As the number of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan continues to mount, the latest public opinion poll shows Canadians steadily losing faith in sending troops into that war. John Key should take note

As the death toll mounts, America's allies in Afghanistan – Britain and Canada in particular – are losing their stomach for repatriation ceremonies of dead young soldiers, and that’s got to be worrying the American President who needs all the friends he can get if Afghanistan is to be stabilised.

The latest poll in Canada has seen public opposition to having troops in Afghanistan rise from twenty percent to fifty-four percent in the seven years Canadians have been involved in the battle.

In Britain, as the bodies of boys were brought home for burial last week, Prime Minister Brown came under increasing fire himself with accusations he’s trying to conduct the war on the cheap, which is costly in terms of lives.

In the middle, Barack Obama is desperate for both countries to stay alongside his surge of soldiers, but he’s unlikely to be able to schmooze Canuck or British public opinion.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out why. The overwhelming question being asked about the mission is, ‘what's the point?’ Talk of winning in what has been long known as the Graveyard of Empires is now as rare as suggestions the war in Iraq can be ‘won’. Foreign forces in Afghanistan have never succeeded in the past. There is little to suggest they will win now.

To be fair to Obama, he inherited a grossly neglected war as the Dauphin had displayed his attention deficit and flicked quickly from hunting down bin Laden to getting even with the one who had “tried to kill [his] Dad”. Of course Cheney and Rumsfield were heavily involved, and while rehashing that is tedious, it should not be forgotten.

Those Canadians polled about the direction Afghanistan is moving in were more optimistic than not that Afghanistan is moving in the right direction. But women and Quebeckers were adamant it was no longer Canada’s fight, calling 60% and 73% respectively for their troops to come home.

At this stage all Canadian troops will be out of Afghanistan in 2011, and while the Government is under pressure – like most US friendly nations, including New Zealand – to extend its mission, so far the steely-eyed Prime Minister Harper has refused to buckle. Even for his new popular pal south of the border.

As John Key comes under that sort of pressure – or more to the point if Hilary hits on McCully effectively enough – the spectre of Canada’s and Britain’s high casualty rate will play heavily on his mind. Key this weekend gave his strongest hint yet that he's leaning towards sending special forces back to Afghanistan, but then he has previously expressed concern about the conflict in the area where New Zealand’s reconstruction team is working. Public sentiment in two close and friendly Commonwealth nations should serve as a warning to him, no matter how much Mrs Clinton fancies our SAS.

Even the new US commander Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal is surprised at how resilient the Pashtun militants in the western and northern areas of Afghanistan are proving to be. He’s also commented on how patient the Taliban fighters in Helmand province are… just nipping away at the foreign troops because they are in no rush. Afghan fighters have always had time on their side.

It appears that much of the goodwill the US brought when it went into Afghanistan in 2001 is long gone, and it has been replaced by the glaring reality that killing your way to victory is not going to work. It didn’t work in Vietnam and it hasn’t won over hearts and minds in Iraq.

While the jury is still out on the effectiveness of the troop surge in Afghanistan, it would surely be equally, if not more, worthwhile investing in a political and intelligence surge. As the latest issue of Foreign Affairs notes, the US and its allies have to find a way to ‘flip the Taliban’, meaning they need to get the insurgents to defect rather than fight because “changing sides, realigning, flipping – whatever one wants to call it – is the Afghan way of war”.

If Afghan commanders truly like to be on the winning side, their current reluctance to ‘flip’ to the US is an ominous warning.

Instead they are succeeding at convincing scores of young Afghani men to die for their cause. Victory against the Soviet Union serves as a powerful proof that superpower invaders can be brought to their knees.

Add to all this some top level political realities.

The Afghan government is struggling to hold any real power, and elections are looming.

The British Government is facing an election in a few months and Brown seems to be slowly sinking as the real war theatre body count rises. The glaring lack of equipment – including vital helicopters – has come to symbolize his bumbling attempts to appear in charge. The live television coverage of hearses bearing coffins through British towns and villages is far more powerful than Brown can ever hope to be.

As the Canadian response in the poll on the war showed, the public has lost its stomach for any more young men and women being repatriated and driven down a stretch of Ontario highway that has come to be known as the Highway of Heroes.

There can be no doubt the Taliban knows what is going on. It will wait while far away nations ask for clarification as to what this deadly mission is now all about.


Comments (23)

by stuart munro on July 20, 2009
stuart munro

Afghanistan is not a smart cause to be involved in, either politically or militarily. It is possible that a less extreme regime than America's might have made some progress, but Bush made America crusaders, and Obama is, inexplicably, carbon copying the process, along with the failed stance on North Korea.

But be careful of the 'vital helicopters' assertion. Helicopters are not an unmixed blessing to irregular warfare. The failed raid to rescue Iranian hostages under Carter, the conflict that became the movie Blackhawk Down, and the greatest proportion of early casualties in Iraq were all the results of over-reliance on helicopters. They are big, slow, targets.

Successfully countering an insurgency usually requires a combination of long stay independent ground forces, especially freicorps, together with a resettlement or colonisation effort, like the new model villages that failed in Vietnam but suceeded in Malaysia.

Until the US declares an Afghan strategy that is remotely credible, and it must make allowance for the probable collapse of Pakistan, we shouldn't touch it with a barge pole. Because even if we accepted America's motives as well intentioned, they will count for nothing when they are defeated. And they will be if they don't get their act together.

by B M Rogers on July 21, 2009
B M Rogers

Key should expand his knowledge in English literature and reflect on Kipling's poem titled' The Young British Solider', and espcially the last verse.

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
So-oldier ~of~ the Queen!

Sending further members of the SAS to Afghanistan would be a pointless exercise. The West has to understand that it has already lost in Afghanistan. It's over. We have lost. There is nothing left there to 'win'.

by Ryan Gray on July 21, 2009
Ryan Gray

I don't think the war in Afghanistan is lost, there is still a substantial amount of Afghani's who would like to rid the country of Taliban influence, and do want stability. Najib Lafraie a senior professor at Otago University and former freedom fighter and Foreign Minister to Afghanistan can tell you about that.

Extra troops would be needed and a lot of time. Afghanistan doesn't have the same wealth of a country like Iraq, and a population that is born into war, so there is less to gain from victory, and there in lies my point.

Key could take note from other countries, especially a country like Canada who we tend to have more in common with when it comes to foreign policy, then lets say the USA. The question that really needs to be asked is if the 'War on Terrorism' is really worth fighting.

Key believes 'yes', many believe 'no'. The pointless exercise, as you put it Blair, lies there. Because even if the SAS are sent to Afghanistan and they rip the Taliban to shreds, that still isn't going to make a difference to global terrorism, in fact it may make it worse, especially for NZ. What greater way to 'piss off' more Islamic extremists than killing some of their friends in a poor country that really has no chance of damaging us what so ever.

There's plenty of other countries who would be more than capable of harbouring terrorists. Chop off the head and two more come up in it's place.

Why don't we send some missionaries there to convert them while we are at it? Oh wait people are already doing that.... this war is full of great ideas!!

There is so little to gain from this, but Key seems to believe the 'War on Terror' is a cause worth fighting, and he might even push for a Free Trade Agreement while he's at it. Yay! Free Trade, well that certainly does very little to stop the world plunging into economic doom every 10 years.


by stuart munro on July 21, 2009
stuart munro

Yes, well, as far as the war on terror goes, Procul Harum said it all..

This war we are waging is already lost
The cause for the fighting has long been a ghost
Malice and habit have now won the day
The honours we fought for are lost in the fray
by B M Rogers on July 21, 2009
B M Rogers

Ryan - understand your reasoned points.

No invading force in all of history has won in Afghanistan. Ever. What makes you think that this time will be different.

Change has to come from the people within - not from an oil drenched armed policeman. In the fullness of time - the Americans will withdraw defeated and leave the mess to the locals to sort out.. Just like in Vietnam. History keeps repeating for American Imperialism.

The War on Terror is a War on your Minds.

by Graeme Edgeler on July 21, 2009
Graeme Edgeler

No invading force in all of history has won in Afghanistan.

You ignore Alexander the Great. And the Parthinian and Sassanid empires. And Genghis Khan, and Timur Lung.

And Wikipedia generally =)

Islam wasn't spread to Afghanistan by missionaries.


by Serum on July 21, 2009

“There can be no doubt the Taliban knows what is going on. It will wait while far away nations ask for clarification as to what this deadly mission is now all about.”

 While the N.Z. contribution to the war in Afghanistan is likely to remain pocket-sized in comparison with other U.S. allies, it is a contribution nonetheless that has the virtue – unlike running up the white flag of defeatism, intentionally or unintentionally, displayed both in the above article and comments to it – of  being positioned with those from the free world willing to act as a buttress of self-defence against the rekindling, through the ideology and action by committed Islamists, of imperial conquest.

This imperialism that now shows itself striving in sinew like operations, through military jihadism while being supported by both Islamist intellectual and financial pincer movements, stretches from the Philippines to Indonesia to Mumbai to Parkistan to Afghanistan, from Britain to France to Denmark to Sweden to Spain to Algeria, from Chechnya to ..and so on, are signs of a world war being fought in many disparate theatres with many proximate causes, but all with one single coherent aim of defeating western civilisation, establishing Islam as the dominant power in the world and restoring the medieval Islamic caliphate.

 For clarity, and not wishing to tar all Muslims with the brush of Islamist conquest, the use here of the term Islamist and Islamism is to distinguish those who believe in Islamic conquest as opposed to those who merely draw upon Islam for spiritual sustenance and unfortunately, although deeply opposed to a military jihad, they are currently its most numerous victims.

 While this relentless Islamist campaign continues, the Western world persistently refuses to accept or even recognise that we are in the throes of a holy war waged upon the western world long  before 9/11 that has now being going on for more than 25 years because it does not fit with the Western definition of war. For those who have an inkling of cause and effect and thinking wrongly that this all started with the 9/11 assault in New York, in reality it all emerged back in 1979 when Ayatollah Khomeini founded his theocracy in Iran and declared his intention to wage war upon the West and subjugate it to Islam. While the West has been deaf to that declaration, it did have the effect of rekindling the drive for political Islamism around the globe exporting Islamist theocratic rule as a global endeavour and ushering in a procession of terror attacks against western interests throughout the 1980’s & the1990’s -  as illustrated currently in Jakarta.



by stuart munro on July 21, 2009
stuart munro

I suppose there is no chance of reforming America's arrogant and genocidal colonialism while there are plenty of fools like Serum willing to swallow the twaddle and send others out to die in defense of morally indefensible actions.

In a culture like Afghanistan's, which embraces the age old custom of feuding just as hard as America did until very recently, the practice of murdering civilians by high level bombing guarantees the failure of any 'hearts & minds' mission as surely as it has in Iraq.

If there had been the level of concerted Islamist action against the west that dupes like Serum suggest, then either there would have been numerous additional attacks on US soil, or the Bush regime, desperate as it was to salvage any shred of credibility, would have paraded the results of its successful interdictions across the international media ad nauseum.

Neither were in evidence, and this is because substantially the "International Islamist Conspiracy" is a figment of the GOP's imagination. It is also why the Iraq and Afghan campaigns are so spectacularly unsuccessful. Substantially, the enemy only arises in response to US occupation. Every bomb is a recruiting poster for the resistence. And they're not going to give up; they live there.

The folly of contributing NZ soldiers to this doomed and ignoble effort would be worthy of Winston Peters. Not even John Key is quite stupid enough to choose so odious a place in history.

by Ryan Gray on July 22, 2009
Ryan Gray

Serum, saying that Islam-ism is somehow linked into a holy war is an incredible exaggeration.

Firstly, there are many Islamic sects hell bent on pacifism.

Secondly, in a Holy War there tends to be two sides fighting each other. You name on side 'Western Civilization'. Sorry it just doesn't work like that, 'Western Imperialism' maybe, because you can see different groups even non-Islamic groups such as the South American Socialist Bloc siding with Palestinian groups, and Iran. Nothing to do with Holy War.

I have never agreed with what Islamic Extremists fight for, but I can understand what they are fighting against. We are not defending ourselves here, this is a war of US assertion. Western Countries fall in line based on their belief in US dominance being a safe option, and a link to better economics. This is not to preserve a way of life, it is to spread a way of life. Being 'Freedom' and 'Democracy'. That's America's war.

MacNamara said after Vietnam the biggest problem was the American's did't realise what the were fighting against. They thought it was Communism, but it was about Nationalism and sovereignty. Afghanistan is the same. However the majority of Afghani's do not want strict imposing of the sharia. Freedom and peace is big for them. The war won't be won by the Americans it will be won by moderate Afghani people.

by Tim Watkin on July 22, 2009
Tim Watkin

Graeme, Alexander, Genghis Khan etc may have 'won' in Afghanistan, but that depends on how you define winning. Were they able to hold the land? Did they make any difference? That's the measure Obama, Brown, Key etc should be using. As the Americans say, is it worth the price in blood and treasure?
Serum, you're right to distinguish between the Islamists and others in a faith held by a billion people. But then you generalise across countries and talk of a holy war. The majority of Muslims in Indonesia, Pakistan and Iran have this year all shown themselves to be at odds with the small cohort of extreme Islamists.

I tend towards the school of thought that terror attacks in the west are examples of a civil war within Islam spilling over the edges.

by stuart munro on July 22, 2009
stuart munro

Alexander's & Timur Lenk's conquests used methods (pyramids of skulls etc) that even the US prefers not use at present. Further, they colonised the country to some extent, and they did not isolate themselves from the population, they became the new population.

American soldiers, largely speaking, do not mean to settle in Iraq or Afghanistan, so their influence within the local communities is much less than that of previous conquerors. This may be in part why the British, the Russians, and now the US were so unsuccessful.

by B M Rogers on July 22, 2009
B M Rogers

Look at how Alexander the Great retreated back through Afghanistan. Hardly a victor.

Armies passing through winning a battle or two - is not winning the war.

The American's are bankrupt - they will be pulling out before too much longer.

Best to do so on terms that are favourable.

by stuart munro on July 22, 2009
stuart munro

Mmm - but Alex was in Afghanistan for a while - he built four Alexandrias there - more than anywhere else. Was that because his mission civilitrice was failing or prospering? It's hard to be sure.

by Serum on July 22, 2009

Thank you Tim for at least some semblance of a reasonable reply and in doing so recognizing - even though overseen with personal opinion - a major fault line within the Muslim world that is to say the least, troublesome.

 The degree of this split is seen somewhat within the current Iranian situation – unusual for its inverted power struggle whereby the Shiite fundamentalist and theocratic rulers having exercised their power by pursuing a course of hegemonic action with the planning, financing and managing proxy terror armies in neighbouring states, and the financing of infrastructure and the supply of weapons of war to e.g. Afghanistan as a motive of making Afghanistan politically reliant - are being challenged by a large fraction of Iranians, desperate now for a long time, for a fundamental change to the way this crippling political power and religious zeal has been overseeing their everyday life. This struggle, unusual as it is, is because on one hand the fundamentalist rulers of the Islamic state of Iran impose their Islamist philosophy onto the populous at large, while on the other hand Islamists within other Muslim countries and considered at large as terror organizations, are planning and striving with substantial help from Shari’a financing via the largely bogus financial vehicle of charities, for the overthrow of the more common state dictatorships.

 Both struggles have their roots embedded in well-documented historic Islamic jurisprudence from all major Sunni schools of Islamic Law (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali), as well as Shi’ite jurists, and Sufi jurists—both Sunni and Shi’ite and fall within the Islamic institution of jihad. The theological underpinnings, and tactical and procedural details of the jihad, in addition to the regulations imposed upon the vanquished infidel populations where applicable, are of paramount importance in understanding the observed practice of this Islamic institution, through to the present.

 For an insight into the promulgation of religious warfare one only has to be aware of such influential motivators such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a major contemporary Muslim theologian for the Muslim Brotherhood, head of the European Council for Fatwa and Research and popular Al-Jazeera television personality whose broadcast sermons reach tens of millions of Muslims, gave a sermon (on Al-Jazeera TV in June, 2001) entitled ''The Prophet Muhammad as a Jihad Model' (

 , and he was referring here to jihad as warfare.

 With all due respect, your opinion of terror attacks in the west being examples of a civil war within Islam spilling over the edges is an opinion that misses the mark. Dig a little deeper into the history of jihad over the millennium and the promotion by today’s jihadists promoting and carrying out the same history.


by Tim Watkin on July 23, 2009
Tim Watkin


The tussle between the westernisers and the mullahs in Iran has been going on for decades, at least. Indeed, some of the mullahs were pro-western and pro-Shah, so the sides are very fluid. The current protests continue that theological and political wrestle, and it's a wrestle that goes on within Islam all over the world.

On one hand that struggle/split is worrying, but on the other it's cause for hope. The moderates are still in the game; more than that, they are the majority.

I'd still argue that the terror attacks in the west come out of that struggle. Bin Laden etc are trying to win muslims to his beliefs by making those attacks and see off the moderates and reformers just as much as he's trying to achieve his plans for the global domination of sharia law.

For more on that, check out Reza Aslan's bestseller No God but God -


by Henry Thomson on July 23, 2009
Henry Thomson

I think it is very worthwhile pointing out the current debates on Afghanistan in other countries.

New Zealand is by no means the only country looking closely at its involvement in Afghanistan. Nor are Canada or the UK. Europe is generally re-assessing its position there as casualties rise and the Obama administration looks to place a new emphasis on the conflict. It is encouraging that a lively debate seems to be taking place in NZ on a potential increase in New Zealand's military commitment in Afghanistan, and this debate would do well to look at parallels which are being explored currently in Europe:

John Key’s National Government looks likely to send New Zealand SAS troops back to Afghanistan; a decision which Key has not taken lightly and which has not been without public controversy. Rightly so. It is, after all, the new government’s first major decision on an overseas military deployment and therefore a chance for the Prime Minister to prove his foreign policy credentials.

Key’s initial preference for a New Zealand military role in Afghanistan was one as part of  ‘an overall exit strategy’ (Herald, April 20). This stance has since been watered down to a general hope that Afghanistan be ’stablised’, allowing for Western troops to leave the country (Herald, July 20).

The lack of clear objectives or time frame for New Zealand military involvement in Afghanistan (this applies not just to SAS missions but to the PRT in Bamiyan), plus the Prime Minister’s both vague and shifting positions on the issue, indicate no coherent overall strategy on the political level for the New Zealand Defence Force in the country. Indeed, it seems that any decisions on such a strategy are to be delayed until after a review of the Defence Force is completed in August.

At this point then, it could be of much use to consider European nations’ current predicament in Afghanistan.

They too are facing heated public debate on the conflict: Casualty numbers are growing; in Britain the opposition alleges troops are underequipped for the fighting; in Germany the first new military medals for bravery since WWII have been awarded to soldiers fighting in Afghanistan.

They too are under pressure from the United States to provide additional military assistance: President Obama sees Afghanistan as a ‘litmus test’ of European reliability in military matters.

Now is a crucial, paradigm-shifting point in the conflict, offering Europe the chance to redefine its strategy in Afghanistan. It makes sense, therefore, for New Zealand to take note of how Europe approaches this process and take its lessons into account when formulating its own coherent policy on engagement in the conflict.

by Serum on July 24, 2009

Thanks, Tim, for that web site reference to Reza Aslan. 

 Reading through the Press Article within the site’s Media Coverage “How to Win a Cosmic War: An Interview with Reza Aslan” was somewhat of a disappointment with claims made by him that did not ring true and pointing to the conclusion that he is either an inexperienced hopeful reformer or an apologist for the facts of historic Islam.

 While any discussion here could be drawn out, one-point in his claim stands out, that is worthy of comment and at odds with historic reality:

 “It is the core ideas of Islam that make it so compatible to democracy. One can say the very notion that human society should be organized not according to kinship or ethnicity, but according to acceptance of certain set of principles and values – what nowadays we would call secular nationalism – was invented by the Prophet Mohammed. He formed his community from scratch based on the acceptance of principles, ideals and values about how society should be run – a social contract if you will. In fact, the world's first constitution laying out these kinds of things was written out by the Prophet Mohammed, so it's not just that there's compatibility, it's that many of these ideas were actually created within the Muslim world. “

Historically the organization of the many lands and societies that were conquered and subjugated by jihad were subjected to "The Laws of Islamic Governance",formulated by  al- Mawardi (d. 1058), a renowned Baghdadian jurist, who examined the regulations pertaining to the lands and infidel (i.e., non-Muslim) populations. This is the origin of the system of dhimmitude. The native infidel population had to recognize Islamic ownership on their land, submit to Islamic (i.e., shari’a) law, and accept payment of the poll tax (jizya). In return they were granted the effective protection of Islamic law, which gave them security, limited religious rights, and self-administration in religious and civil law.

Some of the more salient features of dhimmitude included -  prohibition of alms for the vanquished non-Muslims (dhimmis) -  prohibition of church bells -  restrictions, especially height, concerning the building and restoration of places of worship - inequality between Muslims and non-Muslims with regard to taxes and penal law - refusal of dhimmi testimony by Muslim courts - obligation for non-Muslim people of the book to wear special clothes and their overall humiliation and abasement.

Furthermore, dhimmis, including those living under "enlightened" Turkish domination suffered at periods from slavery (i.e., harem slavery for women, and the devshirme child levy for Balkan Christian males) - abductions, and deportations .

All in all, hardly compatible to the principles of democracy.

The principles of "protection" and "toleration" integral to the system of dhimmitude are opposed to the values expressed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which stress the equality of all human beings and the inalienability of their rights. In stark contrast, the principles of "protection" and "tolerations" embodied in dhimmitude and shari’a law, emerge from a war of conquest. Only conditional, limited rights are conceded to the vanquished, and these rights can be revoked by the dominant group.

In reference to the reliability of Reza Aslan as pillar of explanation check out The Civil War Within Islam? 



by stuart munro on July 24, 2009
stuart munro


An equally critical historical examination of christianity would conclude that it too was without merit. Yet at its best it has championed important causes and developed important ideas like equality and democracy.

If the West wants to deal with Islam, then it needs to cultivate the enlightened threads of it, because it is only an educated an liberal muslim majority than can really wind up the extremists.

The war on terror, by offering violence to bystanders as well as combatants, lends credence to the extremists' arguments.

But the kind of enlightened muslim society you need to overcome the extremists will not be readily made a pawn of US energy or regional balance of power objectives.

America wants to have it both ways, but its ends are mutually exclusive.

by Tim Watkin on July 28, 2009
Tim Watkin

I think that's a harsh verdict Serum. As Stuart says, pick the worst examples of any community and you could damn it. Renaissance Europe looks like an evil mess if you focused on its violence and corruption. Early America was full of slavery and slaughter of an indigenous population, yet both produced ideas that vastly improved the world.

Look at Cordoba around 1000. The biggest city in Europe, the best university, relative peace between Jew, Christian and Muslim... all under Muslim rule.

Aslan's wise, I think, to look at the roots of his faith and see the potential for it to respect democracy. And let's not forget, even the 'great democracy' of the US had the Florida result in the Gore-Bush race, Indiana's voter ID rules and on and on... Britain has the sort of MP fraud exposed this year... By your standards, most democracies aren't compatible with the principles of democracy.

So let's not condemn a whole faith out of hand.

by Serum on July 29, 2009

Tim – there appears to be an unrealistic jump on your part on the assumption of condemning a whole faith out of hand. While you quite rightly point to some of the pervasive violence, etc. taking place in historic Renaissance Europe, executed just only 60 or so years ago once again in Europe, as we all know the Reformation in Europe marked the beginning of the modern conception of separation of church and state something that Islam has never succumbed to and it is essentially a combined political/religious movement ruled by Sharia or Islamic law which Islamist movements seek to replicate in the present day with an ideology that permits violence to achieve an Islamic caliphate. However every support should be given to those realists recognizing the historic facts of political violence and who pursue reformation of Islam seeking to divorce itself from the political movement to a faith that is only in pursuit of personal spiritual sustenance.

Your rose-coloured view of medieval Spain’s Cordoba of a relative peace between Jew, Christian (both dhimmis) all under Muslim rule is at odds with scholars of Muslim Iberia such as Charles Emmanuel Dufourcq who provides illustrations of the resulting religious and legal discriminations that dhimmis suffered and the accompanying incentives for them to convert to Islam:

Non-payment of the poll-tax (jizya) by a dhimmi made him liable to all the Islamic penalties for debtors who did not repay their creditors; the offender could be sold into slavery or even put to death. In addition, non-payment of the poll-tax by one or several dhimmis – especially if it was fraudulent – allowed the Moslem authority, at its discretion, to put an end to the autonomy of the community to which the guilty party or parties belonged. Thus, from one day to the next, all the Christians (or Jews) in a city could lose their status as a protected people through the fault of just one of them. Everything could be called into question, including their personal liberty…Furthermore, non-payment of the legal tribute was not the only reason for abrogating the status of the “People of the Book”; another was “public outrage against the Islamic faith”, for example, leaving exposed, for Moslems to see, a cross or wine or even pigs...

by converting to Islam, one would no longer have to be confined to a given district, or be the victim of discriminatory measures or suffer humiliations…the entire Islamic law tended to favor conversions. When an "infidel" became a Moslem, he immediately benefited from a complete amnesty for all of his earlier crimes, even if he had been sentenced to the death penalty, even if it was for having insulted the Prophet or blasphemed against the Word of God: his conversion acquitted him of all his faults, of all his previous sins.

Society was sharply divided along ethnic and religious lines, with the Arab tribes at the top of the hierarchy, followed by the Berbers who were never recognized as equals, despite their Islamization; lower in the scale came other (the mullawadun) local converts to Islam and, at the very bottom, the dhimmi Christians and Jews.

In Granada, the Jewish viziers Samuel Ibn Naghrela, and his son Joseph, who protected the Jewish community, were both assassinated between 1056 to 1066, followed by the annihilation of the Jewish population by the local Muslims. It is estimated that up to five thousand Jews perished in the pogrom by Muslims that accompanied the 1066 assassination. This figure equals or exceeds the number of Jews reportedly killed by the Crusaders during their pillage of the Rhineland, some thirty years later, at the outset of the First Crusade. The Granada pogrom was likely to have been incited, in part, by the bitter anti-Jewish ode of Abu Ishaq a well known Muslim jurist and poet of the times.

by stuart munro on July 29, 2009
stuart munro


"as we all know the Reformation in Europe marked the beginning of the modern conception of separation of church and state"

Orly? So it wasn't the sacking of Rome that put paid to the notion of an infallible Christian empire and led Augustine to write his City of God, a reference to a heavenly rather than an earthly rule.

But the Muslim desire to live under theocratic governments is really none of our business. Some theocracies have been peaceful and enlightened - Tibet perhaps. Others have not, but the forte main imposition of our values on a Muslim population conflicts with our entire history of liberal philosophy. We can expect sustained violence if we promote such actions as the military coup in Algeria or the persistent inteference in Lebanon that guarantees a minority in parliament to the Muslim majority.

A great part of our intervention in Afghanistan, however motivated, will be perceived as religious persecution, practically dooming it to failure even were it militarily sound and socially constructive. And it is neither militarily sound nor socially constructive.

Which is why we should have nothing whatever to do with it.

by Tim Watkin on August 03, 2009
Tim Watkin

If what we're seeing now is part of the Islamic renaissance, then perhaps the separation of church and state is yet to come, Serum. Anyway, thanks for your thoughts on the Spainish situation. Very interesting... Check out the new post by Jane today, taking the debate about Afghanistan on...

by on July 05, 2010

[Spam. Redacted.]

Post new comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.