Richard the Reconciliation-Hearted


Has Medievalist Richard Landes chosen his arguments all that wisely?

Richard Landes, invoking understandably, his background as a Medievalist, with a special interest in millenarian movements—attempts a thoughtful “reconciliation” of what he attributes to be the positions of Matthias Kuntzel, and myself, vis a vis Islamic Antisemitism. But Landes’ discussion has two fundamental flaws.

First, Landes ignores (and likely does not appreciate) Kuntzel’s complete failure to understand the jihad, which lead Kuntzel to opine, remarkably (on p. 13 of his book “Jihad and Jew Hatred”),

The [Muslim] Brotherhood’s most significant innovation was their concept of jihad as holy war, which significantly differed from other contemporary doctrines and, associated with that, the passionately pursued goal of dying a martyr’s death in the war with the unbeliever. Before the founding of the Brotherhood, Islamic currents of modern times had understood jihad (derived from a root signifying “effort”) as the individual striving for belief or the missionary task of disseminating Islam. Only when this missionary work was hindered were they allowed to use force to defend themselves against the unbelievers resistance. The starting point of Islamism is the new interpretation of jihad espoused with uncompromising militancy by Hassan al-Bana, the first to preach this kind of jihad in modern times.

There is simply no way to reconcile this statement with either classical Islamic doctrine—entirely consistent with Al-Banna’s views—or the tragic, but copious historical evidence of how jihad campaigns, in accord with this doctrine, were (and continue to be) conducted across, Asia, Africa, and Europe. I amass incontrovertible evidence of this living doctrine and history in the The Legacy of Jihad.

Moreover, in 1916, the great Dutch Orientalist Hurgronje noted the wide rank and file support among the Muslim masses for a restored Caliphate even at the very nadir of Islam’s political power. And here is an extract from an article that appeared in the Calcutta Guardian in 1924 which linked the Pan-Islamic Indian Khilafat (Caliphate) Movement to trends that developed, and intensified following the Russo-Turkish War of 1876-78, fifty years prior to the advent of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, and completely independent of the latter:

The Islamic World was aroused to the fact that the area of Islamic independence was steadily narrowing, and the Qur’anic theory that Islam should dominate over every other religion was giving way to the contrary system. It was felt that the only Muslim power which could deal with those of Europe as an equal was Turkey; and pan-Islamism everywhere inculcated the doctrine that Turkey should be strengthened and supported. The Sultan was urged to advance through Persia into India and make common cause with the Sudanese Mehdi, and restore Egypt to an Islamic Sovereign.

Second, Landes (like Kuntzel) adopts uncritically the notion that “real” Jew extermination is only plausible given the “shift” from what is termed “anti-Judaism,” to “redemptive” Antisemitism—the former phenomenon not even meriting the term “Antisemitism.”

This nomenclature—Anti-Judaism vs. Antisemitism—itself is quite strange, and ahistorical, in light of what our greatest historian of Muslim-Jewish relations during the high Middle Ages, S.D. Goitein, uncovered and described (over 35 years ago) from the Geniza documentary record. Goitein’s seminal analyses of the Geniza material employed the term Antisemitism, in his own words,

…in order to differentiate animosity against Jews from the discrimination practiced by Islam against non-Muslims in general. Our scrutiny of the Geniza material has proved the existence of “Antisemitism” in the time and the area considered here

Goitein cites as concrete proof of his assertion that a unique strain of Islamic Antisemitism was extant at this time (i.e., up to a millennium ago) the fact that letters from the Cairo Geniza material,

…have a special word for it and, most significantly, one not found in the Bible or in Talmudic literature (nor registered in any Hebrew dictionary), but one much used and obviously coined in the Geniza period. It is sin’ūth, “hatred”, a Jew-baiter being called sōnē, “a hater”.

Incidents of such Muslim Antisemitism— Jew hatred—documented by Goitein in the Geniza come from northern Syria (Salamiyya and al-Mar‘arra), Morocco (Fez), and Egypt (Alexandria), with references to the latter being particularly frequent. But this oddly selective nomenclature belies a more fundamental ignorance of Islamic doctrine and facts on the ground history—including within historical Palestine itself—that render Landes’ construct dubious, at best.

Muslim eschatology—ignored altogether by the Medievalist Landes—as depicted in the hadith, highlights the Jews’ supreme hostility to Islam. Jews are described as adherents of the Dajjâl—the Muslim equivalent of the Anti-Christ—or according to another tradition, the Dajjâl is himself Jewish. At his appearance, other traditions maintain that the Dajjâl will be accompanied by 70,000 Jews from Isfahan wrapped in their robes, and armed with polished sabers, their heads covered with a sort of veil. When the Dajjâl is defeated, his Jewish companions will be slaughtered— everything will deliver them up except for the so-called gharkad tree. According to a canonical hadith—repeated in the 1988 Hamas Charter (in section 7)—if a Jew seeks refuge under a tree or a stone, these objects will be able to speak to tell a Muslim: “There is a Jew behind me; come and kill him!” Another hadith variant, which takes place in Jerusalem, has Isa (the Muslim Jesus) leading the Arabs in a rout of the Dajjâl and his company of 70,000 armed Jews. And the notion of jihad “ransom” extends even into Islamic eschatology—on the day of resurrection the vanquished Jews will be consigned to Hellfire, and this will expiate Muslims who have sinned, sparing them from this fate.

But it is the Jews stubborn malevolence, as described in Georges Vajda’s seminal analysis of the Jew hating motifs in the hadith, that is their defining worldly characteristic:

Jews are represented in the darkest colors [i.e., in the hadith]. Convinced by the clear testimony of their books that Mohammed was the true prophet, they refused to convert, out of envy, jealousy and national particularism, even out of private interest. They have falsified their sacred books and do not apply the laws of God; nevertheless, they pursued Mohammed with their raillery and their oaths, and harassed him with questions, an enterprise that turned to their own confusion and merely corroborated the authenticity of the supernatural science of the prophet. From words they moved to action: sorcery, poisoning, assassination held no scruples for them.

Vajda concludes that these archetypes, in turn, justify Muslim animus towards the Jews, and the admonition to at best, “subject [the Jews] to Muslim domination”, as dhimmis, treated “with contempt,” under certain “humiliating arrangements.”

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. 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.

Historian Saul S. Friedman, also citing the emergence of Zionism (as an ideology anathema to the Islamic system of dhimmitude for Jews), concluded that this modern movement, and the creation of the Jewish State of Israel has, not surprisingly, unleashed a torrent of annihilationist Islamic antisemitism, “the brew of thirteen centuries of intolerance”:

Since 1896, the development of modern, political Zionism has placed new tension on, and even destroyed, the traditional master-serf relationship that existed between Arab and Jew in the Middle East. An Arab world that could not tolerate the presence of a single, “arrogant” Jewish vizier in its history was now confronted by a modern state staffed with self-confident Jewish ministers.

This is exactly the Islamic context in which the widespread, “resurgent” use of Jew annihilationist apocalyptic motifs—exemplified by the Hamas charter, and the utterances, most recently by Hamas cleric Wael al-Zarad—would be an anticipated, even commonplace occurrence.

But Landes also ignores the catastrophic impact of the more “mundane” application of Islam’s doctrinal principles towards Jews (and other dhimmis) independent of Islamic eschatology, per se.

In my forthcoming The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism, I have elaborated on how the tragic mass killings 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 provide these details of the earlier period:

On Jan. 8, Djemal Pasha ordered the destruction of all Jewish colonization documents within a fortnight under penalty of death…In many cases land settled by Jews was handed over to Arabs, and wheat collected by the relief committee in Galilee was confiscated in order to feed the army. The Moslem peasantry are being armed with any weapons discovered in Jewish hands…The United States cruiser Tennessee has been fitted up on the lines of a troop ship for the accommodation of about 1,500 refugees, and is plying regularly between Alexandria and Jaffa…A proclamation issued by the commander of the Fourth [Turkish] Army Corps describes Zionism as a revolutionary anti-Tukish movement which must be stamped out. Accordingly the local governing committees have been dissolved and the sternest measures have been taken to insure that all Jews who remain on their holdings shall be Ottoman subjects…Nearly all the [7000] Jewish refugees in Alexandria come from Jerusalem and other large towns, among them being over 1,000 young men of the artisan class who refused to become Ottomans.

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 these details of the Jews plight:

The orders of evacuation were aimed chiefly at the Jewish population. Even German, Austro-Hungarian, and Bulgarian Jews were ordered to leave the town. Mohammedans and Christians were allowed to remain provided they were holders of individual permits. The Jews who sought the permits were refused. On April 1 the Jews were ordered to leave the country within 48 hours. Those who rode from Jaffa to Petach Tikvah had to pay from 100 to 200 francs instead of the normal fare of 15 to 25 francs. The Turkish drivers practically refused to receive anything but gold, the Turkish paper note being taken as the equivalent of 17.50 piastres for a note of 100 piastres. Already about a week earlier 300 Jews had been deported in a most cruel manner from Jerusalem. Djemal Pasha openly declared that the joy of the Jews on the approach of the British forces would be shortlived, as he would make them share the fate of the Armenians. In Jaffa Djemal Pasha cynically assured the Jews that it was for their own good and interests that he drove them out. Those who had not succeeded in leaving on April 1 were graciously accorded permission to remain at Jaffa over the Easter holiday. Thus 8000 were evicted from their houses and not allowed to carry off their belongings or provisions. Their houses were looted and pillaged even before the owners had left. A swarm of pillaging Bedouin women, Arabs with donkeys, camels, etc., came like birds of prey and proceeded to carry off valuables and furniture. The Jewish suburbs have been totally sacked under the paternal eye of the authorities. By way of example two Jews from Yemen were hanged at the entrance of the Jewish suburb of Tel Aviv in order to clearly indicate the fate in store for any Jew who might be so foolish as to oppose the looters. The roads to the Jewish colonies north of Jaffa are lined with thousands of starving Jewish refugees. The most appalling scenes of of cruelty and robbery are reported by absolutely reliable eyewitnesses. Dozens of cases are reported of wealthy Jews who were found dead in the sandhills around Tel Aviv. In order to drive off the bands of robbers preying on the refugees on the roads the young men of the Jewish villages organized a body of guards to watch in turn the roads. These guards have been arrested and maltreated by the authorities. The Mohammedan population have also left the town recently, but they are allowed to live in the orchards and country houses surrounding Jaffa and are permitted to enter the town daily to look after their property, but not a single Jew has been allowed to return to Jaffa.

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.

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 “ hold the military and Turkish authorities directly responsible for a policy of slaughter and destruction of the Jews”—may have averted this disaster.

On June 30, 1922, a joint resolution of both Houses of Congress of the United States unanimously endorsed the “Mandate for Palestine,” confirming the irrevocable right of Jews to settle in the area of Palestine—anywhere between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The Congressional Record contains a statement of support from New York Rep. Walter Chandler which includes an observation, about “Turkish and Arab agitators… preaching a kind of holy war [jihad] against…the Jews” of Palestine. Earlier, in 1921, leaders of the Indian Khilafat (Caliphate) movement made clear at conferences held in India that Islamic suzerainty must prevail over all of historical Palestine. And in 1920, at the local level, within British controlled Palestine, Musa Kazem el-Husseini, former governor of Jaffa during the final years of Ottoman rule, and president of the Arab (primarily Muslim) Palestinian Congress, in a letter to the British High Commissioner, Herbert Samuels, demanded restoration of the Shari’a—which had only been fully abrogated two years earlier when Britain ended four centuries of Ottoman Muslim rule of Palestine—stating that this Religious Law, was “… engraved in the very hearts of the Arabs and has been assimilated in their customs and that has been applied …in the modern [Arab] states…” During this same era within Palestine, a strong Arab Muslim irredentist current –epitomized by both Hajj Amin el-Husseini and shortly afterward, Izz ad din al-Qassam—promulgated the forcible restoration of Shari’a-mandated dhimmitude via jihad.

Let me demonstrate, in conclusion the serious flaws in Landes’overall construct by posing a basic hypothetical question:

Can Landes posit what would have happened, say in late 1922—the Muslim Brothers were not formed until 1928; the Nazis do not come to power until 1933—with regard to Islamic jihad and Islamic Jew hatred, specifically, if the British had created some rump state Jewish homeland, actually governed by Jews, and rapidly departed, bearing in mind both the fate of other dhimmi nationalisms in the 19th and early 20th centuries (Serb, Greek, Bulgarian, Armenian), and the special place occupied by dhimmi Jews in Islamic eschatology?

One response to “Richard the Reconciliation-Hearted