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Friday, June 20, 2008

Part III: Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism

Part III of a discussion about
The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn History,” by Andrew Bostom. In this segment, we reference Robert Kaplan's review of Bostom's book for how Bostom treats the subject of Islamic antisemitism differently than does Bernard Lewis. Kaplan is a professor of history at Cornell University.

Writes Kaplan: (excerpted)

Bostom's book is part of an ongoing debate about the comparative situation of Jews under the crescent and the cross. In this debate Bostom is in sharp disagreement with Bernard Lewis, the well known and much quoted authority on the history of Islam.

One source of difference lies in the fact that compared with Lewis's [Bostom's] writing includes considerably more detail of the anti-Jewish elements in Islamic religion, culture and history.

By quoting the words of Jews who lived under the Muslims and non-Moslems visiting their lands, Bostom's text conveys emotions of sympathy and indignation regarding the oppressed condition of Jews which Lewis's academic, non-emotional style largely omits.

The structure of Lewis's and Bostom's arguments are also quite different.

Employing a genetic approach, Bostom shows that Islam's holy books, the Koran, the hadith and the sira all have sharply negative things to say about Jews, that these have been emphasized and reinforced by Moslem thinkers, jurists and preachers throughout the history of Islam, and that the attitudes and ideas engendered by them have directly influenced the actions of Moslem rulers, clergy and mobs both in their oppression of Jews as dhimmis and their aggressive excesses against Jews which have included pogroms, forced conversion, pillage and expulsion.

The status of dhimmi to which Jews and Christians are relegated under Islamic law is one entailing serious suffering and indignity in the best of circumstances. Frequently circumstances were far from the best.

Lewis puts Islam's record regarding Jews in a favorable light mainly with the generalizations he makes rather than the particular facts he marshals.

Lewis writes "dhimmitude was a minor inconvenience Jews learned to live with ...under Muslim rule the status of dhimmi was long accepted with gratitude by Jews." In making this improbable claim he gives no evidence or explanation.

How does Lewis reach the conclusion that anti-Semitism is unknown to classical Islam? He defines "anti-Semitism" as hatred of Jews according to Christian doctrine, not simply hatred of Jews. In doing so he distorts the ordinary meaning of "antisemitism" which in contemporary English means hatred of Jews.

This said, Lewis's writing about Muslim and Jews should not be dismissed. Key to his thinking is the idea, which seems reasonable enough, that in recent years Arab Moslem hatred of Jews has become especially widespread and intense.

The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism provides a broad history of the darker side of the Jewish experience in the lands of Islam and the ideas and beliefs which guided Moslem attitudes towards Jews. In this the book brings to light a little known and largely misunderstood area of history and provides an important corrective to the skewed interpretation common among scholars of Islam who, for whatever reason, feel they must put a positive spin on what is essentially negative history.