The dhimmi mentality cannot be easily defined and described. An endless variety of reactions has been provoked by the evolving historical situations in the civilization of dhimmitude, which spans three continents and close to fourteen centuries. Generally speaking, dhimmi populations can be described as oscillating between alienation and submission and, at the other extreme, a self-perception of spiritual freedom.
The basic aspects of the dhimmi mentality are related to characteristics of its status and environment, because dhimmitude operates exclusively within the sphere of jihad. Contrary to common belief, jihad is not limited to holy war conducted militarily; it encompasses all strategies, including peaceful means, aimed at the unification of all religions within Islamic dogma. Further, as a juridical-theological construction, jihad determines all aspects of relations between the Umma -- the Islamic community -- and non-Muslims. According to the classical interpretation, these are classified in one of three categories: enemies, temporarily reconciled, or subjected. Because neither jihad nor dhimmitude have been critically analyzed, we can say today that the Islamist mentality -- currently predominant in many Muslim countries -- establishes relations with non-Muslims in the traditional jihad categories of war, truce, and submission/dhimmitude.
In our times dhimmis are found among the residues of indigenous populations of countries that were Islamized during a millenium of Muslim conquests: Christians, Hindus, and a scattering of Jews and Zoroastrians. Christians would seem to be the most familiar group, closer to Westerners by proximity, culture, religion, and subject to the same status under Islam as the Jews, the other ahl al-Khitab, "people of the Book" -- the Bible. But this impression is often deceiving as the reassuring appearance of similarity is misleading.
Because Christian dhimmi populations are on the whole highly skilled and better educated than the surrounding population, they often suffer from malicious jealousy coupled with the traditional anti-Christian prejudices of the Umma. The persistence of Christianity in Muslim environments testifies to qualities of endurance and adaptability. Yet survival in dhimmitude had its price: the dhimmi pathology.
Bat Yeor is the author of "The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude." Her latest book, "Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide," has just been reprinted. A version of this article was first published in French and is translated by Nidra Poller in collaboration with the author.