Ibn Warraq: Jews and the Crusades (Part 3)
Posted by Robert on January 29, 2013 7:52 AM
Since Sir Steven argues that Islamic intolerance began after the Crusasdes, here are examples of the persecution of Jews in Islamic lands before 1096: the massacre of more than 6000 Jews in Fez (Morocco) in 1033; of the hundreds of Jews killed between 1010 and 1013 near Cordoba, and other parts of Muslim Spain; of the massacre of the entire Jewish community of roughly 4000 in Granada during the Muslim riots of 1066. Referring to the latter massacre, Robert Wistrich writes: “This was a disaster, as serious as that which overtook the Rhineland Jews thirty years later during the First Crusade, yet it has rarely received much scholarly attention.” Wistrich continues: “In Kairouan [Tunisia] the Jews were persecuted and forced to leave in 1016, returning later only to be expelled again.” 
What of the putative “culture of conviviencia,” that is, the Golden Age of Tolerance in Spain before, it is claimed, it was destroyed by the intolerance of the Almohads. Unfortunately, “The Golden Age” also turns out to be a myth, invented, ironically, by the Jews themselves. The myth may well have originated as early as the twelfth century, when Abraham Ibn Daud in his Sefer ha-Qabbalah contrasted an idealised period of tolerance of the salons of Toledo in contrast to the contemporary barbarism of the Berber dynasty. But the myth took a firm grip on the imagination of the Jews in the nineteenth century thanks to the bibliographer Moritz Steinschneider and historian Heinrich Graetz, and perhaps the influence of Benjamin Disraeli's novel Coningsby, published in 1844. Here is a passage from the latter novel giving a romantic picture of Muslim Spain, “...that fair and unrivaled civilization in which the children of Ishmael rewarded the children of Israel with equal rights and privileges with themselves. During these halcyon centuries, it is difficult to distinguish the followers of Moses from the votary of Mohammed. Both alike built palaces, gardens and fountains; filled equally the highest offices of state, competed in an extensive and enlightened commerce, rivaled each other in renowned universities.”  Against a background of a rise in the pseudo-scientific racism of the nineteenth century, Jane Gerber has observed that Jewish historians looked to Islam “...for support, seeking real or imagined allies and models of tolerance in the East. The cult of a powerful, dazzling and brilliant Andalusia in the midst of an ignorant and intolerant Europe formed an important component in these contemporary intellectual currents.”  But Gerber concludes her sober assessment of the Golden Age Myth with these reflections, “The aristocratic bearing of a select class of courtiers and poets, however, should not blind us to the reality that this tightly knit circle of leaders and aspirants to power was neither the whole of Spanish Jewish history nor of Spanish Jewish society. Their gilded moments of the tenth and eleventh century are but a brief chapter in a longer saga. No doubt, Ibn Daud's polemic provided consolation and inspiration to a crisis-ridden twelfth century elite, just as the golden age imagery could comfort dejected exiles after 1492. It suited the needs of nineteenth century advocates of Jewish emancipation in Europe or the twentieth century contestants in the ongoing debate over Palestine....The history of the Jews in Muslim lands, especially Muslim Spain, needs to be studied on its own terms, without myth or countermyth.” 
Some scholars, such as the great historian Shlomo Dov Goitein (d. 1985), taking into account the discoveries of the Cairo Geniza, revised their ideas about the situation of Jews in Islamic lands.  Another example of a scholar who changed his mind was Léon Poliakov, author of the monumental work The History of Antisemitism, which appeared in four volumes in French between 1955 and 1978. In Volume Two , Poliakov paints, on the whole, a very favorable picture of the treatment of the Jews under Islam. He finds Muhammad, a man of genius, “simple, humane, and wise”  and Islam, “a religion of tolerance above all.”. Astonishingly, Poliakov devotes a meagre two lines to the persecution of the Jews. Two lines in which he downplays all the acts of intolerance such as the massacre of Banu Qurayza, or the expulsion of the Banu Qaynuqa and Banu Nadir, while the political assassinations or torture of Jewish leaders and writers are not mentioned at all! Poliakov goes out of his way to contrast what he believes is the essentially benign attitude of the Muslims to the intolerance of the Christians who were, according to him, far more “inclined to plunge…into bloodbaths” . He really seems to have convinced himself that the Jews and Christians lived, on the whole, “peacefully and prosperously in all parts of the Islamic Empire until our time” . However, when he was in his eighties, he came into contact with the work of Bat Ye’or on the dhimmis, or the plight, persecution and periodic massacres of non-Muslims under Islam, and changed his mind completely.  Just a few weeks before his death in 1997, Poliakov agreed to write a preface  to the French edition of my book, Why I am Not a Muslim, [Pourquoi je ne suis pas musulman]. Unfortunately, before he had finished his preface, Poliakov tripped on the stairs when coming down from his library, banged his head severely, and later died in hospital at the age of 87.
 Robert Wistrich. Antisemitism -- The Longest Hatred. Schocken Books, New York, 1991, p. 196.
 Benjamin Disraeli. Coningsby, Book IV, Ch. X, quoted in Bernard Lewis, Islam in History, New York, 1973, p. 317 n.15.
 Jane Gerber. Towards an Understanding of the Term: 'The Golden Age' as an Historical Reality in ed. Aviva Doron, The Heritage of the Jews of Spain, Tel Aviv: Levinsky College of Education Publishing House, 1994, p.16.
 Ibid., pp. 21-22.
 Shlomo Dov Goitein, “Evidence on the Muslim Poll Tax from Non-Muslim Sources: A Geniza Study,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient (JESHO) 6 (1963): 278-95, repinted in Andrew Bostom , The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism, Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2008, pp. 481-488.
 Léon Poliakov, The History of Antisemitism. Vol.II From Mohammed to the Marranos, Trans. by Natalie Gerardi [Original French Edn., Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1961] Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, pp. 19-81.
 Personal communication from Bat Ye’or.
 Personal communication from Léon Poliakov.
To be continued.
Article printed from Jihad Watch: http://www.jihadwatch.org/2013/01/ibn-warraq-jews-and-the-crusades-part-3.htmlURLs in this post: