Globe & Mail reviews Tarek Fatah's "The Jew is Not My Enemy" and Sir Martin Gilbert's "In Ishmael's House"

23 posts / 0 new
Last post
bhagat
Globe & Mail reviews Tarek Fatah's "The Jew is Not My Enemy" and Sir Martin Gilbert's "In Ishmael's House"

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Why can't we all just get along? 

Two books trace the history of the relationship between Muslims and Jews, and the anti-Semitism that seems to be part of it

 

By PAULA NEWBERG

The Globe and Mail, Toronto

 

Tarek Fatah is a man on a mission. His bold title, The Jew is Not My Enemy, begins with a frontal assault on Muslim anti-Semitism; a bit like Sisyphus, Fatah climbs steep hills to prove not only that anti-Semitism is wrong, but also that it is wrongly conceived.

He uses every arrow in his quiver of arguments, piled one atop the other, to make a case for the irrationality of anti-Semitism among Muslims. It's hard not to admire him, however blunt his argumentative instruments (including unfortunate cover art that gives rise to the spectre of 20th-century European fascism): Fatah seeks to rescue the future from a violent past with an arsenal of scriptural interpretation, personal experience and a deep commitment to a better world.

The Jew is Not My Enemy has a simple premise: Anti-Semitism among Muslims is an irrational but growing movement, purveying two false, dangerous and mutually reinforcing ideas. Fatah argues against the notions that the roots of enmity between Jews and Muslims date to the time of Mohammed, are inexorably tied to the theology of Islam and are therefore legitimate. And he skewers the incorrect belief common among many Muslims that Jews dominate international politics and finance, and that this threatens Islam, Muslims and the world as a whole.

 

Although Fatah devotes much of his book to the first point, the second is a theme that weaves through his narrative. By virtue of rapid communications, an idea that was once the province of a small group of ideologues has grown exponentially, one website, blog and opinion at a time. This is not the cause of malicious tribalism, but is certainly one of its consequences.

 

Fatah is unsparing in his indictment of those who publish theories about Jewish conspiracies against the Muslim ummah: "The Muslim world seems frozen in time," he notes, "obsessed with the past ... left paralyzed in the quagmire of stagnation." His broad-brush sociology may lack for nuance - the worlds in which Muslims live is diverse and lively, even (as the United Nations has documented) if its human security lags behind in many regions - but his description of "the global Muslim community's false sense of victimhood, which is leaving a deep scar on our consciousness," is written with dismay more than rancour.

 

Fatah doesn't push his argument as far as it could go, however. Just as the globe seems closer at hand to so many more people - whether through migration, communications or commerce - schism, misunderstanding and social division seem to draw closer as well. But it is not only the pressures of contemporary globalization that provoke contests between and among peoples and politics. Families, clans and tribes, races and religions, friends and strangers: All are prisms through which differences are refracted, redefining winners and losers, allies and enemies and, sadly, persecutors and their victims.

 

The pursuit of the other is certainly not unique to our time; major economic and political transformations have often triggered conflicts for wealth and cultures, and that continues today. Among the most enduring dislocations are those between religions, as contests of belief and as justifications for political and economic domination. The "why" of anti-Semitism is a hard nut to crack. Like others, Fatah explores this through the Koranic texts and contemporary interpretations, countering arguments as they arise and lamenting the ways that misapprehension turns into doctrine. It is the intersection of religious instruction with contemporary politics that is the nub of Fatah's book.

 

His first example is the terrorist attack in 2009 in Mumbai - a place known for cultural pluralism and otherwise immune to anti-Semitism - that focused in part on the city's Jewish centre as an emblem of its diversity. The idea of jihad in such a place is, in Fatah's terms, the result of misguided theology combined with equally misguided politics. And two incidents in 2003 cement his argument: former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir bin Mohamad's public diatribe that Jews "rule the world by proxy," and the courtroom declamation of Bali Bomber Amrozi bin Nurhasyim - referring to the Battle of Khaibar in seventh-century Arabia - that "the army of Mohammed is coming back to defeat you [Jews]."

 

The difficult encounters between Jews and Muslims that began as political and armed conflict in Arabia have become pernicious counterpoints to contemporary global politics. The history that informs The Jew is Not My Enemy can be found in Martin Gilbert's In Ishmael's House, which chronicles the rise of Islam through the eyes of Jews living under Muslim domination. Its story of conquest, persecution and discrimination is tempered by complex political histories. "From the time of Mohammed until today, Jews have often found greater opportunities, respect and recognition under Islam than under Christianity. They have also been subjected to the worst excesses of hostility, hatred and persecution."

 

Bernard Lewis has noted that European anti-Semitism was "essentially alien" to Islamic traditions, culture and thinking. Acknowledging this, Gilbert nonetheless amasses an unremitting history of humiliation and defeat among Jews living within Muslim states.

 

Islam, after all, has thrived not only on battlefield victories, but also on its syncretism. Islam has prospered across Arabia, North Africa and large portions of Asia, all the while absorbing (as well as conquering) vastly different cultures. Some Jewish communities initially welcomed Islam as relief from a pernicious anti-Semitism in Europe. At times, Jews and Muslims lived together in relative peace; at other times, the increasing power of Islam forfeited amity for abuse.

 

At each historical juncture, Gilbert describes changing norms: In early 20th-century North Africa, as in Andalusia earlier, the Jewish community was protected by a sultan who saw strength in diversity (if not equality); this protection ended in the Arab struggle against the encroachments of France. Despite the proximity of some Jewish communities to power in lands where they were subjects, they were never accorded equality, and never identified with the state. When the tide turned with the founding of Israel, Gilbert suggests, anti-Zionism became a new focus for the anti-Semitism of old.

 

To their credit, neither Fatah nor Gilbert restricts his analysis to the problematic Israel-Palestine dispute. Both are concerned with far broader questions; both seek to understand the background to ethnic, racial and religious hatreds, even if solutions are far from accessible. This month's survey from the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center suggests that relations between the West and the so-called Muslim world are still deeply in need of repair, from all sides. The larger challenge - what happens to modern internationalism and our system of states if social fragmentation at a time of fiscal constraint fractures the political landscape more deeply - remains open to further inquiry.

 

Paula Newberg is the Marshall B. Coyne Director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University.

 

  • THE JEW IS NOT MY ENEMY

Unveiling the Myths that Fuel Muslim Anti-Semitism

By Tarek Fatah

McClelland & Stewart, 243 pages. $26.99

 

  • IN ISHMAEL'S HOUSE

A History of Jews in Muslim Lands

By Martin Gilbert

McClelland & Stewart, 424 pages, $34.99

 

 

KenS

Oh boy. I can hardly wait for the discussion of this.

Not that I will necessarily even look. I dont like slasher movies.

Unionist

Could mods please move this to the "Islamophobia, Israelophilia, and fraudulent opposition to anti-semitism" forum please?

Thanks.

ETA: On second glance, the OP is purely commercial in nature, thus qualifying as spam. Please get these paid ads out of our face. Thank you very much.

Lard Tunderin Jeezus Lard Tunderin Jeezus's picture

Quote:
To their credit, neither Fatah nor Gilbert restricts his analysis to the problematic Israel-Palestine dispute.

Fuck Fuckitty Fuck Fuck.

Do they even bother to acknowledge this real cause of anti-semitism in the muslim world?

BTW, bhagat, thanks for stopping by to light another bag of Tarek Fatah's shit afire on our doorstep. Now run away again, won't you?

 

6079_Smith_W

Plus, I think a hyperlink would suffice.

Most of us have modern browsers, and I think there is a policy about not cutting and pasting whole articles.

Unionist

Ok, what do you think of this title for my letter to Tarek Fatah:

"This Jew is your enemy!"

 

George Victor

KenS wrote:

Oh boy. I can hardly wait for the discussion of this.

Not that I will necessarily even look. I dont like slasher movies.

 

Whatever truths and knowledge to be had from those books is clearly subservient to their effect on the political stage, and more succinctly, on the Palestinian people...and of course, by their  re-inforcement of the jingoism of an Israeli state and its supporters. But we should not piddle outselves in anticipation that "there will be blood."  We are (should be) a rather more mature grouping than that. 

Unionist is correct in his understanding of their effect. I stand in awe of his depth of knowledge gained from study and lived experience. He has wrestled long and come to this position, and I have learned from it.

But for the same reason that , as a board member, I voted against the filtering of the internet at a public library, I object to book banning.  Let the brothers and sisters read while continuing to be enlightened by histories whose shortcomings can be pointed out in the process. 

 

KenS

the truth, shall make someone free

of something

Ken Burch Ken Burch's picture

Why did Fatah have to title his book "THE JEW Is Not My Enemy", rather than just "Jewish People Aren't My Enemies"?

If the guy is trying to say he's not an antisemite, he chose a REALLY icky way of phrasing it.

"The Jew" sounds like phraseology straight out of The Protocols, for God's sake.

 

 

 

 

milo204

notice how the canadian media fawns all over these writers because they fit in with the status quo line and the media stereotype that muslims or arabs all "hate" jewish people and by extension the west.  Not surprising these books get very favorable reviews in the msm, while more serious debate gets no coverage at all or is portrayed as "radical" or "unbalanced analysis"....

George Victor

Right on, milo.  Looking at the page (14) of the Globe's book section, under "social studies", it reads "Why can't we all just get along? Two books trace the history of the rrelationsihip between Muslims and Jews, and the anti-Semitism that seems to be part of it"

The "the anti-Semitism that  seems  to be part of it"  Wink

And then the last paragraph of Paula Newberg's "review" begins: "To their credit, neither Fatah nor Gilbert RESTRICTS (my emphasis) his analysis to the problematic Israel-Palestine dispure. Both are concerned with far broader questions...

We must look forward to reading for ourselves just how much IS said, by either, about the "problematic" Israel-Palestine dispute.

This could turn out to be a very good exercise in content analysis seeking the subtle (and not subtle) forms of propaganda in Canada's national newspaper...and elsewhere.

KenS

Becaue its a book, this one by Tarek will get little direct notice. It's import at the MSM level will be to further consolidate Tarek as chief intellectual of "the Islamists are the number one threat in the world". Not the imperialists and their lackeys who put a younger Tarek Fatah into prison, and set him on the path to Canada.

George Victor

It would seem that you have already read about his position on what THE REVIEWER (Paula Newberg, the Marshall B.Coyne Director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University) calls the " 'problematic' Israel-Palestine dispute."  Or have you already passed sentence on the book through its author? Does its content - his perhaps stated position on "the question" - mean diddly squat?

I don't doubt that your observation..."Becaue its a book, this one by Tarek will get little direct notice" could very well be true.

George Victor

The Cambridge Public Library brought in both books. I was first in line for In Ishmael's House: A history of Jews in Muslim lands, and will get The Jew is Not My Enemy in a couple of weeks.

Martin Gilbert has managed, as expected, to put together an historical overview of mistreatment of the Jewish people under Muslim rulers (and Christian for comparison) through 14 centuries, providing details down to the naming of towns and villages where significant events were recorded. Several pages of maps, beginning with the extent of the conquests of Islam by the year 750, through to "The 'Second Exodus' 1947-1957" detail the forced movement of Jewish people around the Mediterranean and northern Europe. 

"In the course of 1,400 years, Jews living under Muslim rule made their mark in many ways: as converts to Islam; as privileged members of the courts and administrations of Caliphs and Sultans; as dhimmis, with all the restrictioins that status entailed; and as fellow-citizens in modern, independent Muslim nations...From the time of Mohammed until today, Jews have often found greater opportunities, respect and recognition under Islam than under Christianity. They have also been subjected to the worst excesses of hostility, hatred and persecution."

Gilbert's stated purpose for writing this: "It is my hope that this book will encourage a better understanding of the past, and help to make possible a future that emulates only the best aspects of the past."

But there is nothing in his description of Israel's relations with the Arab nations from 1947 which would leave one with any hope of that happening. Newberg's "review" suggested the "problematic Israeli-Palestine dispute" would not be dealt with in depth.  But, in fact, Israel's treatment of Palestinians is in fact justified by the writer's minute examination of the "Secon Exodus" of Sephardic and "Oriental" Jews, forced from their homes in a thousand towns and villages around the Mediterranean basin.

The reader is left to decide how "The exodus and dispersal after 1947 of 850,000 of the Jews living in Muslim lands..." could have, in fact, resulted in anything other than the current territorial standoff. After all, "even though the first decade of the Twenty-First Century was closing with a search for reconciliation and understanding between Christian and Muslim societies, Jews who had lived in Muslim lands would not be remembered, nor their hopes for justice upheld."

This reader could not find a single sentence which posed the question of "justice" from the perspective of a Palestinian refugee after 1967, outside of this kind of "justice for all," posture. 

Canadian institutions and figures are important elements in this book, the latest of more than 80 by the biographer of Sir Winston Churchill, a great many focused on Jewish history and persecution.  The late Israel Asper gave Gilbert "the idea for this book", and the Asper Foundation of Winnipeg provided much of the resource material.

With the above lacuna in mind, for this reader, the book was still eye-opening in its detailing of the movement (and treatment) of a people over many hundreds of generations, and the variations in a belief system called Judaism. It seems to me that the concentration of so many ultra-orthodox and conservative factions became - some time ago - the largest barrier to resolving the question of where they would live.  Gilbert, in noting the "tolerance" of some Muslim regimes, neglects to weigh the relative tolerance(s) within the Jewish community.

A note added Jan. 23rd as I listen to Michael Enright interviewing Anat Hoffman, who heads the Israel Religious Action Centre and who was arrested for carrying her Torah to the Western Wall in defiance of the law, ...and whose group has just won a verdict in Israel's Supreme Court where she challenged the law requiring women to ride only in the back of buses, and enter buses only through the back door... explains the increasing effect of the ultra orthodox in Israel to Michael Enright on CBC Radio 1 .   They comprise one third of Israeli citizens and two-thirds of Jerusalem's  city council, and vote by religious rote...and their schools of study of the Torah are compared with the Muslim Madrassas.  The boys who enter these schools are later "unemployable." numbering 67,200 in 2010.    The problem "the secular police arrest me" for challenging those religious laws, says Ms.Hoffman. 

  • Female Israeli activist could be sent to prison for praying at ...
    6 Jan 2011 ... An Israeli activist who defied orthodox Jewish custom by leading a group of women in open prayer at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall has been told ... Anat Hoffman has been awaiting her fate since being arrested in August amid ...
    www.telegraph.co.uk/.../israel/.../Female-Israeli-activist-could-be-sent-to-prison-for-praying-at-Wailing-Wall.html -
  • George Victor

    In her joint review of Gilbert's and Fatah's books, Paula Newberg says that "neither Fatah nor Gilbert restricts his analysis to the problematic Israel-Palestine dispute. Both are concerned with far broader questions; both seek to understand the background to ethnic, racial and religious hatreds, even if solutions are far from accessible."

     But, in fact, Tarek Fatah's recommended solution to the "problematic" dispute is quite clear. In the preface he says that he is "against (Israel's) occupation" of the West Bank "because I am against the occupation of any people by a foreign country." However, he finds fault not only in the acts by Israel that have followed 1967 - and he scrupulously avoids listing them. This Muslim turns to Walt Kelly's cartoon character's answer to an America  seeking "the enemy" as the Cold War continued to blossom. "It is us," decided Pogo and Tarek Fatah.

    There is some exceptionalism at work here. Fatah explains "I am neither Arab nor Jew. I am an Indian born in Pakistan whose Hindu ancestors in the pUnjab converted to Islam in the nineteenth century. My heritage was deeply interwoven with that of the Sikh religion and Hinduism's ancient wisdom. The Islam of Punjab had no room for hate. The three faith communities were woven together by a common culture, cuisine, and clothing, and by a humour that could defuse the most intense altercation.

    "Yet in 1947 - Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs - we managed to break a thousand-year-old relationship in a frenzy of bloodletting that killed a million people in amatter of six short months. How then could I, a child of a maniacal religious massacre, afford to hate the 'other?' And Pakistan, with no tradition of anti-Semitism in the late 1940s is now a place of "ubiquitous hostility towards the Jewish people." 

    His book "is an attempt to answer the question, why do Muslims hate Jews? What is the source of this hatred, and how can we end this cancer before it consumes us Muslims?" 

    It is unfortunate that his work and position is used as the reactionary's  "explanation" for the "necessity" of Israel's position. And he should make it clear in every public appearance and every column that that should never be be the case. The ongoing  incursions by settlers on to Palestinian farms and villages demands forthrightness from anyone purporting to seek answers...or even offering comment.

     

    George Victor

    Just in case my own memory of events in the Middle East was failing me, I took up Saul Bellow's To Jerusalem and Back: A Personal Account, published in 1976...he was to be awarded the Nobel Prize in literature that year in recognition of his many works of fiction. It was just three years after the "Yom Kippur War" of 1973 and only a decade after the "Six Day" conflict of 1967.

    There has been some evolution in thought, in the use of the concept "Zionism," for instance: "Then there is the problem of the ultra-Orthodox zealots who insist that to settle on the West Bank is their God-given right. The angry Arabe interpret the Rabin government's relectance to restrain these settlers as a sign of approval or even as its covert policy. The Israeli religious nationalists do not themselves for a political group, but they have the Parliamentary support of the rightists. I have spoken with students of the Middle East who feel that nothing is more dangerous for Israel at this moment than this religious nationalism. They think it anti-Zionist, for the leaders of the Zionist movement had no religious-territorial ambitiions."  It is pointed out that in the last two decades of the 19th Century and into the 20th, the land bought from the Arab population for the kibbutzim included some of the poorer soils. There is no mention of what many Jewish people, even in Victor Klemperer's Germany in 1934, thought about that land acquisition in Palestine - the Klemperers compared it to the European acquisition of First Nations' land in the Western Hemisphere.

    Bellow gives an exhaustive accounting of the arguments of both sides on the question. A drive through the West Bank revealed for him that "From these villages come the Arab construction workers you see in Jerusalem. There are lieftists, and even some old Zionists, who complain of this. They say that Jewish labour built Israel but that now the Arabe do all the disagreeable jobs and form an exploited class of bottome dogs." 

    There were the "Israeli militants of the Gush Emunim movement - young men and women who are determined for religious reasons to colonize the West Bank. Their settlements are held by some to imply a rejection of  Zionism, for the Zionist pioneers were satisfied with a sanctuary and did not try to recover the Promised Land. Unlike the religious irredentists, they sought sparsely populated places for settlement and for the most part avoided Arab towns. The early kibbutzim were founded in the swamps and the sand dunes."

    It is noted that some 800,000 "oriental Jews" immigrated to Israel, but it is not metioned what political role this large sephardic movement played.  Yet it can only have had a massively rreactionary effect. And the ultra-Orthodox have since found political party status. Bellow interviewed a panoply of academics and politicians, Yitzhak Rabin to Henty Kissinger, attempting to ferret out the hint of a solution to the territorial question. But as he put it, the more learned the person he interviewed, the more pessimistic the prognosis. And the most telling idea for this reader came from one Israeli academic who determined that there was a quantum change in Israeli opinion, post-1967.  From that time, "territory" became the primary focus of political attention and ambition.

    The novelist's account of Israel in late 1975 is the very best that any travel writer could aspire to, in far greater depth than the best of Paul Theroux. But for Bellow, one of American's leading intellectuals of the 20th Century, the painstaking research and masterful storytelling ends with a weary resignation to the fact that "the eagerness to kill for political ends - or to justify killing by such ends - is as keen now as it ever was." 

     

     

    Ken Burch Ken Burch's picture

    Actually, the first political efforts of the Sephardim/Mizrahi were NOT reactionary.  They first created a leftist organization called the Israeli Black Panthers, a group that the Labor governments of the early 70's considered dangerously radical(and that did, in fact, take at least  some of their inspiration from the Black Panthers in the U.S.)

    It was only later that the political direction of the Mizrahi/Sephardi swung to the right, perhaps as a result of the same mindset that drove leftist Iranian opponents of the Shah into an alliance with the mullahs:  the belief that only a nationalist coalition with the ultra-religious could defeat the oppressor of the day.   Iranians themselves seem now to be learning the folly of this; perhaps the Sephardi/MIzrahi will do the same.

    George Victor

    Yes, I guess it was the wide (and wild) variety of religious opinion brought from a dozen countries that cemented into the hard-core Orthodoxy and that now continues to demand settlement land. It was a political force by 1975.

    Ken Burch Ken Burch's picture

    Perhaps also, they sensed that right-wing religiosity was gaining strength in American politics and that giving Zionism an ultrareligious face(even to the point of tolerating an alliance with apocalyptic evangelical demagogues in the states who pushed a "Last Days" vision that envisioned forcing all Jews to choose between conversion or death)was the best way to cement the special relationship with their Yank benefactors/overlords.

    George Victor

    There was no hint of that in Bellow's writing (1975-76). THe "Yanks benefactors/overlords" bit is surely your creation? There was an early internal struggle to maintain freedom of political action while accepting $3 billion yearly in direct aid, and this was discussed by Bellow, but that was not to be a problem by the Reagan years. There are still many citizens who are not ultraOrthodox, or even Orthodox, voting for saner positions.  That's the only place where hope lies, far as I can see.

    Fidel

    Fatah doesn't see to have faith in the official 9/11 fairy tale or the phony global war on terror either. That should automatically place him on the inquisitors' list of heretics for hired bullshit artists in the newz media to skewer and run through.

    Ken Burch Ken Burch's picture

    George Victor wrote:

    There was no hint of that in Bellow's writing (1975-76). THe "Yanks benefactors/overlords" bit is surely your creation? There was an early internal struggle to maintain freedom of political action while accepting $3 billion yearly in direct aid, and this was discussed by Bellow, but that was not to be a problem by the Reagan years. There are still many citizens who are not ultraOrthodox, or even Orthodox, voting for saner positions.  That's the only place where hope lies, far as I can see.

    It was my analysis.  My assumption was that we were trading anaylses of our own at that point.

    George Victor

    And I thought that I was only questioning your choice of language and the order of historical events.