Friday, March 22, 2013

The onward march of monoculturalism

 Jewish musicians in Morocco  (photo: JIMENA)

Not content with driving out their minorities, Arab states are denying that Jews ever had a presence there.  The mere mention of the word Jew has become offensive. Seth Frantzman writing in the Jerusalem Post blames the rise of Arab socialism for the onward march of 'monoculturalism'. I would rather pin the blame a national and religious fascism, beginning in the 1930s,  that cannot tolerate the 'other'.

In 1948 there were 250,000 Jews in Morocco. Today there are less than 4,000. Across North Africa most ancient and important Jewish communities vanished in the years 1940 to 1970. In February, when “Tanghir-Jerusalem, echoes of the mellah” was shown at a theater in Tangier a crowd of several hundred gathered to protest it. The film was by Kamal Hachkar and sought to explore the history of Jews who had left Morocco to settle in Israel. In March Egypt banned the screening of a film about the Jews of Egypt. Like Hachkar’s film, the documentary traced the lives of Egyptian Jews up through the 1950s when the community left the country.

Throughout North Africa, and the rest of the Muslim world, there is a rejection of the mention of Jewish history in the region. At the same time there is a slow, grinding destruction of whatever vestiges of historical Jewish life remain. For instance, the Eliahu Hanabi synagogue in Damascus, which dates from the 8th century, was badly damaged in fighting on March 3. On January 27, 68 gravestones were defaced and destroyed in the Jewish cemetery of the town of Sousse in Tunisia.

Raphael Luzon, a Libyan Jew, was arrested in July of last year for returning to the country to try to refurbish a synagogue.

It isn’t enough that the Jewish communities don’t exist any longer in these countries, the people also seek to erase the idea that they ever existed.

This pattern of “monoculturalism,” the advancement of the history and existence of only one culture, has been on the march throughout the region. In the 1950s many large cities in the Middle East were bustling, diverse metropolises. For instance, Tunis was 20 percent Jewish, and 100,000 Italians and 13,000 Maltese also lived in and around the capital city.

Alexandria had large communities of Armenians, Greeks, Maltese, and people from all over the world. Today those communities are gone, their properties nationalized since they were categorized as “foreigners.”

The hatred toward them smoldered in the hearts of some of the local Muslim population.

In the fascinating book Jewish Culture and Society in North Africa, one writer notes, “Within the context of military rivalry [of the 1940s] Italophobia grew... Muslims also accused the 13,000 Maltese of Tunisia of being lackeys of British imperialism.” In the conspiracy-laden Arab world, hatred of the other was cultivated, so that each group that was not Muslim was accused of being a collaborator with some outside power, or accused of having too much financial power.

When people write about the destruction and vanishing of every ancient minority group in the Middle East, from Assyrian Christians to Iraqi Yazidis, we see behind this a policy of monoculturalism. But what is fascinating is the degree to which these societies that have homogeniezed themselves by deracinating Jews and others from their homes in the 1950s and 1960s, now also reject the notion that Jews ever existed in their country.

Egypt and Morocco’s reaction to similar films is but one example. Another example is the banning by Egypt of Jewish pilgrimage to the tomb of Rabbi Ya’akov Abuhatzeira. A Cairo court forbade the pilgrimages while a local mukhtar noted, “We prohibit Jews from visiting the tomb because we identify with the Palestinian people and because we do not want to offend the Egyptian public’s sensitivities.”

Similarly in Morocco the protestors shouted against “normalization” with Israel.

The “sensitivities” in the region are so extreme that even a movie about history or a pilgrimage is so offensive that it must be banned. The mere mention of a community that, while it lived among the majority population was subjected to insults, discrimination and harassment, is considered unacceptable. Imagine American “sensitivities” according to which the very mention of the fact that American Indians ever existed, let alone were killed and driven from their homes, was “offensive.”

Although in some ways the Arab Spring has made this monoculturalizing tendency more visible, it has its origins in the rise of Arab socialism in the 1950s.

Read article in full

Mark Steyn: Islam is king on a field of corpses


Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

This is a good article by Frantzman. On the issue of "monoculturalism" I agree that it goes back at least to the 1930s, when Arab political movements were modeled on German Nazism especially, as well as on Italian fascism and Spanish Falangismo. But we can reconcile Frantzman's blaming it on "Arab socialism" and your blaming it on fascist influence. The German Nazis after all were National Socialists. In the 1930s, Arabs founded such parties as the Baath in imitation of the Nazis. Indeed, another Arab party called itself "the Syrian National Socialist Party", sometimes called "social nationalist" in order to mislead the reader into thinking that it was not modeled on the Nazis. Both parties are still active. The SNSP [or SSNP] is used as a tool of the Syrian Assad regime in Lebanon.
Furthermore, we are all likely aware that the British-appointed mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el-Husseini, was not only a Nazi collaborator but collaborated in the Holocaust.

Anonymous said...


I'm not sure that Hassan Al Banna, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928 did so because he was inspired by European fascist movements, although the theocratic fascists from both confessionals quickly became best buds.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

I believe that the traditional governmental system in Muslim states is actually an occupation regime that was put in place after the Arab conquest and other Muslim conquests in order to control the native subject peoples who might revolt, it was feared. Be that as it may, there are differences between fascism as it developed in Europe --and in its unique Nazi German variant-- and traditional Islam or even Islam in its MB form. Arieh Stav has discussed these differences while acknowledging much basic similarity.
I know that the MB was founded in 1928 by Tarik Ramadan's granfather [el-Banna]. The chief motive for the founding, or One of them, was that Ataturk had abolished the caliphate which Sunni Muslims had looked up to for centuries. In my first comment above I was thinking about the supposedly secular Arab nationalist and Syrian nationalist movements, such as Ba`ath, SNSP, the Free Officers and the Green Shirts in Egypt, etc.