Egyptian-born historian Bat Ye'or and her husband, David Littman, have been making the rounds of several campuses this month to lecture on "dhimmitude," a word she coined to describe the status of Christians and Jews under Islamic governments.
Muslims have visited exile, persecution, deportations, massacres and other humiliations on non-Muslims for almost 1,400 years, she has told students at Georgetown, Brown, Yale and Brandeis universities.
Muslim armies steamrolled over North Africa, the Middle East and Spain for five centuries after the death of Muhammad in 632, says Bat Ye'or, a pen name meaning "daughter of the Nile." In her two most recent books, "Islam and Dhimmitude" and "The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam," she describes how magnificent basilicas and monasteries of Egypt, Syria and Mesopotamia were left in smoking ruins by Muslims from the eighth to 10th centuries.
Spain, she says, was pillaged and devastated many times: Zamora in 981, Barcelona in 987, Santiago de Compostela in 997. In 1000, Castile was ravaged, its Christian population either killed or enslaved and deported. In 1096, Pope Urban II set the Crusades in motion by calling on Christians to take back the conquered lands.
The golden age of Muslim rule in Spain from the eighth to the 15th century was largely myth, Bat Ye'or says, and dhimmitude is in effect today in Islamic-ruled Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, parts of Indonesia and northern Nigeria.
Bat Ye'or has had hearings in some quarters, including her 1997 and 2001 appearances before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. But many of the 70 students attending her Oct. 15 lecture at Georgetown University on "The Ideology of Jihad, Dhimmitude and Human Rights" walked out.
Julia Segall, president of the Georgetown Israel Alliance, and Daniel Spector, president of the Jewish Student Alliance, called the lecture a "disaster" in Friday's edition of Hoya, a student newspaper.
Bat Ye'or and Mr. Littman "made no effort to make a clear distinction between pure, harmonious Islam and the acts of a few who falsely claim to act in the name of Islam," they wrote.
In the same issue, dissenting student Scott Borer-Miller criticized the university for its treatment of Bat Ye'or and its "anti-Zionist environment where supporting Israel is uncool."
Mr. Littman shrugged off the fracas.
"The Muslim students who were attending were unhappy with what we were saying and so they pressured the Jews," he said. "And the Jews collapsed. They've become dhimmis."
Bat Ye'or also was criticized by John Esposito, director of Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, for lacking academic credentials. She studied at the University of London's School of Archaeology and at the University of Geneva, but never graduated.
Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom, said Bat Ye'or's research into Turkish, Persian and Arabic documents dating back to the eighth century has not been contested.
"What's notable is [various academics] don't attempt to refute her work, which is scholarly and documented," he said. "Those who oppose it owe it to her to engage her work at the scholarly level, which it deserves."
Imam Rashied Omar, a Capetown (South Africa) University academic pursuing his doctorate in religion and violence at the University of Notre Dame, said that Bat Ye'or's findings are a minority view that contrasts with a large portion of extant literature on medieval Jewish-Muslim-Christian relations.
"That's not to say there was no oppression," he said, "but it's well-known that Jews sought refuge under Muslim empires. Jews and Christians obtained greater freedom and abilities to express their religious identities under Muslim rule than was the case under Christian rule."
Abdelaziz Sachedina, a religious studies professor at the University of Virginia, points out that Bat Ye'or used highly polemic sources written by the victims of dhimmitude.
"Monotheistic religions are always exclusivist," he said, "so how are they going to deal with other monotheistic peoples? Muslims have showed their civilization has a better mechanism in which to do so because they give sanctity to other monotheists. It was a just system that took the dignity of all human beings into consideration. Muslims are not saying we treated them well or that it was an ideal situation."