Karsh on Islamic imperialism and antisemitism

Efraim Karsh, a professor at King’s College, London, has just published Islamic imperialism: a history. What is his take on Islam’s treatment of the Jews?

Interview by Jamie Glazov in Front Page magazine.

” It has long been a staple of anti-Israel propaganda that Arabs and Muslims have never had anything against Judaism or Jews but only against Zionism and Zionists. After all, did not Muslims treat their Jewish minorities far better than their European counterparts?Did not Arabs and Jews coexist harmoniously for centuries prior to the advent of the Zionist movement?

“This idyllic picture is at odds with the historical record. True, persecution of Jews in the Islamic world never reached the scale of Christian Europe. But that did not spare them from centuries of legally institutionalized inferiority, humiliating social restrictions, and the sporadic rapacity of local officials and the Muslim population at large. In pre-Zionist Palestine itself, Arab peasants, revolting in the 1830s against a military conscription imposed by Egyptian authorities, took the occasion to ravage the Jewish communities of Safed and and when Arab forces arrived from Egypt to quell the insurrection, they slaughtered the Jews of Hebron in turn. A century later, in June 1941, following an abortive pro-Nazi coup in Iraq, the Jews of Baghdad were subjected to a horrendous massacre in which hundreds perished. And so forth.

“The truth of the matter is that, for all their protestations to the contrary, Arabs and Muslims have never really distinguished among Zionists, Israelis, and Jews, and often use these terms interchangeably. Indeed, the fact that Arab and Muslim anti-Zionism has invariably reflected a hatred well beyond the “normal” level of hostility to be expected of a prolonged and bitter conflict would seem to suggest that, rather than being a response to Zionist activity, it is rather a manifestation of longstanding prejudice that has been brought out into the open by the vicissitudes of the Arab-Israel conflict.

“Where does this prejudice come from? Though modern, ideological anti-Semitism is an invention of 19th-century the ease and rapidity with which the precepts of European anti-Semitism were assimilated by the Muslim world testify to the pre-existence of a deep anti-Jewish bigotry. This bigotry dates to Islam’s earliest days, and indeed to the Prophet Muhammad himself.

“Upon migrating to Medina, Muhammad sought to woo the local Jewish population by emphasizing the similarity between his incipient religion and Judaism and adopting a number of religious Jewish practices and rituals. As these gestures failed to impress the Medina Jews, the embittered prophet turned against Medina’s three Jewish tribes with great ferocity – expelling two of them from the city and dividing their properties among the Muslims, while executing the third tribe’s six-to-eight hundred men and selling the women and children into slavery.

“Reflecting Muhammad’s outrage over the rejection of his religious message by the contemporary Jewish community, both the Qur’an and later biographical traditions of the prophet abound with negative depictions of Jews. In these works they are portrayed as a deceitful, evil, and treacherous people who in their insatiable urge for domination would readily betray an ally and swindle a non-Jew; who tampered with the Holy Scriptures, spurned Allah’s divine message, and persecuted His messenger Muhammad just as they had done to previous prophets, including Jesus of Nazareth.For this perfidy, they will incur a string of retributions, both in the afterlife, when they will burn in hell, and here on earth where they have been justly condemned to an existence of wretchedness and humiliation.

“Given the depth of this anti-Jewish bigotry, it is hardly surprising that some of the hoariest and most bizarre themes of European anti-Semitism, such the “blood libel,” that medieval fabrication according to which Jews use Gentile blood for religious ritual, or the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a virulent anti-Semitic tract fabricated by the Russian secret police at the turn of the 20th century, becoming household items on the Arab and Muslim mass media.”

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