Saturday, May 27, 2006

Clarifications: Jews and Muslims Post

Over at Dean's World, Aziz linked to my Jews and Muslims post, sparking a comments thread which made a couple of points I want to address.

The first is the "Hispanic" analogy. That was pretty off-the-cuff, and I have no doubt that a careful academic study would prove it fatuous. What I was going for was the idea that Jews were seen more as menial people associated with jobs no one else wanted to do and to some degree as a cultural threat. Despite perhaps sharing a sports loyalty, I would disagree with the tone of Mariner's comment in the thread. On the religious point, for example, I think anti-Catholic bigotry still plays some role in how we view Hispanics, but a more relevant comparison might be to the huge backlash against flying Mexican flags. I could tackle a couple of the others, too, but really taken past the level of people's perceptions, you're comparing apples and oranges - a medieval religious legal system defined first and foremost by religious identity as opposed to a modern secular one based off nationality in a territorial defined space. Tomorrow I'll try to remember to grab a copy of Goitein's Geniza study and see what the voices of the past actually have to say for themselves.

As far as the line about anti-Semitism first appearing in the late 19th century as a European import, that was Bernard Lewis's quote, and I guess it does seem a bit odd out of context, though people should be given pause by the fact that this is not a scholar who is given to blaming things on Europe. (That's part of why I'm leaning on him, especially for the modern period which I don't know very well.) I haven't re-read his entire book carefully, but from what I've glanced at and remember, what he calls anti-Semitism is basically this ideology which sees Jews as evil, powerful, manipulative, and responsible for many of the world's problems. This is clearly different than seeing them as poor souls with an inferior religion. Seriously, the fact that works like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion originated in Europe isn't even controversial!

In closing, I'll quote Lewis (p. 156) on the 1840 blood libel in Damascus:
"On February 5 of that year Father Tomaso, a Capuchin monk of Sardinian nationality, suddenly disappeared together with his servant. A Jewish barber was accused of murdering them and, after torture, declared himself ready to confess. The Father's fellow monks, instigated and encouraged by the French consul Ratti-Menton, proclaimed that he had been killed by the Jews for ritual purposes. On the urging of the consul, the governor Sharif Pasha arrested large numbers of notables and other Jews, many of whom were tortured. One communal leader, Joseph Laniado, died under questioning; another, Moses Abulafia, saved himself by embracing Islam. He and several others were induced by torture to confess whatever their accusers desired. The French consul, to justify and further his actions in Damascus, supported it with an active press campaign in Damascus directed against the Jews in Damascus and Jews in general.

He goes on to describe how Great Britain, then France's rival in the Middle East, used the issue to attack the de facto independent ruler of Syria, part of a campaign which ultimately led to the restoration of control over the areas by Britain's then-ally, the Ottoman Empire, which took a pro-Jewish stance.


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