In this perceptive post on pitfalls of Jewish-Muslim dialogue, Rafael Castle observes that hierarchical Arab/Muslim antisemitism is not the same as ontological Christian antisemitism. It is necessary to mention the dark side of Jewish life under Islam in order to vindicate Zionism. (With thanks to Rafael for letting us re-post.)
The French film director Claude Lanzmann, celebrated for his documentary “Shoah”, once remarked that in order to encourage Arab schoolchildren to sympathize with Jews, he would highlight how during the Holocaust the Imam of the Grand Mosque of Paris helped save Jews from Nazi deportations. This modus operandi is quite ubiquitous and is also reflected in Jewish efforts to showcase Muslim righteousness during the Holocaust in predominantly Islamic Albania, Bosnia and Tunisia. Analogous efforts have also sought to highlight how Jewish life in Muslim lands was historically better than Jewish life in Christian lands.
In my opinion, these efforts are necessary in order to dispel the prejudice popular among quite a few Jews that Arabs and Muslims are irremediably vicious anti-Semites. Such efforts, directed toward Muslims do not serve the cause of Jewish-Muslim reconciliation, but actually add to the amount of resentment and hostility in the Muslim camp.
These efforts are often orchestrated by Ashkenazi Jews who conflate Christian antisemitism with Islamic antisemitism. Christian European antisemitism is nevertheless fundamentally different from Arab Islamic antisemitism. Christian antisemitism is ontological: The Jew by virtue of rejecting Christ as his savior is implicitly complicit in the death of God’s son. Islamic antisemitism is hierarchical: As long as the Jew is subordinate and docile toward Islam, the Jew is actually an asset to the prestige and truth of the Prophet’s message.
That is the reason antisemitism in Islamic lands reached historically Christian proportions only once Zionism proved to the world that Jews were better than Muslims at fighting and ruling. Since Islamic pride hinges on Muslim political and military power, defeat at the hands of Jews, the model dhimmis during over one thousand years, provoked an existential crisis in the Ummah: The Jew, in order to defeat Muslims on the battlefield, must have conjured diabolical forces. Hence, the contemporary myth popular in the Islamic world, that Jews are an all-powerful cabal bent on destroying Islam.
For this reason, when Muslims are reminded about the Golden Age of Judeo-Islamic harmony in Andalusia, the hospitality extended by Ottoman rulers to Jews fleeing from the Spanish Inquisition and more recently, Muslim rescue efforts during the Holocaust, they easily read history as follows: “Look at the Jews, after all the kindness we extended to them throughout the centuries, they repaid us Muslims with the Nakba and the occupation of Jerusalem. What a thankless lot!”
To avert this reaction, any Jewish-Muslim attitude must mention the dark sides of Jewish life under Islam: Starting with the massacre of Khaybar and culminating in the Farhud of 1941 which heralded the end of thousands of years of peaceful Jewish life in Iraq. It is only once these tragic chapters are read that Muslims can understand that Zionism was not just legitimized by European Christian antisemitism, but also by the injustices and abuses that the Ummah heaped on its Jewish subjects, including the complicity of Palestine’s supreme leader, Haj Amin al-Husseini, with Hitler’s plans to destroy the Jewish people.
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