Posts Tagged ‘Islam’

by Richard Martin

Throughout their history, there have always been enough Jews who have refused religious and the broader cultural and political assimilation to maintain their distinctiveness. This is riling to many people. They can’t understand why Jews would want to maintain their own religious beliefs, rites, and cultural traditions. When Jews did decide to join the majority, either by religious conversion, or other forms of assimilation, this was often held against them for generations.

In the 19th century, Jews were the most actively liberal (in the classical sense) of Europeans. Jews took the most advantage of liberalization and emancipation in France, the German lands, Britain, and eventually the entire Western world. There remained pockets of antisemitism in government, the military, and academia. But, by and large, Jews were able to become “regular” Germans, French, Italians, Brits, Americans, Canadians, Australians, etc.

In the 19th century, liberalisation and emancipation were supported by skepticism of religion, myth and traditional beliefs and lifestyles. This resulted in widespread secularisation. In parallel with this came the rise of nationalism and the erosion of imperialism (as actual multi-ethnic and multi-national European empires, e.g., the German Reich, Tsarist Russia, the Ottoman Empire, and of course, the Habsburg Empire of Austria-Hungary.

German historian Götz Aly has documented the rise of political and secular antisemitism in Europe in general, but especially Germany, throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. This period culminated in the Russian pogroms and, of course, the Holocaust. However, eliminationist and “expulsionist” antisemitism was part of a wider movement of ethnic homogenization in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly in the Tsarist lands of Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia proper. To this we can add the various permutations of national homogenization and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, due to the progressive weakening hold of the Ottomans on southeast Europe. 

This is not to minimize the horrors of the pogroms or the Holocaust, but merely to place it in the broader and deeper context of European history and development. If there had never been pogroms and widespread hatred of Jews in Eastern Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries, would there have been a Zionist movement? If there had never been such widespread and murderous nationalist-inspired homogenization and ethnic cleansing throughout the Habsburg, Romanov, and Ottoman lands (or their remnants), would there have been a Zionist movement? If nationalism had not been such a powerful force and motivation for all these acts of brutality and subsequent brutalization of peoples, would there have a Zionist movement? I don’t write this to cast blame, but rather once again to broaden and deepen the context and discussion.

Timothy Snyder’s books on the slaughter in Eastern Europe from 1930 to 1945, Bloodlands and Black Earth, provide much of the context for my observations and understanding of antisemitism. But it’s even worse than what happened during the 30s and until 1945. In his book The Vanquished described the ethnic chaos in the wake of the First World War. Keith Lowe did the same in his book on the immediate post-WW2 period, Savage Continent. Ever hear of pogroms against Jews in Poland between 1945 and 1950? Of course not. Nobody talks about that. And that’s only a small part of the hellscape that was Eastern Europe in the aftermaths of WW1 and 2!

At one time, persecution of Jews was based on religious excuses, and even animosity, as supposed “Christ killers.” It was also just because they were different and refused (or were forced) to remain apart. There were Jewish ghettos in Italy and Spain. Ethnic sequestering wasn’t unusual in pre-modern Europe and Asia, where all major cities had various ethnic quarters.

Jews were also forced to live in the Pale of Settlement of the Russian Empire which mostly bestraddle the immense Pripyat Marshes of southern Belarus and northern Ukraine. Jews were periodically expelled or fell victims to mob attacks at various points in the Middle Ages and even into early Modern Europe. The same happened in the Muslim empires and emirates, where not only Jews but also Christians were (and still are) treated as second-class subjects of the Muslim majority.

But as Snyder develops in detail, Jews weren’t the only victims of pogroms, transportations, deportations, expulsions, riots, and murders prior to the Nazi-inspired and perpetrated Holocaust. The “Bloodlands” he describes in excruciating detail saw the deaths of at least 14 million Ukrainians, Poles, Belarusians as national and ethnic groups in addition to the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust.

Then there were the tens of thousands of deported, murdered, and incarcerated Finns, Latvians, Estonians, and Lithuanians. There were also expulsions and deportations of lesser known (to Westerners at least) Crimean Tatars and other smaller nations under Stalin. Ever hear of the Kalmyks of the Caucasus? How about the Ingush and Chechens? Why are there Koreans in Kazakhstan, and Jews in the Far East of Siberia? They were all deported there on Stalin’s orders. And I’m not even going into the various class enemies that were killed, incarcerated, or deported, especially the Kulaks, a completely fictional class of “wealthy peasants.”

That’s the past. What about the present? Why is there still so much fear, hatred, envy, and murderous intent toward Jews? There are several interrelated answers to that question. One is the general opposition of Arab states. Another is Muslim jihadism. A third is anti-Westernism. A fourth, and perhaps the most insidious, is Leftism in general, especially radical forms of socialism. Each of these four factors reinforce each other and generate a synergistic effect resulting in anti-Israeli rhetoric, support for jihadist terrorists, unconditional support for the Palestinians, and general hatred and resentment of Jews, whether they are religious or secular.

I will continue my thoughts on these matters in further articles. Stay tuned.