Tag: Dhimmitude

Historians battle over nature of Jewish-Muslim relations

The historian Georges Bensoussan has hit back against accusations of ‘essentialism’ and writing a ‘lachrymose’ version of relations between Jews and Muslims in the Arab world.

Georges Bensoussan: hitting back

The accusations came from Lucette Valensi, herself a historian, speaking at the opening session of a recent conference in Paris. 

She singled out Georges Bensoussan, David Littman and Paul Fenton for criticism  and attempted to distinguish between legitimate historians and ‘jobbing’ historians. Littman and Fenton were the authors of the ‘excellent’ (according to Bensoussan)  Exile from the Maghreb, a compilation of  documents detailing antisemitic abuses suffered in 19th century Morocco.

Bensoussan himself was acquitted in a case against incitement to racial hatred in 2017. Given a right-of-reply by Akadem, the ‘Jewish digitial campus’, Bensoussan claimed that ‘essentialist’ was another term for ‘racist’, without the legal implications. It was simply an attempt to shut him down.

Pointing to the introduction to his major work, Juifs en pays arabes: le grand déracinement, published in 2012 (See English version here), Bensoussan had clearly written that a lachrymose version was as inappropriate as an idealisation of the past, vaunting a golden age, as promoted by the Wissenchaft historians of 19th century Germany. Nonetheless, his book was based  not on police reports but hard archival evidence that Jews had suffered grave abuses at the hands of Muslims.

There was not one memory of the the Jewish past in North Africa, there were several layers of memory, depending on social class. Cultural attitudes were not static but evolved over time.

In turn, Bensoussan accused Valensi of speaking for a privileged ‘comprador’ merchant elite, representing less than one percent  of the Jewish population. The great mass of Jews lived in the oppressive city mellahs.  Bensoussan remarked that the conference featured an appearance by royal adviser André Azoulay, who was pushing the agenda of the king of Morocco. Valensi could be said to have a political agenda herself, being associated with a project to establish a Jewish museum  supported by the Tunisian ministry of Tourism.

Bensoussan contrasted Lucette Valensi’s take on history with that of fellow-Tunisian, Albert Memmi, who grew up in the poor Tunis hara, or  Jewish quarter. Bensoussan quoted Memmi’s words, written in 1975: ‘ The much vaunted idyllic life of the Jews in Arab lands is a myth! The truth, since I am obliged to return to it, is that from the outset we were a minority in a hostile environment; as such, we underwent all the fears, the agonies, and the constant sense of frailty of the underdog.”

The Akadem interview by Antoine Mercier with Georges Bensoussan on Facebook has garnered over ten thousand views,  and comments mostly favourable to Bensoussan.

See Akadem interview with Georges Bensoussan (French)

More about Georges Bensoussan

 

Progressives should support Jewish victims of Arab colonalism

One of the most persistent slurs against Israel among progressives is that it is a ‘settler colonial state’. The truth is that the only empire has been Arab and Muslim, and Israel is an example of ‘decolonisation’ . James Sinkinson pens this punchy piece in JNS News:

James Sinkinson: who are the real colonists?

Ironically, Jews are the only people in history since the brutal Arab conquest, occupation and colonization of the region who have risen up to reclaim their land. This has been considered an affront to Islam, and it is no coincidence that Hebrew, the indigenous language of the Jewish people, and Zionism, the national movement to return the people to their land, were violently repressed and banned in Arab countries.

There’s no doubt who is the colonizer and who the colonized. There is only one empire in this conflict, and it is not Jewish, a people who have never conquered any territory on the planet not their own, as opposed to the Arab world, which currently encompasses 5,070,419 square miles of land mass.

Rather than condemning Israel, progressives in the West who recoil at “settler colonial projects” should embrace the Jewish state as an example of decolonization—indigenous return and restored sovereignty. If they were honest, they would stand by the side of tiny Israel—with a population of nine million, surrounded by hundreds of millions who seek its destruction and its return to the huge Arab empire.

Just ask the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa who lived under Arab repression, discrimination and constant fear of violence for almost 13 centuries—who have finally returned home and make up the majority of the Jewish citizens of the State of Israel. Their recent history and experience of Arab imperialism, conquest and oppression reflects a sad, violent tale of Arab Muslim privilege. These Jews truly understand colonialism and what it is like to live under its yoke.

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The Spanish Golden Age: myth or reality?

The debate rages on: did Jews experience a Golden Age in al-Andalus, in medieval Islamic Spain? Professor Mark R. Cohen of Princeton wrote an interesting prologue to the Encyclopedia of Jewish- Muslim relations published in 2014, admitting that it was to a certain extent a myth.

This image of a Jew playing a game with a Muslim is often used to illustrate the Golden Age of al-Andalus.

It is true, he writes, that Jews were immersed in Arabic-Islamic culture  – language, poetry, science, medicine, philosophy. True, Jews became powerful advisers to Muslim rulers. True, Jews were not generally  confined to certain occupations as they were in Europe, and the idea of usury did not have the same stigma.

The Jewish intellectuals in 19th century Germany, alienated by the rise of antisemitism and unfulfilled promises of emancipation, idealised the situation of medieval Jews. They tended to ignore the Jews’ legal inferiority, or dhimmi status. Yet the ‘lachrymose’ version of this history exaggerates the negative. The myth of the Golden Age, Cohen argues, contains a very large kernel of truth.

Yet, for over 100 years, Muslim fundamentalists, in the shape of the Amohads and Almoravid Berbers, compelled Jews to choose between conversion to Islam or death. Cohen argues that Jews could always ‘pretend’ to convert, as Maimonides did – so this was a mitigating factor. But he could not deny that Christianity was wiped out altogether in North Africa and the Jewish population dwindled dramatically.

It has also been argued that pogroms against Jews were unnecessary when Jews were already cowed and submissive. On the other hand, Cohen argues that the dhimmi rules were often breached in Muslim Spain. What he does not say is that while rulers were ready to breach those rules in order to promote useful and talented Jews to positions of power and influence, the masses did not take kindly to Jews behaving above their station – hence, for example,  the massacre of 3,000 Jews in 1066 when the mob was outraged at the actions of the ‘haughty’ Vizir Joseph Ibn Naghrela.

Cohen argues that persecution of Jews could not have been as bad as in Christendom. The proof was that they did not chronicle their persecution as Jews did in Europe. But the essence of being a ‘dhimmi’ was surely NOT to harp on these episodes of persecution in order not to antagonise their rulers.

Turkish Jews deny that Erdogan made antisemitic comments

In a display of dhimmitude, Jews in Turkey have denied that president Erdogan has made antisemitic statements, despite his using ‘Jews’ and ‘Israelis’ interchangeably. Times of Israel reports: 

JTA — The main organization representing Turkish Jews has criticized the US State Department for accusing Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of using antisemitic rhetoric. 

 The Jewish Confederation of Turkey said Wednesday that it was “unfair and reprehensible to imply that President Erdogan is antisemitic” in a tweet. 

 On Tuesday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement that “the United States strongly condemns President Erdogan’s recent antisemitic comments regarding the Jewish people and finds them reprehensible.”

 

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Loyalty of last Yemen Jews repaid with expulsion

Rabbi Yahya Youssef went to extraordinary lengths to show loyalty to  Muslim Yemen, but was still expelled by the Houthi Islamists. Lyn Julius blogs in The Times of Israel: 

“There is no place like Yemen. Not in America, not in Israel. It’s just not the same. When the people of Yemen say, “We don’t want a single Jew here,” I will go, but until that day, Yemen is my home and that is where I will stay.” 

 Rabbi Yahya Youssef Musa Marhabiuttered those words in 2010. That fateful day came in late March 2021 for him and 12 other Jews: they were driven out by the Houthi Iranian-backed Islamists who have taken control of the north of the country and whose slogan is “Convert or die.” 

The rabbi’s departure signals the end of a 3,000-year-old community. Just six Jews remain in war-torn Yemen: an old woman, her crazed brother and three others in Amram province. (One man, Levi Salem Marhabi, is illegally in jail.) Some reports say that the last Jews agreed to leave as a condition of Levi’s release, but there is no guarantee that he will be freed. 

 The 13, from the Zindani, Habib, and Marhabi families, have arrived in Egypt where they will find no more Jews than now remain in Yemen. The group refused an offer to go to Israel by way of the port city of Aden, which is controlled by the Southern Transitional Council, supported by the United Arab Emirates. Some people are exasperated with the Yemeni Jews’ obstinacy, for it is not as if they did not have multiple opportunities to leave. 

 The group, which had already been forced out of their homes in the north of Yemen and their property stolen, would have preferred to resettle in the UAE, which has taken in three Jewish families from Yemen over the last year, but this was impossible for unspecified reasons. It is thought that some among the 13 did want to go to Israel, but “an influential member” of the group was against the idea. 

 I would wager that the “influential member” was Rabbi Yahya Youssef. He has heard reports of scantily-clad women in Israel and fears that Yemenite Jews will not be able to cling to their traditional, pious way of life.

 The scholar SD Goiten once described Yemen’s Jews as the most Arab and Jewish of Jews. Rabbi Yahya has insisted that he is Arab before he is Jewish. He has bent over backward to show his willingness to integrate into Muslim Yemen. He has tried to fight for Jews to have seats in Parliament, said that Jewish children should go to Muslim schools,and even said he believed in Muhammad as much as Moses.

 There is a name for this kind of behavior: Stockholm syndrome, or to use a word familiar to the Jewish-Muslim lexicon, dhimmi syndrome. Dhimmi describes not only the subjugated status of Jews and Christians under Islam, but a survival strategy employing flattery and appeasement.

 Beleaguered Jews in Arab or Muslim countries have long expressed their hostility to Israel and loyalty to their countries of birth. Where has it got them in the long run? A one-way ticket out of the country. There are no communities left in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Libya or Algeria. In Iraq, a Jew died recently, bringing the number down to three. 

 It is heartening that countries like the United Arab Emirates and Morocco have chosen a different path, “normalizing” with Israel and encouraging the growth of local Jewish communities. But where are the expressions of consternation, where are the protests, the petitions, the governments and NGOs calling out those Muslim countries which have ethnically cleansed their Jews? The silence is deafening. 

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Jewish expulsons and antisemitism in the Arab world:(Algemeiner)

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