Symbolic perhaps, but interfaith cooperation has always been a part of sincere believers’ practice


Who Guards The Most Sacred Site In Christendom? Two Muslims

Every Christian knows the holiest places in Christendom are in Jerusalem. The holiest of all, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, was erected in 325, over the site where it is believed Jesus was crucified, buried and rose from the dead.

Yet, few know that it is a Muslim who opens and closes the only door to this holiest of Christian sites.

In fact, it’s two Muslims: one man from the Joudeh family and another man from the Nuseibeh family, two Jerusalem Palestinian clans who have been the custodians of the entrance to the Holy Sepulchre since the 12th century.

English: Jerusalem, Church of the Holy Sepulch...

English: Jerusalem, Church of the Holy Sepulchre Deutsch: Jerusalem, Grabeskirche (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every morning, at 4:30, Adeeb Joudeh travels from his apartment outside the walls of the Old City to bring the cast-iron key to the church, just as his father and his forebears did before him.

Once there, he entrusts the key — looking like a 12-inch (30-centimeter) long iron wedge — to Wajeeh Nuseibeh, who knocks at the gate to call the priests and the pilgrims who spend the night praying inside. From inside the church, a wooden ladder is passed through a porthole to help him unlock the upper part of the enormous door.

Then, he unlocks the lower one before handing the precious key back to Joudeh. The ritual is reversed every evening at 7:30, after hundreds of tourists and pilgrims have left the church.

During holidays, such as Holy Week, which culminates Sunday with the Christian Easter, the elaborate opening and closing ceremonies take place several times a day.

Why the elaborate ritual? As often happens in Jerusalem, a city holy to several peoples and religions, there are different versions to explain why two Muslim families hold the key to the holiest site in Christendom.

“After the Muslim conquest in 637, the Caliph Omar guaranteed the Archbishop Sophronius that the Christian places of worship would be protected and so entrusted the custodianship to the Nuseibehs, a family who originated in Medina and had had relations with the Prophet Muhammad,” said Nuseibeh, a retired 63-year old electrician, while waiting in a nearby cafe to carry out his duties at the Holy Sepulchre.

“It happened again in 1187, after Saladin ended the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. He chose our family again to look after the peace between the different Eastern and Western Christian confessions, which were at odds over control of the Sepulchre,” he said with a gentle smile, sitting next to his son, Obadah.

To this day, coexistence among the several Christian churches sharing the Holy Sepulchre is a delicate one. Catholic, Greek, Armenian, Coptic, Syriac, and Ethiopian Orthodox monks have resorted to fists more than once to defend their respective denomination’s rights and privileges in the church, as defined in an decree by the Ottoman Empire, known as the Status Quo of 1853.

Such impious brawls between clergy proved Saladin’s prescience 1,000 years ago, when the sultan sealed the second front gate of the church and entrusted control of the remaining entrance to neutral custodians.

The Nuseibehs claim that the Joudehs entered this story only in the 16th century, after the Ottoman Turks gained control of Palestine and decided to charge a second family with the responsibility of guarding the key.

“Yes, we share the responsibility with the Joudehs, and sometimes we argue, as happens in a family,” Nuseibeh said.

Each Maundy Thursday since the end of the 19th century, the two Muslim families give the key to the Holy Sepulchre to the local Franciscan friars, for as long as it takes to walk to the church in a procession and to open the door after the morning liturgies. When those are completed, the friars return the key to the families.

This ceremony, which confirms in practice the validity of the Muslim families’ custodianship, is repeated with the Greek and Armenian communities, on Orthodox Good Friday and Holy Saturday, respectively.

“Right now, I have in my hands the keys to Christendom’s heart. This is a very important moment for us,” said the Rev. Artemio Vitores, the Spanish Franciscan who is the vicar Custodian of the Holy Land, during the Maundy Thursday procession.

“For centuries, Christian pilgrims were denied entry to the church, or had to pay huge sums to pray on the Sepulchre,” he said, all while holding the key.

At the head of the procession, Vitores was flanked on one side by Wajeeh Nusseibeh, his son Obadah and two cousins, all of whom were equally compensated by the friars for their services with the symbolic sum of $60.

On Vitores’ other side were Adeeb Joudeh, wearing an impeccable dark gray suit, and his 19-year-old son Jawad.

For about 20 minutes, Joudeh ceded control of the only existing key to the Holy Sepulchre. While there is another key, it is broken and no longer used. The functioning key is normally kept in a small office attached to the church and is guarded by an employee of the Joudeh family.

“This key has seen Saladin and every generation of my family since 1187. To me, it’s an honor to be in charge of the holiest of Christian places,” Joudeh said, while walking the cobblestoned alley leading to the Holy Sepulchre.

He insisted on showing on his smartphone what he claimed are 165 official decrees confirming the Joudeh family’s role as custodian of the church over the centuries.

“My ancestor who was given the keys was a sheik, a highly respected person, who was not supposed to perform physical labor, such as climbing the ladder to open the gate,” Joudeh explained. “That’s why the Nuseibehs were called in to perform this duty. Unfortunately, they feel still ashamed of being just the doorkeepers.”

At the end of the procession, the key was welcomed by cheerful pilgrims waiting in front of the church.

For a few minutes, everybody stared at the solemn opening of the gate before rushing in.

Moments later, Adeeb Joudeh walked home with his son, as did Wajeeh Nuseibeh. They will come back here, time and again, at the gate of the Holy Sepulchre: two Muslims, coming in peace to bear the key to the heart of Christianity.

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Historical revisionism-the prequel


A very fine article appeared in Salon recently that talked about how revisionist spun what happened during the Civil War fought between Americans in the 19th century.  Because this is a very early example of how revisionist have infected the historical narrative and because we’ve featuring articles here on the pages of Miscellany101 about how that happened in the lead up to the Iraq war, we’re naming the earlier example the prequel to the institution of revisionism and yet it is as egregious an illustration of how revisionism mutes the impact of history and changes the way we look and deal with circumstances in our Nation.  Had we been more realistic, more honest about what caused us to slaughter one another perhaps we would not be in denial about positions we take today in the high stakes game of politics

The Civil War is like a mountain range that guards all roads into the South: you can’t go there without encountering it. Specifically, you can’t go there without addressing a question that may seem as if it shouldn’t even be a question—to wit: what caused the war? One hundred and fifty years after the event, Americans—at least the vast majority who toil outside academia—still can’t agree. Evidence of this crops up all the time, often in the form of a legal dispute over a display of the Confederate flag. (As I write, there are two such cases pending—one in Oregon and the other in Florida, making this an average news week.) Another common forum is the classroom. But it’s not always about the Stars and Bars. In 2010, for instance, Texas school officials made the news by insisting that Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address be given equal prominence with Abraham Lincoln’s in that state’s social studies curriculum. The following year, Virginia school officials were chagrined to learn that one of their state-adopted textbooks was teaching fourth graders that thousands of loyal slaves took up arms for the confederacy.

At the bottom of all of these is one basic question: was the Civil War about slavery, or states’ rights? whipped

Popular opinion favors the latter theory. In the spring of 2011, in recognition of the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, pollsters at the Pew Research Center asked: “What is your impression of the main cause of the Civil War?” Thirty-eight percent of the respondents said the main cause was the South’s defense of an economic system based on slavery, while nearly half—48 percent—said the nation sacrificed some 650,000 of its fathers, sons, and brothers over a difference of interpretation in constitutional law. White non-Southerners believed this in roughly the same proportion as white Southerners, which was interesting; even more fascinating was the fact that 39 percent of the black respondents, many of them presumably the descendants of slaves, did, too.

We pause here to note that wars are complex events whose causes can never be adequately summed up in a phrase, that they can start out as one thing and evolve into another, and that what people think they are fighting for isn’t always the cause history will record. Yet, as Lincoln noted in his second inaugural address, there was never any doubt that the billions of dollars in property represented by the South’s roughly four million slaves was somehow at the root of everything, and on this point scholars who don’t agree about much of anything else have long found common ground. “No respected historian has argued for decades that the Civil War was fought over tariffs, that abolitionists were mere hypocrites, or that only constitutional concerns drove secessionists,” writes University of Virginia historian Edward Ayers. Yet there’s a vast chasm between this long-established scholarly consensus and the views of millions of presumably educated Americans, who hold to a theory that relegates slavery to, at best, incidental status. How did this happen?

One reason boils down to simple convenience—for white people, that is. In his 2002 book “Race and Reunion,” Yale historian David Blight describes a national fervor for “reconciliation” that began in the 1880s and lasted through the end of World War I, fueled in large part by the South’s desire to attract industry, Northern investors’ desire to make money, and the desire of white people everywhere to push “the Negro question” aside. In the process, the real causes of the war were swept under the rug, the better to facilitate economic partnerships and sentimental reunions of Civil War veterans.

But an equally important reason was a vigorous, sustained effort by Southerners to literally rewrite history—and among the most ardent revisionists were a group of respectable white Southern matrons known as the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

confederacy

 

 

 

 

The significance of the UDC lies not in its present-day clout, which is negligible, but in its lasting contributions to history— both for good and for ill. From its inception in 1894 up through the 1960s, the UDC was the South’s premier social and philanthropic organization, an exclusive social club where the wives, sisters, and daughters of the South’s ruling white elite gathered to “revere the memory of those heroes in gray and to honor that unswerving devotion to principle which has made the confederate soldier the most majestic in history,” as cofounder Caroline Meriwether Goodlett grandly put it. At first, the UDC provided financial assistance and housing to veterans and their widows, offering a vital public service at a time when for all practical purposes most local and state governments in the South were nonfunctional and/or broke. Later, as the veteran population aged, the UDC built homes that allowed indigent veterans and their widows to live out their days with some measure of dignity. Long before there was such a thing as the National Park Service, the UDC played a crucial role in preserving priceless historic sites, war cemeteries, and battlefields across the South. At the same time, it embarked on a spree of monument building: most of those confederate monuments you can still find in hundreds of courthouse squares in small towns across the South were put there by the local UDC chapter during the early 1900s. In its way, the UDC groomed a generation of Southern women for participation in the political process: presidents attended its national convocations, and its voice was heard in the corridors of the U.S. Capitol.

But the UDC’s most important and lasting contribution was in shaping the public perceptions of the war, an effort that was begun shortly after the war by a Confederate veterans’ group called the United Confederate Veterans (which later became the Sons of Confederate Veterans—also still around, and thirty thousand members 220px-Mildred_Lewis_Rutherfordstrong). The central article of faith in this effort was that the South had not fought to preserve slavery, and that this false accusation was an effort to smear the reputation of the South’s gallant leaders. In the early years of the twentieth century the main spokesperson for this point of view was a formidable Athens, Georgia, school principal named Mildred Lewis Rutherford (or Miss Milly, as she is known to UDC members), who traveled the South speaking, organizing essay contests, and soliciting oral histories of the war from veterans…

Miss Milly’s burning passion was ensuring that Southern youngsters learned the “correct” version of what the war was all about and why it had happened—a version carefully vetted to exclude “lies” and “distortions” perpetrated by anti-Southern textbook authors. To that end, in 1920 she wrote a book entitled “The Truths of History”—a compendium of cherry-picked facts, friendly opinions, and quotes taken out of context, sprinkled with nuggets of information history books have often found convenient to ignore. Among other things, “The Truths of History” asserts that Abraham Lincoln was a mediocre intellect, that the South’s interest in expanding slavery to Western states was its benevolent desire to acquire territory for the slaves it planned to free, and that the Ku Klux Klan was a peaceful group whose only goal was maintaining public order. One of Rutherford’s “authorities” on slavery was British writer William Makepeace Thackeray, who visited Richmond on a tour of the Southern states during the 1850s and sent home a buoyant description of the slaves who attended him: “So free, so happy! I saw them dressed on Sunday in their Sunday best—far better dressed than English tenants of the working class are in their holiday attire.”

But presenting the “correct” version of history was only half the battle; the other half was preventing “incorrect” versions from ever infiltrating Southern schools. Before the Civil War, education was strictly a private and/or local affair. After the Civil War, it became a subject of federal interest. The first federal agency devoted to education was authorized by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1867, and Congress passed several laws in the 1870s aimed at establishing a national education system. White Southerners reacted to all this with a renewed determination to prevent outsiders from maligning the reputation of their gallant fighting men by writing textbooks especially for Southern students. One postwar author was none other than Alexander Stephens, former vice president of the Confederacy, whose portrayal of the war sounds remarkably like the version you hear from many Southerners and political conservatives today: it was a noble but doomed effort on the part of the South to preserve self-government against federal intrusion, and it had little to do with slavery. (This was the same Alexander Stephens who had proclaimed in 1861 that slavery was the “cornerstone” of Southern society and “the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.”)

As the UDC gained in political clout, its members lobbied legislatures in Texas, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, and Florida to ban the purchase of textbooks that portrayed the South in anything less than heroic terms, or that contradicted any of the lost cause’s basic assertions. Its reach extended not just to public schools but to tenured academia—a little-known chapter of its propaganda effort is detailed by James Cobb in his 2005 book “Away Down South: A History of Southern Identity.” Cobb recounts how in 1911, for instance, University of Florida history professor Enoch Banks wrote an essay for the New York Independent suggesting that slavery was the cause of secession; Banks was forced by the ensuing public outcry to resign. Perhaps Banks should have seen that coming: seven years earlier, William E. Dodd, a history professor at Virginia’s Randolph-Macon College, had complained that to merely suggest the confederacy might not have been a noble enterprise led by lofty-minded statesmen “is to invite not only criticism but enforced resignation.” Dodd himself would later migrate to the University of Chicago, where he established a Northern outpost for Southerners who were interested in a serious examination of Southern history. Such scholarship was not encouraged back home: the first postwar society of Southern historians was created in 1869 for the explicit purpose of vindicating the confederate cause.

…If all of this wasn’t enough to stifle all public debate and intellectual inquiry in the decades after the war, other prevailing conditions might have finished the job: the widespread poverty of those decades, the rise of Jim Crow and the need to maintain the belief in white supremacy, a pervasive religious mindset that put a higher value on faith than on reason. There were more thoughtful voices, of course—in Atlanta, W. E. B. Du Bois was writing brilliantly about the black experience and reconstruction. But the racism of his day postponed his wider influence to a later era. For all but the rich and/or socially elite this was the South that H. L. Mencken lampooned as “a stupendous region of worn-out farms, shoddy cities and paralyzed cerebrums”—far more concerned with the next meal than with intellectual inquiry. Among white Southerners, rich or poor, the universally accepted history was the version that would later find fame in Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel “Gone With the Wind”—a book that sold millions, was translated into twenty-seven languages, and has probably had a more lasting influence on public perceptions about the South to this day than any other single work. It’s no wonder that the so-called Southern renaissance of the 1930s happened outside academia, in the field of fiction; as Cobb points out, the people least interested in understanding Southern history at that time were Southern historians, and Blight agrees. “It would have been impossible to grow up in the South from 1890 to World War I and not have heard or read [the lost cause version of history] many times over as the common sense of white Southern self-understanding.”

I would quibble with that last part; the era when this was “the common sense of white Southern self-understanding” lasted at least until 1960, very conservatively speaking, and its legacy thrives to this day. In an era when any assertion of “fact” is met by noisy counterassertions of competing “facts,” it’s hard to grasp how completely this warped version of history was accepted as gospel in the South, as silly to dispute as the law of gravity. Former New York Times correspondent John Herbers is an old man now, living in retirement in Bethesda, Maryland, with his wife, Betty. but when he was growing up in Mississippi in the 1930s and 1940s, “the lost cause was one of the main themes my grandmother used to talk about: ‘slavery was nothing to do with the Civil War—we had a cotton economy and [the North] wanted to dominate us.’ It was an undisputed topic.” At the time, he accepted this version, as children do; today, he is struck by the vigilance with which adults in his world implanted this story in the minds of their children. “They pushed themselves to believe that,” he said. “If [the war] had anything to do with slavery, they had no ground to stand on.”

aude Sitton, another Southerner who covered the civil rights movement for the New York Times, remembers participating in a yearly essay contest sponsored by the UDC when he was a high school student in Rockdale County, Georgia, in the early 1950s. I did not encounter the UDC essay contests when I was a student in public schools in the 1960s, but the things I heard from my mother could have come straight from Miss Milly’s approved textbooks. History books were unfair to the South, she told me, so I was not to believe anti-Southern things I might read in them, and she was vigilant about correcting me if she heard me use the term “the Civil War” in conversation. To call it a Civil War was to concede that secession was impossible and/or unconstitutional—something no self-respecting Southerner should ever do. “The proper name,” she would say, “is The War Between the States.”….

Die-hard defenders of some version of the Lost Cause today say that the South has always been the victim of “political correctness” in school textbooks, and that this continues to this day. The truth is just the opposite: for decades, publishers of school textbooks went out of their way not to offend delicate Southern sensibilities in their treatment of the Civil War. One longtime publishing executive told me that when he got into the business in the 1960s, it was common to see two different versions of school history textbooks—one for in the Deep South and one for everywhere else, “and the difference was how you treated the Civil War.” By the mid-twentieth century, even textbooks that did not repeat the UDC party line still tiptoed carefully through the minefield. Take this passage, for example, from a widely used 1943 high school history textbook, which depicts a slave-holding South of stately mansions and benevolent slave owners: “The confederates . . . believed they were fighting for the democratic principle of freedom to manage their own affairs, just as the thirteen colonies had fought in the Revolutionary War.” The same textbook describes the Ku Klux Klan as a group that “sometimes” resorted to violence in its effort to retake local governments from the hands of incompetent former slaves. A 1965 textbook used in Alabama public schools taught another key point of the lost cause creed—that slavery was a benign institution: “In one respect, the slave was almost always better off than free laborers, white or black, of the same period [because] the slave received the best medical care which the times could offer.”

The above excerpt is from the book The New Mind of the South, written by Tracy Thompson which appeared in Salon. com here and does an excellent job of detailing the mind set that leads to revisionism which was motivated by the same factors that propel the revisionists of today’s media and academia.

The Evil of historical revisionism


Quite frankly, I hate it, people with gilded tongue or pen who are able to change facts to present a narrative that is completely opposite to reality and what really took place.  Such revisionist work in the service of the “empire”, people of power who enlist the help of scribes to change, conceal, cover up historical facts and outcomes in order to preserve power.  A very good example of that in these morst recent times is what happened vis-a-vis the Iraq war and the media’s implication in propelling a frightened Nation into that war.  We’ve posted several pieces on how media played a willing hand in inciting racial animus towards a non-existent enemy and resulting carnage it caused for all involved.  In keeping with being unrelenting, here’s another article written by Greg Mitchell that details media’s complicity in the Iraqi war and particularly again the WashPost

The Washington Post killed my assigned piece for its Outlook section this weekend which mainly covered media failures re: Iraq and the current refusal to come to grips with that (the subject of my latest book)–yet they ran this misleading, cherry-picking, piece by Paul Farhi claiming the media “didn’t fail.”  I love the line about the Post in March 2003 carrying some skeptical pieces just days before the war started: “Perhaps it was too late by then. But this doesn’t sound like failure.”

Here’s my rejected piece.  I see that the Post is now defending killing the article because it didn’t offer sufficient “broader analytical points or insights.”  I’ll let you consider if that’s true and why they might have rejected it.

Now let’s revisit my recent posts here on when probe in the Post itself by Howard Kurtz in 2004 showed that it failed big time.  For one thing, Kurtz tallied more than 140 front-page Post stories “that focused heavily on administration rhetoric against Iraq”–with all but a few of those questioning the evidence buried inside.  Editors there killed, delayed or buried key pieces by Ricks, Walter Pincus, Dana Priest and others.  The Post‘s David Ignatius went so far as offering an apology to readers this week for his own failures.  Also consider Bob Woodward’s reflections here and here.   He admitted he had become a willing part of the the “groupthink” that accepted faulty intelligence on the WMDs.

Woodward, shaming himself and his paper, once said it was risky for journalists to write anything that might look silly if WMD were ultimately found in Iraq.  Rather than look silly, they greased the path to war.   “There was an attitude among editors: Look, we’re going to war, why do we even worry about all the contrary stuff?” admitted the Post’s Pentagon correspondent Thomas Ricks in 2004.  And this classic from a top reporter, Karen DeYoung:  “We are inevitably the mouthpiece for whatever administration is in power.“  See my review, at the time, of how the Post fell (hook, line, and sinker) for Colin Powell’s fateful U.N. speech–and mocked critics.  Not a “fail”?

In Farhi’s piece, Len Downie, the longtime Post editor, is still claiming, with a shrug, hey, we couldn’t have slowed or halted the war anyway.  Farhi agrees with this.  Nothing to see here, move along.

Kurtz last week called the media failure on Iraq the most egregious in “modern times,” which echoes my book.  This week neither the Post nor The New York Times published an editorial admitting any shortcomings in their Iraq coverage.   Back in 2003, the Times at least called for caution in invading Iraq, in editorials.  On the other hand, as Bill Moyers pointed out, in the six months leading up to the U.S. attack on the Iraq, the Post “editorialized in favor of the war at least 27 times.”

 

So, What did the Muslims do for the Jews?


according to David J. Wasserstein, plenty in an essay he wrote for of all things, The Jewish Chronicle OnLine

Jewish subjects of the Ottoman Empire, sevente...

Jewish subjects of the Ottoman Empire, seventeenth century. From the 1901-1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, now in the public domain. Category:Jewish Encyclopedia images (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Islam saved Jewry. This is an unpopular, discomforting claim in the modern world. But it is a historical truth. The argument for it is double. First, in 570 CE, when the Prophet Mohammad was born, the Jews and Judaism were on the way to oblivion. And second, the coming of Islam saved them, providing a new context in which they not only survived, but flourished, laying foundations for subsequent Jewish cultural prosperity – also in Christendom – through the medieval period into the modern world.

By the fourth century, Christianity had become the dominant religion in the Roman empire. One aspect of this success was opposition to rival faiths, including Judaism, along with massive conversion of members of such faiths, sometimes by force, to Christianity. Much of our testimony about Jewish existence in the Roman empire from this time on consists of accounts of conversions.

Great and permanent reductions in numbers through conversion, between the fourth and the seventh centuries, brought with them a gradual but relentless whittling away of the status, rights, social and economic existence, and religious and cultural life of Jews all over the Roman empire.

A long series of enactments deprived Jewish people of their rights as citizens, prevented them from fulfilling their religious obligations, and excluded them from the society of their fellows.

This went along with the centuries-long military and political struggle with Persia. As a tiny element in the Christian world, the Jews should not have been affected much by this broad, political issue. Yet it affected them critically, because the Persian empire at this time included Babylon – now Iraq – at the time home to the world’s greatest concentration of Jews.

Here also were the greatest centres of Jewish intellectual life. The most important single work of Jewish cultural creativity in over 3,000 years, apart from the Bible itself – the Talmud – came into being in Babylon. The struggle between Persia and Byzantium, in our period, led increasingly to a separation between Jews under Byzantine, Christian rule and Jews under Persian rule.

Beyond all this, the Jews who lived under Christian rule seemed to have lost the knowledge of their own culturally specific languages – Hebrew and Aramaic – and to have taken on the use of Latin or Greek or other non-Jewish, local, languages. This in turn must have meant that they also lost access to the central literary works of Jewish culture – the Torah, Mishnah, poetry, midrash, even liturgy.

The loss of the unifying force represented by language – and of the associated literature – was a major step towards assimilation and disappearance. In these circumstances, with contact with the one place where Jewish cultural life continued to prosper – Babylon – cut off by conflict with Persia, Jewish life in the Christian world of late antiquity was not simply a pale shadow of what it had been three or four centuries earlier. It was doomed.

Had Islam not come along, the conflict with Persia would have continued. The separation between western Judaism, that of Christendom, and Babylonian Judaism, that of Mesopotamia, would have intensified. Jewry in the west would have declined to disappearance in many areas. And Jewry in the east would have become just another oriental cult.

But this was all prevented by the rise of Islam. The Islamic conquests of the seventh century changed the world, and did so with dramatic, wide-ranging and permanent effect for the Jews.

Within a century of the death of Mohammad, in 632, Muslim armies had conquered almost the whole of the world where Jews lived, from Spain eastward across North Africa and the Middle East as far as the eastern frontier of Iran and beyond. Almost all the Jews in the world were now ruled by Islam. This new situation transformed Jewish existence. Their fortunes changed in legal, demographic, social, religious, political, geographical, economic, linguistic and cultural terms – all for the better.

First, things improved politically. Almost everywhere in Christendom where Jews had lived now formed part of the same political space as Babylon – Cordoba and Basra lay in the same political world. The old frontier between the vital centre in Babylonia and the Jews of the Mediterranean basin was swept away, forever.

Political change was partnered by change in the legal status of the Jewish population: although it is not always clear what happened during the Muslim conquests, one thing is certain. The result of the conquests was, by and large, to make the Jews second-class citizens.

This should not be misunderstood: to be a second-class citizen was a far better thing to be than not to be a citizen at all. For most of these Jews, second-class citizenship represented a major advance. In Visigothic Spain, for example, shortly before the Muslim conquest in 711, the Jews had seen their children removed from them and forcibly converted to Christianity and had themselves been enslaved.

In the developing Islamic societies of the classical and medieval periods, being a Jew meant belonging to a category defined under law, enjoying certain rights and protections, alongside various obligations. These rights and protections were not as extensive or as generous as those enjoyed by Muslims, and the obligations were greater but, for the first few centuries, the Muslims themselves were a minority, and the practical differences were not all that great.

Along with legal near-equality came social and economic equality. Jews were not confined to ghettos, either literally or in terms of economic activity. The societies of Islam were, in effect, open societies. In religious terms, too, Jews enjoyed virtually full freedom. They might not build many new synagogues – in theory – and they might not make too public their profession of their faith, but there was no really significant restriction on the practice of their religion. Along with internal legal autonomy, they also enjoyed formal representation, through leaders of their own, before the authorities of the state. Imperfect and often not quite as rosy as this might sound, it was at least the broad norm.

The political unity brought by the new Islamic world-empire did not last, but it created a vast Islamic world civilisation, similar to the older Christian civilisation that it replaced. Within this huge area, Jews lived and enjoyed broadly similar status and rights everywhere. They could move around, maintain contacts, and develop their identity as Jews. A great new expansion of trade from the ninth century onwards brought the Spanish Jews – like the Muslims – into touch with the Jews and the Muslims even of India.

A ll this was encouraged by a further, critical development. Huge numbers of people in the new world of Islam adopted the language of the Muslim Arabs. Arabic gradually became the principal language of this vast area, excluding almost all the rest: Greek and Syriac, Aramaic and Coptic and Latin all died out, replaced by Arabic. Persian, too, went into a long retreat, to reappear later heavily influenced by Arabic.

The Jews moved over to Arabic very rapidly. By the early 10th century, only 300 years after the conquests, Sa’adya Gaon was translating the Bible into Arabic. Bible translation is a massive task – it is not undertaken unless there is a need for it. By about the year 900, the Jews had largely abandoned other languages and taken on Arabic.

The change of language in its turn brought the Jews into direct contact with broader cultural developments. The result from the 10th century on was a striking pairing of two cultures. The Jews of the Islamic world developed an entirely new culture, which differed from their culture before Islam in terms of language, cultural forms, influences, and uses. Instead of being concerned primarily with religion, the new Jewish culture of the Islamic world, like that of its neighbours, mixed the religious and the secular to a high degree. The contrast, both with the past and with medieval Christian Europe, was enormous.

Like their neighbours, these Jews wrote in Arabic in part, and in a Jewish form of that language. The use of Arabic brought them close to the Arabs. But the use of a specific Jewish form of that language maintained the barriers between Jew and Muslim. The subjects that Jews wrote about, and the literary forms in which they wrote about them, were largely new ones, borrowed from the Muslims and developed in tandem with developments in Arabic Islam.

Also at this time, Hebrew was revived as a language of high literature, parallel to the use among the Muslims of a high form of Arabic for similar purposes. Along with its use for poetry and artistic prose, secular writing of all forms in Hebrew and in (Judeo-)Arabic came into being, some of it of high quality.

Much of the greatest poetry in Hebrew written since the Bible comes from this period. Sa’adya Gaon, Solomon Ibn Gabirol, Ibn Ezra (Moses and Abraham), Maimonides, Yehuda Halevi, Yehudah al-Harizi, Samuel ha-Nagid, and many more – all of these names, well known today, belong in the first rank of Jewish literary and cultural endeavour.

W here did these Jews produce all this? When did they and their neighbours achieve this symbiosis, this mode of living together? The Jews did it in a number of centres of excellence. The most outstanding of these was Islamic Spain, where there was a true Jewish Golden Age, alongside a wave of cultural achievement among the Muslim population. The Spanish case illustrates a more general pattern, too.

What happened in Islamic Spain – waves of Jewish cultural prosperity paralleling waves of cultural prosperity among the Muslims – exemplifies a larger pattern in Arab Islam. In Baghdad, between the ninth and the twelfth centuries; in Qayrawan (in north Africa), between the ninth and the 11th centuries; in Cairo, between the 10th and the 12th centuries, and elsewhere, the rise and fall of cultural centres of Islam tended to be reflected in the rise and fall of Jewish cultural activity in the same places.

This was not coincidence, and nor was it the product of particularly enlightened liberal patronage by Muslim rulers. It was the product of a number of deeper features of these societies, social and cultural, legal and economic, linguistic and political, which together enabled and indeed encouraged the Jews of the Islamic world to create a novel sub-culture within the high civilisation of the time.

This did not last for ever; the period of culturally successful symbiosis between Jew and Arab Muslim in the middle ages came to a close by about 1300. In reality, it had reached this point even earlier, with the overall relative decline in the importance and vitality of Arabic culture, both in relation to western European cultures and in relation to other cultural forms within Islam itself; Persian and Turkish.

Jewish cultural prosperity in the middle ages operated in large part as a function of Muslim, Arabic cultural (and to some degree political) prosperity: when Muslim Arabic culture thrived, so did that of the Jews; when Muslim Arabic culture declined, so did that of the Jews.

In the case of the Jews, however, the cultural capital thus created also served as the seed-bed of further growth elsewhere – in Christian Spain and in the Christian world more generally.

The Islamic world was not the only source of inspiration for the Jewish cultural revival that came later in Christian Europe, but it certainly was a major contributor to that development. Its significance cannot be overestimated.

Let’s hope none of the respondents were Americans


 

tentAli Abunimah ran the above photograph and chronicled the response of some Israelis and to read what they wrote was quite disturbing.  Look at some of them and tell me whether their suggestions don’t remind you of something that has already happened

Run the tent over with a truck/Merkava tank/a bus/ whatever it takes to crush and kill these children (Rachael Corrie)….

I’d have thrown nerve gas into the tent and closed it and made them breath it until the end…… (Saddam Hussein)

Put a couple of bullets in their heads and we’re done (Adam Lanza)

My point is these people are suggesting things be done that have been done to or by people that we acknowledge as social psychopaths, deviants who have been killed by us or whose death we cheered.  If you read Abunimah’s article you’ll find who some of the people who responded are and its scary because many of them have the means and opportunity to do what it is they are suggesting be done.

The Washington Post gets pwned


I’m not a fan of corporate media because it tends to make unsettling alliances with people of power to insure its profitability through devious journalistic and financial practices but I have a special enmity for corporate media that didn’t do its job during the time of the crisis with Iraq and misled the country with the help of dubious politicians into one of the greatest crimes against humanity that we’ve seen in our lives.  Here is another brilliant piece from Robert Parry about the culpability of the Washington Post

Four days after the Iraq War’s tenth anniversary, the Washington Post published an editorial about the disastrous war of choice, a conflict which the Post’s neocon editors promoted with falsehoods and distortions both before the invasion and for years afterwards.

However, if you thought there would be some admission of the newspaper’s long litany of mistakes or some apology to the war’s critics who were routinely maligned in Post editorials and op-eds, you would be sorely disappointed. There was not even a mention of the nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers or the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who died.

President Barack Obama remains a target of the Washington Post’s outrage over his supposed failure to complete the neocon agenda in the Middle East. Obama is shown here touring the crypt containing the reputed birthplace of Jesus during the President’s visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the West Bank, March 22, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

After a brief acknowledgement that the war’s tenth anniversary “generated plenty of commentary about the lessons of that war,” the Post’s editors said nothing about what, if anything, they had learned. Instead, they remained in positive spin mode, citing one supposed accomplishment from the invasion.

“For the first time in decades, contemporary Iraq poses no threat to its neighbors,” the Post declared. However, even that is a lie on two fronts.

First, Iraq under Saddam Hussein had not been a threat to its neighbors since the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91, unless the Post’s editors were having a flashback to the glory days of 2002-03 when they were disseminating President George W. Bush’s bogus WMD propaganda. Do they still believe that nonsense?

Second, today’s Iraq under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has become a threat to its neighbors because al-Qaeda-affiliated Sunni extremists from western Iraq have crossed the border to Syria where they have assumed a major role in the violent opposition to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

But the Post’s editors want you to believe that the Bush-neocon expedition to Iraq was on the cusp of some great success until President Barack Obama showed up to squander the victory – by not insisting on a continuation of the U.S. military occupation of Iraq.

“Iran’s influence over Mr. Maliki’s government is mounting, thanks in part to the Obama administration’s failure to agree with Baghdad on a stay-on force of U.S. troops,” the Post wrote, making it seem as if it were Obama’s petulance that prevented the continued U.S. military presence, not the insistence by Maliki’s government of terms in a “status of forces agreement” unacceptable to the Americans.

Lost Influence

In the Post’s frame of reality, however, this failure to keep tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers in Iraq has led to other terrible consequences: “According to U.S. officials, Iraq has been allowing Iran to fly weapons through its airspace to the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. Repeated appeals from Washington to stop the traffic have gone unheeded.”

But an objective observer might have noted that it was the Bush-neocon hubris, rushing into a war to oust Hussein’s Sunni-dominated regime that led inevitably to the expanded influence of Shiite-ruled Iran within the new Shiite-controlled regime in Iraq. Yet, the Post instead placed the blame squarely on Obama.

The Post’s editorial then returned to its current campaign to pressure the Obama administration into entering a new military conflict in Syria, accusing the President of unmanly softness.

“The civil war in Syria, and the passivity with which the Obama administration has responded to it, have reinforced these negative trends. Mr. Maliki fears that the downfall of the Assad regime could lead to a Sunni-dominated government that would back insurrection in Sunni parts of Iraq.

“As with leaders across the Middle East, he perceives that the United States is unwilling to defend its interests in the region, either by stopping the Syrian bloodbath or countering Iran’s interventions. The risk of greater turmoil or even a return to civil war in Iraq is one of several compelling reasons for more aggressive U.S. action to end the war in Syria.”

The Post then summed up its case by suggesting that Obama has betrayed the great victory that the neocons supposedly had won in Iraq.

“President Obama has often given the impression that he has turned his back on Iraq, and many Americans understandably sympathize with him. But a failure to engage with the fragile state U.S. troops left behind would endanger U.S. interests and break faith with the many Americans who made sacrifices there.”

What is particularly startling about the Post’s editorial, which curiously appears four days after the Iraq War’s tenth anniversary, is that the dominant newspaper in the nation’s capital continues to live in a neocon fantasy world or at least refuses to acknowledge key Middle East realities.

In Neocon-land, the big U.S. mistake in Iraq was not forcing the Iraqis to accept an indefinite U.S. military occupation, compounded by the Obama administration’s hesitancy to join Israel in bombing Iran and to jump into another bloody quagmire in Syria – in other words to continue the neocon grand plan of “regime change” across the Middle East. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Mysterious Why of the Iraq War.”]

Not only did the Post editorial, entitled “Iraq, 10 years later,” offer no self-reflection on the Post’s many factual errors about Iraq’s non-existent WMD, no apology for its bullying of war skeptics, and no recognition of its complicity in a criminal invasion, but the newspaper’s editors appear to have absorbed not a single lesson from what happened a decade ago.

That inability to utter even the most obvious and necessary mea culpa is disturbing in itself. Indeed, if the Post were still a serious news organization committed to the principles of honest journalism, it would have undertaken a major overhaul of its editorial-page staff rather than keeping in place the same leadership and punditry that was so embarrassingly wrong on Iraq.

But, even worse, the Post’s editors continue to pontificate with an arrogance resistant to the undeniable reality of their own misjudgments, incompetence and immorality. In that sense, the Washington Post has become a threat to the Republic and to the world.

What’s my name?!


Ali-Whats-My-Name-FightNames are important to their bearers and generally to the society at large.  They are a source of pride and at other times scourge; people invest themselves with names of meaning or shed their names because  of its meaning.  We’ve seen people mercilessly pummel others for not recognizing their names and calling them by the chosen name, and we’ve seen others brutally whipped to acknowledge a name give to them by people in order to strip the name bearer of any sense of cultural identity or self worth and replace it with whatever value the name giver is trying to impart. kunta-getting-whipped-1

There are some people who intimidated by the idea that their name is identified with a certain ideology or belief chose to change it of their own accord in order to fit in and not be singled out, while some people change their names willingly to hide their cultural identity to avoid religious or cultural persecution. Others tonycurtiscolortake on names because of careers whereby the name distinguishes them from all others in the performing arts.  “Sting”, “Prince” come to mind to name a few. Such decisions are made artistically and usually enhance the image of the name bearer in the eyes of an adoring public.

People have denigrated entire classes of their fellow mankind by grouping them under one name, nigger, cracker, spic, kike, sandnigger, cockroach, gook are just a few examples that come to mind.  These names are meant to hurt; they come with their own invective; even the pronunciation rolls off the tongue with a certain inflection that’s meant to hurt the ears as much as the hearts and minds of the subjects of such abuse.  By using such language it’s meant to dehumanize and weaken the resolve of a person, to soften them up for the inevitable. We have not gotten over this ability to harm with the spoken word, or name.  When applied enough times to groups of people the result is systematic and relentless oppression, subjugation or intended and eventual annihilation.

AlexWhile I was  a freshman in college Alexander Isayevich Solzhenitsyn was the rave in American literary circles.  His book, The Gulag Archipelago had recently been released and became required reading in universities across the West, no less so where I studied. His was the first exposure many of us in my English literature class had to someone with a name like his and as we discussed his work, quite a few of us awkwardly pronounced or made fun of while attempting to pronounce his name so much so that our English teacher stopped the class and with all the seriousness and indignation appropriate for the moment declared, ‘young people every human has the RIGHT to have his/her name pronounced correctly’.  With that declaration he (I wish I could honor that teacher by recalling his name, but unfortunately I have forgotten it) made every student stand one at a time in class and pronounce Solzhenitsyn’s entire name until we got it right.  No student was spared as time was suspended until we said S-O-L-Z-H-E-N-I-T-S-Y-N correctly, no matter how many times it took for us to do so. I left that class with a deep sense of the importance of names and how its bearer should be honored with the correct application of that name to him or her. I realized no matter how hated by me a person or no matter how difficult the name I owed it to its bearer to honor them with their name, no suffixes or prefixes attached, no racial or cultural tags added. Such things could be done in a separate sentence but never immediately juxtaposed with the name….unless that person wanted it so.

During the late 70s toward the end of Jimmy Carter’s term in office when the Nation was gripped by the Iranian hostage crisis, America began its assault on Muslims.  American Muslims who showed any support for the revolution in Iran came under fire, scrutiny by a federal government bent on flexing its muscle to resolve the crisis and cap a ground swell that was boiling in America (which we survived and have since gone on to greater heights of prosperity).  During that time I ran across a young Muslim American who related how he was caught up in the turmoil of the time and indicted by the federal government.  He was told, he said, by officials if he would only agree to have the name “Al” affixed to his indictment instead of “Abdullah” the name he had on all his legal documents  they would eventually drop or reduce the charges. He was faced with a modern day horse whipping much like the character Kunta Kinte in the movie Roots, except in his case he refused and was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years for a crime he didn’t commit.  Finally after his appeal reached and was decided on by appeals court where he was awarded a new trial, the government having extracted its pound of flesh from him and countless others and satiated its blood lust, refused to re-try him and released him with time served.  Six years he languished in prison because he refused to go by any  name other than his name. That young man’s story reinforced to me the importance of one’s name and how authority sees the importance of names.

CAIRFoleySqIt came as no surprise, therefore, for me to read that names were being used AGAIN by the government to determine guilt or innocence or even if criminal activity or the THREAT of criminal activity existed.  Too often we in America especially and  the West in general rely too much on social schemata to define who a person is instead of listening to or watching how that person defines himself.  In today’s age of instant gratification, and sound bite, bumper slogan ideology, no time is given to evaluating the person beyond that brief first impression that usually starts with one’s name.  We are conditioned to make credible or inconsequential that person’s existence just by the sound of their name, whether it is anglicized or latin, mono or polysyllabic, foreign or American.  Everything after the name is totally irrelevant; it is why people today at the start of  Obama’s second term still think he is an illegitimate president and therefore nothing he says or does is American.  As a result there’s now talk of secessionist movements gaining ground in some parts of the country where such notions weren’t even whispered during the time of any other contemporary president.

notAmerica is a country made of people from all over the world, each of them, those who are law abiding, are citizens of this Republic with all the rights and responsibilities due by the Constitution and no one person can have that fact denied because of their name, yet such denial is becoming increasingly more prevalent.  We come from races and tribes with different and yes even unusual names but none of that allows us to deny or curtail the rights of such people because we cannot pronounce or don’t like a person’s name.   Nor should we expect people to conform to the names we want to bestow on them.  I was sitting with a friend a few years ago when we were approached by an elderly African-American with a soft, appealing  southern accent.  His voice was  melodic like that of a Sunday preacher as were his manners.  When he made eye contact with me and my friend he approached the two of us and introduced himself.  We in turn told him our names, but my friend’s name was a bit difficult for this gentleman to pronounce.  He prodded my friend several times to say the name and each time my friend pronounced his name slower and with more elaborate intonation.  Finally after the fourth or fifth time, the elderly gentleman scratched his name and said to my companion ‘do you mind if I call you Willie?’

sittingbullWe are uncomfortable with names that require effort to say and translate that difficulty into stereotyping the bearer negatively…especially if that person insists on us calling them by their name correctly.  As a society we don’t have an English teacher who will make us pronounce and honor a person’s name until we get it right….we give in too easy and suggest ways to call(define) a person that are acceptable to us.  But that is no longer acceptable in a pluralistic society such as America and it’s not desirable either.  Our names are European, African, Asian, Semitic, Latin, Oceanic and many times a mix of all of them and they all are as valuable, meaningful AND American as any other name you may find in the white pages of your local phone book.  If we are as exceptional as we claim to be, as great a Nation as we say we are, we will learn to respect the names of our countrymen and the diversity of these names that are brought to our society, otherwise we are no better than the tin pot despots, the banana republics we have supported and then invaded because of their perceived inhumanity to their fellow man.  Are we up to the task, America? Then, what’s my name?