Wiji Bohme Shomary, a student reading history and Middle Eastern and North African Studies in Sweden, is originally from Syria. In this candid and brave article for Newsmill, she dares to suggest that antisemitism is a state tool to distract from Arab failure. Rough translation by Google. (With thanks: Torbjorn)
In my grandmother’s childhood memory, there is always a beautiful and kind Jewess – why is she not in my memories? When she grew up in old Damascus there lived several Jewish families in the neighborhood, and both she and other girls were asked to do small favors when it was the Sabbath. The cookies which she got for it she never forgets. When I wonder what happened to these families and insist on knowing why they disappeared, and where they went, she told me not to talk so loud – the walls have ears in Damascus. My questions remain unanswered.
I had the chance to move to Sweden and all the knowledge I had about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism was overwhelming at first. I knew nothing about the Holocaust while growing up in Syria for it is not taught in schools and all the talk about Jewish affairs is strictly in order to express disgust or hatred for it. However, I understood immediately why Hitler is admired there and why he is called the “heroic” name of Abu-Ali!
Many of my Arab neighbors are equally ignorant of the Holocaust, and when they find out more about it, see the disaster usually as a legitimate punishment for the Jews. “Look what they do in Palestine,” they say, a “tooth for tooth and eye for an eye” The chronological order, of course, is less important.
The Arabs are allowed to be anti-Semites because they have suffered because of Israel’s policy. This is an attitude that often occurs in the Western world, simply turning a blind eye to the phenomenon.
In Syria, Jews are considered to be the cause of misery, water and electricity shortages, poverty, disease, economic stagnation, immoral behavior. Israel is blamed for everything and some states in the region are happy of course with the situation. Arab nationalist governments have helped to create the image of a ghostly Jewish identity that haunts their country and destroys everything that they claim they are trying to build. Most of the residents, particularly young people, have themselves never met a Jewish person but may create a mental image based on the state’s descriptions.
Every time a grievance regarding the quality of life grows among the people, they zoom the Palestinian question into focus and suddenly the media’s total attention spotlights Israel’s settlement policy.
The Palestinian question is used by neighboring countries, and in the sentimental Middle East it is a safe bet that Hezbollah and the Syrian government, for example will win support among the people.
These States and the so called resistance organizations do not really give a damn about the Palestinians ‘fate , and when you consider how badly the Palestinians are received and treated in Arab countries, these countries’ positions become clear and you soon realize the hypocrisy on which they are based.
Antisemitism in the Arab world is really a big problem, both for the region’s democratic development and the peace process that could result in an independent Palestinian state. In the Middle East, they argue that Jews can be hated without Israel. But being anti-Israel is often just a politically correct way to express anti-Semitism.
Jew-hatred has always existed in the region and the Holy Qur’an tells of feuds that arose between Muslims and Jews in Islam’s early years. The yellow star of David has its origin in the Abbasid Baghdad’s golden age. The long coexistence that arose between Muslims, Christians and Jews in al-Andalus is a constructed myth, the pragmatic Muslim elite who ruled in southern Spain was forced to be tolerant because they represented a minority in the beginning. There were, however, periods of peaceful coexistence, but when unrest and discontent arose in the community, the first to be persecuted and discriminated against were the ‘dhimmis’.
‘Dhimmi’ Christians and Jews lived in a Muslim society. They were protected by the state / Caliphate by paying taxes, they were allowed to practise their religion in peace and had to live by their own religious laws as long as they respected the Muslim community.
This status was abolished in the Middle East and the Ottoman Caliphate and was followed by the introduction of nationalist ideologies. The religious minorities welcomed nationalism and saw in it their chance to achieve equal opportunities in society because religious identity becomes less important.The Arab countries were liberated from Ottoman rule and to be a Muslim, Jew or Christian soon was associated with an archaic mentality. Nationalism became even more important for people under colonial rule. They identified themselves now that Iraqis, Syrians, Egyptians, etc., and they fought side by side to achieve autonomy.
Meanwhile, Western antisemitism, based on racist ideology, was exported to the Middle East. The Jews in the Arab world were suspected soon of collaborating and conspiring to take over the world with Jews outside. There are historical records that show Hitler in the beginning helped Jews flee to Palestine; at the same time he warned, and incited the Muslim leaders there against them.
Haj Amin al-Husseini played a leading role in spreading Nazi anti-Semitism in the Arab world. The allegations against the Arab world’s Jewry increased when Israel declared its independence in 1948, but it was the Arabs’ defeat in the Six Day War which gave a boost to Jewish persecution and discrimination. The ancient Jewish minority in Syria, Iraq and Egypt were forced in some way to escape (in fact the vast majority had already left these countries by 1967 – ed). Belonging to the same religion as the enemy was considered by the Ba’athists and Nasserist revisionists as a sufficient reason to chase the Jews out.
The Arab world’s cultural heritage was hard hit by the Jews’ exodus. Their contributions and efforts were of great importance in the musical, literary, artistic and linguistic domains.”>The peoples of the Middle East have now dared demand their freedom and many will pay for it with their lives. Unfortunately, dictatorship’s grip on the Arab countries is much weaker than its spirit.”>If we take Syria as an example, the people, for example, may take years – if the Assad regime falls – to free themselves from the hateful ideology of the Ba’ath, which was forced upon them.
Despite the fact that Islam, like Christianity, can be (mis) interpreted and (mis) used to incite against the Jews, I believe that anti-Semitism in the Arab world today is dictated from above and maintained by the state apparatus. The development of democracy in the Arab world would only benefit the region’s cultural and ethnic multiplicity.
Can I dare wonder if the Arab world will have its Jews back eventually? One question that may sound naive to those who anticipate long-term fundamentalist Islamist rule in the region.
I’m hopeful ….