammed the status of the worst antisemitic hate literature (Nazi), and apologized profusely for offending rioting Muslims with Western traditions of free speech. Since then, one might argue, this double standard about what Muslims can say about infidels and what infidels say about Muslims, characterizes all public discussions in the Western public sphere.

President George W. Bush’s September 15, 2001 speech at the Islamic Center of Washington, DC, laid out the basic lines of “Islam, religion of peace” completely separate from Jihad. Despite the textual and empirical misinformation, public figures heartily approved. Americans could proudly say: “we will not victimize our Muslim fellow citizens for deeds that have nothing to do with them.” Historians who should have laughed at the misinformation at best fell silent. Few at the time realized the catch: the victimhood claimed by Muslim leaders precluded any suggestion of a link between Islam and Jihad.

There were plenty of good people who repeated this dubious narrative, including scholars who wrote introductory books on Islam, which barely mention the key terms for understanding Muslim relations with infidels: Dar al Islam, Dar al Harb, dhimmi, al wala’ wal bara.

But that wasn’t enough. There also was a corresponding effort to silence anomalous evidence. Islamophobia, introduced in its current sense of hate speech or even “hate crime” against Muslims, dates precisely to the turn of the millennium and the advent of global jihad as a movement of world conquest. In other words, just when we needed to understand whence this savage attack, we were told to close our eyes or face the consequences. As a weapon of warfare, the ability of Islamophobia accusations to paralyze infidel speech and thought makes it the cognitive war equivalent to suicide bombing in kinetic warfare.

Above all, Islamophobia accusations have prevented infidels from recognizing what they were dealing with. Indeed, in the years after 2001, we had difficulty even naming the enemy; rather, the phrase “War on Terrorism” was adopted.  For students of such movements (i.e., movements that anticipate a time when the world will be made perfect), the attackers offer a classic case of apocalyptic millennialism: they believe that the millennium (Global Caliphate) will be realized imminently (apocalyptic). The people who attacked on 9/11 were Muslims who truly believed that in this generation, the long-delayed triumph would occur, in which all of Dar al Harb (realm of war) would be conquered and become Dar al Islam (realm of submission).

True believers of this electrifying message are what I call Caliphators — active apocalyptic actors that believe that their deeds are Allah’s deeds and bring the salvation of all humankind. Those who share this dream tend to favor either cataclysmic or transformative scenarios about how the transition will occur. Some think it demands massive destruction of evil (Jihad), others imagine it could happen through summoning people to Islam (Da’wa). The narrative of the Jihadis, spoken within the Umma, is terrifying: genocide (especially of the Jews), rape, world conquest, humiliation and subjection of “those who reject the signs of Allah and hold them up to ridicule.” The narrative of the Da-īs, spoken in Western tongues for infidel consumption and repetition, is the opposite: “Islam, the religion of peace.”

The two narratives work hand in hand toward Muslim supremacy: accusations of Islamophobia keep infidels from exploring closely the dynamics between those two Caliphator streams — a connection actively concealed. And for that, the “Islam is peace” narrative, backed up by a “anyone who disagrees is an Islamophobe,” offers the perfect combination.

Triumphalist Muslims tried hard to criminalize “Islamophobia” and succeeded in many places, including major international forums. The same Sweden that granted Imams an exemption from laws against hate-speech about Jews applied those rules severely to those who criticized Muslim immigrants. In 2019, a 91-year-old man was convicted of hate speech for his intemperate remarks about Muslim immigrants, which the court found “have content that is clearly abusive to Muslims and it, therefore, expresses such inaccuracy as is required to be held liable for the crimes against ethnic groups.” (Note the conflation of offense and inaccuracy.) That Muslim immigrants have had a disastrous impact on the life of women in Western Europe gets systematically obscured by what Ayaan Hirsi Ali calls the “Playbook of Denial.”

When the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) puts out its annual list of Islamophobes, it serves as a woke version of the papal index: hate speakers named therein were “not to be received.” And yet, in all their massive research, the SPLC does not cover Muslim hate-speech at all, not about infidels, not about Jews, nor about Israel, even in sections on “Antisemitism” and “Holocaust Denial.” This year, the House and Senate Democrats endorsed a SPLC report on hate that calls for canceling anyone who contests the 2020 election (including sitting Republican congressmen), in an effort to extinguish those (right-wing) beliefs it identifies as hateful. And yet, it had nothing to say about imams in the United States who are preaching genocide. They’re much more likely to accuse a moderate Muslim reformer of being an Islamophobe.

In some cases, this imposition of silence about Muslim misbehavior can have terrible consequences for the victims. Unni Wikan describes a generation of Muslim immigrant girls, sacrificed to their lethal male patriarchy by Swedes afraid to be called racist. Nor is it “just” immigrant girls who are abandoned to the predatory talons of their patriarchal males. In Rotherham, England, Pakistani Muslims systematically raped British schoolgirls and groomed them to be sex slaves. They operated for over a decade, unimpeded by the many authorities and institutions (police, school officials, courts, municipal officials, social workers) that should have protected this vulnerable population from their predators.

Proleptic Dhimmitude: The Fine Art of Invisible Submission

What can explain such a blind spot? What can account for so broad a consensus on not talking about some less attractive (but often mainstream) aspects of Islam today, the way we talk about other groups, movements, political forces? There are many Muslims today in the West, and many of good will, who may find my remarks curious, if not worse. They feel that far from giving Muslims a pass, Western infidels are quite hostile, indeed prejudiced against Muslims. They’ve experienced Islamophobia. What I address here is not the popular attitudes toward Muslims, but those of the Western leadership, including authorities, decision makers and administrators, especially those whose voice is most prominent in the public sphere, the “information professionals” (scholars, researchers, journalists, social media), even the people in charge of security and intelligence.

Many of those who acknowledge these behavioral patterns attribute them to a variety of ideological and psychological reasons, such as post-colonial identity politics and intersectionality, favoring the underdog, virtue signaling, animosity toward Jews, and self-loathing (oikophobia). These can indeed explain some of this behavior, but they fail to account for the uniformity of attitude, the high cost of it, and the disturbingly low learning curve.

The SPLC, for example, amplifies the voices of hatred that they protect, and misinterprets justifiable criticism as hate speech, year after year.

I propose below a different model, one that explains the broad acceptance of this inversion, despite the danger it poses: proleptic dhimmitude.

Begin with a term every Western infidel should have learned about after 9/11: dhimmitude, or the status of non-Muslims according to Sharia, in Dar al Islam. Muslim apologists describe dhimmi as a “protected” category, the “people of the book” (initially Jews and Christians), who were respected by the tolerant Muslim majority. But dhimmi comes from the term “blameworthy,” the attitude of Muslims to kuffār (infidels), those who deliberately “cover” (hide) the salvific truth of the Prophet. Thus, dhimmitude is a set of rules establishing the legal superiority of Muslims by visibly degrading infidels: they have no standing in court (either as witness, or to bring charges), must walk in the gutter, ride donkeys not horses, avert their eyes, and above all, never insult Muslims or Islam (blasphemy).

The dhimmi pact is a form of “protection money,” it “protects” infidels from Muslim violence and dispossession. At the time of its creation, Jihadi warriors slaughtered idol worshippers, and spared the “people of the book” as long as they self-abased. Dhimmitude has functioned historically as an enormous, apartheid, shame-honor edifice in which honorable Muslims may debase infidels without retaliation, and stigmatized infidels must not criticize Muslims, lest Muslims take offense and strike at them with impunity.

The major job, then, of the leaders of various dhimmi communities historically, was to assure their Muslim overlords that the members of their community would not insult or offend Muslims — not with criticism, with honor challenges, or with any form of uppity behavior. Anything of the sort, could easily lead to capital charges of blasphemy. What happened to the Christians (not only the Armenians) of the late Ottoman empire, illustrates how rapidly a Muslim belief that the dhimmi have broken their contract can devolve into genocide.

Proleptic is a term for “anticipatory.” It has the double advantage over the more obvious word: it has half the syllables, and it has a religious sense of acting as if an anticipated future event had already occurred.

This brings us to the contemporary situation.

Proleptic Dhimmitude is the informal and largely non-public, even unconscious, adoption of key elements of the dhimmi code before Jihadi conquest. The formal codes, including visible public submission, only go into full effect with conquest. In the meantime, the proleptic submission is not public or explicit, and in many cases, not even acknowledged to the self. And yet the best explanation for the incidents listed above, and thousands of other substantive examples, is that the leaders of the West – intellectuals, policymakers, professors and teachers, journalists, administrators – have quietly submitted to the demands of the Caliphators to repeat the narrative they insist on, adopt their enemies, and hide their aggression.

Although this may sound like a conspiracy theory, as a historian of “public secrets,” I think it started as more of an informal pick-up game, often done by infidels unaware of what they were starting, or so scornful of Caliphator prospects for success that they considered their compliance with such demands insignificant. As the editor in chief of La Stampa told Fiamma Nirenstein when she reported that the crowds at Durban were carrying pictures of Bin Laden,  leave “this poor Saudi shepherd” alone. Less than a week later, the poor guy took down the Twin Towers.

The following rules, whether improvised or demanded, implicit or explicit, have shaped the creed for the proleptic dhimmi.

Rules for Proleptic Dhimmi Leaders

  • Do not criticize Muslims, and make sure that your community doesn’t criticize Muslims, insult them, offend them, or make them look bad by disseminating negative news about them.
  • Attack vigorously anyone who criticizes Muslims, whether infidel or Muslim.
  • Adopt Muslim enemies as your own: Israel, the United States, egalitarian feminists.
  • Play down the victims of Jihadi attacks, and attack those who successfully defend themselves from those attacks.
  • Adopt radical Muslims (Da’wa Caliphators) as representatives of the moderate Muslim community (CAIR, ISNA).

One of the early extraordinary acts of silence about the negative side of Islam came at the beginning of the Intifada (Oslo Jihad) of late 2000, when Palestinian media lit up – like Radio Libre des Mille Collines in Rwanda less than a decade earlier – calling repeatedly for a genocidal war against “the Jews” the world over. The Israelis complained bitterly, but the press steadfastly avoided even mentioning this Arabic-language material (some of which showed up a few years later in Sweden). The New York Times published an investigative piece by William Orme. In it, his only example of incitement came from a speech repeatedly calling for the killing of Jews everywhere in the world, but all he cited was the opening line: “Labor, Likud, they’re all the same, they’re all Jews.” The reader might well infer that maybe the Palestinians were right to dismiss the charges: “whatever we say, the Israelis call it incitement.”

To this day, people who read the Times, Washington Post, Le Monde, Guardian, watch BBC, CNN or France24, have no idea how often Muslim preachers openly express enthusiasm for exterminating Jews as a prelude to world conquest, along with their great admiration for Hitler and pious hopes to finish his task for him, a sentiment shared by the occasional Arab journalist working for Western news media. So instead of even considering the possibility that religiously-inspired genocidal Jew-hatred, unlike anything since the Nazis, was the prime motivator for this perduring conflict, Western audiences heard about Palestinians as frustrated resisters of Israeli colonialism. Thus, imperialist terrorists, laundered by the rules of proleptic dhimmitude, appear in the dispatches from 21st century Western information professionals as anti-imperial freedom fighters.

This silence about the internally-generated hatred in the Muslim world operates not only where it concerned Israel’s struggle with open, genocidal Hamas, but even domestically in Western democracies. It turns out that jihadis who commit suicide to kill infidel civilians do not want to be called terrorists.  The Western media has complied, explaining that they did not want to even appear biased, asserting axiomatically, “after all, everyone knows that one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.” (Precisely not.) And then, indirectly, they admit the intimidation: “If you’ve had a few of your people murdered, as The Times has, this [T-Label] is not a concern you take lightly.”

All of these rules are informal guidelines. Full dhimmitude will bring visible subjection; but until then, it is the task of infidel leaders to simultaneously abide by these informal rules and deny them, dress them up in the Emperor’s New Critical Theory. If, as persons in authority in Dar al Harb, they follow these guidelines most of the time, that’s fine. If for their own sense of integrity, they need to defend their own country, or criticize violent jihadis, that’s allowed, as long as the critic hedges it around with a thousand protestations that this is not a criticism of the larger Muslim community, that jihadis have nothing to do with “real Islam.” And above all, do not obstruct the sacred right of Muslims to vilify Israel.

This model of proleptic dhimmitude posits a pervasive intimidation and cowardice. Is there evidence for that? Certainly, there is evidence for the potential threat. Just ask people like the French philosopher and teacher Robert Redecker, American cartoonist Molly Norris, or Somali-Dutch-American Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Or the beheaded Samuel Paty, or the journalists and security personnel at Charlie Hebdo, who paid with their lives for offending triumphalist sensibilities.

But the real threat, the pervasive, daily threat, is actually a proxy one. Caliphators need not strike constantly to make the consequences of disobedience clear. They have the dhimmi leaders do the work: most of Western compliance with Caliphator demands is enforced not by Jihadis, but by proleptic dhimmi leaders, who aggressively dismiss criticism of Islam as racist and deplorable.

These defenders of Islam need not know much at all about Islam. They just need to know the key tropes – “the vast majority are just like us; any suggestion otherwise is deplorable prejudice, even racism that endangers us all.” The main operative force field under the table that explains the uniform pattern of infidels complying with Muslim exceptionalism is not the threat of Jihadi violence that most do not feel directly, but of shame and ostracism by fellow “liberals” and “progressives,” yet in some cases, inspiring jihadi violence. Few examples illustrate this better than the intensity with which feminists attack those women who refuse to subordinate the fight for Muslim women’s rights to misogynist Caliphators pursuing their “anti-imperial justice.”

How many of our leaders, professors, publishers, policymakers, public officials, educational administrators and teachers, are proleptic dhimmi? How many are formal, self-conscious ones? And how many are informal unconscious ones, just responding to the harsh social signals and wanting to please? I consider these questions, and their parallel formulations about Caliphators, some of the most important questions we can ask today. As far as I know, few have asked anything of the sort.

Before we can figure out what to do, we need to know what we face.

Headshot of Robert Landes

Richard Landes was trained as a medievalist at Princeton University (MA 1979, PhD 1984). His work focuses on apocalyptic and millennial beliefs at the turn of the first and second millennium (1000 and 2000 CE). Among Landes many books are The Apocalyptic Year 1000 (2003), Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience (2011), and the forthcoming Can the “Whole World” be Wrong? A Medievalist’s Guide to the 21st Century (Academic Studies Press, 2021). Landes coined the term “Pallywood” while investigating the Muhammad al Durah affair and maintains “The Augean Stables,” a blog critical of western journalism. He recently published two articles: “The Demopath’s Lexicon: A Guide to Western Journalism between the River and the Sea” in Israel Affairs (2020), and “Oslo’s Misreading of an Honor-Shame Culture” in Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs (2019). Since retiring from Boston University in 2015, where he was a Professor in the History Department, he lives happily with his wife in Jerusalem, where he can write free of politically correct pressures. Richard serves as the Chair of the Council of Scholars at Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.