11 Nov 2013
Islam and Anti-Semitism: A Conflicting Set of Histories
History provides us with few disputes as entangled as Jewish-Muslim relations. Though it was not always such a pervasive problem, it has compiled into one of the most divisive, exclusive, and problematic debates of the current era. Countless scholars have attempted to interpret the Muslim outlook towards the Jewish people. Islamic anti-Semitism is one of the greatest oversimplified nuances of the modern Middle East and of Islamic theology. The mere mentioning of Islam in conjunction with anti-Semitism, can act as a prism through which passes widely varying opinions, histories, and myopias. It can be argued that it is a dire imperative that must be understood to fully grasp Islamic culture and history. While it is a common thread that runs through various facets of Islam; its causes, significance, and implications are greatly misunderstood by Western culture. Through the following, a multilateral examination will be conducted to evaluate some of the most prevalent undertones of Islamic anti-Semitism. Historical Arguments Against Islamic Anti-Semitism
Originating in the seventh century, Islam began a dramatic and rapid spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula, soon penetrating parts of Africa, Europe, and Asia. With an almost inexplicably fast expanse, it would be farfetched for Muslims to not emerge as the rulers of any preexisting Jewish populations of the land.
But how far reaching was Islamic anti-Semitism in the early days of Islam? This is a matter of contention amongst scholars who have studied the subject. Notable scholars Claude Cahen and Shelomo Dov Goitein insist that historic anti-Semitism wasn’t very specifically prominent throughout the Muslim world and was discriminative toward all non-Muslims (I.E. not singling out the Jewish community) following that same thread, these scholars contend that Medieval Islamic anti-Semitism was not a pandemic, but had occurred sporadically.
In his work Islam and Islamism Tibi Bassam agrees with Lewis that Judeophobia existed throughout the history of Islam, but was greatly modified in more recent times. He believes that the more genocidal form of anti-Semitism was a German creation and that Islamic form was much more harmless (prior to the twentieth century). Bassam states that the Islamic world did not see a more radical anti-Semitism until the 1930s (by Arab nationalists, not Islamists specifically per se). He does concede however, that the current form of Islamic anti-Semitism is a dangerous phenomenon. It should be noted that Bassam believes Islam is inherently free as a culture and faith of this hatred, but it “is a basic feature of contemporary Islamism.”
Another argument against true nature of Islamic Anti-Semitism comes from Bernard Lewis. Lewis contends that early Islamic Anti-Semitism was mostly harmless. He asserts that while Muslim populations have perpetuated derogatory Jewish...