Sunday, April 22, 2007

Ibn Warraq on the roots of Islamic antisemitism

Writing in Global Politician, Ibn Warraq, the pseudonym of a US-based author from an Indian-Muslim family, says that the claim that Jews found greater tolerance in the Arab world than in Europe is false. In fact, antisemitism's roots in the region go back to Muhammed himself.

"Is Islamic antisemitism only a modern phenomenon? What of the so-called Golden Age of Islamic tolerance, above all as depicted in Islamic Spain? Here the willingness to accept the clichés of the Romantics is palpable. And those whom we expect to have done their own research and not merely to accept, and pass on, these clichés, so often disappoint.

"Consider the case of Amartya Sen, a celebrated economist, and winner of the Nobel Prize. Sen has in recent years written on subjects outside his normal area of research. Unfortunately, he seems not to have bothered to check his history, something which would have been easy given the resources available to him.

"Here is how Amartya Sen treats, for example, the Myth of Maimonides. Amartya Sen tells us twice in his book Identity and Violence that when “..the Jewish Philosopher Maimonides was forced to emigrate from an intolerant Europe in the twelfth century, he found a tolerant refuge in the Arab world.” 1 I do not know how to characterize this misinterpretation of history- “willful,” “grotesque,” “dishonest” or “typical?” It is certainly an indication that in the present intellectual climate that one can denigrate Europe any way one wishes, to the point of distorting history, without, evidently, any one of the distinguished scholars who blurbed the book raising an eyebrow. Ironically, the one reviewer who did object to Sen's “potted history” which “is tailored for interfaith dialogues” was Fouad Ajami in The Washington Post. Ajami reminded Sen that

...this will not do as history. Maimonides, born in 1135, did not flee "Europe" for the "Arab world": He fled his native Córdoba in Spain, which was then in the grip of religious-political terror, choking under the yoke of a Berber Muslim dynasty, the Almohads, that was to snuff out all that remained of the culture of conviviencia and made the life of Spain's Jews (and of the free spirits among its Muslims) utter hell. Maimonides and his family fled the fire of the Muslim city-states in the Iberian Peninsula to Morocco and then to Jerusalem. There was darkness and terror in Morocco as well, and Jerusalem was equally inhospitable in the time of the Crusader Kingdom. Deliverance came only in Cairo -- the exception, not the rule, its social peace maintained by the enlightened Saladin."

Read article in full

An apology for Koranic antisemitism? by Andrew Bostom

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