Anti-Semitism (hatred for Jewish people) is not a new or unique phenomenon for us Pakistanis. We love to hate the Jews and to blame all our ills on the ugly, hideous, nefarious designs of the Zionist Jews. After all, Jews control the world and it is only because of them that we Muslims are so far behind the rest of the world. It’s all a big conspiracy.
Journalist and Political advocate Tarek Fatah described and analyzed the reasons for this anti-Semitism in his book, “The Jew is Not My Enemy: Unveiling Myths that fuel Muslim Anti-Semitism”. Following are some excerpts from the excellent book by Tarek Fatah.
According to Bernard Lewis, one of the foremost scholars of Islamic history, the anti-Semitic ideas of Christianity first entered the Muslim world because of Islam’s conquest of Europe, which resulted in many Christians converting to Islam. Later, when Europe hit back and colonized the Middle East, its anti-Jewish ideas infiltrated the Arab world. “European anti-Semitism, in both its theological and racist versions, was essentially alien to Islamic traditions, culture, and modes of thought,” writes Lewis. He notes that “prejudices existed in the Islamic world, as did occasional hostility, but not what could be called anti-Semitism, for there was no attribution of cosmic evil. And on the whole, Jews fared better under Muslim rule than Christians did.”
According to Lewis, it was Christian converts to Islam who brought anti-Semitism into the Arab world. Later, Greek Orthodox Christians who found themselves living under Ottoman rule are said to have introduced the notion of the blood libel into the Middle East. “The blood libel was endemic in these parts [Greece] and was brought to the notice of Ottoman authorities through the usual disturbances it caused at Easter time. This was the first time this story became known in Muslim Lands.”
In the mid-1800s, with the rise of European maritime power and the decline of Ottoman Turkey, there was a natural alignment between Christian Arabs and Christian Europeans. This contract brought numerous blood-liberal charges against Jews living in the Ottoman Empire. Very Often, it was business interests, not religion, that were at the root of the conflict. Christian businesses saw Jews as their main competitors in the Middle East, and it was easy to inflame Arab passions against the Jews. Lewis writes that anti-Semitism “was actively encouraged by Western emissaries of various kinds, including consular representatives on the one hand, and priests and missionaries on the other.” A famous example was the 1840 Damascus blood-libel case, in which the French consul backed the Capuchin monks who had accused the Jews of Blood-libel.
By the end of the century, there were calls for Christian-Muslim solidarity against the Jews. Soon, the allegations against the Jews of blood-libel were coming from Muslim quarters, not Christian.
In 1856, another event inside the Ottoman Caliphate caused Islamic clerics to suspect the hidden hand of the kuffar. At the end of Crimean war, Turkey implemented the Reform Act, which gave equal status to all Ottoman subjects, irrespective of religious background, and forbade discrimination against non-Muslims. This was a huge step forward in the Ottoman effort to modernize as a European power and not remain the “sick man of Europe” as the Russians had referred to the six-hundred-year old empire.
The old order, premised on the supremacy of Islam, yet providing protection to Jews and Christians as wards of the state, had stood for more than a millennium. Suddenly, however, Jewish citizens were deemed equal to Muslims, and the Islamist clergy as well as the privileged classes resented this. Murmurs of a Jewish conspiracy began to circulate. A memorandum by an Ottoman official reflects the angst of the Muslim population: “Today we have lost our sacred national rights won by the blood of our fathers and forefathers. At a time when the Islamic community is the ruling community, it has been deprived of the sacred right. This is a day of weeping and mourning for the people of Islam. As for the non-Muslims, this day, when they gained equality with the ruling community, was a day of rejoicing.”
Decades later, when the “Young Turks” overthrew Sultan Abdul Hamid II in 1908, their opponents, in order to discredit the supporters of constitutional reform, accused the revolutionaries of being supported by Jews. Even today, the Islamic world is rife with rumors that the father of the modern Turkish republic, Kemal Ataturk, who abolished the caliphate in 1924, was secretly a Jew. While the Ottomans were adjusting to the reality of an awakened and industrialized Europe, and attempting to modernize their society, the doors were meanwhile opening to all sorts of European ideas and philosophies: Nationalism, Marxism and yes, anti-Semitism.
The famous anti-Semitic literature in Arabic appeared in 1869, in the form of the confessions of a Moldavian Rabbi who had converted to Christianity. Members of the Christian Arab community in Beirut published the Arabic translation, which supposedly revealed “the horrors of the Jewish religion.” Later, in 1890, a Christian author, Habib Faris, published a book in Cairo called in The Talmudic Human Sacrifices, accusing the Jews of ritual sacrifices, which were attributed to Talmudic teachings. Jews had lived among Muslims for nearly fourteen hundred years, yet it seems no one in Baghdad, Cordoba or Cairo had heard of these “human sacrifices” until the Europeans came to enlighten us about our cousins. It must be added that the caliph was totally opposed to the distribution of these anti-Jewish texts; authorities closed down publishers and shuttered newspapers to prevent public disorder.
However, the publication that firmly established anti-Semitism in the Muslim consciousness was The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The forgery was the first translated into Arabic by an Arab Christian, and published in Jerusalem in 1926. From Jerusalem’s Christian quarters to the offices of the city’s Mufti was not too far a distance, and soon this piece of fiction became the ideological tool that motivated opposition to the trickle of European Jews who were beginning to settle in British Palestine. The book from Europe gave additional credence to the existing classical tales in Islamic literature about the devious nature of the Jew.
However, it was only after the end of World War II, when the rest of the world had dismissed The Protocols as a fake, that the tract found new life in the Middle East. The Protocols were reintroduced in Cairo in 1951, with a fresh Arabic translation. Defeat of the combined Arab armies in 1948 at the hands of Israel gave fresh impetus to Judeophobia. The baton of anti-Semitism was passed from Europe to the Arab world, and work began to blend the characterization of Jews in The Protocols with their depiction in Islamic literature as untrustworthy sons of pigs and apes. How else could we explain the inability of the combined armies of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria to defeat the infant state of Israel?
After all, they argument went, had it not been for the Jewish conspiracy and Jewish control of the UN, the U.S.A, and the U.S.S.R., surely the Arab armies would have won. When asked why God had not intervened to help the Muslims, theologians answered that Muslims were being put through a test by Allah and if we returned to the path of seventh-century Islam, we would see the Jews defeated the way they were in the battle of Khaybar. If proof was needed of the devious and conniving methods of world Jewry, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was produced as evidence.
It was in this climate to despair and failure in the Arab world of the late 1940s that the Islamist movement would discover its Lenin as well as its Trotsky in the same person—a man whose ideas still define the Jihad launched on Western Civilization by Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri.