Year: 2012

Mind the Gap

 Lamb and dried fruit tagine

Point of No Return will be taking a short break and will be back in the New Year. Until then, posting will be light to non-existent.

As this year marking the fiftieth anniversary of the exodus of the Jews from Algeria draws to a close, I’m leaving you  to feast your eyes and ears on this page on Algerian-Jewish culture, courtesy of JIMENA.

Wishing all Readers a very Happy and Prosperous 2013!

The popular singer Lili Boniche

What does the new Egyptian constitution mean?

 Voting with an inky finger (Photo: AP)

When it comes to the rights of non-Muslims in Egypt, is the glass half full or half empty? Is Egypt’s new constitution better or worse for them than the previous one?

While Judaism and Christianity are protected as long as they do not ‘violate public order’, other sects, like Baha’ism, are not.  Key passages are highlighted in bold :(With thanks: Lily)

CBS News reports:

Egypt’s draft constitution, which is being voted on in a referendum
Saturday, is made up of an introduction, an 11-part preamble and 236
articles. Critics have raised concerns over issues including Islamic law
and women’s rights:

Shariah (Islamic) law

Like a previous constitution, the draft states, “Principles of
Islamic Shariah are the principal source of legislation.” For the first
time, the draft defines those principles, rooting them in “general
evidence, foundational rules” and other rules from the long tradition of
Islamic jurisprudence. Both critics and ultraconservative supporters of
the charter say that opens the doors for stricter imposition of Islamic
law.

Role of clerics

The draft gives Islamic clerics unprecedented powers with an article
stating, “Al-Azhar senior scholars are to be consulted in matters
pertaining to Islamic law,” referring to the most respected centre of
scholarship and rulings in Sunni Islam.

Morals

An article commits “the state and society” to “entrenching and
protecting the moral values” of “the authentic Egyptian family.” Critics
worry the broad phrasing will allow not only the government but also
individuals to intervene in personal rights.

Women’s rights

The draft mentions women in the framework of the traditional Muslim
family, adding, “The state shall ensure maternal and child health
services free of charge and ensure reconciliation between the duties of a
woman toward her family and her work.” The preamble underlines equality
“for all citizens, men and women, without discrimination or nepotism or
preferential treatment, in both rights and duties.” But opponents
charge that the document does not protect women from discrimination.

Civil rights

The draft guarantees freedom of expression, creativity, assembly and
other rights. It also has a direct ban on torture and stricter
provisions limiting detentions and searches by police. But it says the
rights “must be practiced in a manner not conflicting with” principles
of Shariah or the morals of the family. There is also a ban on insulting
“religious messengers and prophets,” opening the door to arrests of
bloggers and other activists.

News media

Independent publications closed for a day to protest the lack of an
article banning arrest of journalists for what they write. The draft has
this: “Freedom of the press, printing, publication and mass media shall
be guaranteed. The media shall be free and independent…”

Religious minorities

The draft guarantees the freedom of Christians and Jews to practice
their rites, live by their religions’ rule on marriage, inheritance and
personal status and establish places of worship. But it hedges those
rights on the condition they do not “violate public order” and that they
will be “regulated by law.” In the past, the building of churches has
been limited by law because of claims it disturbs public order. The
draft guarantees those rights for “the divine religions,” meaning
Christianity and Judaism, but not others, raising concerns of
persecution of smaller sects.

Military

The charter ensures an independent status for the powerful military.
The president is the head of the national security council, but the
defence minister is the commander in chief of the armed forces and
“appointed from among its officers.” Control of the military budget is
not mentioned. It also allows civilians to be tried before military
courts in some cases

 **************

The Voice of America takes a more optimistic line:

Role of Islam

Both constitutions designate Islam as Egypt’s official religion and
Islamic law, or Sharia, as the main source of legislation. They also
obligate the state to “preserve” traditional family values based on
Islam.

But in a key difference, the 2012 charter defines the principles of
Sharia for the first time. It says those principles include “evidence,
rules, jurisprudence and sources” accepted by Sunni Islam, Egypt’s
majority religious sect.

The new document also gives unprecedented powers to Al-Azhar, Sunni
Islam’s most respected religious school, by saying its scholars must be
consulted on all matters relating to Sharia. The 1971 charter did not
mention Al-Azhar.

Human rights

Both documents say detainees must not be subjected to any “physical or
moral harm,” and must have their dignity preserved by the state.

In a new protection of rights, the 2012 charter bans all forms of human exploitation and the sex trade.

Women’s rights

Both documents commit the state to helping women with the financial
costs of motherhood and the balancing of family and work
responsibilities. But they differ on the issue of equality between men
and women.

The preamble of the 2012 constitution says Egypt adheres to the
principle of equality “for all citizens, men and women, without
discrimination or nepotism or preferential treatment, in both rights and
duties.”

The new document’s main section also contains two articles barring the
state from denying equal rights and opportunities to citizens. But those
provisions do not explicitly bar discrimination against women.

The 1971 constitution included one article that required the state to
treat women and men equally in the “political, social, cultural and
economic spheres,” provided that such treatment did not violate Sharia.

Another article explicitly prohibited gender discrimination.

Freedom of expression

Both charters guarantee the freedom to express opinions orally, in
writing or through images, and the freedom of the press to own news
organizations and publish material independently.

In a major change, the 2012 document guarantees the freedom of belief
for the “divine/monotheist religions” – a reference to Islam,
Christianity and Judaism.

It says followers of those faiths have the right to perform religious
rituals and establish places of worship “as regulated by law.” The
previous constitution made no mention of the rights of any religions
other than Islam.

In another difference, the new document contains an unprecedented ban on “insults” toward the prophets of Islam.

Students stage play on Karachi’s lost Jews

Last month a group of students in Pakistan staged a play about Karachi’s lost Jews. It’s a story that is neither preserved nor remembered, and serves as a dangerous precedent for other struggling minority groups. Insightful article by Bilal Lakhani in Asia Society blog:

At the beginning of the 20th century, Karachi alone had about 2,500 Jews
engaged as artisans and civil servants in the city. In 1893, the Jews
of Karachi built the Magain Shalome Synagogue, and, in 1936, one of the
leaders of the Jewish community, Abraham Reuben, became the first Jewish councilor on the Karachi city (municipal) corporation.

A number of Jewish organizations catered to the needs of Karachi’s
Jews. The Young Man’s Jewish Association, founded in 1903, was
established with the purpose of encouraging sports as well as religious
and social activities. The Karachi Jewish syndicate, formed in 1918, was
created to provide homes to poor Jews at a reasonable rent.

Even though the majority of Pakistan’s Jews lived in Karachi, a small
community served by two synagogues also lived in Peshawar. After the
founding of the state of Israel in 1948, violent incidents against the
small Jewish community forced an exodus of Jewish refugees to flee to
India and Israel. Incidentally, Magain Shalome — Karachi’s synagogue —
was demolished in the 1980s to make way for a shopping plaza.

'The Lost Jews of Karachi' poster

The history of Jews living in Karachi is neither preserved nor
remembered in Karachi today. Instead, Jews have become a favorite
punching bag of the religious right as they habitually invoke a “Jewish
conspiracy” to explain away the failures of the Pakistani state.

The story of the disappearance of Jewish community within two
generations serves as a dangerous precedent for other minority groups
currently struggling to fight for their rights, in the face of violence,
discrimination and forced conversions.

A recent surge
in violence against minorities — be they Hindu, Christian or the
supposedly non-Muslim Ahmadis — has enabled Pakistan’s civil society to
thrust the plight of minorities into the national spotlight, sparking a
conversation about tolerance and religious harmony.

Last month, a group of students attempted to inspire a discussion about Karachi’s long-lost Jewish heritage with a short play, The Lost Jews of Karachi,
performed at the Alliance Francaise de Karachi. The play revolved
around two Jewish sisters struggling with the decision to abandon their
ancestral hometown (Karachi) and move to Israel. In the final scene, the
sisters are separated at the railway station as they attempt to flee.
One of the sisters misses the train, and remains behind in the city — as
the other manages to leave Karachi forever.

 Read article in full

“Cemetery of the Lost Tribe,” a documentary short about the the Jewish cemetery in Mewa Shah, Karachi.

Turkish cops arrest men in ‘ancient Torah racket’

 Torah scroll being hand-written (Nati Shohat)

Turkish police on Tuesday arrested four men in
the coastal city of Adana on suspicion that they tried to sell a
purportedly 1,900-year-old Torah scroll, according to the Times of Israel.(With thanks: Lily)

The men claimed they legally acquired the nearly 29-foot-(9 meters)-long gazelle-hide scroll from an antiquities dealer and were ignorant of its provenance.

“We bought it from an antique store and brought it to a geography teacher to ask what was written on it,” the Hurriyet Daily News website quoted one of the suspects as saying.

Initial reports could not confirm the scroll’s
authenticity, nor did they indicate on what basis authorities claimed
it was nearly 2,000 years old. 

The oldest extant complete version of the
Torah is the Leningrad Codex, which dates back to the early 11th
century CE, and few of the oldest Torah scrolls exceed 500 years in age.

Read article in full

Imam backtracks: “I didn’t mean kill ALL Jews”

 

Tunisian imam al-Suhayli made his antisemitic sermon in the Tunisian town of Rades on 30 November 

 An Imam whose inflammatory sermon caused uproar in Tunisia and around the world has been forced to backtrack on his call for all Jews to be killed. As a result of this MEMRI TV clip, a Tunisian minority rights groupbegan proceedings against him in the Tunisian courts for incitement to hatred: (with thanks: Lily).

 

According to MEMRI, Imam Ahmed al-Suhayli now says:

 “I never called in this sermon to kill Tunisian Jews. You have the sermon, and you can check and see what I said. This sermon was delivered in the context of the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza. I was talking about a sect of Jews that was mentioned in the Koran. I was talking about their digression from the path and laws of Allah, and their distortion of His words. It reached the point where they slew some of Allah’s prophets. That sect, mentioned in the Koran, justly earned the wrath and punishments of Allah. These are Koranic facts. These are the words of Allah.

 “Then I said that this sect still exists in Palestine. These are the extremist, racist Zionists, who have been killing and slaughtering the Palestinian people for decades. They have occupied their lands and trampled their honor. Everybody in the world knows this.

“Then I called upon the Islamic nation to assume its responsibility regarding these continuous attacks.

“I absolutely did not call to kill the Jews – I did not call to kill them all. Obviously, some among them are peaceful. There are even some Jews who oppose the policies of the extremist, racist Zionists.

Even in Islam, the Muslim is now allowed to harm these people, because Islam is a religion that preaches tolerance and non-violence, and is against the harming of non-Muslims…

“Even though I was talking about the Jews, I meant a sect among them. I was referring to a sect among the Jews – the racist Zionists, who believe themselves to be superior to all other people, and who believe that all the people were created to serve them…”

Read article in full

About

This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

Point of No Return

Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

One-stop blog on the Middle East's
forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.