It is good to see that the Jewish Voice has reprinted Magdi Allam's clear-sighted article, Arabs without Jews: roots of a tragedy. Allam wrote it just after seeing Pierre Rehov's 2004 The Silent Exodus, the first film ever made on the topic of Jews driven out from Arab countries. Much has changed since, but some things have stayed the same: as the Arab world tears itself apart, Allam's words ring truer than ever. Allam is an Egyptian Muslim journalist who converted to Catholicism; the deputy editor of Corriere della Sera, he became a Euro-MP.
Israel is the keeper of a mutilated Arab identity, the repository for
the guilty consciences of the Arab peoples, the living witness to a
true history of the Arab countries, continuously denied, falsified and
Seeing Pierre Rehov's documentary film 'The Silent Exodus' about the
expulsion and flight of a million Sephardi Jews helped me gain a better
understanding of the tragedy of a community that was integral and
fundamental to Arab society. Above all it has revealed to me the very
essence of the catastrophe that befell it, a catastrophe which the
mythical Arab nation has never once called into question.
In a flash of
insight I could see that the tragedy of the Jews and the catastrophe of
the Arabs are two facets of the same coin. By expelling the Jews who
were settled on the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean
centuries before they were arabized and islamized, the Arabs have in
fact begun the lethal process of mutilating their own identity and
despoiling their own history. By losing their Jews the Arabs have lost
their roots and have ended up by losing themselves.
As has often happened in history, the Jews were the first victims of
hatred and intolerance. All the "others" had their turn soon enough,
specifically the Christians and other religious minorities, heretical
and secular Muslims and finally, those Muslims who do not fit exactly
into the ideological framework of the extreme nationalists and
Islamists. There has not been a single instance in this murky period of
our history when the Arab states have been ready to condemn the steady
exodus of Christians, ethnic-religious minorities, enlightened and
ordinary Muslims, while Muslims plain and simple have become the primary
victims of Islamic terror.
Underlying the Arab 'malaise' is an identity crisis that neither
Nasserist nor Ba'athist pan-Arabism, nor the Islamism of the Saudi
Wahabis, the Muslim Brotherhood, Khomeini and Bin Laden has been able to
solve. It's a contagious identity crisis, spreading to and taking hold
of the Arab and Muslim communities in the West.
I remember that around the mid-1970s the Arab exam in civic education
taken in both state and public schools in Egypt defined Arab identity
thus: "the Arabs are a nation united by race, blood, history, geography,
religion and destiny."
This was a falsification of an historical truth
based on ethno-religious pluralism, an ideological deception aimed at
erasing all differences and promoting the theory of one race overlapping
with a phantom Arab nation in thrall to unchallengeable leaders. It was
directly inspired by Nazi and fascist theories of racial purity and
supremacy which appealed to the leadership and ideologues of pan-Arabism
and Islamism. It is no wonder that in this context Manichean Israel is
perceived as a foreign body to be rejected, a cancer produced by
American imperialism to divide and subjugate the Arab world.
The historical truth is that the Middle Eastern peoples, in spite of
their arabization and islamization from the 7th century onward,
continued to maintain a specific identity reflecting their indigenous
and millenarian ethnic roots - cultural, linguistic, religious and
national. The Berbers, for example, who constitute half the population
of Morocco and a third of that of Algeria, have nothing or very little
in common with the Bedouin tribes at the heart of Saudi or Jordanian
society. When in 1979 Egypt was sidelined from the Arab League for
signing a peace treaty with Israel President Sadat restored its
Pharaonic Egyptian identity which he proudly contrasted with its
Arabness. Here was an isolated but significant attempt to recapture an
indigenous identity - advertising historical honesty and political
liberation while saying 'enough is enough' to rampant lies and demagogy.
In fact 'the Silent Exodus' testifies that anti-Semitism and the
pogroms against the Jews of the Middle East preceded the birth of the
state of Israel and the advent of ideological pan-Arabism and
pan-Islamism. It infers that hatred and violence against the Jews could
originate in an ideological interpretation of the Koran and the life of
the prophet Muhammed taken out of context.
It would be a mistake to generalize and not to take into account that
for long periods coexistence was possible between the Muslims,
Christians and Jews of the Middle East, at a time when in Europe the
Catholic Inquisition was repressing the Jews and when the Nazi Holocaust
was trying to exterminate them. In the same way, one cannot ignore
Israel's responsibility together with Arab leaders in the emergence of
the drama of millions of Palestinian refugees and the unresolved
question of a Palestinian state.
The fact remains that of the million Jews who at the end of 1945 were
an integral part of the Arab population, only 5,000 remain. These Arab
Jews, expelled or who fled at a moment's notice, have become an integral
part of the Israeli population. They continue to represent a human
injustice and an historical tragedy. Above all, they are indicative of
an Arab civil and identity catastrophe.
That is why to recognize the
wrongs committed towards the Arab Jews - as the maverick Libyan leader
colonel Gaddafi has recently done - by objectively rediscovering their
past and millenarian roots, by finding again their tolerant and plural
history and by totally and sincerely reconciling themselves with
themselves, the Arabs could free themselves from the ideological
obscurantism which has relegated them to the most basic level of human
development and has changed the region into the most problematic and
conflict-ridden on earth.
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