Jerusalem Post Interview with Sam Ser

Sam Ser of The Jerusalem Post has published (yesterday June 19, 2008) his interview with me conducted about a month ago now, in mid-May:


A simmering hatred

Jun. 19, 2008

With common motifs spanning from North Africa to India, from the eighth century to the 21st century and from Sunnis to Shi’ites and Sufis as well, anti-Semitism cannot be explained by cultural influences but is, in fact, inherently Islamic

Andrew Bostom has bats in his belfry. He literally has bats flying around in his home. Speaking with The Jerusalem Post about the release of his new book, The Legacy of Anti-Semitism in Islam, Bostom is still breathing heavily from chasing away the unwelcome guests.

In his writing, Bostom tries to chase away a different kind of demon: the pervasive belief that the anti-Semitism common to so many Muslims today is a modern, and alien, influence on what more than 1 billion people call “the religion of peace.”

One look at the cover art of The Legacy of Islamic Anti-Semitism is all it takes to discern what Bostom thinks of that. Alfred Dehodencq’s vividly colorful but starkly ominous painting “Execution of a Moroccan Jewess” is a recreation of the actual public execution, in Tangier in the 1830s, of 17-year-old Sol Hachuel, who was falsely accused of converting to, and then renouncing, Islam. In an introductory note on the painting and on the heartbreaking tale, Bostom asserts that Sol’s cruel fate was shared by countless Jews over more than a dozen centuries, wherever Muslims ruled. Then, in the several hundred pages that follow, he proves it.

The Legacy of Islamic Anti-Semitism calls to mind the work of Bat Yeor, who over the past 20 years has practically single-handedly forced recognition of the oppression inherent in what she calls dhimmitude – the institution of inferiority, humiliation and obedience that Muslims demand of non-Muslims under their control.

But Bostom, who considers Bat Yeor a mentor, goes a step further. He provides an extraordinarily thorough look at the history of Islamic anti-Semitism in practice, from the dawn of the religion until today and in every place where Muslims predominated, using first-hand accounts of renowned Muslim scholars and historians as well as Western observers. The questions facing Muslims today – Will they deny this religiously motivated hatred? Excuse it? Use it for political gain? Reject it and reform Islam? – all require an in-depth examination of the Koran, the hadith (sayings and deeds of Muhammad and his companions), and the sira (the biography of Muhammad) as the textual roots of this hatred. And that is what Bostom provides in The Legacy of Islamic Anti-Semitism.

What makes this work truly unique, though, is that Bostom had virtually no knowledge of Islam prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks. He is an epidemiologist and clinical nutritionist from New England who spends the vast majority of his time researching renal diseases.

“I wanted to know what had motivated the terrorists,” says Bostom, who grew up in New York. So, on the afternoon of September 11, “I grabbed a couple of books at a bookstore on the way home and read them that night. But they were so treacley and so transparently apologetic.” The contradiction between the Islam espoused by the terrorists and the religion described in the books, he says, “just didn’t make any sense.”

In search of deeper analyses of Islam, Bostom began exhausting the resources of local libraries.

“I was quite interested in learning more about the history and the theology of jihad,” he says. (The Legacy of Islamic Anti-Semitism is essentially the continuation of his 2005 book The Legacy of Jihad in Islam.) “The model for me was to go back and look at essays written by great Orientalists and materials that I felt had fallen by the wayside. Of special interest were materials that were not available in English, for which I sought out Arabic and Farsi translators. Almost all my primary sources were Muslim scholars.”

WHILE SEARCHING for the roots of jihad, Bostom found the roots of Islam’s Jew-hatred. More often than not, they were intertwined.

“As I was putting the first book together, I came across Ahmad Sirhindi,” he explains. “He was an Indian Sufi who was enraged by the reforms of Moghul Akbar, who abolished the jizya [poll tax]. This enraged the orthodox ulema [scholars], one of the chief representatives of whom was Sirhindi. Amongst his virulent tracts against the moghul he says, ‘Whenever a Jew is killed, it is for the benefit of Islam.’ Now, this is a 16th-17th century anti-Hindu ideologue, and there’s no evidence that he ever had contact with a Jew. So I was like, ‘Where on earth did this come from?'”

Bostom looked first to the Koran for an explanation.

“When I put together the Koranic verses on the Jews,” he continues, “they read like an indictment, prosecution and conviction. It was virulently anti-Semitic. Going into the hadith and the histories of Muhammad – where his assassination is attributed to a Khybar Jewess, for example – only strengthened this conviction.

“So when I juxtaposed that with the notion that there was no theological anti-Semitism in Islam, it was stunning. It’s just so in-your-face that to claim that the foundational sources don’t create anti-Semitism or aren’t inherently anti-Semitic… it’s absurd.”

Forced conversions, rapes, pogroms, the wholesale slaughter of Jews in North Africa during the Almohad invasions of the 12th century and innumerable other incidents catalogued in The Legacy of Islamic Anti-Semitism attest that this Jew hatred was more than a literary holdover of Muhammad’s contempt for the Jews for rejecting his prophecies. Bostom also makes it plain that, with common motifs spanning from North Africa to India, from the eighth century to the 21st century and from Sunnis to Shi’ites and Sufis as well, anti-Semitism cannot be explained by cultural influences but is, in fact, inherently Islamic.

It is that point, Bostom says, that must be addressed if any change is to occur.

“The history has to be recognized and the doctrine has to be changed,” he says. “I think these institutions are crying out to be reformed, and the history that they’ve engendered, to be owned up to. That’s the most important thing that I think has to happen.”

WITH The Legacy of Jihad in Islam and, now, The Legacy of Islamic Anti-Semitism, Bostom has spent the past several years pointing out the ugly sides of Islam. That makes the 52-year-old a target for accusations that he is anti-Muslim – accusations that he says are unfair and that only serve to distract from the problems at issue.

“First of all,” he says, “I’m not talking about specific Muslims, I’m talking about doctrine and history. But when I point out what this doctrine and history is, the response I get from Muslims is, ‘What’s wrong with it?’ Bat Yeor writes that all the major scourges of the West have been recognized, while those of the Muslim world have not. This fundamental absence of mea culpa in the Muslim world is a problem, and I think it’s at the heart of the failure of these institutions to reform themselves. [Pointing this out] is not a question of demonization. It’s a question of very destructive institutions that have to change. And it’s not going to change by applying whitewash to these doctrines, whether by Muslims or by non-Muslims.”

There is a sense of urgency in Bostom’s words, though not a sense of panic. He cites the recommendations of Ibn Warraq, the formidable secularist thinker who wrote the foreword to both of Bostom’s books, regarding educational reforms for the Muslim world. He urges Muslims “to say that radicalism is a dead limb that has to be chopped off because, frankly, their society is bigger than just that.”

And ultimately, when asked what he expects people – Muslims and non-Muslims – to do with the information in The Legacy of Jihad in Islam and The Legacy of Islamic Anti-Semitism, Bostom answers: “I want them to understand the magnitude and the depth of the problem. And I want them to understand that this problem will not go away without discussion, without a mea culpa on the part of the Muslims, and that it’s the obligation on the part of the non-Muslims to encourage these reforms to take place.

“I think that it can’t be left up to Muslims themselves, because that hasn’t worked. Of course, in the long term, it will have to come from within. But in the meantime,” Bostom concludes, “non-Muslims are going to have to defend themselves and to demand a change.”


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