A Book Review: The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism, edited by Andrew G. Bostom
Bostom’s new book shreds two myths that have become almost as entrenched among the media/academic elite as man-made global warming: that Islamic anti-Semitism is a recent phenomenon learned from the Nazis and that Islam is a religion tolerant of minorities, with Jews living safely under Islam for many centuries, never more idyllically than during the Golden Age of Muslim Spain.
Like Bostom’s earlier companion volume “The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims”, this is effectively two books: a lengthy overview, by Bostom, followed by the “proof-texts:” relevant sections of the Koran, the hadith (its authoritative exegesis) and the sira (early biographical writing on Mohammed); the statements of more recent key Islamic jurists; and essays, some by experts, many of them first hand, on the actual experience of minorities under Islam at different times and places.
Hatred and contempt for Jews, Bostom shows clearly, is rooted in the text of the Koran. Mohammed began by wooing Jewish tribes (Jews were numerous in Medina, which was originally a Jewish city), adopting Jewish ceremonies, even stipulating that his followers turn to Jerusalem in prayer. But the Jews dismissed him as ignorant, peppered him with questions, and mocked his mistakes when he answered. Hell hath no fury like a prophet scorned and Mohammed turned angrily against the Jews, wiping out many, expelling others. In the Koran itself Mohammed describes the Jews as “envious” with hearts “hard as rock,” “evildoers” who “confound the truth,” “the heirs of Hell,” “apes,
despised and loathed.” And much more in the same vein.
The hadith and sira embellish the theme. Mohammed’s death is attributed to
poisoning by a Jewish woman; even the catastrophic schism within Islam into Shiites and Sunnis is blamed on a Yemenite convert from Judaism. Blaming the Jews for untoward developments in Islam has continued into modern times: for example, Sayyid Qutb, the founder of fundamentalism in modern Egypt, held Jews responsible for the emergence of secular national elites in the Muslim world — indeed argued that “anyone who leads this community away from its religion and its Qur’an can only be a Jewish agent.” The same poisonous stew continues to be preached today by imams in their Friday sermons, especially in the Arab world. For Islam, as Bat Yeor, a pioneer in the modern study of the (mis)treatment of minorities in Islam, has pointed out, Nazism merely provided new propaganda techniques.
As for the actual experience of Jews — and Christians — in the Islamic world, as people of the book, they were allowed to live subjected as dhimmis. Dhimmis had to pay the jizya, a burdensome annual tax, which they were supposed to deliver to the authorities in person and be beaten around the head as they did so. Dhimmis were not permitted to defend themselves if physically assaulted by a Muslim, could not testify against a Muslim in a court of law, had to wear distinctive clothing, footgear and badges (here the Nazis imitated Islam), could not ride horses or bear arms; had to hurry through the streets with lowered eyes, accept insults without reply, and always pass to the left (impure) side of a Muslim. Dhimmis were restricted in building new houses of worship or repairing old ones. Bat Yeor points out they did not have human rights as individuals — their only “rights” derived from acceding to the rules laid down by the protector for giving his protection. The cumulative effect of humiliation and economic exploitation was devastating. Nazi propagandist and later convert to Islam Johann von Leers (whose 1942 essay “Judaism and Islam as Opposites” was translated for Bostom’s book) celebrates this: “Oriental Jewry was completely paralyzed by Islam. Its back was broken.”
Even so, a greater proportion of Jews than Christians resisted conversion to Islam. Although the Muslim countries around the southern and eastern Mediterranean were Christian before being conquered by jihad, almost all the inhabitants would become Muslims. The most effective measures were not necessarily the most brutal: particularly effective was a provision that gave a convert inheritance rights to the property of all his relatives.
So where did the myth of Islamic tolerance, the myth of a golden age in Muslim Spain, come from? Oddly enough, it came largely from 19th century European Jewish scholars who developed Islamic studies. They romanticized especially the experience of Jews in Muslim Spain as a reproach to the European societies in their own day, reluctant to accept Jews as equals in the wake of their legal emancipation. As Bernard Lewis, the doyen of Islamic studies, puts it: “The myth was invented by Jews in 19th century Europe as a reproach to Christians — and taken up by Muslims in our own time as a reproach to Jews.” This is not to deny that there was a burst of Jewish philosophic and poetic creativity in Muslim Spain with some Jews assuming positions of political power. But the effect was to inflame the Muslim masses. In the 11th century, widely taken to be the peak of Arab-Jewish symbiosis in Spain, 4.000 Jews were killed in Muslim riots in Grenada and hundreds of Jews slaughtered in Cordoba.
“The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism” affords important lessons for Jews and Christians alike. Jews can learn that the vaunted Arab-Israel “peace process” is a delusion — there is no way Muslims will accept Jews as anything but dhimmis in a region they claim as part of the Islamic heartland. And Christians can learn that the “multiculturalism” of which the West has become enamored threatens to pave the way for them to assume dhimmi status in the European heartland. Absurd? A small telling incident. In Birmingham, on February 19, two American-born preachers were briefly arrested for passing out Christian pamphlets in a Muslim area: they were told it was a “hate crime.” Continued mass Muslim immigration to Europe, a much higher birthrate and potential conversion of Europeans increasingly adrift from their Christian faith can lead before long to a “tipping point” in several European countries.
This important book should become the standard reference work on its subject.
Rael Jean Isaac has written extensively on public policy issues.