Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Dilemmas of dhimmitude revisited

This comprehensive overview of Arab-Jewish relations by Lyn Julius, written in 2005, has recently been posted on the Meretz-USA website as part of its series on Jews in Arab lands. It is worth revisiting, but the author's optimism regarding the democratisation of the Arab world and the enforcement of minority rights seems misplaced now that President Bush's democracy project seems to have run out of steam.

"Last year [2004], the Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafy invited the Jews of Libya to ‘come home’. In October, a Jewish delegation did return for the first time in almost 40 years - and was well received. They wished to visit their roots, renew business ties, seek the restoration of Jewish communal sites and compensation for lost property. (A follow-up visit of some 20 Israelis of Libyan origin was scheduled for March 2005, the first time Israeli citizens will have set foot on Libyan soil {the visit never took place - ed}.) And Libya, anxious to be rehabilitated in the post-Saddam era, seems eager to usher in a new era of reconciliation.

Yet this was not the first time the Libyan leader had asked the Jews to return to the land of their birth. When he made a similar offer in 1975 (‘Are you not Arabs like us, Arab Jews?’), Albert Memmi, the Tunisian-born French writer and intellectual [whom we know also as a supporter of left Zionism -- ed.], scoffed:

"Yes, indeed we were Arab Jews – in our habits, in our culture, our music, our menu. But must one remain an Arab Jew if, in return, one has to tremble for one’s life and the future of one’s children and always be denied a normal existence? We would have liked to be Arab Jews. If we abandoned the idea, it is because over the centuries the Muslim Arabs systematically prevented its realization by their contempt and cruelty."

Click here to read this entire enlightening article online (first published on the Jewish Quarterly Web site)

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