On June 5, 2009, Dr. Andrew Bostom was interviewed on WHJJ’s Helen Glover Show, Providence, R.I., about Obama’s June 4 Cairo speech.
Dr Andrew Bostom is Associate Professor of Medicine at Brown University. He is the author of The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims (2005) and The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn History (2008). The interview took place on November 14, 2008.
Personal and Intellectual History
Alan Johnson: How does a medical doctor come to produce books on Islam, Jihad and antisemitism?
Andrew Bostom: It’s pretty straightforward. The stimulus was 9/11. Until then I was an average citizen trying to keep abreast of world events. I am not particularly religious as a Jew though I certainly support the state of Israel. But I grew up in New York, living in Queens most of my life, and I went to medical school in Brooklyn. My wife and I still have family in New York City, so the day of 9/11 itself was traumatic, trying to make sure everyone was OK. A colleague’s wife was in the second tower. She was very lucky, barely getting out before it collapsed. On the way home I grabbed a book by Karen Armstrong about Islam. I was reading it and commenting to my wife that it just didn’t seem to jibe. (I learnt later that Armstrong is a notorious apologist.) As I read it out loud my wife was just laughing. I didn’t find it particularly funny. Nor the news reports over the next days that were transparently apologetic. And I was alarmed at stories that appeared in the New York Times (and other New York area newspapers) about an Egyptian Imam who was preaching at a large Mosque in Manhattan, and spreading conspiracy theories about Jews leaving the world trade centre in advance of the attacks, due to their ‘prior knowledge.’ So I started reading independently. A small book by Yossef Bodansky, a terrorism expert, discussed Islamic antisemitism as a political instrument, and referenced the work of Bat Ye’or on the Dhimmi. I got that book by Bat Ye’or, and everything else she has written in English – all her books, essays, and published lectures. I met Bat Ye’or after a correspondence with Daniel Pipes and brought her to Brown to give a guest lecture. She became a very close mentor, and introduced me to Ibn Warraq and that’s how things started. I had begun writing short essays within a year of 9/11. Ibn Warraq resided with us in 2003, for a time, and he encouraged me to consider a book project. I was increasingly interested in the Jihad and it was with Warraq’s support that I put that first book together.
Part 1: ‘Islamic Antisemitism’
Alan Johnson: Your new book, The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism, is a 766 page collection of primary and secondary sources, some translated into English for the first time, about the relationship of Islam and antisemitism. It is prefaced by a 200-page interpretive essay written by you. Let’s begin with your controversial conclusion. Here it is:
A widely prevalent conception of Islam’s doctrinal and historical treatment of Jews rests on two false pillars … (I) In Islamic society hostility to the Jew is non-theological. It is not related to any specific Islamic doctrine, nor to any specific circumstance in Islamic history. For Muslims it is not part of the birth-pangs of their religion, as it is for Christians. (II) ‘…’dhimmi’-tude [derisively hyphenated] subservience and persecution and ill treatment of Jews… is a myth.’] (…) [This] sham castle of glib affirmations – must be swept away if the enduring phenomenon of Islamic antisemitism is to be properly understood.’
This claim is unusual. Yes, anyone paying attention knows antisemitism is widespread in the Arabic and Islamic world. Holocaust denial is rife, blaming ‘the Jews’ for 9/11 is common, and as MEMRI has shown, annihilationist sentiments against Jews are routinely expressed in sermons, cartoons, and in the Arabic mass media (even if the mainstream western media is by and large uninterested and uncomprehending about all this). However, most commentators think Islam is a religion of peace that has been hijacked by extremists. Most think the surge in antisemitism is a legacy of modern European antisemitism and the Arab-Israeli conflict. For example, Esther Webman, of Tel Aviv University’s Dayan Center, has written that ‘antisemitism did not exist in the traditional Islamic world…. antisemitism is, in fact, a relatively new phenomenon in the Arab world.’ Lawrence Wright, in his Pulitzer Prize winning book The Looming Tower, claimed that ‘Until the end of World War II…Jews lived safely – although submissively – under Muslim rule for 1,200 years, enjoying full religious freedom; but in the 1930s, Nazi propaganda on Arabic-language short-wave radio, coupled with slanders by Christian missionaries in the region, infected the area with this ancient Western prejudice [antisemitism].’ Matthias Kuntzel, talking to Democratiya, stated that it was ‘[d]uring the Thirties and Forties [that] Islamist anti-modernism was poisoned by the Nazi antisemitic mind-set.’
But you reject all this. You claim contemporary antisemitism in the Muslim world
is rooted in the foundational texts of Islam itself. Can you please set out your case?
Andrew Bostom: Well, you hit the nail on the head. I do think those conceptions
are the heart of the problem. They are – how can I put this? – factually-challenged
conceptions. They are usually affirmed without substantive proofs being given. The
actual data, I think, provides a negative proof. It reminds me of a scene in Woody
Allen’s film Sleeper. Allen portrays Miles Monroe, the owner of a health food
store in Greenwich Village who is cryogenically frozen and he wakes up 20 years
in the future. In one scene he is confronted by two doctors, one of whom is very
authoritative and claims to be possessed ‘of what we know to be true.’ He offers
Miles a cigarette saying ‘Here, smoke this, and be sure you get the smoke deep down
into your lungs. Its tobacco, one of the healthiest things for your body.’
There are incontrovertible and overwhelming hard data – pathological and
epidemiological – which demonstrate a major causative role for smoking in both
the predominant form of lung cancer (i.e., adenocarcinoma), and premature
coronary heart disease. I believe smoking is to these diseases as the Islam in Islamic
antisemitism is to this scourge of Jew-hatred, past and present. It is as destructive
to our social and moral health to deny this reality, as it is to human public health
disease prevention efforts to deny the causative link between cigarette smoking
and adenocarcinoma of the lung, or premature coronary heart disease. That’s
what I came to conclude from doing my own research for The Legacy of Islamic
Alan Johnson: And how did you come to write the book?
Andrew Bostom: I had not intended Islamic antisemitism to be the subject of
my second book. After finishing my book on the Jihad, I wanted to do a book
about all the subject peoples under Islam – what Bat Ye’or has accurately called the
‘civilisation of dhimmitude.’ So I began analysing writings about the condition of
Hindus and Buddhists subjugated by Jihad on the Indian subcontinent. I looked
at the relatively progressive period, under the Mughul ruler Akbar the Great. He
began as a pious Jihadist and waged very bloody campaigns against the Hindus,
but something changed in the course of his rule. He became much more tolerant
of Hindus, abolished the Jizya (the Koranic poll-tax, pace Koran 9:29; jizya means,
‘the tax paid in lieu of being slain’) appointed Hindus to administrative positions,
and seems to have become a Muslim-Hindu syncretist in his personal religious
beliefs. This led to a brief flowering of Hindu society. His reforms were violently
opposed by the Muslim ulema, and I was reading an anti-Hindu tract by an Indian
Sufi Muslim theologian named Sirhindi who died in 1621. The tract contained a
line that just jumped out at me. ‘Whenever a Jew is killed it is for the benefit of
Islam.’ I tried to get whatever biographical materials I could on Sirhindi and I could
find no evidence that he had had any physical contact with Jews. This astonished
I wanted to understand where the anti-Jewish animus came from, and that led me to the project on Islamic antisemitism. And as with the project on Jihad, I was led back to the sacred texts – the Koran, the Hadith and the Sira (the earliest pious Muslim biographies of the Prophet) – and to the juridical texts. I began to see clearly that alongside the general attitude to non-Muslims there was a specific anti-Jewish animus, which comes from the foundational texts.
Alan Johnson: And you think that is not widely understood?
Andrew Bostom: Well, I discovered to just what extent this truth is still not
understood when I sent round the anti-Jewish sections of a polemic written by
Arabic writer al-Jahiz, who died in 869, to a range of writers, think tank denizens,
activists and others. Here is the extract I sent round, with the questions, ‘In your
opinion would this quote reflect racial or at least ethnic antisemitism?’ and ‘Would
you please hazard a guess as to where and when it was written?’:
Our people [the Muslims] observing thus the occupations of the Jews
and the Christians concluded that the religion of the Jews must compare
unfavourably as do their professions, and that their unbelief must be the
foulest of all, since they are the filthiest of all nations. Why the Christians,
ugly as they are, are physically less repulsive than the Jews may be explained by
the fact that the Jews, by not intermarrying, have intensified the offensiveness
of their features. Exotic elements have not mingled with them; neither have
males of alien races had intercourse with their women, nor have their men
cohabited with females of a foreign stock. The Jewish race therefore has been
denied high mental qualities, sound physique, and superior lactation. The
same results obtain when horses, camels, donkeys, and pigeons are inbred.
The responses were remarkable, reflecting the power of the two false pillars (i.e. the
belief that Islam is somehow devoid of theological antisemitism, and the belief that
dhimmitude is a myth). One said, ‘Of course its antisemitism of the most vile racist
stripe which leads me to think it dates from the 19th century at the earliest. It also
sounds like the sort of thing one would read in the popular antisemitic literature of
the Edwardian period, so my guess is c 1830-1920.’ Another wrote, ‘I imagine this
was written under the influence of modern theories of racial superiority. I’d say a
sermon in a Gaza mosque this past Friday.’ Here is what some of the others wrote:
‘How about The Mufti of Jerusalem c 1940?’ ‘How about last week from one of the
Mullahs in the UK?’ ‘It’s the usual modern boiler-plate from the Middle East.’ And
In fact the author, al-Jahiz, died in 869. The background to the passage is interesting.
Al-Jahiz had been commissioned by a notoriously bigoted Caliph al-Mutawakkil
(who crushed the Mutazilite experiment – itself wrought with brutal intolerance,
and returned to a more traditional, ‘revelation-based’ Islam) to write an anti-
Christian polemic. Due to the presence of neighbouring Christian kingdoms, most
notably Byzantium, al-Mutawakkil saw the Christians as a potential threat, not the
Jews. However, the Caliph noticed that the Muslim masses harboured much more
hatred for the Jews than they did for the Christians. So he commissioned Al-Jahiz
to write a polemic against the Christians. But in the polemic Al-Jahiz wrote about
why the Christians were more liked than the Jews. He highlighted the Koranic
verse 5:82, Muhammad’s interactions with the Jews of Medina, and the anti-
Jewish motifs of the Sira, the early pious biographies of Muhammad. Verse 5:82,
he thought, was the most important anti-Jewish Koranic motif – the idea that it
is the Jews who harbour the greatest hatred for the Muslims. It is this, he thought,
which was inspiring the Muslim masses to hate the Jews. I found corroboration of
al-Jahiz’s opinion from his Sufi contemporary al-Muhasibi, who died in 857. He
also observed that the Jews were more hated by the Muslims than the Christians,
but thought it was because of their stubborn denial of Muhammad’s message.
All this occurred a millennium before serious colonial penetration of the region. My
correspondents – who were educated and respected people – were pathognomonic
of this lack of understanding about the real roots of Islamic antisemitism.
Another piece of evidence comes from the greatest scholar of Muslim-Jewish
relations in the high Middle Ages, S.D. Goitein. He is our leading authority of the
famous Geniza record, an important collection of letters, sacred texts, etc., stored
in Cairo and first brought to scholarly and public attention by Solomon Schechter.
The Geniza is a particularly detailed and important record of the period from 950-
1250 CE. Goitein’s remarkable scholarship demonstrates that the Jews of this era
had coined their own terms for hatred directed at them, specifically, by Muslims
in the high Middle Ages. Goitein argues cogently that this is prima facie evidence
that there was already a unique form of Islamic anti-Jewish hatred a millennium
ago. I agree with him, and I link Goitein’s work on what the Jews were experiencing
then, including the unique terms they coined – sinuth for Muslim hatred of Jews,
and sone for the Muslim hater – with what the Muslim masses themselves were
expressing, pace al-Jahiz and al-Muhasibi. These are independent, confirmatory
pieces of evidence from Muslim and Jewish sources.
Alan Johnson: Which are the most important antisemitic motifs in the
foundational texts, as you see it?
Andrew Bostom: I think 5:82 is an important motif but it is hardly the most
important. The central anti-Jewish motif in the Koran is found in verse 2:61,
repeated at verse 3:112. This is where the Jews are accused of slaying the Prophets
and transgressing against the will of Allah, and so they are condemned and cursed
eternally. Verse 2.61 says ‘shame and misery’ are ‘stamped upon them.’ And this verse
is coupled to verses like 5:60, and other verses about the Jews being transformed
into apes and pigs, which is part of their curse. Verse 5:78 describes the curse upon
the Jews by David and Jesus, Mary’s son. There is a related verse, 5:64, which accuses
the Jews of being spreaders of war and corruption, a sort of ancient antecedent
of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. (Palestinian Authority President Mahmud
Abbas cited this verse during a diatribe against the Jews of Israel, in 2007.) More
generally, the Koran’s overall discussion of the Jews is marked by a litany of their
sins and punishments, as if part of a divine indictment, conviction, and punishment
Alan Johnson: Some would say the seventh century is a long time ago.
Andrew Bostom: These central motifs are still being taught. That’s the point. There
is no large and respected corpus of reformist doctrine that has given alternative ways
to understand these verses. I’ll give you an example. Maulana Mufti Muhammad
Shafi (d. 1976) was one of the founders of the fundamentalist Deoband movement,
now touted by some as ‘moderate’ following its recent issuance of a faint hearted
condemnation of terrorism. Mufti Muhammad Shafi was also a seminal figure in
what became Pakistani jurisprudence and wrote one of the most important Koranic
commentaries of the 20th century. In Shafi’s commentary he shows that verse 5:78
and its related verse 5:77 are directed at the Jews who have strayed from the right
path. And that theme is there in the opening sura of the Koran, verse 1:7, which
pious Muslims recite five times daily. The Jews have strayed from the path of Allah,
must bear His wrath, and they are eternally cursed. That’s the classical exegesis.
Maulana Mufti Muhammad Shafi outlines the following ‘temporal’ arrangements,
and specific associations with the Biblical figures David, Jesus, and Moses,
culminating in a curse upon the Jews by Muhammad himself (albeit Muhammad’s
curse would be a reference to the sira, specifically): Sha-fi wrote:
Firstly, it [the Koranic curse] came through the tongue of Dawud [David]
as a result of which they were transformed into swines. Then, this curse fell
upon them through the tongue of Isa [the Muslim Jesus] the temporal effect
of which was that they were transformed into monkeys…the fact is that
the curse on them began with Musa [Moses] and ended at the Last among
Prophets [Muhammad]. Thus, the curse which overtook those, who were
hostile to prophets or were guilty of acting excessively by making prophets
sharers in Divine attributes, was wished verbally by four prophets one after
These antisemitic motifs are very consistent in classical scholarship, and are not just
some modern aberrant interpretation of Islam.
Alan Johnson: So why, in your view, is this doctrine (and related history) so little
Andrew Bostom: One reason is that some respected modern historians have
minimised it, or ignored it entirely. For example, Bernard Lewis, in a recent essay
(‘The New Antisemitism,’ American Scholar, 2006) claims that ‘…’dhimmi’-tude
[derisively hyphenated] subservience and persecution and ill treatment of Jews…
is a myth.’ One of my concerns, Alan – and this is why the book had to be so long,
as was the Jihad book before it – is that, with all due respect to Professor Lewis, his
real expertise is not the study of Jihad, or the Dhimmi condition, and certainly not
the study of Islamic antisemitism. His major scholarship is about how Ottoman
Turkey emerged into the modern Turkish republic. He also did an interesting
analysis of the Ismailis. But he came to study Islamic antisemitism and dhimmitude
in the twilight of his career, and in my humble opinion, his examination of these
subjects is very superficial, and apologetic.
So we need to attend to other voices, to the real historians of the interrelated subjects
of antisemitism and dhimmitude. And that’s why Vajda’s magisterial 1937 essay on
the antisemitic motifs in the hadith – which is translated into English for the first
time in The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism – is so important. Vajda, and before him
Hartwig Hirschfeld, who wrote seminal essays during the 1880s on Muhammad’s
interaction with the Jews of Medina as depicted in the sira, are the serious historians
of this subject matter, but they have a very different take than Professor Lewis. And
if we fast forward to more modern times, there is an important essay from Haggai
Ben-Shammai on Koranic Jew hatred that also flies in the face of Lewis’ rather
simplistic, bowdlerized summary. As for the historical evidence of both specific
Islamic antisemitism (mentioned earlier), and dhimmitude, S.D. Goitein, the
greatest scholar of Muslim-Jewish relations, also disagrees with Lewis’ trivializing,
summary conceptions. Contra Lewis, here is Goitein’s summary assessment of the
dhimmi condition, from 1970:
…in general, taxation [by the Muslim government] was merciless, and
a very large section of the population must have lived permanently at the
starvation level. From many Geniza letters one gets the impression that the
poor were concerned more with getting money for the payment of their
taxes than for food and clothing, for failure of payment usually induced cruel
punishment… An Islamic state was part of or coincided with dar al-Islam,
the House of Islam. Its treasury was mal al-muslumin, the money of the
Muslims. Christians and Jews were not citizens of the state, not even second
class citizens. They were outsiders under the protection of the Muslim state,
a status characterized by the term dhimma, for which protection they had
to pay a poll tax specific to them. They were also exposed to a great number
of discriminatory and humiliating laws…As it lies in the very nature of such
restrictions, soon additional humiliations were added, and before the second
century of Islam was out, a complete body of legislation in this matter was in
existence…In times and places in which they became too oppressive they lead
to the dwindling or even complete extinction of the minorities.
I paid careful attention to the writings of these great Jewish scholars – Hirschfeld,
Vajda, and Goitein – and discovered they all have a very different understanding
of Islamic antisemitism, and dhimmitude relative to Professor Lewis, based upon
much more serious scholarly analyses than Lewis ever undertook. Yes, there is a
mere passing citation of Vajda in Lewis’ book The Jews of Islam, but Lewis ignores
all of the specific details of Vajda’s remarkable scholarship. He doesn’t give Vajda’s
work anywhere near its due. Lewis simply failed to do his homework.
Alan Johnson: In your view, the canonical Hadith – the authoritative record of the
doing and sayings of Muhammad – updates ‘the Koranic curse upon the Jews’ with
‘perfect archetypal logic,’ and these archetypes ‘sanction Muslim hatred towards the
Jews.’ Can you explain?
Andrew Bostom: Yes. In the canonical Hadith (Sunan Abu Dawoud, Book 37,
Number 4322) you have Muhammad himself reiterating this curse on the Jews.
But this central Koranic motif is linked to a whole litany of the Jews sins and
punishments – tantamount to a divine indictment, conviction, and punishment
process. Of course, the ultimate punishment is condemnation to the hell fires. It’s
much more of an in-your-face antisemitism than some of the allusive antisemitism
in the gospels. Following the Muslims conquest of the Jewish farming oasis of
Khaybar, the Hadith tell us that a vanquished Jewess gives poisoned mutton or
goat to Muhammad, eventually causing his protracted and agonising death. Ibn
Saad’s sira account maintains that this poisoning of Muhammad resulted from a
well-coordinated Jewish Conspiracy.
Alan Johnson: Let me offer some pretty standard objections to your reading of the
foundational texts, and invite your response.
First, can’t we contextualise the Koran and see those verses as part of a particular
historical moment when the new Muslim community and the Jews clashed over
land and power?
Second, can’t we look back on a long tradition of resistance to interpretive literalism
within Islam, going back to the debate between the rationalist Mu’tazilites and the
literalist ahl al-hadith in the eighth century? The literalists may have won but the
rationalists have always maintained a voice. Are we not dealing with a tussle over
meaning within Islam rather than a unified and antisemitic Islam?
Third, can’t we distinguish Muhammad from what came after Muhammad? Reza
Aslan, in his book No God But God, argues that Muhammad saw Christians, Jews
and Muslims as sharing a single divine scripture composed of several books, and
constituting one Ummah – a ‘monotheistic pluralism.’ He claims Muhammad
initially aligned his community to the Jews, adopted Jewish rituals, married a Jew
and, at first, directed prayer towards Jerusalem. And in the first two centuries of
Islam, he points out, Muslims regularly read the Torah. It was the scholars of the
following century who rejected the notion of a single Ummah of which Jews and
Christians were a part, reclassifying them as ‘unbelievers.’ When these scholars
taught that the Koran superseded rather than supplemented the Torah and Gospels,
Aslan claims they were ‘in direct defiance of Muhammad’s example.’
Andrew Bostom: I’m not persuaded by any of these flimsy apologetics. And that’s
why in my book I didn’t just include the texts, and their interpretation by the most
important Muslim theologians and Jurists in commentaries, and legal opinions.
I also included the great Jewish historians compared to whom, frankly, people
like Reza Aslan can’t hold a candle. And these historians cannot be dismissed as
Zionists, attempting in any way to ‘justify the Zionist project,’ certainly not Hartwig
Hirschfeld writing in the 1880s, or Vajda in 1937.
First, in brief, I disagree entirely with the oversimplified characterization of the
Mutazilites as ‘rationalist freethinkers.’ The Mutazilites were pious Muslims
motivated by Islamic religious concerns, first and foremost. One of the preeminent
scholars of Islam, Ignaz Goldziher, has demonstrated that the Mutazilites
exhibited no real manifestation of liberated thinking, or any desire ‘…to throw
off chafing shackles, to the detriment of the rigorously orthodox [Islamic] view
of life.’ Moreover, the Mutazilites’ own orthodoxy was accompanied by fanatical
intolerance – they orchestrated the ‘Minha,’ the Muslim Inquisition under the
Abbasids. Goldziher has shown how the Mutazilites advocated jihad in all realms
where their doctrine was not ascendant, and were fully prepared to assassinate
those who refused to abide their formulations.
Returning to the crux of these apologetic arguments, they ignore the nature of the
Koranic revelation which includes abrogation, and the evolution of Muhammad’s
attitude: from being a proselytiser, to waging defensive war, to becoming a pious
and open Jihadist for whom the conquest and subjugation of the Jews was an aim –
because they rejected his message as he saw it.
Hartwig Hirschfeld is a more reliable guide. He wrote that Muhammad’s interaction
with the Jews was one of ‘mutual disappointment,’ and the results were predictably
disastrous for the latter. He wrote:
The Jews, for their part, were singularly disappointed in their expectations.
The way in which Muhammad understood revelation, his ignorance and his
clumsiness in religious questions in no way encouraged them to greet him as
their Messiah. He tried at first to win them over to his teachings by sweetness
and persuasion; they replied by posing once again the questions that they
had already asked him; his answers, filled with gross errors, provoked their
laughter and mockery. From this, of course, resulted a deep hostility between
Muhammad and the Jews, whose only crime was to pass a severe judgment on
the enterprise of this Arab who styled himself ‘God’s prophet’ and to find his
conduct ridiculous, his knowledge false, and his regulations thoughtless. This
judgment, which was well founded, was nevertheless politically incorrect,
and the consequences thereof inevitably would prove to be disastrous for a
minority that lacked direction or cohesion.
There is such clarity and intellectual honesty in Hirschfeld’s presentation compared
to the objections you raise (by Aslan et al), which are very much part of this Islamic
apologia that is belied by Islam’s own texts, as I demonstrate in detail in the book.
I’m afraid I just can’t buy these flaccid arguments.
Alan Johnson: With Muhammad in charge, all males of the Medinan Jewish
clan, the Banu Qurayzah, were beheaded, and the women and children of the clan
were sold into slavery. You take this event to express ‘Islamic antisemitism.’ But, as
you know, it has been subject to differing interpretations. Tariq Ramadan, in his
book The Messenger, argues that this event was not antisemitic as such, but was a
response to ‘treason … so serious … it would have led to the extermination of the
Muslims.’ Muhammad, writes Ramadan, had to send ‘a powerful message to all the
neighbouring tribes that betrayals and aggressions would henceforth be severely
punished.’ Reza Aslan, a secular and progressive writer, in No God But God, accepts
it was ‘a dreadful event’ but denies it was antisemitic. Karen Armstrong, has said, ‘…
(the massacre) cannot be seen as antisemitism … Muhammad had nothing against
the Jewish people …or the Jewish religion. The Koran continues to tell Muslims to
honour the People of the Book.’ In contrast, you think the massacre of the Medinan
Jews and the expulsion of the Khaybar Jews under the Second Caliph, ‘epitomised
permanent archetypal behaviour patterns Islamic law deemed appropriate to
Muslim interactions with Jews.’ Can you explain why you reached that conclusion?
Andrew Bostom: Muhammad’s failures or incomplete successes were consistently
recompensed by murderous attacks on the Jews. The Muslim prophet-warrior
developed a penchant for assassinating individual Jews, and destroying Jewish
communities – by expropriation and expulsion (Banu Quaynuqa and B. Nadir),
or massacring their men, and enslaving their women and children (Banu Qurayza).
Just before subduing the Medinan Jewish tribe Banu Qurayza and orchestrating the
mass execution of their adult males, Muhammad invoked perhaps the most striking
Koranic motif for the Jews debasement – he addressed these Jews, with hateful
disparagement, as ‘You brothers of apes.’ Subsequently, in the case of the Khaybar
Jews, Muhammad had the male leadership killed, and plundered their riches. The
terrorized Khaybar survivors – industrious Jewish farmers – became prototype
subjugated dhimmis whose productivity was extracted by the Muslims as a form
of permanent booty. (And according to the Muslim sources, even this tenuous
vassalage was arbitrarily terminated within a decade of Muhammad’s death when
Caliph Umar expelled the Jews of Khaybar.)
Muhammad’s brutal conquest and subjugation of the Medinan and Khaybar Jews,
and their subsequent expulsion by one of his companions, the (second) ‘Rightly
Guided’ Caliph Umar, epitomize permanent, archetypal behavior patterns Islamic
Law deemed appropriate to Muslim interactions with Jews. Vajda’s seminal analysis
of the anti-Jewish motifs in the hadith remains the definitive work on this subject.
Vajda concluded that according to the hadith stubborn malevolence is the Jews
defining worldly characteristic: rejecting Muhammad and refusing to convert to
Islam out of jealousy, envy and even selfish personal interest, lead them to acts of
treachery, in keeping with their inveterate nature: ‘…sorcery, poisoning, assassination
held no scruples for them.’ These archetypes sanction Muslim hatred towards the
Jews, and the admonition to at best, ‘subject [the Jews] to Muslim domination,’ as
dhimmis, treated ‘with contempt,’ under certain ‘humiliating arrangements.’
Two particularly humiliating ‘vocations’ that were imposed upon Jews by their
Muslim overlords in Yemen, and Morocco – where Jews formed the only substantive
non-Muslim dhimmi populations – merit elaboration.
Moroccan Jews were confined to ghettos in the major cities, such as Fez (since the
13th century) called mellah(s) (salty earth) which derives from the fact it was here
that they were forced to salt the decapitated heads of executed rebels for public
exposition. This brutally imposed humiliating practice – which could be enforced
even on the Jewish Sabbath – persisted through the late 19th century. Yemenite
Jews had to remove human faeces and other waste matter (urine which failed to
evaporate, etc.) from Muslim areas, initially in Sanaa, and later in other communities
such as Shibam, Yarim, and Dhamar. Decrees requiring this obligation were issued
in the late 18th or early 19th century, and re-introduced in 1913.
Alan Johnson: How about Muslim Spain?
Andrew Bostom: When the Jews were perceived as having exceeded the rightful
bounds of this subjected relationship, as in mythically ‘tolerant’ Muslim Spain, the
results were predictably tragic. The Granadan Jewish viziers Samuel Ibn Naghrela,
and his son Joseph, who protected the Jewish community, were both assassinated
between 1056 to 1066, and in the aftermath, the Jewish population was annihilated
by the local Muslims. It is estimated that up to four thousand Jews perished in the
pogrom by Muslims that accompanied the 1066 assassination. This figure equals or
exceeds the number of Jews reportedly killed by the Crusaders during their pillage
of the Rhineland, some thirty years later, at the outset of the First Crusade. The
inciting ‘rationale’ for this Granadan pogrom is made clear in the bitter anti-Jewish
ode of Abu Ishaq, a well-known Muslim jurist and poet of the times, who wrote:
Bring them down to their place and return them to the most abject station.
They used to roam around us in tatters covered with contempt, humiliation,
and scorn. They used to rummage amongst the dung heaps for a bit of a filthy
rag to serve as a shroud for a man to be buried in…Do not consider that
killing them is treachery. Nay, it would be treachery to leave them scoffing.
Abu Ishaq’s rhetorical incitement to violence also included the line,
Many a pious Muslim is in awe of the vilest infidel ape.
Moshe Perlmann, in his analysis of the Muslim anti-Jewish polemic of 11th century
[Abu Ishaq] Elbīrī used the epithet ‘ape’ (qird) profusely when referring to Jews.
Such indeed was the parlance.
Perlmann then cites the related Koranic passages (i.e., 2:65, 5:60, and 7:166) upon
which such ‘nomenclature’ was based.
The Moroccan cleric al-Maghili (d. 1505), referred to the Jews as ‘brothers of apes’
(just as Muhammad, the sacralised prototype, had addressed the Banu Qurayza),
who repeatedly blasphemed the Muslim prophet, and whose overall conduct
reflected their hatred of Muslims. Al-Maghili fomented, and then personally led,
a Muslim pogrom (in ~ 1490) against the Jews of the southern Moroccan oasis
of Touat, plundering and killing them en masse, and destroying their synagogue
in neighbouring Tamantit. An important Muslim theologian whose writings
influenced Moroccan religious attitudes towards Jews into the 20th century, al-
Maghili also declared in verse, ‘Love of the Prophet, requires hatred of the Jews.’
These specific antisemitic and/or anti-dhimmi motifs applied to Jews, and the anti-
Jewish violence they engendered, date to well before the modern period. To argue
they are a purely a modern phenomenon is absurd.
Alan Johnson: Some will point to anti-Christian sanctions and say we are talking
about anti-Dhimmiism not antisemitism.
Andrew Bostom: Of course it is true Islam does have general anti-non Muslim,
anti-infidel sanctions. Koran 9:29, for example, is not just directed at the Jews but
also at the Christians, and probably the Zoroastrians as well. And other verses are
directed at the non-scriptural peoples, the Pagans. And yes, all these other people
have suffered from Jihad depredations. But you have both operating at once – general
anti non-Muslim motifs that are complemented by, or in some cases superseded by,
specific antisemitic motifs.
Alan Johnson: You argue that an ‘Islamic eschatology’ is carried in the hadith
which ‘highlights the Jews’ supreme hostility to Islam.’ What do you mean?
Andrew Bostom: In the Hadith the Jews are associated with the Islamic Anti-
Christ, or Dajjal. The Dajjal is even identified as being Jewish in some hadith, and
regardless, is always accompanied by Jewish minions. It is the slaughter of the Jews
that is mandated for the end of times to be ushered in, which is central to both
Shiite and Sunni eschatology. During the modern era  the canonical hadith
containing this annihilationist motif was consistently invoked by the ex-Mufti of
Jerusalem Hajj Amin el-Husseini, since the 1930s, was incorporated into Hamas’
Covenant in 1988, and at present, as Professor Moshe Sharon has observed, ‘Not
one Friday passes without this hadith being quoted in sermons from one side of the
Islamic world to the other.’
Alan Johnson: You argue the concept of ‘jihad war’ is at the heart of Islam. Let me
put to you two views about jihad which are at odds with your own.
First, many have argued that ‘jihad’ has always meant an internal spiritual struggle
and that the word and the idea have been twisted by modern extremists to justify
their actions. For example, Khaled Abou El Fadl, Professor of Law at UCLA, and
author of The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists, claims that ‘Islamic
tradition does not have a notion of holy war. Jihad simply means to strive hard or
struggle in pursuit of a just cause.’
Second, Reza Aslan argues that Jihad emerges in the Koran as a means to
‘differentiate between pre-Islamic and Islamic notions of warfare,’ to introduce an
ethical dimension, for instance, introducing a distinction between combatants and
non-combatants, and the prohibition of all but defensive wars. He accepts that the
classical doctrine of Jihad formed by legal scholars did ‘suggest that Islam advocates
fighting unbelievers until they convert, and did separate the world into the house of
war and the house of Islam,’ but he offers this apologia: the doctrine was developed
‘partly in response’ to the Crusades, and, anyway, the doctrine was challenged by
other Muslim scholars, as soon as the Crusades drew to a close – for example, Ibn
Taymiyya (1263-1328) argued that the classical doctrine contradicts the Koran
when it proposes fighting unbelievers to force conversion and killing those who
wont convert. As for the massive resurgence of the classical doctrine in the 20th
century, well, that’s a backlash against colonialism. How do you respond to these
Andrew Bostom: First it is important to mention El Fadl’s pseudo-academic
deceit, one point is particularly relevant: El Fadl, in what amounts to self-parody,
wrote the following in 1999: ‘There is no doubt that Muslim jurists do equate just
war with religious war (jihad)’ [parenthetical insertion of the word jihad by El Fadl
himself ] His footnote for this quote cites the classical Hanbali jurist Ibn Taymiyya,
as well as two authoritative modern scholars of jihad, Professors Majid Khadduri,
and Rudolph Peters.
In direct answer to your question, yes, these are Sufi notions but they don’t have
textual authority. The Islamophilic Jewish scholar, Reuven Firestone, wrote a book
on Jihad in 1999 attempting desperately to find an authoritative foundational
Muslim textual source (i.e., hadith) for the idea that Jihad really meant an inner or
spiritual Jihad, and that this was the ‘greater’ jihad. Well, in a footnote – though it
should have been placed prominently in the middle of the book – Firestone had
to admit to his chagrin that he could not find this motif in any canonical hadith
collection; ‘Its source is not usually given, and it is in fact nowhere to be found
in the canonical collections [of hadith].’ And by the way, this is exactly what
Qutb and Khomeini argued was the case! They said the Sufis were wrong, that
there was nothing canonical about this notion of inner spiritual jihad, and that
the Sufis essentially made it up! And you know, to give them their due, Qutb’s and
Khomeini’s knowledge of Islam’s foundational texts was encyclopaedic.
Alan Johnson: Some Muslims look to the scholar Ghazali as an alternative.
Andrew Bostom: Ghazali (d. 1111) was a towering figure in Islam, someone
the renowned Islamophilic scholar William Montgomery Watt maintained was
perhaps the second most important figure in Islam, after Muhammad himself.
Yes, Ghazali is often cited as the central figure in Sufi ‘spiritual’ Islam. It turned
out that in addition to his more mystical writings, Ghazali was a jurist, and had
written an important treatise on Islamic jurisprudence. I wanted to know what he
said about the Jihad and the Dhimmi condition. So I had Ghazali’s writings on
the Jihad translated from the Arabic into English by Michael Schub, a Professor of
Arabic, and respected translator who has worked for the government of Qatar. I’ll
just give you a few samples of what Ghazali says about Jihad. ‘One must go on Jihad
at least once a year,’ ‘one must use a catapult against them when they are in a fortress
even if among them are women and children,’ ‘one may set fire to them and drown
them,’ ‘if a person of the Ahl al-Kitab (People of the Book, i.e. Jews and Christians)
is enslaved, his marriage is automatically revoked,’ ‘one may cut down their trees,
one may destroy their useless books,’ ‘jihadists may take as booty whatever they
decide,’ ‘they may steal as much food as they need.’ And so on. There is nothing less
Alan Johnson: So you don’t see Sufism as a pacific spiritual alternative?
Andrew Bostom: Historically, Sufi Jihadists were of importance to the expansion
of Islam. Around the period of Ghazali himself, Sufis played a major role in the Jihad
in Asia-Minor. There were important Indian Sufis who inspired Jihad campaigns
on the Indian subcontinent. We see the same phenomenon in Africa. And there
are Sufi jihadists in Chechnya today. Sufism has never been an inoculation against
Jihadism in the classical sense. 
Actually, it turns out – and Qutb knew this too – that while there is no canonical
hadith which would have supported the primacy of the so-called spiritual Jihad,
there is a canonical Hadith, in one of the two most important collections of Sunni
Islam, which reverses the priority. This Hadith (Muslim-Book 001, Number 0079)
states Jihad by the sword is primary, Jihad by propaganda secondary, and, oh yes,
if one can’t perform either of those, then a sort of personal Jihad is of some, albeit
much more limited value:
…with the help of his hand (i.e., by force); and if he has not strength enough to
do it, then he should do it with his tongue (i.e., by preaching or propaganda),
and if he has not strength enough to do it, (even) then he should (abhor it)
from his heart (i.e., soul), and that is the least of faith.
The so-called ‘Sufi priority,’ is thus completely reversed in a canonical, readily
Part 2: Islamic Exceptionalism?
Alan Johnson: But is Islam exceptional? Don’t each of the monotheisms have
violent and vengeful verses in their sacred texts? Growing up I attended a
Protestant church for a time, and my older brother studied at a Protestant Bible
Training College. Our bedroom was lined with books by Calvin, Luther, and other
Protestant theologians. I can still recall my confusion when I became aware of
Martin Luther’s views on Jews (The milder insults were ‘devilish,’ ‘miserable,’ ‘blind,’
‘senseless,’ ‘shameful,’ ‘liars and bloodhounds.’ Their synagogues should be burnt,
their property confiscated and their freedom taken away. In fact ‘We are at fault in
not slaying them.’ Himmler was an admirer.)
And what about the Jewish law? Deuteronomy (20:13-14) states, ‘And when the
Lord your God gives it into your hand you shall put all its males to the sword;
but the women and the little ones, the cattle, and everything else in the city, all its
spoil, you shall take as booty for yourselves.’ Deuteronomy’s (21:18. 21) guidance
concerning the disobedient son is plain enough: death by stoning. And what of
Leviticus (20:10) and the call for the putting to death of adulterers? What of
Timothy’s (2:12) on the need for women to be silent and under the authority of
men, or Peter’s (2:18) injunction that slaves submit to harsh masters? Don’t all
monotheisms have holy texts in which much is monstrous? Are you claiming there
is an Islamic exceptionalism?
Andrew Bostom: Obviously there are toxic texts, and there have been toxic
behaviours, by other religious groups. There is no question about that. But there
really are differences. For example, going back to the texts and the doctrines,
Muhammad is a very different figure then Jesus. Muhammad is a Jihadist. He is a
political leader and a military leader, as well as a spiritual leader. There is nothing
like that in Jesus. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a major contemporary Muslim theologian for
the Muslim Brotherhood, head of the European Council for Fatwa and Research
(now based in Dublin), and popular Al-Jazeera television personality whose
broadcast sermons reach tens of millions of Muslims, gave a sermon (on Al-Jazeera
TV in June, 2001) entitled ‘The Prophet Muhammad as a Jihad Model,’ and he was
referring to jihad as warfare. So that’s a fundamental difference.
Another fundamental difference is that in the Koranic revelation tolerance has
been formally abrogated by intolerance (p. 69).
There is no way this can be brushed aside other than by a pure apologetics. The final
abrogating revelation, Sura 9, is a chapter of open-ended war proclamations, and it’s
not confined to specific historical instances. Some of the initial Koranic revelation is
related to specific events, yes. But Sura 9 is about a timeless Jihad. We are not talking
about circumscribed events and accounts when the Israelites conquered Canaan.
What you have in the most warlike and bloody sections of the Old Testament, such
as Joshua, are really history-bound descriptions. They are not timeless injunctions.
This difference really matters. Take the question of Paganism, and compare the
Koran to the Old Testament. The Old Testament condemns Paganism but it does
not invoke an eternal war against all the world’s Pagan peoples, like Koran 9:5. The
bloody Old Testament campaigns relate to a very specific piece of real estate. They
are not open-ended and they don’t look to the entire world.
Now, of course Christianity was spread, in part, by the sword. It was linked to imperial
powers, no question. But there were always competing strains within Christianity.
At the same time as we had imperialistic campaigns with religious motivations, we
also had, even in the New World, Christians decrying what was being done to the
indigenous peoples, and creating a body of self-criticism in Christianity (which
is also present in Judaism). To this day, there is no comparable body of ideas in
Islam. Islam never spawned an indigenous slavery abolition movement, nor did
Muslim societies voluntarily dismantle the system of dhimmitude for non-Muslims
vanquished by jihad, and incorporated into Islamic states. It took the European
powers to end the institutions of slavery, and dhimmitude in Muslim societies, and
rather ineffectually in many cases. Slavery persisted by law in many Islamic societies
through early to the mid 20th century. Chattel slavery never really disappeared in
Mauritania, and we have seen its recrudescence – via jihad – since 1983 in Sudan.
Also following the temporary delimiting of the Sharia under European colonial
rule, at least a forme fruste of dhimmitude has steadily reappeared in these Islamic
societies across Africa and Asia, following decolonization. We do have to look at
Alan Johnson: Hasn’t Christianity also been invoked to justify imperialism?
Andrew Bostom: Yes, of course. But Ibn Warraq pointed out to me how instructive
it was to compare the impact of British imperialism and Muslim Imperialism on
the Subcontinent. The devastation that was wrought by the waves of Muslim Jihad
over almost a Millennium was incomparable with what the Europeans did on the
same continent. Lord Curzon gave a remarkable speech in 1900 at a meeting of the
Asiatic Society of Bengal, while engaged in a campaign to preserve India’s ancient
monuments. This is what he said:
If there be any one who says to me that there is no duty devolving upon a
Christian Government to preserve the monuments of pagan art or the
sanctuaries of an alien faith, I cannot pause to argue with such a man. Art
and beauty, and the reverence that is owing to all that has evoked human
genius or has inspired human faith, are independent of creeds, and, in
so far as they touch the sphere of religion, are embraced by the common
religion of all mankind. Viewed from this standpoint, the rock temple of
the Brahmans stands on precisely the same footing as the Buddhist Vihara,
and the Mohammedan Musjid as the Christian Cathedral…To us the relics
of Hindu and Mohammedan, of Buddhist, Brahmin, and Jain are, from the
antiquarian, the historical, and the artistic point of view, equally interesting
and equally sacred. One does not excite a more vivid and the other a weaker
emotion. Each represents the glories or the faith of a branch of the human
family. Each fills a chapter in Indian history.
This is not the way either Muslim conquerors or rulers treated the Indian
subcontinent. Thousands of Hindu temples were destroyed. The Buddhist temples
were also destroyed, and the Buddhists – wiped out all together from India – had
to retreat into other parts of Asia.
And if you think that Curzon is not a reliable source, listen to the Indian historian,
R.C. Majumdar, who was not terribly sympathetic to the Brits. When he compared
Hindu advancement under British and Muslim colonial rule, he concluded:
Judged by a similar standard, the patronage and cultivation of Hindu
learning by the Muslims, or their contribution to the development of Hindu
culture during their rule…pales into insignificance when compared with the
achievements of the British rule…It is only by instituting such comparison
that we can make an objective study of the condition of the Hindus under
Muslim rule, and view it in its true perspective.
I agree with the compelling argument that there are generic evils in imperialism
and conquest. But on the other hand, we live in 2008 and we are stuck with an
unreformed and unrepentant Jihadist ideology. Take Muhammad Taqi Usmani,
the son of the Pakistani Jurist whose exegesis on the Koranic curses upon the Jews
we discussed earlier (Maulana Mufti Muhammad Shafi). Usmani was a Pakistani
Supreme Court Judge, and is currently a Deputy of the Jurisprudence Council of the
Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC – the 57 member global association
of Islamic nations, exclusively). He gave an interview to The Times of London on
September 8, 2007. The Times extracted that interview, along with statements from
his own most recent book entitled, Islam and Modernism. Usmani is very candid
about what Jihad means in the modern era, defending the idea that open-ended
warfare is still sanctioned. He says: ‘the question is whether aggressive battle is by
itself commendable or not.’ ‘If it is, why should the Muslims stop simply because
territorial expansion in these days is regarded as bad? And if it is not commendable,
but deplorable, why did Islam not stop it in the past?’ And then he answers his own
question as follows: ‘Even in those days . . . aggressive jihads were waged . . . because
it was truly commendable for establishing the grandeur of the religion of Allah.’
Muhammad Taqi Usmani winds up arguing that Muslims should live peacefully
in countries such as Britain, where they have the freedom to practice Islam, but
only until they gain enough power to engage wage jihad. The Times interviewer
was appalled. Now Usmani is not a minor figure. He is not a ‘Wahhabi.’ Usmani is
travelling all over the world, is respected, is giving advice on Sharia finance, advising
the OIC, and no major Muslim religious or political institution (Usmani works for
the major one, the OIC!) one is condemning his views!
Another example is Sheik Tantawi, the Grand Imam at Al-Azhar University in
Cairo – the leading Muslim religious institution – since 1996, and so the nearest
Muslim equivalent to the Pope. When I had virulently antisemitic extracts from his
1968/69 PhD thesis translated I was overwhelmed. Here is a representative sample
of his mainstream, Koranic Jew-hatred entirely consistent with classical exegesis of
[The] Koran describes the Jews with their own particular degenerate
characteristics, i.e. killing the prophets of Allah [Koran 2:61/3:112],
corrupting His words by putting them in the wrong places, consuming the
people’s wealth frivolously, refusal to distance themselves from the evil they
do, and other ugly characteristics caused by their deep-rooted lasciviousness…
only a minority of the Jews keep their word…. [A]ll Jews are not the same.
The good ones become Muslims [Koran 3:113], the bad ones do not.
Tantawi still publicly affirms all the anti-Jewish statements he wrote in that PhD
and is proud to restate them! When Egyptian TV ran a long series recently on
the antisemitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Tantawi said there
was nothing wrong with it, and that antisemitism was just something the Jews
invoked to distract people from their own crimes. Usmani and Tantawi are hardly
marginal figures. They represent the pinnacle of the mainstream religious hierarchy
of modern Islam.
Part 3: Answering the Critics
One Islam or Two?
Alan Johnson: Correct me if I am wrong, but I think you endorse Samuel
Huntingdon’s ‘clash of civilisations’ thesis. You have written that ‘What Samuel
Huntington aptly termed ‘Islam’s bloody borders’ around the globe – flow from
the timeless logic of jihad.’ Let me put an alternative view. Stephen Schwartz, in his
book The Two Faces of Islam, contrasts ‘the fascistic Wahhabi cult that resides at the
heart of the Saudi establishment’ to another and competing Islam that is ‘pluralist,
spiritual, and committed to coexistence with the earlier Abrahamic revelations,
Judaism and Christianity.’ Schwartz points to the example of the Ottoman Balkans
where, from the middle of the 15th to the middle of the 18th centuries, a forwardlooking
culture of ‘multi-faith cooperation and civility’ prospered. He notes there
have been ‘long periods of commercial and cultural interchange, in Spain and
elsewhere in the Mediterranean, above all in the Ottoman Balkans whose society was
uniquely European and Islamic.’ (xiii) He believes the possibility of a Europeanised
Islam remains viable. (xiii) I guess the London-based Quilliam Foundation would
be sympathetic to this view of Islam and of what remains possible today. How do
Andrew Bostom: I’ve read his book. It’s bowdlerised nonsense to be blunt. There
was no period of tolerance in Muslim Spain – rather there was continuous jihadimposed
dhimmitude. I’ve documented that fact meticulously in both of my
books. And Jane Gerber’s scholarship has further debunked lingering notions of
a ‘golden age’ in Muslim Spain She refers appositely to the ‘gilded moments of a
selected elite.’ That does not comprise a golden age in Muslim Spain, or anywhere
else! What Schwartz does not wish to recognize is that we are talking about a
remarkably consistent application of the Sharia across space and time, which yields
a predictable outcome. Yes, there can be some minor ethnic variance to it, given the
nature of the various subject populations – Hindus or Jews or Christians – and the
nature of their Muslim overlords. But in the end Sharia is Sharia.
Schwartz further argues there was no problem until the Wahhabi movement arose.
Well, this is ridiculous. The Wahhabis don’t come into existence until the mid to late
18th century! How do you account for a thousand years of Jihad and Dhimmitude
prior to the rise of the Wahhabi movement? How do you account for Jihad and
Dhimmitude among the Shia, who are the Wahhabis arch-enemies, to this day?
The degradations that non-Muslims experienced under the Shia were often worse
than what they experienced under the Sunni because the Shia found Jews and other
infidels physically impure (They take verse 9:28 literally. So literally that once Iran
became a Shiite theocracy at the beginning of the sixteenth century, Jews could be
beaten, sometimes to death, for going out in the rain. Why? Because their impurity
could wash off on to Muslims!)
Compared with the other Muslim empires, dhimmitude under Ottoman rule was
not substantively different, as can be gleaned from excellent analyses referenced
in my summaries.  Yes, there is a reformist movement in the mid-19th century
which begins to take hold, but the reforms are passed grudgingly and are referred
to as ‘capitulations.’ The European powers, western and Russian, were intervening
primarily to improve the plight of the Christian minorities (very little was done
for the Jews). But these reforms were never fully implemented because they went
against the Sharia. There have been many scholarly analyses of the failure of these
reforms, literally up until the Ottoman empire dissolved. There are several essays
written by the Ottomanophile Roderick Davison (which I refer to in both books)
that are honest about the failure of the Tanzimat reforms. He notes that these
reforms were not appropriately implemented as late as 1912. And of course, in
its final convulsive years during World War I, the Ottoman Empire committed a
Jihad genocide against the Armenians, and other Christian populations. So how
Schwartz can make these claims I don’t know. Regardless, his claims have no merit.
The relation of European antisemitism to Islamic antisemitism
Alan Johnson: On the one hand, there are ancient sources of antisemitism based,
as you see it, in the foundational texts of Islam. On the other hand, there is modern
European antisemitism. How should we best characterise the relationship between
I should explain the something of the context of my question for the reader. You have
been critical of Matthias Kuntzel’s book Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism,
and the roots of 9/11, and I discussed those criticisms in my interview with Matthias
in Democratiya 13. You find the argument that Nazism introduced antisemitism to
Islam ‘awkwardly forced, and ahistorical’ and one which ‘realign[s] the Nazi cart in
front of the Islamic steed.’ You point out that ‘even if all vestiges of Nazi militarism
and racist antisemitism were to disappear miraculously overnight from the Islamic
world, the living legacy of jihad war against non-Muslim infidels, and anti-Jewish
hatred and violence rooted in Islam’s sacred texts – Koran, hadith, and sira – would
remain intact.’ In this judgement you are influenced by Bat Ye’or’s 1973 book The
Jews of Egypt [in Hebrew]: ‘The primary, core antisemitic and jihadist motifs were
Islamic, derived from Islam’s foundational texts, on to which European, especially
Nazi elements were grafted.’
When the Hudson Institute’s Hillel Fradkin responded to your thesis on C-Span,
he warned that the notion of an unbroken and uniform Islamic antisemitism could
stop us seeing that there have been times when antisemitism has had greater and
lesser vitality. (Even Bat Ye’or writes of ‘some brighter intervals.’) There have been
periods in Muslim history when contempt is found but not violent hatred, and
there have been periods and places when the contempt itself has been diminished,
sometimes radically. Fradkin argues it is surely a mix of tradition and innovation
that explains the Muslim reaction to Israel. Yes, Jewish self-rule was ‘a completely
unexpected event,’ inexplicable within those Muslim traditions which see the
Jews as contemptible, God-cursed, and wandering. But it was modern European
antisemitism that offered a ‘more serviceable’ conception of ‘the Jewish problem’
once a God-cursed people had set up a state and defeated the Arab armies. This
more serviceable conception was summed up by Matthias Kuntzel: ‘Mediaeval
Jew-hatred considered everything Jewish to be evil. Modern antisemitism, on the
other hand, deems all ‘evil’ to be Jewish.’
Benny Morris seems to concur, observing that ‘the Nazi view of the Jews’ worldembracing
powers [was] entirely lacking in Koranic and early Islamic antisemitism,
which, if anything, belittled the Jew.’ Isn’t that notion of the world-embracing
power of ‘the Jew’ – which is at the core of contemporary antisemitism – a modern
Andrew Bostom: I think the conceptions you have admirably summarized by
Kuntzel, Fradkin, and Morris are in the end, confused and ahistorical.
First of all, as I have already demonstrated, conspiratorial Jew hatred is readily
identifiable in Islam’s core texts – the Koran (for eg. 5:64), as well as the hadith and
sira (Muhammad’s poisoning to death). And there is another conspiratorial motif
from the most important early Sunni historiography by al-Tabari (d. 923): the
story of Abd Allah b. Saba, an alleged renegade Yemenite Jew, and founder of the
heterodox Shi’ite sect. He is held responsible – identified as a Jew – for promoting
the Shi’ite heresy and fomenting the rebellion and internal strife associated with
this primary breach in Islam’s ‘political innocence,’ culminating in the assassination
of the third Rightly Guided Caliph Uthman, and the bitter, lasting legacy of Sunni-
Shi’ite sectarian strife.
Anti-Jewish riots and massacres by Muslims accompanied the 1291 death of Jewish
physician-vizier Sa’d ad-Daula in Baghdad – the plundering and killing of Jews,
which extended throughout Iraq (and likely into Persia) – were celebrated in
a verse by the Muslim preacher Zaynu’d-Din ‘Ali b. Said, which begins with this
debasing reference to the Jews as apes: ‘His name we praise who rules the firmament.
These apish Jews are done away and shent [ruined].’ Another contemporary 13th
century Muslim source, noted by historian Walter Fischel, the chronicler and poet
Wassaf, ‘…empties the vials of hatred on the Jew Sa’d ad-Daula and brings the most
implausible conspiratorial accusations against him.’ These accusations included the
claims that Sa’d had advised Arghun to cut down trees in Baghdad (dating from
the days of the conquered Muslim Abbasid dynasty), and build a fleet to attack
Mecca and convert the cuboidal Kabaa to a heathen temple. Wassaf ’s account also
quotes satirical verses to demonstrate the extent of public dissatisfaction with what
he terms ‘Jewish Domination.’
Now suppose we are in 1922 and there is a joint resolution from the US Congress
which has endorsed the mandate for Palestine, supporting the Jews right to settle
in Palestine. Assume the Brits pack up and leave. This is, note, six years before the
advent of the Muslim Brotherhood and a decade before the Nazis come to power.
Here’s my question: what would have been the plight of the Jews? I’d say the Jews
would have been slaughtered. And what would that have had to do with modern
European ideologies? The destruction of the Yishuv could be contemplated
without European ideology.
In The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism, I have elaborated on how the earlier tragic
mass killings – in Bat Ye’or’s accurate parlance, these decimations by Jihad – for
‘breaching’ the dhimma, which afflicted the Christian minorities of the Ottoman
Empire (Serbs, Greeks, Bulgarians, and Armenians) throughout the 19th century,
culminating in the jihad genocide of the Armenians during World War I (and
documented, by historian Vahakn Dadrian (pp. 403ff ) to have inspired Hitler to
express the notion of predictable impunity with regard to future genocides), were
nearly replicated in historical Palestine, but for the advance of the British army.
During World War I in Palestine, between 1915 and 1917, the New York Times
published a series of reports on Ottoman-inspired and local Arab Muslim assisted
antisemitic persecution which affected Jerusalem, and the other major Jewish
population centers. For example, by the end of January, 1915, 7000 Palestinian
Jewish refugees – men, women, and children – had fled to British-controlled
Alexandria, Egypt. Three New York Times accounts from January/February, 1915
(reproduced in the book) provide details of the earlier (i.e., 1915) period.
By April of 1917, conditions deteriorated further for Palestinian Jewry, which
faced threats of annihilation from the Ottoman government. Many Jews were in
fact deported, expropriated, and starved, in an ominous parallel to the genocidal
deportations of the Armenian dhimmi communities throughout Anatolia. Indeed,
as related by historian Yair Auron,
Fear of the Turkish actions was bound up with alarm that the Turks might
do to the Jewish community in Palestine, or at least to the Zionist elements
within it, what they had done to the Armenians. This concern was expressed
in additional evidence from the early days of the war, from which we can
conclude that the Armenian tragedy was known in the Yishuv [ Jewish
community in Palestine]
A mass expulsion of the Jews of Jerusalem, although ordered twice by Djemal Pasha,
was averted only through the efforts of [the Ottoman Turks World War I allies] the
German government which sought to avoid international condemnation. The 8000
Jews of Jaffa, however, were expelled quite brutally, a cruel fate the Arab Muslims
and the Christians of the city did not share. Moreover, these deportations took place
months before the small pro-British Nili spy ring of Zionist Jews was discovered
by the Turks in October, 1917, and its leading figures killed. A report by United
States Consul Garrels (in Alexandria, Egypt) describing the Jaffa deportation of
early April 1917 (published in the June 3, 1917 New York Times), included details
of the Jews plight, and this ominous warning:
The same fate awaits all Jews in Palestine. Djemal Pasha is too cunning to
order cold-blooded massacres. His method is to drive the population to
starvation and to death by thirst, epidemics, etc, which according to himself,
are merely calamities sent by God.
Yair Auron cites a very tenable hypothesis put forth at that time in a journal of the
British Zionist movement as to why the looming slaughter of the Jews of Palestine
did not occur – the advance of the British army (from immediately adjacent Egypt)
and its potential willingness ‘…to hold the military and Turkish authorities directly
responsible for a policy of slaughter and destruction of the Jews’ – may have averted
Alan Johnson: And you believe Kuntzel, Fradkin, and Morris do not appreciate
Andrew Bostom: Frankly, I find all this obsessive conjecturing – pace Kuntzel
et al – about non-Islamic ideological motivations for Jew annihilation, curious.
Bat Ye’or who grew up in Egypt, witnessed that after the Nazi movement arose
they certainly taught the domestic anti-Semites lessons in how to package their
propaganda. But these motifs of conspiratorial Jew-hatred (both Nazi motifs
and Protocols motifs) fitted very neatly into domestic antisemitism, based upon
traditional Islamic motifs. The point Bat Ye’or makes – which is apparently
lost upon those of Kuntzel’s mindset – is a simple, irrefragable one. To widely
disseminate and intensify antisemitism among the masses the Egyptian anti-
Semites had to rely upon the Islamic sources. When Matthias Kuntzel comes up
with a glib formulation, and you repeated it – ‘Mediaeval Jew-hatred considered
everything Jewish to be evil. Modern antisemitism, on the other hand, deems all
“evil” to be Jewish.’ – as a scientist I find it to be nothing other than pretentious
gobbledygook. As an epidemiologist I want to look at body counts. I’m sorry,
maybe I’m morbid, but I think you can achieve the same body count regardless of
those kinds of European motifs which, quite frankly, the Muslim masses could not
care about. All those imported motifs do is confirm in a larger context things that
mean more to them. If they were not interested in the religious motifs then I’d say,
‘Ok, let’s look at the non-religious motifs.’ But even the propaganda ministries in
the Arab countries realised that what you could learn from the Nazis was not new
motifs, but new means of disseminating old motifs. And it’s incredible to me that
this insight has ignored.
Alan Johnson: You don’t think the contemporary rise of annihilationist
antisemitism in relation to Israel is based on the European influence?
Andrew Bostom: The rise of Jewish nationalism – Zionism – posed a predictable,
if completely unacceptable challenge to the Islamic order – jihad-imposed chronic
dhimmitude for Jews – of apocalyptic magnitude. Again, as Bat Ye’or has explained,
…because divine will dooms Jews to wandering and misery, the Jewish
state appears to Muslims as an unbearable affront and a sin against Allah.
Therefore it must be destroyed by Jihad.
This is exactly the Islamic context in which the widespread, ‘resurgent’ use of Jew
annihilationist apocalyptic motifs from the hadith, discussed earlier – exemplified
by the Hamas charter, and the messianic beliefs of Iranian President Ahmadinejad
– would be an anticipated, even commonplace occurrence.
But I’m not saying there are no European influences. Of course there are. How
significant they are, that’s the question. The infamous 1840 Damascus blood libel
represents a classic Christian antisemitic motif transferred to the Islamic world.
One cannot simply affirm (while grossly exaggerating) the ‘catastrophic effect’ of
Christian motifs ‘at work’ in Islamdom, relative to Islam’s own intrinsic antisemitic
motifs – the impact of the former has to be proven, and the historical ‘proof ’ is a
negative proof, by any objective standard.
For example, morbid as such comparisons may be, the actual body count from
the ‘watershed’ 1840 Damascus event was paltry in comparison to the numerous
Muslim anti-Jewish pogroms precipitated by purely Islamic motifs, like Koran
2:61/3:112, and the related apes (2:65 and 7:166) or apes/pigs (5:60) verses used
to incite great massacres in Granada (1066), Baghdad (1291), and Touat, Morocco
(~1490). Hundreds to thousands died in these earlier pogroms; despite the heinous
accusations of the Damascus blood libel, only four of the thirteen Jews imprisoned
for the 1840 Damascus blood libel died during their incarceration and torture.
The other nine were released unconditionally, and one of these survivors, Moses
Abulafia, became a Muslim in order to escape his torture.
Historical analyses of the 1840 Damascus blood libel by Tudor Parfitt and Jonathan
Frankel emphasize these two key features which were independent of Christian
anti-Jewish motifs, per se: the general support that the persecution of the Jews
was given by the Arab Muslim population at large, in reaction against the various
reforms introduced (under Muhammad Ali) which sought to ameliorate some of
the most oppressive aspects of dhimmitude; the fact that this negative reaction by
the Muslim masses to these reforms had much more serious repercussions – against
Christians – during the anti-Christian pogroms which marred Damascus in the
1860s. Indeed as Frankel observes, despite their own bigoted anti-Jewish attitudes,
it was the European consuls who drew the line in 1840,
… when it came to the threat of wholesale massacre…advising that the Jewish
communities receive military protection. Just how real that danger was
would become apparent twenty years later, when the Christian population
of Damascus was decimated in a Muslim, primarily Druse, slaughter.
Alan Johnson: What is at stake in this dispute?
Andrew Bostom: Well, there is something that troubles me about this obsessive
focus on the so-called ‘Nazi roots of 9/11.’ I am concerned because we have already
developed tools to debunk Nazism. And there is also an ongoing Vatican II process
to combat Judeophobic motifs in Christianity, especially the Deicide allegation.
Yes, tragically, it took a Holocaust to initiate these reforms, but they have been
addressing the Deicide allegation for 40 years now. We may be dissatisfied with
the pace of progress, but a real mea culpa-based reconciliation is underway. At
present, the Islamic religious hierarchy is not even at the point where it is willing
to acknowledge any of its hateful and destructive doctrinal, and historical legacy.
Thus I believe it is seriously misguided to focus minds exclusively upon hateful
motifs imported into Islamic societies from Europe, and never even discuss all the
purely Islamic material that I have copiously documented in my book. In reality,
this means one is too concerned with political correctness to actually deal with
the main problem – the Islam in Islamic antisemitism. The bottom line is that if
all those imported European motifs disappeared overnight from Muslim societies
you’d still be left with what have been, demonstrably, the most destructive motifs in
the region, i.e., those that come from Islam itself.
Part 4: What is to be Done?
Alan Johnson: Let’s talk about denial. You have argued denial of Islamic
antisemitism runs wide and deep in both Muslim and non-Muslim communities.
Why is denial so prevalent?
Andrew Bostom: The worst audiences to address about Islamic antisemitism,
quite frankly, are Jewish audiences! One of the reasons for this, I believe is almost
primal. As physicians we deal with denial as a strategy all the time. Denial is one of
the most profound psychological mechanisms by which patients try to ignore their
own disease status, because potentially fatal illnesses are terrifying. And who does
not get a chill when they sit down and watch the sermons at the MEMRI website,
whether they come from the Palestinian Authority, or from Saudi Arabia, or are
recorded surreptitiously in a mosque in the UK? These are terrifying things, Alan,
for a Jewish audience to hear. People are openly calling for their annihilation in a
religious context. Who wouldn’t want to pretend that ‘they can’t really mean that?’
Fear is a major factor.
It’s also human to perseverate upon things we have already understood, and for
which we have developed strategies of response. I am referring particularly to the
deicide allegation, the Protocols, and the standard racist Nazi propaganda. We
have agencies that are constantly vigilant for these familiar antisemitic themes, and
rush to the fore whenever any real or imagined example of these hatreds emerges.
But there are precious few groups, other than MEMRI, who are highlighting hatemongering
antisemitic sermons based on Islamic motifs. It’s more comfortable
dealing with familiar and, at this point, better tamed, enemies.
Alan Johnson: And how about the denial of intellectuals in the West?
Andrew Bostom: I think it has to do with the western left’s sympathy for third
world cultures, and its extreme tendency toward self-flagellation. The West has an
imperialistic past and many wrongs were committed, yes, but that baggage has led
many to ask ‘who are we to comment on this Islamic phenomenon?’ What follows
is the rationalization of Islamic jihadism and Jew hatred etc., as coming from the
‘oppressed third world,’ and therefore somehow (perversely) liberating, or at least
understandable and acceptable. Also, a vicious circular argument comes into play:
Islamic antisemitism really derives from Europe, being nothing but the detritus of
the western colonial enterprise. So responsibility is always laid at the doorstep of
Alan Johnson: How hopeful are you of the Turkish Hadith Project which seeks to
gather 10,000 Hadith in one volume and present a more moderate face of Islam?
Isn’t it hopeful that we have voices like Hidayet Tuksal, a feminist theologian in
Ankara saying, ‘I can’t imagine a prophet who bullies women. The Hadiths that
portray him so should be abandoned.’
Andrew Bostom: I have colleagues who were initially optimistic about the Turkish
Hadith Project but it seems there was an immediate retreat by the Project designers.
Now we hear the Project will not challenge any of the canonical Hadith. There is
only discussion of the validation of Hadith from the collections of lesser repute.
But if a decision has been made not to deal with the very hateful motifs against Jews
and others that are in the canonical Hadith, or all the support therein for violent,
aggressive Jihad, than this is a rather puny effort that offers no pathway toward the
wrenching reforms needed.
Alan Johnson: Reviewing your book in The New Republic, Benny Morris called
it ‘important and deeply discouraging.’ You have no obligation to be encouraging
of course; you only have an obligation to the truth. Still, it is deeply discouraging.
Reading your work, one gains the impression that mainstream Islam is the problem
not the solution, that the violent extremists have the sacred texts on their side, and
that the very idea of a pluralist democratic mainstream Islam, while greatly to be
desired, is something of a myth. Are you deeply discouraged?
Andrew Bostom: It may be that an accident of geology which enriched the
Saudis has facilitated the mass dissemination of Wahhabi propaganda, some of the
worst of the worst, in mass translations, often cheap or free, all over the world,
usually accompanied by Wahhabi Imams, grants, scholarships and mosques. If the
recipients of the Saudis largesse don’t have the benefit of a particularly enlightened
Imam to contextualise these texts in a pacific and tolerant way –and I’m sure such
Imams exist, although I remain dubious they are in plentiful supply at this point
– then the people are left to interpret these texts on their own. But the present
toxic environment has other aspects quite independent of any particular gloss,
‘Wahhabi,’ or other, on Islam’s foundational texts. Ibn Warraq is convinced that
the phenomenon of extremism is so widespread today in good part because of the
flood of straightforward, accurate translations of the foundational Islamic texts
themselves, which Muslims in historically unprecedented numbers can now read
in local languages they fully understand. Having carefully studied these texts over
the past six years, as well as their classical, ‘non-Wahhabi’ exegeses by Islam’s greatest
pious Muslim luminaries, I agree with Ibn Warraq’s assessment.
On the other hand, there are some positive developments. The MEMRI site is
seriously committed to reporting about voices of reform in Islamic societies, not
just the hate speech. At MEMRI, I’ve seen Muslim reformers from Kuwait, Tunisia,
and elsewhere – unbelievably courageous people often speaking out without the
support of a formal movement. For example, MEMRI highlighted a Tunisian
intellectual, Iqbal al-Garbi, a professed believing Muslim, not an agnostic such as
Ibn Warraq, who recently wrote a remarkable mea culpa for the Jihad, Jihad slavery,
and the imposition of dhimmitude, which appeared on an Italian website. It was
exactly the kind of statement Muslims need to make to other Muslims.
Ibn Warraq recently persuaded me to read Jonathan Israel’s book Radical
Enlightenment and I think Islam needs to undergo such a process. And we see its
possibilities in a person like Ayaan Hirsi Ali. A mass movement of enlightenment
amongst Muslims is required. Ibn Warraq’s book, Leaving Islam, had a very
interesting concise history of the real freethinkers within Islam. I don’t mean the
Mutazalites who were not really comparable to the Enlightenment thinkers. They
introduced some elements of reason, yes, but they also waged their own inquisition
and were very brutal (see my earlier comments). No, Warraq unearthed a series
of genuine freethinkers who lived within Muslim communities, figures we would
recognise as enlightened. But to this day such figures suffer from persecution. This
notion that you can’t be born into an Islamic society and contribute to the society
as a whole if you don’t profess to be a believing Muslim, must change.
Alan Johnson: What are you working on now?
Andrew Bostom: I became fascinated (if alarmed) by some excellent polling done
in the Spring of 2007 in collaboration between the University of Maryland, and
World Opinion Dynamics. The survey sample was quite extensive (encompassing
some 4000 individuals) and comprised of face to face interviews in local languages
of Muslims from Morocco, Egypt, Indonesia, and Pakistan. Data from two
questions jumped out at me. The first asked about the strict implementation of
Sharia law in Islamic countries. 65 percent of Muslims were moderately or strongly
in favour of this proposition. The second was about desire to establish / re-establish
the Caliphate. Again, 65 percent of the Muslim sample was supportive of this goal.
I began to ask myself a series of questions. How has the idea of the caliphate been
actualised in the past? Why has it survived to this day? Why is the notion of a
Caliphate so popular among Muslims, and what are implications of its popularity,
for Muslims, and non-Muslims?
Thus I have started to collect a tremendous amount of information for my next book
project, for which is entitled The Legacy of Islamic Totalitarianism, with the subtitle
Islam’s Caliphate Dreams. I will show how the Caliphate operated as a uniquely
Islamic form of despotism, or totalitarianism. I suspect that if we take a larger
historical perspective about the nexus between Islam and European totalitarianism,
this dalliance will turn out to have been a mere epiphenomenon of a much longerrunning
historical narrative about the Caliphate. It seems to me, Alan – and maybe
it’s my medical training – that if we don’t point out such unpleasant realities we
cannot even begin to chart a course toward reform.
Bostom, Andrew G. (2005) ‘Ottoman Dhimmitude,’ The American Thinker, October 7. http://www.americanthinker.com/printpage/?url=http://www.americanthinker.com/2005/10/ottoman_dhimmitude.html
Bostom, Andrew G. (2007) ‘Under Turkish Rule Part 1,’ FrontPageMagazine, July 27. http://www.frontpagemag.com/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=27550
Bostom, Andrew G. (2008) ‘’Why Islam’s Jew-Hating Hadith Matter,’ FrontPageMagazine, October 3. http://www.frontpagemag.com/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=32563
Bostom, Andrew G. (2009) ‘Sufi Jihad?’ The American Thinker, August 23. http://www.americanthinker.com/2005/05/sufi_jihad.html
 Bostom 2008.
 Bostom 2009.
 Bostom 2005 and 2007.
Andrew Bostom documents the long history of Muslim
8 August 2008
The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn
History, by Andrew G. Bostom (Prometheus Books, 766 pp., $39.95)
According to received wisdom, an Islamic faith that once tolerantly coexisted
with Jews and Christians has been traumatized by the twentieth century and its
destructive ideologies (such as fascism, communism, and nationalism), by the
depredations of European colonialism and imperialism, and by the displacements
wrought by globalization. These developments, according to such apologists as
John Esposito and Reza Aslan, have given rise to a distortion of Islam, one
manifested not just in â€œIslamistâ€ terror but also in the virulent anti-Semitism
visible today throughout the Middle East and in Europeâ€™s Muslim communities. A
religious culture that once embraced the kindred â€œpeople of the bookâ€â€”Jews and
Christiansâ€”has now been infected by European anti-Semitism, just one more way
that Western cultural dysfunctions have damaged the traditions of a proud
The problem with this tale, as Andrew Bostom documents in The Legacy of
Islamic Antisemitism, is that it isnâ€™t true. A physician and professor of
medicine at Brown University, Bostom demonstrated a doctorâ€™s fidelity to
empirical evidence in his previous book, The Legacy of Jihad, showing how
violence against the infidel is central to Islamic doctrine, theology, and
jurisprudence. He now performs a similar service in examining Islamic
anti-Semitism, exploding the delusional myths with which too many in the West
obscure the truth of Muslim Jew-hatred.