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HOW THEY TREATED US AND THE DHIMMI SYNDROME كَيفَ عامَلونا وسِنْدرومْ الذِمِيَّة

September 6, 2012

SNAPSHOT INTO THE COPTIC SITUATION IN EGYPT IN 1801 IN A JOURNAL BY CARLOS BEY, A BRITISH ARMY OFFICER DURING THE BRITISH CAMPAIGN IN EGYPT, 1801-1803

“Trapped Spirit” by the contemporary American artist, John Eric Sparacio (1999).

The dhimmitude condition[1] traps the Dhimmi[2] in its inescapable mesh of oppression and terror, degrading and disfiguring his or her spirit and alienating it from the real values of its community – this is the Dhimmi syndrome.

In 1803 a very interesting book was published in London. It had been written by an officer in the British Army that had been sent to Egypt in 1801 to dislodge the French out. The book is titled, “A Non-Military Journal or Observations Made in Egypt by an Officer upon the Staff of the British Army; Describing the Country, its Inhabitants, their Manners and Customs; with Anecdotes, illustrative of them”. We do not know the name of this British officer but he jokingly calls himself Carlos Bey.

Carlos Bey’s original intention was to write a history of the British Campaign in Egypt (1801 – 1803), which is known to some as the First British Occupation of Egypt[3]. He tells us that he had prepared the necessary material for that history, however, as it seems, the British government of the day commissioned Lieutenant-Colonel Anstruther, an officer of high rank, to publish the transactions of the campaign. Carlos Bey, as he says, therefore, desisted from his intention, fearing that a historical work by him of the campaign might be construed as competition. In the end, as it happened, Anstruther’s expected work did not see the light – instead two important works on the campaign appeared in 1803: the first, by Sir Robert Thomas Wilson, “History of the British Expedition on Egypt”;[4] and the second, by Captain Thomas Welsh, “Journal of the Late Campaign in Egypt”.[5]  This prompted Carlos Bey to give up for good writing about the campaign, which would have been “more suited to my profession, and much more congenial to my inclination”, as he says; and so he decided to write a work on anthropology describing Egypt, the Egyptians of the time and their manners and customs, in what could be regarded as a worthy forerunner to Edward William Lane’s book, Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians (1836). In a Preface to the reader, he says: “As  I do not want to be out of fashion, I present to you a few Observations, which were made during the Campaign in Egypt; but think it right to apprise you, that if you be one of those who live upon war, and rumours of wars, you will be sadly disappointed; for in this account you will find every thing but war, which , like the part of Hamlet, in the barn representation of that play, is left out – by particular desire.” This work is published in a journal style and contained eleven letters he had written to a woman he simply call ‘Lady’, and which he tells us he had not altered from their original.[6]

Carlos Bey was in no doubt, as almost all European visitors to Egypt were not, that the Copts were the direct descendants of the Ancient Egyptians and that they had once been very numerous, but both disease and tyranny by the Muslim rulers of Egypt conspired against them, and decimated their numbers, even threating their very existence in Egypt:

“The Copts, original inhabitants of this country, are Christians, and were very numerous until this year; but the plague raged with such violence in a part of Upper Egypt, where many entire villages had no other inhabitants, and which were totally depopulated, that their numbers were considerably decreased,[7] and likely to be more so, as it is supposed, and not without reason I am afraid, that the moment our backs are turned  very many will be massacred, in consequence of some of them having joined the French, and become soldiers. This, indeed, is the fate which all Christians in Egypt seem to await, as inevitable; those who can manage to quit this country, are doing so as fast as possible.”[8]

Some brave Copts, under the leadership of the legendary General Ya’qub the Copt (1745 – 1801), joined the French in their fight against the Turks and Mamelukes, exactly to resist the kind of tyranny and oppression which Carlos Bey describes for us some of their manifestations in his book:

They always wear a turban of dark-brown, the badge of slavery, (for it approaches very near that,) and their clothes must be of dark colours, nothing brilliant of rich; they must seem poor, or are certain of persecution; nor dare they wear shawls or yellow slippers in the streets: in their houses, when in turn they act grandees, they put these, and rich clothes on.”[9]

Again:

“At Cairo the Christians, I find, are not suffered to ride horses; they are obliged to jog upon Boorico’s, (asses,) and alight whenever a Bey, or even simple Mameluke or Sheriffe[10] passes. If by chance the poor Christian should not happen to hear one of these fellows riding behind him, he is probably knocked off his ass by one of the attendants, for not getting out of the way quick enough. Can any thing be so degrading or preposterous!!!”[11]

And then again – and this is the most revealing incident of how Muslims of Egypt treated us – Carlos Bey tells us of what he calls “the ridiculous anecdote of Mr Rossetti”, which was relayed to him by Mr Rossetti himself. This was Carlo de Rossetti, an Italian from Trieste, who worked as Consul-General of Austria in Egypt towards the end of the 18th century when Mourad Bey[12] and Ibrahim Bey, two notorious Mamelukes, were the tyrannical rulers of Egypt. Christians were strictly forbidden by Islamic law from possessing or riding horses,[13] but Mr Rossetti, as Carlos Bey tells us, “got permission, as a special favour, from Mourad Bey, to whom he was very useful, to ride a horse.” Mr Rossetti had a Coptic servant to look after him and his horse:

“one day, while [Mr Rosseti was] upon a visit at Mourad Bey’s own house, a Mameluke, (whom he found in the room paying his respects to the Bey,) upon going out, saw Signior Rosetti’s horse and copt servant at the door; he instantly took off saddle and bridle, in short all the paraphernalia, set the horse off at full gallop, made the unfortunate servant put himself upon his hands and feet, then saddled and bridled him, and left him in this position, to his great annoyance, and to the entertainment of all true believers!! Nor did he dare to stir until his master came down. A complaint was made to the old Bey, whose answer was, “My dear Rossetti, young men will amuse themselves; you had better sit upon your ass in future.”[14]

If there is any incident to illustrate the abysmal condition of non-Muslims under Islamic rule, this is it by its symbolism: Copts were ridden like animals by Muslims, and any resistance on the part of the Copts to shake off the yoke of their tyrannical oppressors meant a certain death – and Copts learned by experience at the hands of their cruel masters that they had no other option but to submit, with disastrous consequences to their character.

 

Carlos Bey, the British officer who had been raised in a free country, and knew very well the value of freedom, noticed how the Egyptian political system of the time, dominated by Turks and Mamlukes, and supported by Muslim scholars, had distorted the character of the Christians in Egypt, including the Copts, and forced them to assimilate in external appearances, within what they were allowed to, with their persecutors. With his keen British eye, Carlos Bey saw the system of tyranny and oppression, through the constant terror it engendered, reducing the Christians in Egypt to a semi-slavery condition:

“These poor Christians, from the constant terror in which they live, and the system of tyranny and oppression excercised upon them by the true believers, (Mussulmen,) have dwindled into a race of the most despicable slaves, abject worthless liars, hypocritical knaves and cheats, that exist upon the face of the earth: Jews are said to be so; these Christians I know to be so: their style of dress is like that of the native, distinguished principally by the difference of turban; their manners and customs of smoaking, drinking coffee, lounging crossed legs upon sophas, (called Divans,) & c.. &c. &c. are those of the Arabs, so that, except in religion, they differ not from the natives.”[15]

As he says, he says he visited all Christian families in Rosetta,[16] and here is what he saw:

“I was introduced by my hostess[17] to all the christian families, and was received with a fawning cringe, and despicable, abject, dissimulative smile, that seemed to say, “I fear you; and am so accustomed to dread and abhor (though appear to love and respect) those in power, that I receive you, Sir, as I would one of them, wishing you at the d – 1,[18] while I bend to kiss your feet.”[19]

As Carlos Bey finished telling us “the ridiculous anecdote of Mr Rossetti”, he adds a comment:

“Human nature revolts at their melancholy state of subjection, and cannot help pitying, while she must despise them!”

Who could quarrel with him! Pity and revolt is the mixed feeling all free peoples would have towards a nation that submitted to an evil foreign occupation – and they paid for that by their dignity and self-respect!

These degrading, pathological changes which were observed by Carlos Bey in 1801, and which occur in the character of non-Muslims whose unfortunate fate had brought them under the yoke of Muslim rule have been described by Bat Ye’or[20] who gives these character changes the title of the dhimmi syndrome سِنْدرومْ الذِمِيَّة”:

“Twelve centuries of humiliation impressed upon the individual and collective psychologies of the oppressed groups a common form of alienation – the dhimmi syndrome. On the individual level it was characterized by a profound dehumanization. The individual, resigned to a passive existence, developed a feeling of helplessness and vulnerability, the consequence of a condition of permanent insecurity, servility, and ignorance. Humiliated and discriminated against, he projected onto his group a scornful, accusatory, self-destructive hatred whose intensity varied in accordance with the extent of his desire to assimilate into the majority. This type of alienation may still today be observed in an acute form among the marginal minorities of the umma.

The basic characteristics of the dhimmi syndrome result from the psychological process of human debasement. Reduced to an inferior existence in circumstances that engender physical and moral degradation, the dhimmi perceives and accepts himself as a devalued human being. Realizing that a revolt would incur the death penalty, he has no other choice than to enter into the system or, in other words, to become the conscious instrument of his own destruction. The individual’s liberty turned against itself is the most tragic aspect of alienation.”[21]

And it is still very much with us to some extent. Many don’t realise the sinister nature of the dhimmitude condition, which is akin to slavery if not worse than it, and which is why it must be resisted for its devastating effect, through moral degradation, on the nation and its individuals. Those religious-headed people who think it is ok to submit to all sorts of despotism for as long as they leave us to worship ‘freely’ end up by not just having their national freedom lost but their religious freedom too, but worse still the loss of their dignity and self-respect, and all that which “human nature revolts at”, in the words of Carlos Bey. A system like this must only be resisted and thrown out on its entirety – not just for national reasons, as the Coptic nationalists argue, but also for its devastating effect on morality and religion, and that is something that should consern even the hermit in his desert cell.


[1] The condition of being Dhimmi (that is non-Muslim) under Islamic rule.

[2] The non-Muslim under Islamic rule.

[3] John Marlowe, Anglo-Egyptian Relations 1800-1953 (London, Cresset Press, 1954), pp. 7-29.

[4] Full title: History of the British expedition to Egypt; to which is subjoined, a sketch of the present state of that country and its means of defence; illustrated with maps, and a portrait of Sir Ralph Abercromby; by Thomas Robert Wilson (1803).

[5] Full title: Journal of the Late Campaign in Egypt:including Descriptions of that Country, and of Gibraltar, Minorca, Malta, Marmorice, and Macri; with an Appendix; Containing Official Papers and Documents; by Thomas Walsh (1803).

[6] The first letter is dated 20 July 1801. He says he has written each of the eleven letters in a night, and, therefore, he has finished writing all of them in the night of 31 July 1801.

[7] In his book, Carlos Bey talks about 1801 being the sixth successive year in which Egypt suffered with plague (bubonic), and that “there has been scarcely ever been remembered so destructive a plague as that of this year [1801]. In Upper Egypt whole villages were completely swept away by it; in Cairo 40,000 natives [died of it].” A Non-Military Journal or Observations Made in Egypt; p. 55.

[8] Ibid; pp. 93-94.

[9] Ibid; pp. 15-16.

[10] Carlos Bey explains in a footnote, “Sheriffe, a descendant of Mohomet, distinguished by a green turban.” Ibid; p. 38

[11] Ibid; p. 38.

[12] Or Murad Bey (c. 1750 – 1801). He died of the bubonic plague.

[13] Horses and camels are regarded as noble animals of honour and war, and all non-Muslims are prohibited from possessing or mounting one under Sharia. They, however, can ride donkeys and other less dignified animals; at certain periods, they were allowed these only outside the town. They cannot mount donkeys with saddles; instead, only pack-saddles fitted with wooden stirrups were authorised. See Islam and Dhimmitude, Where Civilizations Collide by Bat Ye’or. Translated from the French by Miriam Kochan and David Littman (Associated University Presses; London; 2002); pp. 96-98.

[14] A Non-Military Journal or Observations Made in Egypt; p. 39.

[15] Ibid; pp. 10-11. About the Jews, he writes, “The poor inoffensive Jew is not less persecuted here than elsewhere; but certainly not more aggrieved than in many, I am sorry to say, much civilized countries.” He then adds in a footnote, “In general, the countenance announced his sect; but where any doubt existed, a lock of hair hanging out from under the turban, close before his ear, stamped him Jew. This is a distinguishing mark.” Ibid, p. 11.

[16] Carlos Bey tells us that in 1801 Rosetta had estimated 16,000 inhabitants, of whom about 250 were Christians and 60 Jews. There were also about 100 Turks, who were originally “native of Constantinople, or other parts of Turkey, but now residents.” It seems that the rest were native Muslims but not necessarily of fellah origin. The Christians he says were “Greeks, Syrians, Levantines, &c.”  He does not mention the number of Coptic Christians in Rosetta but one understands that he included the Copts in the 250 Christians of all sorts which he gave.  Ibid; p. 7.

[17] An Irish woman by the name of Dormer, sister-in-law to the English traveller Edward Wortley Montagu (1713 – 1776), and mother of Monsieur Varsy. Carlos Bey lived in the house of the mother and son while in Rosetta, and found them extremely hospitable and useful, particularly in providing him with much information about the manners of the peoples of Egypt. Ibid; pp. 8-9.

[18] It is not clear in the text.

[19] Ibid; pp. 15-16.

[20] Bat Ye’or (b. 1933), is an Egyptian-born British writer, who wrote extensively about the conditions of Dhimmis under Islamic rule.

[21] Bat Ye’or, The Dhimmi, Jews and Christians under Islam. Translated from the French by David Maisel, Paul Fenton and David Littman (Associated University Presses; London; 1996); p. 143.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 6, 2012 10:42 pm

    Down with Dhimmitude. It is nothing more than Muslim insecurity. And what for? If Islam is the Last of the Three Holy Messages, and supposedly the most refined, then what is to be gained from humiliating the adherents of the two previous versions of the Celestial Message? The Nazis made the Jews wear distinctive clothing, look where they are now…

    • Dioscorus Boles permalink*
      September 7, 2012 11:05 pm

      Thank you very much. In my opinion, all theocracies are bad.

  2. Atreyu Crimmins permalink
    September 8, 2012 12:09 pm

    Fascinating reading, as usual. So glad I discovered your blog.

    • Dioscorus Boles permalink*
      September 8, 2012 4:03 pm

      Thank you. I am honoured and delighted.

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