Andy Bostom has a response to my post on the Bostom-Künatzel debate. He has asked me to stick to substantive issues, which I agree is where we need to go in this discussion. I will, however, make a couple of asides about rhetoric [in brackets] since Andy’s tone has, on occasion, created unnecessary friction. Here are my responses.
Richard the Reconciliation-Hearted
April 6th, 2008 by Andrew Bostom
Actually, I’m mostly known as Richard Artichokeheart.
Has Medievalist Richard Landes chosen his arguments all that wisely?
[Let me guess, that’s a rhetorical question the answer to which is… no. :-) ]
Richard Landes, invoking understandably, his background as a Medievalist, with a special interest in millenarian movements — attempts a thoughtful “reconciliation” of what he attributes to be the positions of Matthias Kuntzel, and myself, vis a vis Islamic Antisemitism. But Landes’ discussion has two fundamental flaws.
[Normally, one first goes over the strengths of the argument before going for the weaknesses, but okay. Andy’s a no-nonsense guy.]
First, Landes ignores (and likely does not appreciate) Kuntzel’s complete failure to understand the jihad,
[Although this is not purely a matter of substance, it is significant. I neither ignore, nor fail to appreciate the issue, nor do I think it appropriate to use terms like “complete failure to understand” (even if it’s true, which I don’t think it is).]
which lead Kuntzel to opine, remarkably (on p. 13 of his book “Jihad and Jew Hatred”),
The [Muslim] Brotherhood’s most significant innovation was their concept of jihad as holy war, which significantly differed from other contemporary doctrines and, associated with that, the passionately pursued goal of dying a martyr’s death in the war with the unbeliever. Before the founding of the Brotherhood, Islamic currents of modern times had understood jihad (derived from a root signifying “effort”) as the individual striving for belief or the missionary task of disseminating Islam. Only when this missionary work was hindered were they allowed to use force to defend themselves against the unbelievers resistance. The starting point of Islamism is the new interpretation of jihad espoused with uncompromising militancy by Hassan al-Bana, the first to preach this kind of jihad in modern times.
There is simply no way to reconcile this statement with either classical Islamic doctrine — entirely consistent with Al-Banna’s views — or the tragic, but copious historical evidence of how jihad campaigns, in accord with this doctrine, were (and continue to be) conducted across, Asia, Africa, and Europe. I amass incontrovertible evidence of this living doctrine and history in the The Legacy of Jihad.
There are, in fact, several ways to reconcile these statements with the ample documentation of Bostom’s work. First, note that Küntzel refers to “Islamic currents in modern times.” Küntzel may, indeed, underestimate the importance of Jihad as holy war in Islamic tradition, and overstate the “innovation” of the Muslim Brotherhood when it comes specifically to Jihad, but that hardly means that the Muslim Brotherhood’s reformulation of Jihad doesn’t contain important new elements that included an anti-modern anti-Semitism typical of fascism and Nazism. It’s one thing to say Küntzel underestimates the vigor of an earlier Jihadi and anti-Semitic tradition in Islam, quite another to dismiss his argument that Hassan al Banna’s and the Mufti’s version had new elements that, even if they existed before (see below), took on new and ominous forms.
Moreover, in 1916, the great Dutch Orientalist Hurgronje noted the wide rank and file support among the Muslim masses for a restored Caliphate even at the very nadir of Islam’s political power. And here is an extract from an article that appeared in the Calcutta Guardian in 1924 which linked the Pan-Islamic Indian Khilafat (Caliphate) Movement to trends that developed, and intensified following the Russo-Turkish War of 1876-78, fifty years prior to the advent of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, and completely independent of the latter:
The Islamic World was aroused to the fact that the area of Islamic independence was steadily narrowing, and the Qur’anic theory that Islam should dominate over every other religion was giving way to the contrary system. It was felt that the only Muslim power which could deal with those of Europe as an equal was Turkey; and pan-Islamism everywhere inculcated the doctrine that Turkey should be strengthened and supported. The Sultan was urged to advance through Persia into India and make common cause with the Sudanese Mehdi, and restore Egypt to an Islamic Sovereign.
Note that the “Sudanese Mehdi” was an apocalyptic millennialist who kicked off his career in the year 1300 AH (1882 CE), part of the Mujadded traditions that sees a “renewer” at the turn of each century… which in 1400 (1979 CE) gave us Khoumeini’s takeover in Iran. I still think that this kind of Jihad represents a more traditional type that punctuates Islamic history from the beginning. (By the way, do you have any material on the Muhammad Ahmad’s attitude towards the Jews?) David Cook points out that, despite this hadith, most pre-modern Muslim apocalyptic literature has the Jews in a minor position in comparison with the Christians.
Second, Landes (like Kuntzel) adopts uncritically the notion that “real” Jew extermination is only plausible given the “shift” from what is termed “anti-Judaism,” to “redemptive” Antisemitism—the former phenomenon not even meriting the term “Antisemitism.”
This nomenclature—Anti-Judaism vs. Antisemitism—itself is quite strange, and ahistorical, in light of what our greatest historian of Muslim-Jewish relations during the high Middle Ages, S.D. Goitein, uncovered and described (over 35 years ago) from the Geniza documentary record. Goitein’s seminal analyses of the Geniza material employed the term Antisemitism, in his own words,
…in order to differentiate animosity against Jews from the discrimination practiced by Islam against non-Muslims in general. Our scrutiny of the Geniza material has proved the existence of “Antisemitism” in the time and the area considered here…
Goitein cites as concrete proof of his assertion that a unique strain of Islamic Antisemitism was extant at this time (i.e., up to a millennium ago) the fact that letters from the Cairo Geniza material,
…have a special word for it and, most significantly, one not found in the Bible or in Talmudic literature (nor registered in any Hebrew dictionary), but one much used and obviously coined in the Geniza period. It is sin’ūth, “hatred”, a Jew-baiter being called sōnē, “a hater”.
Incidents of such Muslim Antisemitism— Jew hatred—documented by Goitein in the Geniza come from northern Syria (Salamiyya and al-Mar‘arra), Morocco (Fez), and Egypt (Alexandria), with references to the latter being particularly frequent. But this oddly selective nomenclature belies a more fundamental ignorance of Islamic doctrine and facts on the ground history—including within historical Palestine itself—that render Landes’ construct dubious, at best.
The distinction between anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism is not my invention (although I have redefined it somewhat), but a fairly common distinction used by medievalists. Gavin Langmuir defined it in terms of the difference between hatred of Jews based on “traditional” complaints (they killed Jesus; they are mean, loathsome and contemptable creatures, their religion is false and superstitious), and fantastic complaints (they are in league with the devil; they have supernatural powers and are involved in a conspiracy to destroy Christendom).
It’s the supernatural phantasms the produce the really violent paranoias, and lead to still more vicious attacks. In my own work, I have preferred to place the emphasis on the paranoia, and the impact of this sense of apocalyptic urgency in activating — weaponizing — that hatred. Nothing you cite from Goitein contradicts this distinction.
Muslim eschatology—ignored altogether by the Medievalist Landes—
[Why do you feel you have to formulate your points this way — making negative assumptions and then attacking as if they were true? You do the same thing with Küntzel. It’s both uncalled for and gratuitously belligerent.]
as depicted in the hadith, highlights the Jews’ supreme hostility to Islam. Jews are described as adherents of the Dajjâl — the Muslim equivalent of the Anti-Christ — or according to another tradition, the Dajjâl is himself Jewish. At his appearance, other traditions maintain that the Dajjâl will be accompanied by 70,000 Jews from Isfahan wrapped in their robes, and armed with polished sabers, their heads covered with a sort of veil. When the Dajjâl is defeated, his Jewish companions will be slaughtered— everything will deliver them up except for the so-called gharkad tree. According to a canonical hadith—repeated in the 1988 Hamas Charter (in section 7)—if a Jew seeks refuge under a tree or a stone, these objects will be able to speak to tell a Muslim: “There is a Jew behind me; come and kill him!” Another hadith variant, which takes place in Jerusalem, has Isa (the Muslim Jesus) leading the Arabs in a rout of the Dajjâl and his company of 70,000 armed Jews. And the notion of jihad “ransom” extends even into Islamic eschatology—on the day of resurrection the vanquished Jews will be consigned to Hellfire, and this will expiate Muslims who have sinned, sparing them from this fate.
I’m fully aware of this hadith, have cited it numerous times. But as both Küntzel and David Cook have noted, this hadith was redeployed in modern times, among others by Haj Amin al Husseini, and , and taken on a new and more intense meaning. I’m sure you’ll correct me if I’m wrong, but my impression is that under current conditions, the hadith has passed from the killing of the 70,000 Jews from Isfahan to full fledged genocide (as in the Hamas Charter).
Actually, a history of the use of this hadith is probably a really valuable way of exploring your disagreement with Küntzel: what impact did exposure to Western, and specifically Nazi, ideology have on its deployment and interpretation with Islam. Would you agree that it would be hard to locate too many — any? — periods in Muslim history when this hadith had the immense popularity it does today?
On this subject, let me urge readers to consult Timothy Furnish’s important site MahdiWatch.
But it is the Jews stubborn malevolence, as described in Georges Vajda’s seminal analysis of the Jew hating motifs in the hadith, that is their defining worldly characteristic:
Jews are represented in the darkest colors [i.e., in the hadith]. Convinced by the clear testimony of their books that Mohammed was the true prophet, they refused to convert, out of envy, jealousy and national particularism, even out of private interest. They have falsified their sacred books and do not apply the laws of God; nevertheless, they pursued Mohammed with their raillery and their oaths, and harassed him with questions, an enterprise that turned to their own confusion and merely corroborated the authenticity of the supernatural science of the prophet. From words they moved to action: sorcery, poisoning, assassination held no scruples for them.
Vajda concludes that these archetypes, in turn, justify Muslim animus towards the Jews, and the admonition to at best, “subject [the Jews] to Muslim domination”, as dhimmis, treated “with contempt,” under certain “humiliating arrangements.”
This fits the definition of anti-Judaism quite nicely. Note that the conclusion to the assertion of all these disagreeable traits (all of which have similar or worse elements in Christian anti-Judaism), lead to the conclusion, “rule over them and humiliate them.” This is not the paranoid, weaponized, genocidal hatred I described as anti-Semitism.
The rise of Jewish nationalism—Zionism—posed a predictable, if completely unacceptable challenge to the Islamic order—jihad-imposed chronic dhimmitude for Jews—of apocalyptic magnitude. As Bat Ye’or has explained,
…because divine will dooms Jews to wandering and misery, the Jewish state appears to Muslims as an unbearable affront and a sin against Allah. Therefore it must be destroyed by Jihad.
This is very much the argument that I have made as well [and which Bostom willfully ignores! :-) ]. It’s not that anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism are not related; it’s that under certain conditions, the former mutates into the latter. One of the conditions is when the Jews cease to accept (or are perceived as ceasing to accept) their position of disgraced inferior. Then they both challenge the social hierarchy, and undermine the “faith” of the majoritarian religion (Christians or Muslims) in their supersessionist ideology. Langmuir makes much of the emergence in the later Middle Ages of anti-Semitism in the context of crises of Christian faith (Eucharist controversies).
Thus the advent of Zionism is particularly worrisome to those Muslims who, looking at the overwhelming military and technological superiority of the Christian and secular West, found in Zionism the unkindest cut of all. As the ancient Greeks noted, it’s one thing to be defeated by a worthy enemy, but to be defeated by a people who ought to be slaves, is unbearable humilitiation. I note that Hassan al Banna’s movement did not make much headway until the riots of 1936-9 in Palestine, which he not only supported but raised volunteers for. At that point membership more than tripled (I can’t find this reference right now).
In any case, the overall point is: when Jews don’t stay in their assigned subservient place, they provoke violent reactions. What should interest all of us, is what those occasions are, and how the reactions take shape. Küntzel says that when it got activated in the early 20th century and subsequently, this new round of anti-Semitism borrowed material from the Nazis, including the international plot of the Elders of Zion, to give this reaction a peculiar and even more disturbing direction. Why that can’t be integrated into a larger history of both anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism, is beyond me.
Historian Saul S. Friedman, also citing the emergence of Zionism (as an ideology anathema to the Islamic system of dhimmitude for Jews), concluded that this modern movement, and the creation of the Jewish State of Israel has, not surprisingly, unleashed a torrent of annihilationist Islamic antisemitism, “the brew of thirteen centuries of intolerance”:
Since 1896, the development of modern, political Zionism has placed new tension on, and even destroyed, the traditional master-serf relationship that existed between Arab and Jew in the Middle East. An Arab world that could not tolerate the presence of a single, “arrogant” Jewish vizier in its history was now confronted by a modern state staffed with self-confident Jewish ministers.
This is exactly the Islamic context in which the widespread, “resurgent” use of Jew annihilationist apocalyptic motifs — exemplified by the Hamas charter, and the utterances, most recently by Hamas cleric Wael al-Zarad — would be an anticipated, even commonplace occurrence.
If I understand you, then, we need not make any recourse to the Nazi connection to explain annihilationist anti-Semitism. Perhaps. But I see two problems: 1) the extermination would normally be aimed at the offending group — widely understood (collective punishment being a standard principle in Islamic dealings with Dhimmi); and 2) the evidence for the eager adaptation of European themes remains part of the historical record, and certainly bears close attention. What you explain is why Islam was so receptive to the Nazi material. As for the argument for Islamic anti-Semitism being a sufficient explanation, it’s hard to say since modern times are the first in the history of Islam when the Jews rebelled against their status on any significant scale.
But Landes also ignores the catastrophic impact of the more “mundane” application of Islam’s doctrinal principles towards Jews (and other dhimmis) independent of Islamic eschatology, per se.
[Given that you know how closely I’ve followed your arguments about the Armenian case (mentioned below), you might have phrased this point more delicately. E.g.: “What does Landes have to say about…?” It shows a minimal respect for your interlocutor, rather than assuming, and asking your reader to assume that he’s either an ignoramus, or deliberately suppressing evidence.]
In my forthcoming The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism, I have elaborated on how the tragic mass killings for “breaching” the dhimma which afflicted the Christian minorities of the Ottoman Empire (Serbs, Greeks, Bulgarians, and Armenians) throughout the 19th century, culminating in the jihad genocide of the Armenians during World War I (and documented, by historian Vahakn Dadrian [pp. 403ff] to have inspired Hitler to express the notion of predictable impunity with regard to future genocides), were nearly replicated in historical Palestine, but for the advance of the British army.
During World War I in Palestine, between 1915 and 1917, the New York Times published a series of reports on Ottoman-inspired and local Arab Muslim assisted antisemitic persecution which affected Jerusalem, and the other major Jewish population centers. For example, by the end of January, 1915, 7000 Palestinian Jewish refugees—men, women, and children—had fled to British-controlled Alexandria, Egypt. Three New York Times accounts from January/February, 1915 provide these details of the earlier period:
[For those who wish to read this extremely interesting evidence, see Bostom’s original post.]
Let me demonstrate, in conclusion the serious flaws in Landes’ overall construct by posing a basic hypothetical question:
Can Landes posit what would have happened, say in late 1922—the Muslim Brothers were not formed until 1928; the Nazis do not come to power until 1933—with regard to Islamic jihad and Islamic Jew hatred, specifically, if the British had created some rump state Jewish homeland, actually governed by Jews, and rapidly departed, bearing in mind both the fate of other dhimmi nationalisms in the 19th and early 20th centuries (Serb, Greek, Bulgarian, Armenian), and the special place occupied by dhimmi Jews in Islamic eschatology?
Yes. They would have been slaughtered, possibly to the last man, woman and child. That’s not the issue, it seems to me. Slaughtering upstart dhimmis is, as you’ve pointed out, a longstanding Muslim practice, in some senses, the logical extension of killing apostates. And in some cases — the Armenian stands out — that can lead to genocide.
But the idea that Jewry world-wide must be wiped out, the global paranoia that sees a global conflict that must be resolved by the most extreme — final — solutions, the combination of virulence and scope… these are matters about which Matthias Küntzel has much to say, and you do service neither to your own scholarship, nor to the cause of awakening a Western audience to a world that it has immense difficulty imagining.
The general points here are:
1) Küntzel and Bostom take positions that are not mutually exclusive. Stating them that way, as does Bsotom too often, not only obscures the issues but obstructs the discussion. The past history of Muslim Jihad and Judeophobia should not drown out some important material about the connection between the Nazis and anti-modern Muslims (whether Islamists or not). Andy, if you want to make a contribution, don’t say, “these people ignore my material” and pile on your examples. Address their evidence and give your interpretation. People reading your critique of Küntzel should have a good sense of what his material says, and how you read it.
2) The reconciliation of the two positions in a positive-sum manner is not a mere Levi Eshkol moment (the joke about him was, “Coffee or tea?” “Both.”), but an opportunity to explore and deepen our understanding of the issue. I think we need to know more about both what Bostom and Küntzel have to say. I’ve tried here to contribute to that discussion.