Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Myth of Arab Innocence


By Elliott A. Green


Mr. Green is a writer, researcher, and translator living in Jerusalem. His work has previously appeared in Midstream [New York], Nativ and the Jerusalem Post [Israel], and other publications. He was assistant editor of Crossroads, a discontinued social sciences quarterly published in Jerusalem. References for the quotes in this piece are found in his article in Midstream (September-October 2008).

The myth of Arab innocence throughout history --particularly concerning Jews-- has long haunted British and American writing about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Professors Walt and Mearsheimer put it as follows in their anti-Israel tract: the Christian West... Jews suffered greatly from the despicable legacy of Anti-Semitism... But ... the creation of Israel involved additional crimes against a largely innocent third party: the Palestinians.

This article seeks to disprove that false claim and demonstrate instead the systemic, juridical oppression, exploitation, and humiliation of non-Muslims --including Jews--in Islamic society. Further, whereas it used to be commonly believed that Islam was benign toward Jews, the article shows that Jews were at the bottom of the social barrel in the Islamic domain generally--although conditions varied with time and place. Moreover, this was true in Jerusalem specifically. Indeed, the famous Jewish philosopher Maimonides believed that Jews were worse treated under Islam than in Christendom. He was in a position to compare conditions in both zones because he conducted correspondence with Jews in far flung places.

In the empires resulting from the Arab and Muslim conquests, Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians--and later, Hindus and others-- were subjects far inferior in law to Muslims as a class. Tolerated non-Muslims, called dhimmis, were required to pay annual tribute, jizya, for the privilege of living another year. This is grounded in Qur'an 9:29 and remains part of Islamic law to this day, although formally abolished in the Ottoman Empire in 1855. Islamic law still views dhimmis as an occupied population to be "brought low" (9:29 & 2:61). The rules of dhimmi status, dhimma, also provide that dhimmis should not bear arms, that their garments must differ from Muslim garments, that they show deference to Muslims, such as dismounting when encountering a Muslim on the road. Since a horse is a noble animal, a dhimmi must not ride one. Further, a dhimmi's testimony in court is worth half of a Muslim's, etc.

The Danish traveler, Karsten Niebuhr, visiting Egypt in 1761-1762, described dhimmis dismounting in humiliation from donkeys when encountering horse-mounted Muslims on the street. Niebuhr visited Egypt four decades before Napoleon, which is significant because Edward Said argued that similar reports made after Napoleon's Egyptian expedition were invalid since tainted with imperialism.

Moshe Gil found in the Cairo Genizah, a medieval archive of Jewish writings, accounts of impoverishment and suffering caused to Jews in Israel by collection of the jizya and other taxes:

...if you saw who paid all those moneys you would have been astonished and lamented over them and say of them: Could such a large `onesh [=punitive tax, exaction] have come from those poor people?

Jacob Barna'i examined ledgers of the Jerusalem Jewish community in the late eighteenth century. He found a situation strikingly similar to that found by Gil for the pre-Crusades period. Besides jizya, Jews paid unofficial taxes, fees, exactions, mandatory bribes, etc. The rapacious were not only Ottoman officials but local Muslim notables and strong men. Of course, Christian dhimmis too could be oppressed this way. Jews differed by being low man on the Islamic totem pole. Israeli historian Moshe Sharon argues:

...the fact that the Qur'an singled them [Jews] out as the enemies of the Muslims... institutionalized their inferior status in comparison to the Christians.

The Arab writer Al-Jahiz explained this by the political resistance of the Jews in Medina to Muhammad. The Hamas takes inspiration for its Judeophobia from early Islam, citing the hadith fable about Judgment Day in its charter (Article 7):

...the Muslims will fight the Jews who will hide behind rocks and trees. The rocks and trees will cry out: O Muslim! A Jew is hiding behind me. Come kill him...

Francesco Gabrieli, the Italian historian of Islam, wrote:

...the name "Yahudi" [=Jew] acquired on Muslim lips the same odor of hostile scorn for the Jews that the term "Jew" had in the Western world, more hostile and scornful than that of the epithet "Nasrani" [=Christian].

This judgment is supported by a British envoy sent to the Levant in the 1830s. John Bowring reported Muslim resentment of improved treatment for dhimmis there by their ruler Muhammad Ali of Egypt:

The Mussulmans deeply deplore the loss of that sort of superiority which they all & individually exercised over ... the other sects... a Mussulman... believes ... that a Christian --and still more a Jew-- is an inferior being to himself.

This pecking order was confirmed by a nineteenth century Turk objecting to equalizing measures in the Ottoman Empire (quoted by Bernard Lewis):

... whereas in former times... the communities were ranked... the Muslims first, then the Greeks, then the Armenians, then the Jews, now all... were... on the same level. Some Greeks objected... saying: "The government has put us together with the Jews. We were content with the supremacy of Islam."

The above quotes demonstrate that the Jews were generally at the bottom of Arab-Muslim society. It thus stands to reason that this was true of Jerusalem too. Yet this should and can be demonstrated by sources.

In the late Mamluk period (ca. 1500), the chief Roman Catholic official in Jerusalem, Francesco Suriano, hated Muslims, but appreciated how they treated Jews:

I wish you to know how these dogs of Jews are trampled upon, beaten, and ill-treated, as they deserve... They live in this country in such subjection that words cannot describe it... in Jerusalem where they committed the sin for which they are dispersed throughout the world [the crucifixion-EAG], they are by God more punished and afflicted than in any other part of the world. And over a long time I have witnessed that.

Some 300 years later, in Ottoman Jerusalem, the French writer Chateaubriand found the Jews still on the bottom. A Greek monk, Neophytos, described the situation until the 1830s. Illustrating Muhammad Ali of Egypt's magnanimity toward dhimmis, he writes that it extended even to Jews. They formerly "did not even dare to change a tile on" their synagogue roof, yet "now received a permit to build."

Next comes a surprise witness, none other than Karl Marx:

Nothing equals the misery and suffering of the Jews at Jerusalem... the constant objects of Mussulman oppression and intolerance, insulted by the Greeks, persecuted by the Latins." [New York Tribune, 15 April 1854]

To be sure, Marx was never in Jerusalem. But his report in Horace Greeley's Tribune is mainly taken from a book by the French diplomat and historian, Cesar Famin, who served in the Ottoman Empire and had access to French diplomats, churchmen, and foreign ministry records.

If these accounts seem tedious, let's skip over the late Ottoman period, when conditions for dhimmis generally improved, to British rule when Arab pogroms against Jews resumed, with British acquiescence or encouragement. The 1929 massacre and "ethnic cleansing" of the ancient Hebron community (68 Jews murdered, hundreds removed) left special bitterness among Jews in Israel and abroad.

This was followed by participation of the chief Palestinian Arab leader, the British-appointed mufti of Jerusalem, Amin el-Husseini, in the Holocaust from his base in Berlin. To be sure, the Allies did not prosecute him at Nuremberg for genocide collaboration, although Yugoslavia wanted him tried for war crimes by his followers there.

The Walt-Mearsheimer view of Arabs generally and Palestinian Arabs specifically as "largely innocent" is blatantly false. Further, there is no longer an excuse for ignorance on the matters covered above. There are document collections covering Jews under Islam by Norman Stillman, Bat Ye'or, and Andrew Bostom, plus abundant books and articles. Moreover, there are works on Arab nationalist Nazi collaboration, Husseini's particularly, by Hirszowicz, Schechtman, Carpi, El-Peleg, etc. Yet the myth seems so deeply rooted among the press, academics, and State Department circles, that it is unlikely to dissipate any time soon if ever.

Elliott A. Green

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


Friday, December 12, 2008

The Hamas-Fatah War & Israeli Security

A briefing by Jonathan Schanzer

Jonathan Schanzer is the director of policy at the Jewish Policy Center, a Washington think-tank. Prior to joining JPC, he was a counterterrorism analyst for the Office of Intelligence and Analysis at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Mr. Schanzer also has held positions at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the Middle East Forum. It was during his tenure with the Forum that he undertook initial research into the subject of his new book, Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle For Palestine (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), which was also the topic of Mr. Schanzer's address to members of the Middle East Forum and the Jewish Federation of Philadelphia on November 3, 2008.

In Hamas vs. Fatah, Schanzer rejects the "constant narrative that the Palestinians are waiting for their state," an account that depicts the Palestinians as a passive factor in the state formation process. Instead, Schanzer argues that the Palestinians' troubled path to statehood is a product of their own political divisions. Schanzer believes that the problem had its roots in the outbreak of the first intifada in 1988. At that time, Arafat was exiled from the territories and living in Tunisia, so he and Fatah were unable to take credit for the Palestinian uprising.

Instead, it was Arafat's rival, Hamas, which "quickly eclipsed Fatah in terms of popularity with Islamists and refugees." Seeing his political relevance eroding, Arafat announced that he would accept in theory the state of Israel. Schanzer dismissed Arafat's declaration as merely "a ploy to get him back on the world stage. By simply recognizing the state of Israel," Schanzer explained, "the entire world [came] rushing to him thinking that perhaps he [could] end the uprising and bring Palestinian-Israeli peace."

The next seven years were the "Oslo Period." Although others saw the Accords as offering hope for a sustained peace, Schanzer believes that Arafat came to regret his involvement. By seeking the mantle of a statesman, Arafat found that he created a vacuum in the arena of "military struggle" that Hamas was able to exploit - as evidenced by the fact that during the 1990's, most terror attacks on Israel were perpetrated by Hamas.

For Hamas, attacks on Israel served a dual purpose. Every act of terrorism perpetrated by Hamas made Fatah look feckless to the outside world and undermined Arafat's overall strategy. On the other hand, terrorist attacks against Israel further cemented Hamas' popularity with the Palestinians, who increasingly looked to it as assertive, while Fatah was seen as submissive to the West.

This state of affairs lasted until 2000, when Arafat, seeing the damage that his reconciliation attempt had caused to the political relevance of Fatah, launched the second intifada. Schanzer said that Arafat's motivation behind this action was to "out-Hamas Hamas." Arafat promoted the conflict in a much more Islamist way than the first intifada; for example, calling the war the "Al-Aqsa intifada," after the historic mosque in Islam situated in Jerusalem.

In 2004, Arafat died and Mahmoud Abbas succeeded him as the leader of Fatah. In 2006, however, "in an absolute landslide…of the freest and fairest elections that we have probably seen ever in the Arab world," the Palestinians rejected Abbas and Fatah, and elected Hamas.

Along with the Hamas victory came what Schanzer declared the "Second Six-Day­-War," this one between Hamas and Fatah. In it, Palestinians fought each other and engaged in acts of violence such as "we've never seen in the Arab-Israeli conflict." With the election of Hamas - a terrorist organization – and the in-fighting between Hamas and Fatah, diplomacy with Israel came to virtual standstill.

The continued intervention of outside powers, which provide monetary and military support to one side or the other, further complicates the Fatah-Hamas split. Schanzer estimates that Iran provides Hamas with $35 million in annual support. The U.S. government supports Fatah mainly "so [Tehran does not] take over the Palestinian Authority as well."

Schanzer described the very separate nature of the two Palestinian territories today. The West Bank is "flourishing," due to the economic influence of Jordan. Meanwhile, Gaza, in which the Egyptians had failed to invest, is "the exact opposite" with people living in "squalor." Because of the geographic, economic and political differences between the two territories, Schanzer questions the potential for realizing a single Palestinian state.

But there are limits to the conflict between Fatah and Hamas. After all, both of their charters still call for the destruction of the State of Israel. However the conflict between Fatah and Hamas concludes, Schanzer asks, "With whom will the Israelis be able to make peace?"

Summary Account by Eric Bergel

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.



Sunday, December 7, 2008

The United Islamist Nations

by Supna Zaidi

Last week, the attacks in India and the threat to New York City's subway system provided another stark reminder of the need for a united front against global terrorism. Yet instead of figuring out how to combat Islamic extremists, the United Nations is worried about offending them.

On November 24, 2008, the U.N. passed a draft resolution against the defamation of religion sponsored by the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), where all U.N. members are being asked to pass domestic legislation against blasphemy. The resolution was originally introduced in 1999 by the OIC, asserting that "Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism."

In reality, terrorism happens in Islam's name, or more accurately, in Islamism's name. Islamism is a 20th century product arising from the writings of sincere Muslims such as Hasan al-Banna and Syed Qutb. Frustrated by the fallen status of Muslims vis-à-vis the West, they offered a new version of Islam as a totalitarian socio-political alternative to democracy and Western license. Disparate followers from Osama bin Laden, Hezbollah and Hamas to the Jihadis that waged war on Mumbai last week are not deranged or crazy. Rather, they subscribe to a worldview that is antithetical to most Muslims and the West.

The OIC nations charge critics of Islamic extremism with "racism" and "Islamophobia" to deflect attention from the fact that such violence originates at the hand of Muslim clerics born and bread in their lands. This is because they realize they can't control Islamism, or they tacitly agree with its message.

These Muslim clerics also export this ideology to the West to radicalize Muslim immigrants abroad, and reform-minded Muslims are usually the first victims.

Kadra Noor was beat up in 2007 for speaking out against "Islamic" female genital mutilation in Norway. In Sweden, cabinet minister Nyamko Sabuni proposed that honor killings be labeled a separate crime in the Swedish penal code and girls get mandatory gynecological exams to discourage female circumcision. She also told the Sunday Times that arranged marriages are not a part of Islam.

As a result, she was called an "Islamophobe" and instead of supporting her, 50 Islamic Swedish organizations petitioned against her appointment to the cabinet in an effort to suppress her growing influence in Swedish politics.

Pakistan, spokesman for the OIC, recently promoted a politician to minister of education after he defended the live burial of five girls in Balochistan as "tribal custom." It is not a stretch to argue that Pakistan is not an OIC member interested in reform.

The 2005 Danish cartoon controversy kick-started the OIC campaign to pass last month's resolution when it was cited as another example of increased discrimination against Muslims after 9/11. The "cartoon intifada" arose 5 months after the original printing of the images of Muhammad, but only weeks before the UNHCR was due to consider the OIC's resolution on "Combating Defamation of Religion."

Such a coincidence caused the National Secular Society to state in its Memorandum to the United Kingdom Parliament that "the Danish cartoon crisis was manufactured…to exploit sensitivities around racial discrimination and to promote (or even exaggerate) the notion of 'Islamophobia' in order to restrict possibilities for open discussion or criticism of Islam….[M]easures calling for legislation banning 'defamation of religion' …. aim[] to remove religion, especially Islam, from public scrutiny and public debate."

The OIC forgets that Muslims are already protected in the West. The U.S., for example, increases sentences on crimes ranging from assault and battery to murder if they are deemed "hate crimes," which includes crimes against a victim based on his or her religious identity.

So what is this 57-nation organization really pushing with this "anti-blasphemy" resolution at the U.N.?

In the Muslim world, anti-blasphemy laws are regularly used to suppress free speech by attacking fellow Muslims and non-Muslims who criticize the government or protest human rights violations. Such laws are also used as pretext against individuals in personal and business disputes. The mere allegation puts mobs before the accused before the police can arrive to investigate.

At the U.N., the OIC has manipulated the language of racism to make its anti-democratic agenda more attractive to "third world" nations recovering from their own genuine post-colonial struggles. Nations that voted in favor of the resolution or abstained were predominantly from Latin America or developing African nations.

A final version of the resolution is up for a vote this month. It would be a mistake for these U.N. members to fall for anti-colonial rhetoric once again. By aligning with Islamists, the U.N. would be supporting the stifling of free speech and the suppression of human rights, and crushing the goal of building tolerant democratic societies.

Supna Zaidi is the assistant director of Islamist Watch, a project at the Middle East Forum.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.