If there is a persistent myth about Muslim rule, it is the “golden age” myth of a “peaceful coexistence” between Jews, Christians and Muslims in Muslim-ruled “lands of Islam,” in particular in “al-Andalus” (Medieval Muslim-rule Spain).
On March 27, 2009, in Paris, the Aladdin Project launch conference unanimously celebrated that myth. The French Jewish Foundation for the Memory of the Holocaust (FMS) has initiated the Project both to fight against revisionism and Holocaust denial in the Muslim world as well as to foster improved Jewish-Muslim relations. The project includes in particular two web sites in five languages: Turkish, Persian, Arabic, English and French. Projetaladin.org provides “objective information on the history of the Holocaust, an introduction to Jewish culture, history and religion and the history of Muslims and Jews throughout the ages across the Middle East, North Africa and Medieval Spain”. Aladdin Online Library “features pdf-formatted books on the Holocaust -- such as The Diary of Anne Frank and If This is a Man (Primo Levi) -- that can be downloaded free of charge in Turkish, Persian and Arabic.
That myth is an essential part of “Islamically correct” discourses. It induces perverse effects that will be presented later on in this article.
The “Golden Age” Myth
Professor Bernard Lewis writes that the myth was forged by European pro-Islamic Jews:
“The golden age of equal rights [under Muslim rule] was a myth, and belief in it was a result, more than a cause, of Jewish sympathy for Islam. The myth was invented by Jews in nineteenth-century Europe as a reproach to Christians – and taken up by Muslims in our own time as a reproach to Jews”.
Historian Bat Ye’or explains that myth, “which endorses the Islamic version of history”, by geopolitical factors, such as the XIXth century European “political equilibrium”. The myth justified “the defence of the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire”, i.e. conquering peoples under its rule. In the Interwar years, the “Ottoman tolerance” myth changed into the “peaceful coexistence under the first caliphs” myth.
That myth is an anesthetizing narrative: it blurs the topics at stake in the jihad against the West or in Eurabia. It both conceals a tragic threatening reality - jihad and its corollary institution dhimmitude which is the cruel inferior status of non-Muslim minorities under Islamic rule - and “delinks Islam and Islamism”. Instead, it imposes an “Islamically correct” vision of an idealized “peaceful” Islam symbolized by brilliant al-Andalus civilization, an example of “peaceful coexistence between Judaism, Christianity and Islam” under Muslim rule. It also contains the Western “debt” myth to “Arabic/Islamic sciences”. It thus downgrades the Christian civilization which put an end to that idealized era by defeating the Moors and retaking the Iberian Peninsula (Reconquista) as well as failed to create an al-Andalus’ equivalent.
The myth thus induces a West’s moral inferiority complex towards the Muslim-Arab world, meanwhile demonizing the West – “obscurantist” (Inquisition), “conqueror” (Crusades, empires), “racist” - victimizes Muslims and reinforces the vilification of Israel. That myth can only induce a West’s guilty feeling, anti-Western and Israel-bashing discourses. The fact that Jews recreated the State of Israel contradicts the mythical “happy Jewish dhimmis”. Lauding how the Muslims’ behaviour towards non-Muslims was admirable and beyond reproach vilifies a contrario demonized Israel: the State of Israel’s re-creation is suggested as having broken an era of idealized “peaceful coexistence between Jews and Muslims”. The Israeli policy is distorted through a biased mythical prism: it is compared to a myth presented as an historical fact and Israel is required for a myth-compliant policy which de facto would restore the “good old days” of dhimmitude, and consequently the destruction of the Jewish state. That myth was also renewed in the idea of a “secular multicultural Palestine” replacing Israel.
Bat Ye’or underlines:
“That myth of peaceful coexistence strengthens Islamic doctrine. It confirms the perfection of the shari’a… The slightest criticism of the dhimmi status is rejected, as it undermines the doctrine of the perfection of Islamic law and government…. Consequently, the praise of the tolerance and justice of Islamic government, accompanied by gratitude, constituted an integral part of the obligations required of the dhimmi”.
Jewish and Christian dhimmitude networks have conveyed that perverse myth which aims at influencing public opinions and therefore government policies, especially in the Euro-Arab dialogue.
And some French textbooks still present that myth as an historical fact.
The Myth-Endorsed Aladdin Project Launch Conference
A recent example of the vitality of that myth was offered by the launch conference of the Aladdin Project at UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) Headquarters on March 27, 2009.
About 800 diplomats, including Israeli ambassadors, ministers, presidents of Jewish associations, rabbis, bishop, imams, Medias, especially from the Muslim world, and artists attended that prestigious conference.
In compliance with the myth, Jewish, Christian and Muslim orators concealed Islamic Anti-Semitism, dhimmitude and the Jewish “Forgotten Exodus” from the Muslim world. They whitewashed the Islamic world from any participation in the Holocaust or any link with Nazis, and praised Muslim Righteous among the Nations as well as King Muhammed V of Morocco and the Bey of Tunisia who had protected “their” Jews. So, Muslims officials easily condemned Holocaust denial and expressed their sympathy for the Jewish victims.
Let’s hear Abdoulaye Wade, President of the Republic of Senegal and current President of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), asserting the myth:
“There have never been historical contentions among Muslims and Jews. On the contrary, from the Charter of Medina in 622 to Arab-ruled medieval Spain and the Ottoman Empire, history teaches us that in different periods Jews and Muslims have been able to live together in peace and respect each other. Jews were often protected by Muslim monarchs”.
It was quite bizarre to hear that ode before Muslim Judenrein countries’ officials.
Orators committed shocking confusions, West-bashing and Israel-bashing stances, which are parts of the myth.
For instance, controversial and anti-Israeli Egyptian Minister of Culture Farouk Hosny said on President Hosni Mubarak's behalf that the Holocaust was a “transgression against Islam and Muslims (. . . ) because their Semitic brothers were killed in such a great number”. By qualifying Jews and Muslims as “Semites”, that speech denies both what “anti-Semitism” means - Jew-hating - and the existence of a Jewish people. In 2001, Farouk Hosni had invited convicted French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy to speak in Cairo. On May 21, 2009, philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, director Claude Lanzmann et Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel expressed outrage at Hosny’s candidacy for UNESCO Director General. On September 9, 2009, Serge Klarsfeld, the famous Nazi hunter, backed Hosni “because of his public position on the Holocaust”. He also said that Hosny had expressed repentance for his speech about burning Israeli books and that he took recent measures in favour of the Jewish culture in Egypt, such as restoring synagogues and communication of the Egyptian Jewish community’s archives. Paris vaut bien une messe (“Paris is well worth a mass”), as King Henry IV is said to have declared…
Another example. Controversial Grand Mufti of Bosnia Mustafa Cerić reading a speech on behalf of the President of Bosnia, and André Azoulay, member of the Aladdin Project Experts Committee and advisor of the King of Morocco, exhorted to fight both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Islamophobia is a term used against the West in order to prevent any critical discussion of Islam.
The West was stigmatized too through slavery and imperialism. President Wade vilified [Transatlantic] “slavery which lasted for five centuries”; that historical period of time corresponds to the European trade slaveries and avoids evoking the lasting Transafrican and transoceanic trade slaveries led by Muslims. That discourse has victimized Africans in a claiming position demanding repentance towards Europe. Muslim orators denounced French or British empires, but presented the “Arab empire” as a quite natural fact. The reason is that the European empires were not led by Muslims and did not intend the expansion of Islam.
President Wade also advocated cultural relativism which actually seeks to destroy universal human rights considered as Western concepts:
“Beyond worldwide admitted norms, nothing is more relative than a value of culture and civilization. The truth of an era is not necessarily the one of another. What is the norm of a society may be a counter value in another one. The dialogue of cultures and civilizations can only blossom and prosper in the nuance and the relativism”.
Concerning the Near-East, Mauritania’s Former President Ely Ould Mohamed Vall evoked his “Palestinian brothers”’ sufferings.
And, while ignoring the Palestinian Autority’s revisionism and President Mahmoud Abbas’ Holocaust denial writings Jacques Chirac, Former President of France declared:
“I told the Israelis that settlement building was a mistake. You don’t make peace with your neighbour by expropriating his land, uprooting his trees, and cordoning off his roads”.
Jacques Chirac’s reference to Israel revealed how the audience was divided: pro-Israeli stances were cheered by Jews, and Israel-bashing was applauded by Muslims.
A Myth-Endorsed “Call to Conscience”
A “Call to Conscience” to fight Holocaust denial was then signed by Jacques Chirac, Simone Veil, Honorary President of the FMS and former deportee, and President Wade. Hundreds of intellectuals signed it.
That “Call” endorses too that myth by alleging that “Muslims and Jews (…) for centuries - in Persia, throughout the Middle East, in North Africa and across the Ottoman Empire – (…) lived together often in harmony”. So, the rule is “harmony”.
That “Call” also refers to “values of justice and fraternity”, and not to liberty and equality, because Muslims must not consider dhimmis as equals. It evokes “intolerance and racism”, but not “anti-Semitism” or “anti-Judaism”.
In accordance with the myth, it asserted that the authors of the Holocaust were “Nazi Germany and its European accomplices”. It recalls “the actions of the Righteous in Europe and in the Arab and Muslim world”.
Moreover, it supports the “two-state solution” to the conflict between “Israelis and Palestinians”, as if the Muslim world had accepted Israel's legitimacy as a Jewish state. Thus, that Call politicizes the Holocaust without reason, and ignores other solutions.
A Myth vs. History
Muslim orators opposed that myth to Jews for all the above reasons and in order to prevent any claim related to the Jewish Exodus.
Is that myth the basis for Islamic acceptance of fighting Holocaust denial? Will the Islamic world book fairs accept books dealing with taboo topics, such as the alliance of Nazis and Muslim leaders, the Muslim Bosnian SS division’s participation in the Holocaust or Arab leaders’ Nazi councillors? Will the OIC condemn the pro-Nazi past of some of its Member States? Will it make act of repentance for Arafat’s “hero”, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini, striving to persuade the Nazis to kill Jews living in the Middle East? The Holocaust remains a sensitive topic, and some Muslim leaders, such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, instrumentalize and trivialize it.
Why did Jews endorse that myth which denies their history -- some Jewish leaders privately expressed critics about Farouk Hosni --? Extreme politeness? For the sake of the “Muslim sensitiveness”? However, Jews are sensitive too…
That myth has also been endorsed by Public authorities for the sake of social peace or public order. If Jewish organizations contradict that myth, they may be blamed for a possible interreligious clash and its consequences in terms of anti-Semitic incidents.
The FMS did not challenge the myth because of its dynamic progressive strategy. It aims to fight against the Holocaust denial, which fuels anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, through gaining Muslim leaders’ support in order to present its books in the Islamic world Book Fairs and to introduce history of the Holocaust in the Muslim world’s school textbooks.
By ignoring the Sephardic history, the FMS fuelled a “concurrence des mémoires” (rivalry of memories) between Sephardim, a generic word used to refer to Jews from Spain, Portugal, North Africa and Middle East descent, and Ashkenazim, a generic term used to refer to Jews from Central and Eastern Europe descent. It seems quite contradictory for Jewish organizations both to endorse that myth and to advocate in favour of exiled Jews from Arab countries, Turkey and Iran, before Muslim leaders.
That myth has been repeated for decades with no positive effect upon the situation of European Jews and Israelis. It has not allowed improving the Jewish-Muslim dialogue. It marginalizes moderate Muslims, because it denies the need for a critical discussion or a reform of Islam. It has also failed in upgrading the relations between the Jewish state and the Muslim world.
The Aladdin Project may reinforce relations between Jews and Muslims, but on an artificial consensus and at the expense of the Bible-based links between Jews and Christians, because that myth bans the writing of history of dhimmis, including Eastern Christianity. Whereas some Christian Churches adhere to the anti-Zionist Palestinian Liberation Theology (PLT).
The Aladdin Project is an opportunity to debunk the myth, to bring up taboo issues in the Muslim world in order to lead it to face a dark side of its past.
It hardly can avoid the necessary critical discussion of Islam in order to lead to a victorious fight against Holocaust denial in that world, sincere interfaith relations, the acceptance of the State of Israel by the Islamic world.
Otherwise, it will be a missed opportunity.