This book smashes a common historical myth: that Jews generally met with tolerance and friendliness in Islamic lands. Bat Ye’or’s work on Islamic antisemitism in relation to dhimmitude has been groundbreaking, and stands as essential today even as academic poseurs and thieves pay backhanded tribute to it by stealing it and claiming credit for it. At the same time, however, there has not been any serious scholarly study focused wholly and exclusively on Islamic antisemitism as such; Martin Gilbert has now supplied this need with In Ishmael’s House.
“Fourteen centuries of hatred,” by Jonathan Kay in the National Post, October 12:
When Israeli planes smashed Egyptian airfields in the opening hours of the Six-Day War, announcers on Radio Cairo took to the airwaves, calling on Arabs in neighbouring countries to attack any Jews they could find. In the Libyan capital of Tripoli, then home to about 5,000 Jews, rioters responded with an orgy of murder, arson and looting that lasted three days. Even after the survivors had fled to Israel and the West, leaving Libya effectively judenrein, the anti-Semitic bloodlust remained unquenched. It was “the unavoidable duty of the city councils,” opined one Libyan newspaper, “to remove [Jewish] cemeteries immediately, and throw the bodies of the dead, which even in their eternal rest soil our country, into the depths of the sea … Only then can the hatred of the Libyan people toward the Jews be satiated.”
Shocking words. Yet they do not come as a shock when one comes upon them in Martin Gilbert’s newly published history of Jews in Muslim lands, recently excerpted on these pages. By that point in the chronology, I had become so numbed by the author’s relentless catalogue of pogroms, executions, expulsions, forced conversions and the generalized terrorizing of Jews that the atrocities had lost their power to appall. It is not that Gilbert, the official biographer of Winston Churchill and author of books too numerous to count on Jewish and Israeli themes, is an unimaginative storyteller; this simply is the grim, unchanging nature of the epic hatred he has taken as his subject.
The Koran contains several very specific curses against Jews. And as modern terrorists often like to remind their YouTube audiences, Muhammad himself was a prolific Jew-killer. This passage from In Ishmael’s House, for instance, describes events that took place after the Prophet’s soldiers captured members of the Jewish Banu Qurayza tribe in the year 627: “[All] 700 Jewish men were taken to the market at Medina. Trenches were dug in the market square and the men, tied together in groups, were beheaded. Their headless bodies were then buried in the trenches while Mohammed watched … All Jewish males who had not reached puberty, and all the remaining women and girls, were sold into slavery.” This mass slaughter came to be described in Muslim religious literature as the product of divine revelation. To this day, it is cited as clear proof that Allah permits the most hideous forms of punishment to be meted out against nonbelievers.
In the decades following Mohammed’s death, the rapid expansion of Islam across the Levant, North Africa, Iran, Central Asia and parts of Europe swallowed up a great multitude of ancient Jewish communities. In some cases, Jews initially welcomed, and even joined, Muslim armies, expecting deliverance from the bigotry and cruelty they suffered under Christian and other pre-Islamic regimes. And in many Muslim lands, Jewish religious and commercial life was permitted to continue.
But even in the best of circumstances, Jews were not treated as anything near equals. The eighth Umayyad caliph, Omar Abd-al-Aziz, commonly is credited with enumerating the rights of Jews and Christians– “People of the book” — under his codified rules for dhimmi communities. Yet his rules (whose spirit survives in many modern Islamic societies to this day) also declared that dhimmis could not ride horses, only donkeys; had to wear special clothing and shoes; could not serve as a witness in a case involving a Muslim; could enter bathhouses only when wearing a special sign around their neck; could not inherit property from a Muslim, or even bequeath their own property to their children.
The prospect of a Muslim being in any way subservient to a Jew was seen as especially obscene. In this regard, Gilbert describes a telling 19th-century episode from the Moroccan town of Entifa, where a 65-year-old Jewish man took in an impoverished Muslim woman as a servant during a period of extreme famine. When the town’s governor caught wind of the arrangement, he thundered, “Can a Jew have a Moorish woman serve him? He deserved to be burnt!” The man was nailed to the ground and beaten to death….