Friday, February 24, 2006

Bernard Lewis: The New Anti-Semitism II--Arab Humor

On a different tack on Anti-Semitism, Lewis gives an example of the Jewish stereotype in the Arab world, in terms of folklore and humor:
An interesting difference in hostile stereotypes can be found in anecdotes, jokes, and the like. The main negative quality attributed to Jews in Turkish and Arab folklore was that they were cowardly and unmilitary—very contemptible qualities in a martial society. A late Ottoman joke may serve to illustrate this. The story is that in 1912, at the time of the Balkan war, when there was an acute threat to the Ottoman Empire in its final stages, the Jews, full of patriotic ardor, decided that they, too, wanted to serve in the defense of their country, so they asked permission to form a special volunteer brigade. Permission was given, and officers and ncos were sent to train and equip them. Once the Jewish volunteer brigade was armed, equipped, and trained, ready to leave for the front, they sent a message asking if they could have a police escort, because there were reports of bandits on the road.
In particular, Lewis uses this anecdote to explain the humiliation the Arab world felt in the aftermath of the War of Independence, and the subsequent wars it instigated and lost:
This is a very interesting human document. Is it hostile? Not really. It shows a sort of amused tolerance, at once good-humored and contemptuous, that may help us to understand the bewilderment and horror at the Israeli victories in 1948 and after. We have some vivid descriptions at the time of the expectations and reactions of 1948. Azzam Pasha, who was then the secretary-general of the Arab League, is quoted as having said: "This will be like the Mongol invasions. We will utterly destroy them. We will sweep them into the sea." The expectation was that it would be quick and easy. There would be no problem at all dealing with half a million Jews. It was then an appalling shock when five Arab armies were defeated by half a million Jews with very limited weaponry. It remains shameful, humiliating. This was mentioned at the time and has been ever since. One writer said: "It was bad enough to be conquered and occupied by the mighty empires of the West, the British Empire, the French Empire, but to suffer this fate at the hands of a few hundred thousand Jews was intolerable."
According to Lewis then, the humiliation that the Arab world felt was not due to the fact that Jews were for over a thousand years dhimmis--subjugated second class citizens--but because they were historically considered weak and cowardly. In this Lewis is consistent in his view of "Dhimmitude":
If we look at the considerable literature available about the position of Jews in the Islamic world, we find two well-established myths. One is the story of a golden age of equality, of mutual respect and cooperation, especially but not exclusively in Moorish Spain; the other is of “dhimmi”-tude, of subservience and persecution and ill treatment. Both are myths. Like many myths, both contain significant elements of truth, and the historic truth is in its usual place, somewhere in the middle between the extremes.
In contrast, Dr. Mitchell Bard, author of Myths and Facts, has an article on The Treatment of Jews in Arab/Islamic Countries where he details how Jewish communities in various Moslem communities in various periods of history were subject to the destruction of synagogues, living in ghettos, and the mass slaughter of Jews. Bard quotes G.E. Von Grunebaum, author of "Eastern Jewry Under Islam":
It would not be difficult to put together the names of a very sizeable number of Jewish subjects or citizens of the Islamic area who have attained to high rank, to power, to great financial influence, to significant and recognized intellectual attainment; and the same could be done for Christians. But it would again not be difficult to compile a lengthy list of persecutions, arbitrary confiscations, attempted forced conversions, or pogroms.
But unlike the issue of former dhimmitude, the Arab view of Jews as cowardly comes into play in the way that Israel conducts itself in dealing and negotiating with the Palestinian terrorists from Oslo on--in the constant talk of the need for concessions and seeming reluctance to see to it that the Palestinian Arabs keep their promises and obligations.

It is one thing for Arabs to tell stereotypical anecdotes about Jews--it is another for Israel to insist on playing the part.

See also:
o Bernard Lewis: The New Anti-Semitism I--The Jewish Lobby
o Bernard Lewis: The New Anti-Semitism III--The UN

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