Thursday, May 22, 2014

Lessons About Arab/Muslim Historical Treatment of Their Jews

Sar Shalom

{Editor's note - I could hardly be more pleased with Sar Shalom's debut piece for Israel Thrives.  There is a great deal to mull-over in Shalom's discussion, not the least of which are tactical considerations in how we criticize the historical Arab treatment of the Jews of the Middle East.  I would recommend that you guys give this one a considered reading. - ML}

Since I was introduced to this blog through a comment I made about the Muslim's historical treatment of their Jewish subjects, I thought my first post should deal with what we should learn from that treatment about Muslims today. A popular theory about Muslim opposition to Zionist activity is that it is a continuation of Muslim oppression of the Jews since the Muslims conquered the Middle East which in turn is dictated by sharia law.

There are a couple truthful elements to this theory. One, there have been multiple occurrences of brutal persecution by the Muslims of their Jewish subjects, spanning both time and space, that have resulted in the deaths of many Jews and the conversion to Islam of countless more. Furthermore, there are Muslims today who are engaged in similar repression or attempted repression against the Jews, many of them justifying their activity by sharia law. The issue is, is today's Islamic repression of the Jews a continuation of their practice from centuries ago, or is it a new phenomenon? Answering that question will require a look at the record beyond just what the Muslims did from 700 to 1800 CE and what they are doing now to look and what transpired in between those two eras.

One of the problems with drawing a connection between actions done centuries ago and actions done today is that we have to distinguish between a causal connection and a coincidental similarity between actions. One factor to consider in assessing which of these more accurately describes the relationship of past to present actions is what connection there is for other groups. While anyone who is familiar with the reality of Muslim-Jewish relations from the origins of Islam to the late Middle Ages can tell you about the oppression the Muslims visited upon their Jewish subjects, complete with occasional massacres, the Christians of that era often treated their Jewish subjects worse.

The question this raises is why did Christianity change in this regard whereas Islam did not? Another complication to the theory that current Muslim actions are merely a continuation of past actions is there was a time period during the early Yishuv when Arabs and Muslims were not almost universally hostile to Jews or to Zionism. For instance, it was not an aberration for Ahmed Zaki, a leading Egyptian intellectual of the 1920s, to declare, "The victory of the Zionist ideal is also the victory of my ideal." Even among the Palestinians, support for the uprisings against the Yishuv was not universal at the beginning of the 1920s, but became so by the 1930s, according to EoZ's psychological history of the Palestinian Arabs. Furthermore, a theory for the popularity of judeophobia and anti-Zionism in today's Arab world would need to explain why it is shared by the Christian-Arabs and the non-Islamist Muslims.

Given all this, what explanation is there for the Muslim world's actions towards the Jews and Israel? Via Michael Totten comes an article by Samuel Tadros in The American Interest that explores the nature of today's judeophobia in Egypt and its origins. Tadros traces this development to the Arab world's encounter with European culture as follows:

When Napoleon swept through Egypt, the Arabs began to realize how far behind Europe they had fallen. The initial way to catch up had been to imitate the ways of the West. However, Britain and France did not uphold their domestic standards of liberalism in their imperial holdings, setting the stage for a reassessment.

This reassessment was facilitated by Nazi Germany, assisted by their spokesman to the Arab world, Haj Amin el-Husseini. Even after the Nazi regime was eliminated, it maintained its influence in Egypt by means of refugees from the military tribunals [augmented by official Soviet cooperation in later years]. The message from these actors was that Egypt's failure to catch up with Europe was not due to a shortcoming in Egypt, rather, it was a Jewish conspiracy.

Now, how should we discuss the factors underlying the prevailing Arab judeophobic attitudes? In a way, unless we are trying to change those attitudes, we can ignore discussion about causes and focus on the supremacist attitudes. The important thing is that our audience come away with an understanding that this supremacist doctrine is the prime obstacle to arriving at a peaceable agreement. This means that convincing the Arabs, not just Muslim-Arabs, to abandon their supremacist doctrine without convincing Israel to yield to the maximalist demands they present to the West will produce peace, but that convincing Israel to yield to their maximalist demands as presented to the West without convincing them to abandon their supremacist doctrine will not produce peace.

While the underlying cause is beside the point, it can provide something equivalent to a motive in helping to sell the notion of their supremacist doctrine. In this case, we should endeavor to identify an underlying cause to which our audience would be receptive and thus be more likely to accept that the lack of peace is due to Arab supremacism. With that said, a committed anti-racist would have trouble accepting that merely accepting the five pillars of Islam commits one to the supremacist doctrine. If there was no other other motive to cite and identifying a motive could be avoided, this would be a chance worth taking. However, there is another motive to cite. It is Husseini's translation of Goebbels into the language of Islamic piety. While citing instruction from the Nazis runs the risk of being accused of running afoul of Godwin's Law, we can summarize it as indoctrination by European anti-semites and leave discussion of the Nazis to the details of how they were indoctrinated.


  1. Do you have any reason to believe that the Christian-Arabs, aside from certain pockets like those following Gabriel Naddaf, are any less extreme than the Muslims?

    Aside from that, there is a need to convince the wider public of the Arabs', both the Muslims and the Christians among them, supremacist ideology which is distinct from the need to understand the source of it. Even if there is truth to the theological derivation of this ideology, would it not be worth tamping down discussion of that source if presenting an alternate source for their ideology could make it more acceptable for someone who is paranoid of racism to accept that Arab supremacism exists? For example, could we not characterize their theology as, in the language of the Mishna, a spade with which to dig, in order to justify an a priori racialist ideology?

  2. Sar, an interesting post.

    It seems to me that you are beginning to unravel and discuss the theoretical differences between someone like Raymond Ibrahim, who sees anti-Semitism as essential to Islamic doctrine, and someone like Matthias Küntzel who stresses the Nazi influence.

    Either way, it is not pretty, I think.

    In our previous discussion you seemed to stress that it is unhelpful and unncssary to place Arab supremacism within an Islamic context.

    Am I correct in my understanding of your position in this regard?

  3. I don't see it as a debatable point. It simply IS and we're arguing about how strenuously various groups enforce it. In a country where Islam is not pre eminent then they, like any other group in a pluralistic society are beholden to some other law whether they like or not or until they pick arms and kill for whatever they claim to believe. In Muslim nations where Islam is in fact the law of the land, it is THE Law, so it is embraced and enforced to the absolute limits of whomever is charged with that authority.