Thought Provoking Essay on Islam And Jews

There is an intriguing essay at the JC by David J Wasserstein, So, what did the Muslims do for the Jews?

I can’t really comment around Professor Wasserstein’s thesis as I have only read 3-4 books on the topic, but hopefully it will ignite a productive debate on the interactions of peoples, then and now, the myths and reality.

An extract:

“Within a century of the death of Mohammad, in 632, Muslim armies had conquered almost the whole of the world where Jews lived, from Spain eastward across North Africa and the Middle East as far as the eastern frontier of Iran and beyond. Almost all the Jews in the world were now ruled by Islam. This new situation transformed Jewish existence. Their fortunes changed in legal, demographic, social, religious, political, geographical, economic, linguistic and cultural terms – all for the better.

First, things improved politically. Almost everywhere in Christendom where Jews had lived now formed part of the same political space as Babylon – Cordoba and Basra lay in the same political world. The old frontier between the vital centre in Babylonia and the Jews of the Mediterranean basin was swept away, forever.

Political change was partnered by change in the legal status of the Jewish population: although it is not always clear what happened during the Muslim conquests, one thing is certain. The result of the conquests was, by and large, to make the Jews second-class citizens.

This should not be misunderstood: to be a second-class citizen was a far better thing to be than not to be a citizen at all. For most of these Jews, second-class citizenship represented a major advance. In Visigothic Spain, for example, shortly before the Muslim conquest in 711, the Jews had seen their children removed from them and forcibly converted to Christianity and had themselves been enslaved.

In the developing Islamic societies of the classical and medieval periods, being a Jew meant belonging to a category defined under law, enjoying certain rights and protections, alongside various obligations. These rights and protections were not as extensive or as generous as those enjoyed by Muslims, and the obligations were greater but, for the first few centuries, the Muslims themselves were a minority, and the practical differences were not all that great.”

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Norm Argues Antisemitism As Epiphenomenal

Nowadays, there are few intellectuals that are really accessible, clear and forthright about their opinions but Norman Geras is.

Norm recently attended a conference in New York on Jews and the Left delivering a speech, this is a draft extract:

3. Anti-Semitism as epiphenomenal

A first form of the Israel alibi for contemporary anti-Semitism is the impulse to treat such of the anti-Semitism as there is acknowledged (by whomever) to be – in Europe, in the Arab world – as a pure epiphenomenon of the Israel-Palestine conflict. One instance of this was the statement by film director Ken Loach in March 2009 that if there was a rise of anti-Semitism in Europe this was not surprising: ‘it is perfectly understandable‘ (my emphasis), he was reported as saying, ‘because Israel feeds feelings of anti-Semitism’. The key word here is ‘understandable’. This might just mean ‘capable of being understood’; but since more or less everything is capable of being understood, it would be pointless to use the word in that sense about the specific phenomenon of a rise in anti-Semitism in Europe. ‘Understandable’ also means something along the lines of ‘excusable’ or, at any rate, not an issue to get excited about. To see plainly the way in which Israel acts as an exonerating alibi in this case, one need only imagine Loach, or anyone else on the left, delivering themselves of the opinion that a growth of hostility towards, say, black people, or towards immigrants from South Asia, or from Mexico, was understandable.

Another instance of this first form of the Israel alibi is provided by a thesis of Gilbert Achcar’s concerning Holocaust-denial in the Arab world. Achcar is a professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and longtime leftist; he is editor of a volume of essays on The Legacy of Ernest Mandel. Holocaust-denial – as I shall merely assert and not argue here – is a prominent trope of contemporary anti-Semitism; it is indeed continuous with a practice of the Nazi period itself, when camp guards and the like would mock their Jewish victims by telling them that not only were they doomed to die, but also all knowledge of what had happened to them would be erased. They would be forgotten; the world would never know. Achcar accepts that Western Holocaust-denial is an expression of anti-Semitism. Much Arab Holocaust-denial, on the other hand, he puts down to such factors as impatience in the Arab world with Western favouritism towards Israel, a suspicion that the Holocaust has been ‘amplified’ for pro-Zionist purposes, and exasperation with the cruelty of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

Whether or not these explanations are valid, a racist belief does not cease to be one on account of its having context-specific causes. No one on the left would dream of suggesting that a belief that black people were lazy, feckless or simple-minded, was less racist for being held by a certain group of white people on account of motives which eased their way towards that belief. But the Israel alibi is currently exceptional in its legitimating power in this respect.”

The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research’s YouTube channel will have video of the conference in a few days, the video data is currently being processed.