Tuesday, October 05, 2010

A masterful tale of Jews under Muslim rule

This flattering review of Sir Martin Gilbert's new book comes from Paul Bennett, in the Canadian newspaper The Chronicle Herald. The book masterfully reconstructs a largely forgotten story, he writes:

The Middle East is a tinder box and sparks fly whenever the shared history of Muslims and Jews is on the table for discussion. The recent furor over the proposed mosque near Ground Zero in New York City showed just how intense the raging public debate can become. And whenever the debate arises, the focus is almost always on the plight of the Palestinians and the West’s mistreatment of Muslims.

While most Canadians are painfully aware of the Palestinian struggle, much lesser known is the Mideast refugee crisis that accompanied the 1948 birth of Israel. That crisis involved the forced exodus of over 800,000 Jews from their centuries-old homes throughout the Arab world. These thousands of exiles sought refuge from Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen, Aden, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco.

Martin Gilbert’s latest book, In Ishmael’s House, sheds new light on the often neglected history of Jews in Muslim–ruled territories. The book’s title derives from Old Testament biblical tradition where Jews and Muslims are said to share a common ancestry as descendants of sons of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael. In this epic story, we discover a host of distinctly different Jewish communities, some of which existed 1,000 years before Islam. Living as a minority, they too faced persecution and marginalization in Muslim societies over the past 1,400 years.

The noted Jewish scholar Gilbert, famous as the official biographer of Winston Churchill, has produced a polished, elegantly written, exhaustively documented history of the Jews living under Islamic rule. It is a worthy addition to his amazing catalogue of over 80 published books, including a few outstanding historical atlases of the modern world.

Gilbert and Princeton University’s Bernard Lewis, author of the international bestseller What Went Wrong? (2002), are the leading Western experts on Middle Eastern studies. While Lewis probes into the history of Islam, Gilbert tends to specialize in the history of the world wars, the Holocaust, and the Jewish experience.

In Ishmael’s House masterfully reconstructs a largely forgotten story. While Muslims are fond of recalling how Jews once lived in peace among them, this book presents a starkly different perspective. His emphasis is on the conditions that kept the Jews as second-class citizens, or dhimmis, even when they were not subject to outright persecution.

Gilbert’s book does much to revive the facts of the earlier Jewish struggle. He traces the subjugation of the Jews back to 628 AD and the Muslim prophet Mohammed’s victory over Medina’s Jews at the Khaibar Oasis. It was Khaibar, according to Gilbert, that marked the beginning of dhimmitude under Sharia law. Although non-Muslims were offered protection, it was conditional upon accepting "a state of subjugation and fealty."

The Jews were also treated as a tribe apart in Muslim societies. In the early 700s, Omar Abd al-Azziz introduced the Covenant of Omar under which the Jews were clearly segregated in Muslim communities. Under this regime, dhimmis were protected, but they were also forbidden from building synagogues, riding horses or employing a Muslim.

The Jewish struggle continued into the 20th century and then Arab hostility grew much worse. Well before Israel’s creation, Jews were targeted as enemies. In 1910, mobs ransacked 5,000 Jewish homes in the now Iranian city of Shiraz. The Yemeni leader Imam Yahya enforced a lapsed public decree in 1922 aimed at converting Jewish orphans to Islam. In 1936, Nazi influence was so entrenched in Iraq that Jews were restricted in access to public schools, banned from teaching Hebrew and denied freedom of the press.

Anti-Semitism was rife throughout the world after the creation of Israel and even worse following the Six Day War of 1967. By the 1970s, over 800,000 Jews had been exiled from Arab countries, their property seized, a loss valued at $100-billion or more.

The large majority of Jewish exiles settled in Israel. Their claims and appeals at the United Nations were debated but eventually rebuffed. In the 1970s, the UN turned against Israel, culminating in the 1975 General Assembly resolution condemning Zionism as "racism and racial discrimination."

Read article in full

More reviews here, here, here, here, here, here and here


Independent Observer said...

By my own arithmetic, the number of Jews to have fled the Muslim world is far more than 800,000 -- actually, about 970,000 of 1,010,000.

The 40,000 remaining are spread principally among Iran, Turkey, and Morocco.

Of the 970,000 refugees, approximately 750,000 went to Israel, and the remainder to France and other countries.

Sylvia said...

I bought the book and glanced through the end. I am extremely disappointed. It seems as if all the attacks on Jews that took place after 1948 were all related to the birth of Israel. It wasn't so. And so he has skipped over - or has missed entire tranches of history where the triggers for the attacks on Jews were the consequence of strictly internal political turmoil (I am referring to Morocco August 1953 and August 1955).

But I must say I haven't read all the book yet. Perhaps this part is tucked somewhere.

bataween said...

Doubt you will find this part anywhere. Sir Martin tells stories, he does not analyse the causes of events, except in a very superficial way.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

This is a very big subject and it needs a lot of research and a lot of synthesis of existing knowledge. I hope that Gilbert's book will be like a beginning, an introduction to the subject, a catalyst for further study.

good churrasco ó auto de café.... said...

Why were we Iraqi, Greek, Spanish, ethiopian, und so weiter citizens by birth left out of the race is to obtain foreign passports?

WE are not askenazi jews

Moroccan jews live free of fear
in Mauritania things going sour

it's life
1,500 millions of muslins
and 20 million jews

in war since 1948
with more than five million refugees from palestine and sinai

what you expect

should i stay or should i go?