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The Jew, the Arab: A History of the Enemy (Cultural Memory in the Present) by Gil Anidjar (2003-06-03)

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  • By Jazz It Up Baby on October 19, 2005

    As Hugh Fitzgerald so shrewdly observed: Gil Anidjar is an Assistant Professor at Columbia, with his primary responsibility the teaching of Comparative Literature - but there is a lot of comparison, and very little literature, in his writing. He offers two Comparative Literature courses. One is on Freud and Derrida. The second, a course that is listed as part of Columbia's Middle East offerings, is called, dramatically, "Hate."The course on "Hate" is not really about the history or literature of the Middle East at all. It is an extended rumination upon two matters. The first is the evil of Europe, which has for its own purposes not merely created "the Other" (or rather, being especially awful, as Europe will be, creating two "the Others" - "Arab" and "Jew"), and subjecting both of them to identical diabolical persecution.The second is that in creating, and persecuting, these inoffensive Arabs throughout Europe (and those inoffensive Jews) Europe is largely responsible for the otherwise harmonious relations between Arab and Jew, and which were disrupted only by Europe's colonial project, and attempts to separate, and "create difference," as with, for example, the loi Crémieux (1870), which gave French citizenship to Sephardic Jews in Algeria.Here we have, in full flower, the conception of "the Other" who is created in order for European (or Euro-American Man) to define himself, as against that "Other." Indeed, Gil Anidjar has written a book about this subject called The Jew, the Arab: A History of the Enemy."What is Europe such that it has managed to distinguish itself from both Jew and Arab and to render its role in the distinction, in the separation, and the enmity of Jew and Arab invisible - invisible, perhaps, most of all to itself".In other words, Jew and Arab are equally victims - not of each other, except insofar as each "creates" the other in imitation of the Ur-villain Europe, that has "created" both Jew and Arab as the enemy. In Gil Anidjar's world, European history is replete with hatred - equal hatred - and persecution - equal persecution - of the Jew and of the Arab. This equality in suffering is central to his world view.Unfortunately, it bears no relation to reality. The Jews of Europe were in fact (see Leon Poliakoff, see Malcolm Hay, see Gavin Langmuir) subjected, first out of theological hatreds, and then out of racism directed at Jews even if they ceased to be Jews, over more than a millennium. They were inoffensive; they had no political or military power. Yet they were driven from country after country, their goods stolen, many of them killed. The history of charges of ritual murder, of massacres, could fill up a book, and indeed, do fill up a book - Simon Wiesenthal's Every Day Remembrance Day, in which murder after murder, massacre after massacre, expulsion after expulsion, is listed.But the Arabs? The Arabs, or rather the Muslims, though stopped by Charles Martel and the Franks at Poitiers in the West in 732, continued to fight in Spain until finally Muslim power came to an end in 1492; in the East, the Muslims seized much of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, and were besieging Vienna as late as 1683. And meanwhile, for a thousand years, Arab raiders went up and down the coasts, not only on the Mediterranean, but as far north as Ireland and Iceland, and razed and looted whole villages, and kidnapped, historians estimate, about 1 million white Europeans (and killed many more) who were taken back to North Africa, enslaved, and forcibly converted. The historian Giles Milton has just written White Gold about this forgotten part of European history, focusing on one Thomas Pellow.Anidjar is not a historian. He fails to understand the threat that Muslims continued to pose, for roughly a thousand years, through these raiding and slaving expeditions. If Europeans regarded Muslims as "the enemy," it was not out of some need, like a small child with an imaginary friend, but because the Muslims, impelled by the doctrine of jihad-conquest that is in Qur'an, hadith, and sira, were militarily threatening. Those Muslim raids came to an end only in the 19th century, first with the American attacks on the Barbary Pirates, and then, in 1830, with the French conquest of Algeria.But why read Bat Ye'or, or Bernard Lewis or even the great actor and Shakespeare scholar Harley Granville-Barker, when you can quote philosophers like Emmanuel Levinas and Franz Rosenzweig, and "critics" like Derrida, Foucault, and Said, e tutti quanti.. It would not do to subject the belief-system of Islam, or the history of Jihad-conquest, to critical or historical examination, not when you are in the business of symmetrically reducing "Jew" and "Arab" to the identical status of victims. Why bother investigating the belief-system of Islam, with its Manichaean division of the world between Believer and Infidel with which the canonical texts of Islam are full, instinct with hatred for all who are not Muslim all hates are equally ill-founded.But Anidjar thinks of himself as a literary scholar, and that fatally vitiates all of his musing, and all of his cobbling-together of the oddest kinds of "evidence" or quasi-evidence. When, for example, he suggests that Shylock is the Jew, and Othello the Muslim, he reveals that he simply is no Shakespearean scholar; phrases such as "the distinction between Shylock and Othello, between Jew and Moor, is already breaking down as the image of the black ram begins to loom." He completely fails to realize that throughout the play, Othello is depicted as a Moor, but a Christian, in the service of Venice against the Turk.Neither history nor literature are Anidjar's strong suits. He is a philosophizer, and "the Jew, the Arab" is filled to the brim with such portentous meditations as:The Jew, the Arab, that is to say, the enemy, constitutes the theologico-politicial. It is through "them" that it becomes what it is. As a philosophical problem, the massive absence of the metaphysical question ....This goes on for hundreds for pages.And once he leaves Europe, he no longer maintains the fiction of "equal victimhood." When it comes to the Middle East, he knows nothing of the treatment of the Jews of the Middle East. His denunciation of the loi Crémieux shows that he does not understand what the Jews endured under Muslim rule. He even begins to invent a new kind of being- "c'est bien ... l'Arabe, de l'être juif arabe qu'il faudra parler et au nom duquel il faudra lutter." What is this "être juif arabe" - this "Jew-Arab creature" in whose name one must continue to struggle? It is a fiction, an ideological hippogriff, created only so that "the Arab" may claim for himself, at the hands of Europe, a false victimhood, based on the real victimhood of Jews.The only conceivable reason for this course being offered is that it attempts to present the Arab as victim, at the hands of Europe, and later, at the hands of the "Zionists." If his treatment of Europe and Islam is a travesty, one should not be surprised to see that his view of Israel is similarly loaded. Not realizing that not all Jews were from Europe, that many never left the Middle East, and unaware, it seems, both of the demography and the land-ownership in what became Mandatory Palestine (where nearly 90 percent of the land was owned by the Ottoman state, and then passed to the mandatory authority, and then to the successor state, Israel), and unaware of the true definition of "colonialism,"Here is how he discusses Israel:The argument I want to make is that it is absolutely essential to continue to insist on the colonial dimension of Zionism, and colonial in the strict sense, absolutely. The claim that there was no colonial basis for Israel is ludicrous. People were citizens of countries and were acting on behalf of Western powers, and Western powers understood this very well. As did Herzl, of course, and others. So Israel is absolutely a colonial enterprise, a colonial settler state, to be precise.And "why," Anidjar asks in an interview, "did the Western powers want and agree with the destruction of Palestine for the benefit of Israel? Why to the `Holy Land'? For Anidjar the answer always goes back to Europe, or at least its "Christian, Western powers":The question must be asked and the answer must engage "the Muslim question." For to ignore this question is to renew and increase the invisibility of the Christian role in the pre-history and the history of colonialism and post-colonialism...There is rather an extreme investment in the continuation of the war of Israel against Palestine, that is to say, in maintaining the conditions that make this war possible.And finally, Anidjar asks:There is, in fact, a level at which I simply lack all understanding. Can anyone seriously claim that the problem with Islamic countries is Islam?And the answer to that rhetorical question, I'm afraid, is obvious - and it is not the answer that Gil Anidjar was expecting.

  • By Jill Malter on February 27, 2005

    This is a very sophisticated book, with plenty of references. But there are statements in it that we can all relate to.At one point, Anidjar compares the Arab-Israeli dispute to the Hutu genocide against the Tutsi. He wisely asks who in Israel "are the Hutu and who the Tutsi?" That's not a bad question. I'm tempted to answer by pointing out that French support has been for both the Hutu and Arab sides. But more seriously, I think there is no question about genocidal propaganda and acts. In Israel, the Jews are the Tutsi. That is true even though the Jews are the majority in Israel, given the huge number of Arabs in countries bordering Israel. It's not a tough question after all, and Anidjar could have said so, clearly and simply.At another point, Anidjar makes a clear statement of his own. Namely, "without this enemy par excellance that is Islam, Europe, Christian Europe, would not exist or would no longer exist."Now that may be a profound point. But it seems to me that for the past two centuries, the existence of Europe has in no way depended on Islam. Had Islam collapsed at the end of 1804, Europe would not have fallen apart as a result. Nor would Christian Europe. As a matter of fact, if Islam is to cause the end of Christian Europe, it is far more likely to do so by defeating it than by losing to it.Nor do I think there is anything profound about the enmity between Jew and Arab. Even a dog knows the difference between being tripped over and kicked. If you keep getting kicked, or insist on kicking, you'll wind up with an enemy. Jews were treated as dhimmis by Arabs for quite a while. When many Jews became emancipated, some Arabs felt humiliated by their liberation and decided to do plenty of kicking. On the other side, plenty of Jews decided how to deal with being kicked. Now, was that tough to say?We also get to think about the extent to which Jews learned to kick from the Nazis. After all, Jews learned plenty about how the Nazis behaved. In spite of having been victims, did the Jews simply decide to do unto the totally innocent Arabs what the Nazis had done to the Jews? What can we learn from this?Anidjar actually should have explained that there is something we can learn. The Jews, having been terribly mistreated by the Nazis, have shown a great aversion to doing anything that looks like what the Nazis did. Knowing this, enemies of the Jews tend to taunt them by pretending that Jewish behavior is similar to Nazi behavior (as well as by pretending that Arab behavior is somehow similar to how Jews behaved in Nazi Europe). Of course, the author didn't say all this.This book is awfully weak and uninspiring.

  • By Andrew Wheatcroft on March 5, 2005

    This is a remarkable book, complex and impossible to grasp fully at first reading. It is well worth perservering. Anidjar writes well and lucidly, but the ideas with which he is working are difficult and often intractable. His extraordinary skill is to bring together concepts rarely connected, and makes sense of the connection.The book is part philosophy, part literary analysis, and embroidered with a very small element of 'history', as traditionally conceived. Although his subtitle is 'a history of the enemy' his whole work is to destabilise any clear idea of who the enemy actually is. Is he (or she) the enemy of the nation; or my brother or sister, or -even- am I my own enemy. Who knows better the dark secrets of the heart, the invisible fears, the unknown dark deeds ? Enemy, as Anidjar reveals, is so loaded with deeper connections and meanings, that we should not use it carelessly.So, the title The Jew, the Arab, indicates another kind of enmity, and one we need to think about. One of the most tantalising elements of this book, and one of its greatest strengths is that the author never imposes himself on the reader, tells you what conclusions you need to draw. This is one reason to come back to it again and again. I am now reading it for the fifth time, disagreeing with much of it, but constantly stimulated and re-thinking what I thought before. This is the antidote to sound-bite culture, a book that is hard, provocative, thrilling, and above all, worth reading

  • By hgolightly09 on February 23, 2009

    As a Lebanese-Iraqi of Jewish descent, I've been drawn to a great number of books on this topic. None come close to the depth of research, insight, and relevance exhibited in this book--highly recommended.


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