The Encyclopaedia’s editorAbdelwahab Meddeb was interviewed in Le Soir (Brussels).
“Si les hommes prenaient la peine de se pencher sur l’histoire, ils se haïraient moins.”
“If men took the trouble to learn History they would hate each other less.”
This is the premise on which Benjamin Stora, a professor of Maghrebian history, builds his French-language, full colour, lavishly-produced 1150-page work The Encyclopaedia of Jewish-Muslim relations from their origins to the present day, launched in November 2013. There is a more modest English version, published by Princeton.
However, critics such as the authority on Sephardi Jews, Professor Shmuel Trigano, have charged that the encyclopaedia is nothingbut a work of propaganda. It is all the more insiduous because so much money has been spent on its promotion. Unusually for a book, the Encyclopaedia has a website all to itself and was the subject of a TV series on the French channel Arte.
Among the sponsors are ‘The Alliance of Civilisations’, a front for the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, whose task is to change the ‘narrative’ by promoting the Spain of the Three Religions, the Andalusian Golden Age, etc. The project received grants from the French regions – presumably because sectarian conflict between Jews and Muslims puts at risk the social fabric in France – and various liberal or leftist media, such as the Nouvel Observateur.
Professor Trigano wrote:
“An incredible publicity and ideological campaign is underway in France. Its target is world public opinion by way of the Jews, and more specifically Sephardi Jews – sorry, ‘Arab Jews’.”
The joint editors are a Tunisian professor at the university of Nanterre (Paris), Abdelwahab Meddeb, and Benjamin Stora, a Jewish professor of North African history and author of a history of the Jews of Algeria. The two men have been touring France, North Africa, Israel and Belgium promoting the Encyclopaedia.
The Belgian book launch on 19 February was sponsored by Le Soir, an Israel-bashing daily. On the panel was the Palestinian representative to the EU and great-niece of the pro-Nazi Mufti, Leila Shahid. The event was chaired by the left-leaning Baroness ‘Saucepan’ Simone Susskind, who once called on people to turn up to a demonstration banging pots and pans in order noisily to draw the EU’s attention to Israel’s ‘human rights abuses’.
The question is: which version of history are Meddeb and Stora propagating? Is it the sanitised version, replete with distortion, minimisation and omission?
The underlying premise is that Jews are not a people in their own right. They are Arabs of the Jewish faith. Antisemitism is unknown under Islam. Through the centuries Jews have been tolerated, until the harmonious relations between them and their Muslim brethren were torn asunder by the European colonial powers and ‘European’ Zionism. Pogroms at the time of Mohammed were inter-ethnic or inter-tribal conflicts; the 1929 massacre in Palestine incited by the Mufti of Jerusalem was nothing more than an anti-colonial rebellion. The Jews are ‘imprisoned in a ‘European Zionist identity’ which is alien to them.
The Encyclopaedia cloaks superficial criticism of Islam in apologetics. Antisemitic outbreaks are always the fault of fanatics. Jews are to blame for their own suffering; modern antisemitism is a backlash to colonialism and the ‘theft’ by European Zionists of Arab Palestine. Many of the contributing experts are anti-Zionists.
The elephant in the room is the subjugated ‘dhimmi’ status of the Jews under Islam. Abdelwahab Meddeb has compared dhimmitude to the status of Jews in medieval Europe, but claims that Arab rulers often turned a blind eye to its strictures. At the same time he posits medieval Baghdad or Cordoba as a suitable cultural model for Europe today.
Jews and Muslims have been doubly betrayed – by colonialism and by the values of the European Enlightenment, so the argument goes. There is nothing in the book to suggest that western values allowed the oppressed and wretched Jews of Algeria, for instance, an escape route. The Encyclopaedia maintains that colonialism drove a wedge between Jews and Arabs, while the Shoah showed the values of civil equality to be a cruel delusion. Modern antisemitism in the Arab world is an ‘understandable’ backlash to the ‘unjust’ creation of Israel.
Dr Rudi Roth, a mathematician and scientist, points out worrying inaccuracies and omissions which exaggerate Arab Muslim influence in culture and science while downplaying the Jewish contribution.
For instance, the academic Gad Freudenthal writes in the entry about Algebra: “Some fields of mathematics remained totally unknown to the Jews, such as Algebra.”
Dr Roth has found at least four Jewish mathematicians missing from the encyclopaedia : Savasorda (Abrahim bar Hiija al Nasi ( 1070 – 1136)), author of the earliest Arabic Algebra written in Europe; Abraham Meir ibn Ezra (1092 – 1167) Levi Ben Gherson (1288 – 1344) and Ibn Yahya al Maghrebi Al Samawal (1130 – 1150). Oddly enough, Freudenthal himself wrote a book about Gherson.
Also missing from the encyclopaedia are events such as the 1033 pogrom of Fez, the earliest known pogrom of the second millennium.
As far as Arab collaboration with the Nazis is concerned, Dr Roth accuses Henry Laurens, the author of the two pages on the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al-Husseini, of minimising his role. There is no mention, says Roth, of the pro-Nazi Palestinian leader Fawzi al Qawuqj, or
the Mufti’s broadcast calls for genocide on Radio Berlin, nothing on the Mufti’s creation of the SS Handschar division staffed by Bosnian Muslims, nothing about the part he personally played in condemning 20,000 European Jewish children to the death camps, and nothing about the Mufti having contact with the Nazis as early as 1936.