How Jews Worked to Promote a Positive Image of Islam in the Western Mind: Disraeli
THIS ARTICLE is a follow-up to the one yesterday about Jews and Muslims working together to glorify the image of Islamic Spain in order to bash Christendom (link). I have decided to post an ongoing series of articles about how Jews have worked to promote a positive image of Islam in the Western mind.
Below is a continuous extract from Benjamin Disraeli’s novel Coningsby, published in 1844, interpolated with comments from me. Although Disraeli had nominally converted to Christianity, he remained, at all times, a proud Jew. Indeed, he did not even attempt to disguise his sense of Jewish supremacism, some of which can be seen in the extract. It is also significant that his family were Sephardic Jews, meaning the Jews who had lived in Spain (Sepharad) during the period of Islamic rule.
In the text we see how, even as far back as 1844, Disraeli broached some of the themes that have since become standard parts of the mythology of Islamic Spain.
Whence came those Hebrew Arabs whose passage across the strait from Africa to Europe long preceded the invasion of the Mohammedan Arabs, it is now impossible to ascertain.
Note that he describes the Jews living in Spain as “Hebrew Arabs”. This is interesting. It conflicts with the modern Jewish myth that they are a genetically pure people who can trace their lineage back to ancient Israel. It also conforms perfectly to what Shlomo Sand said in his book The Invention of the Jewish People, namely that the Jews in Spain were North African converts.
Their traditions tell us that from time immemorial they had sojourned in Africa; and it is not improbable that they may have been the descendants of some of the earlier dispersions; like those Hebrew colonies that we find in China, and who probably emigrated from Persia in the days of the great monarchies. Whatever may have been their origin in Africa, their fortunes in southern Europe are not difficult to trace, though the annals of no race in no age can detail a history of such strange vicissitudes, or one rife with more touching and romantic incident. Their unexampled prosperity in the Spanish Peninsula, and especially in the south, where they had become the principal cultivators of the soil, excited the jealousy of the Goths, and the Councils of Toledo during the sixth and seventh centuries attempted, by a series of decrees worthy of the barbarians who promulgated them, to root the Jewish Arabs out of the land.
In fact, the prosperity of the Jews, such as it was, principally came from slave-running, specifically trading in Christian slaves from eastern Europe. The local Christians were not happy about this and tried to stamp it out.
There is no doubt the Council of Toledo led as directly as the lust of Roderick to the invasion of Spain by the Moslemin Arabs. The Jewish population suffering under the most sanguinary and atrocious persecution looked to their sympathizing brethren of the Crescent, whose camps already gleamed on the opposite shore. The overthrow of the Gothic kingdoms was as much achieved by the superior information which the Saracens received from their suffering kinsmen, as by the resistless valour of the Desart.
Here he admits that the Jews conspired with their “sympathizing brethren” and “kinsmen” the Muslims to invade and conquer Spain.
The Saracen kingdoms were established. That fair and unrivalled civilization arose, which preserved for Europe arts and letters when Christendom was plunged in darkness.
Here we see the core elements of the mythology of Islamic Spain: Christendom was plunged in darkness and Islamic Spain preserved and later passed on critical knowledge to western Europe. No it wasn’t and no it didn’t.
The “Dark Ages” myth is due to scholars overvaluing the role of scholarship in judging the success of a culture or civilisation. Though the light of scholarship may have been dimmed in western Europe during the so-called “Dark Ages”, the civilisation continued to advance in many other ways, including in its knowledge of agriculture and weapons technology. If northern Christian civilisation had been in such a primitive state, it would not have been able to launch a successful cross-continental invasion of the “superior” Middle East during the Crusades. See Rodney Stark’s book God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades for more on this theme.
The absence of scholarship in north and western Europe has also been overstated. It has been shown that knowledge of the Greek and Roman classics continued to exist there. The image shown as a background in the “Europa” news column depicts the monastery Mont St. Michel in France, where translations of these works continued to be made during the so-called “Dark Ages”. And “Greek learning” continued to flourish uninterruptedly in Greece itself in the form of the Byzantine Empire. See previous articles in which I have discussed these topics (here and here).
The children of Ishmael rewarded the children of Israel with equal rights and privileges with themselves.
Factually false. Jews and Christians were legally subordinate to Muslims and suffered disabilities of various kinds.
During these halcyon centuries, it is difficult to distinguish the follower of Moses from the votary of Mahomet. Both alike built palaces, gardens and fountains; filled equally the highest offices of the state, competed in an extensive and enlightened commerce, and rivalled each other in renowned universities.
What were the names of these “renowned universities”? Unfortunately he doesn’t tell us, perhaps because they didn’t exist. There were no universities in Spain until centuries after the Islamic conquest, and they were founded by Christians.
Even after the fall of the principal Moorish kingdoms, the Jews of Spain were still treated by the conquering Goths with tenderness and consideration. Their numbers, their wealth, the fact that, in Arragon especially, they were the proprietors of the soil, and surrounded by warlike and devoted followers, secured for them an usage which for a considerable period made them little sensible of the change of dynasties and religions. But the tempest gradually gathered. As the Goths grew stronger, persecution became more bold. Where the Jewish population was scanty, they were deprived of their privileges or obliged to conform under the title of “Nuovos Christianos.” At length the union of the two crowns under Ferdinand and Isabella, and the fall of the last Moorish kingdom, brought the crisis of their fate both to the New Christian and the nonconforming Hebrew. The Inquisition appeared, the Institution that had exterminated the Albligenses and had desolated Languedoc, and which it should ever be remembered was established in the Spanish kingdoms against the protests of the Cortes and amid the terror of the populace. The Dominicans opened their first tribunal at Seville, and it is curious that the first individuals they summoned before them were the Duke of Medina Sidonia, the Marquess of Cadiz, and the Count of Arcos; three of the most considerable personages in Spain. How many were burned alive at Seville during the first year, how many imprisoned for life, what countless thousands were visited with severe though lighter punishments, need not be recorded here. In nothing was the Holy Office more happy than in multiform and subtle means by which they tested the sincerity of the New Christians. At length the Inquisition was to be extended to Arragon. The high−spirited nobles of that kingdom knew that its institution was for them a matter of life or death. The Cortes of Arragon appealed to the King and to the Pope; they organized an extensive conspiracy; the chief Inquisitor was assassinated in the Cathedral of Saragossa. Alas! it was fated that in this, one of the many, and continual, and continuing struggles between the rival organizations of the North and the South, the children of the sun should fall. The fagot and the San Benito were the doom of the nobles of Arragon. Those who were convicted of secret Judaism, and this scarcely three centuries ago, were dragged to the stake; the sons of the noblest houses, in whose veins the Hebrew taint could be traced, had to walk in solemn procession singing psalms and confessing their faith in the religion of the fell Torquamada. This triumph in Arragon, the almost simultaneous fall of the last Moorish kingdom, raised the hopes of the pure Christians to the highest pitch. Having purged the new Christians, they next turned their attention to the old Hebrews. Ferdinand was resolved that the delicious air of Spain should be breathed no longer by any one who did not profess the Catholic faith. Baptism or exile was the alternative. More than six hundred thousand individuals, some authorities greatly increase the amount, the most industrious, the most intelligent, and the most enlightened of Spanish subjects would not desert the religion of their fathers. For this they gave up the delightful land wherein they had lived for centuries, the beautiful cities they had raised, the universities from which Christendom drew for ages its most precious lore, the tombs of their ancestors, the temples where they had worshipped the God for whom they had made this sacrifice.
The claim that Jews raised the cities of Spain is absurd. And, although there were a few universities in Spain by the time of the Jewish expulsion, it is simply false to claim that Jews enjoyed any special prominence within them or that they were the source of Christendom’s “most precious lore”.
They had but four months to prepare for eternal exile after a residence of as many centuries, during which brief period forced sales and glutted markets virtually confiscated their property. It is a calamity that the scattered nation still ranks with the desolations of Nebuchadnezzar and of Titus. Who after this should say the Jews are by nature a sordid people? But the Spanish Goth then so cruel and so haughty, where is he? A despised suppliant to the very race which he banished for some miserable portion of the treasure which their habits of industry have again accumulated. Where is that tribunal that summoned Medina Sidonia and Cadiz to its dark inquisition? Where is Spain? Its fall, its unparalleled and its irremediable fall, is mainly to be attributed to the expulsion of that large portion of its subjects, the most industrious and intelligent, who traced their origin to the Mosaic and Mahomedan Arabs.
Here we see Disraeli pushing what it perhaps the Jews’ all-time favourite meme: that if you are nice to Jews, good things happen to you, and if you are bad to Jews, your world falls in. As I pointed out recently, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain had no significant economic consequences (link). In fact, following its expulsion of Muslims and Jews, Spain embarked on an unprecedented Golden Age during which it became the centre of Christian civilisation and successfully defended it against the Ottoman advance.
The phrase “Mosaic and Mahomedan Arabs” is especially worthy of note.
Benjamin Disraeli (also known as Lord Beaconsfield) later served as British prime minister. During his term of office, he played a critical role in diplomacy that tended to bolster the decaying Muslim Ottoman empire (Turks) against an advancing Christian Russia. The controversies associated with this were known as the “Eastern Question”. Critics alleged that Disraeli’s Jewish background led him to be biased against Russia and in favour of Turkey, partly based on the presumed Oriental kinship that existed between Muslim and Jew. One notable statement of this charge came in the book “Lord Beaconsfield; a biography” by Thomas Power O’Connor:
One of the most remarkable phenomena in the course of the war between Russia and Turkey was the extraordinary unanimity with which the Jews of every part of the world took the side of the Sultan against the Czar. People living within the same frontiers, speaking the same language, professing the same creed, with exactly the same interests, have held the most opposite views upon this Russo-Turkish question. In this country — to take the most striking example — the people, agreed for the most part on the main question of religion, of the same race, with the same great interests to conserve, differed with a bitterness almost unexampled in their domestic or in their foreign controversies. But here are the Jews, dispersed over every part of the globe, speaking different tongues, divided in nearly every sympathy, — separated, in fact, by everything that can separate man, except the one point of race, — all united in their feelings on this great contest! It is not very hard to understand this preference. In the first place, the Turk gives ordinarily to his subjects a contemptuous toleration, while the Russian Government is known to be even still one of the most determined oppressors of the Jewish race. But this is not the only or perhaps even the deepest cause of this phenomenon. For many ages — more in the past than in the present, of course — there has been among large sections of the Jews the strongest sympathy with the Mohammedan peoples. A common enemy is a great bond of friendship, and as the Christian was equally the enemy of the Mohammedan and the Jew, they were thereby brought into a certain alliance with one another. This alliance has been most close on many occasions. In the time of the Crusaders, the Jews were the friends who aided the Mohammedans in keeping back the tide of Christian invasion which was floating against the East, and in Spain the Jews were the constant friends and allies of the Moorish against the Christian inhabitants of the country. The alliance must have been very close in the past indeed to have left such deep traces behind.
Source: Lord Beaconsfield; a biography by Thomas Power O’Connor
The English historian and politician E. A. Freeman took a similar view of Disraeli and his Islamic sympathies:
But there is yet another danger. If everything rested with Lord Derby, with a man who is steadfastly purposed to employ himself with a vigorous doing of nothing, we should at least have one kind of safety. In the hands of Lord Derby, if we do no good, we shall do no harm, except so far as the doing of nothing is really the worst form of the doing of harm. From him, if we hope for no active good, we need fear no active mischief. But there is another power against which England and Europe ought to be yet more carefully on their guard. It is no use mincing matters. The time has come to speak out plainly. No well disposed person would reproach another either with his nationality or his religion, unless that nationality or that religion leads to some direct mischief. No one wishes to place the Jew, whether Jew by birth or by religion, under any disability as compared with the European Christian. But it will not do to have the policy of England, the welfare of Europe, sacrificed to Hebrew sentiment.
The danger is no imaginary one. Every one must have marked that the one subject on which Lord Beaconsfield, through his whole career, has been in earnest has been whatever has touched his own people. A mocker about everything else, he has been thoroughly serious about this. His national sympathies led him to the most honourable action of his life, when he forsook his party for the sake of his nation, and drew forth the next day from the Standard newspaper the remark that “no Jew could be a gentleman.” On that day the Jew was a gentleman in the highest sense. He acted as one who could brave much and risk much for a real conviction. His zeal for his own people is really the best feature in Lord Beaconsfield’s career. But we cannot sacrifice our people, the people of Aryan and Christian Europe, to the most genuine belief in an Asian mystery. We cannot have England or Europe governed by a Hebrew policy. While Lord Derby simply wishes to do nothing one way or another, Lord Beaconsfield is the active friend of the Turk. The alliance runs through all Europe. Throughout the East, the Turk and the Jew are leagued against the Christian. In theory the Jew under Mahometan rule is condemned to equal degradation with the Christian. In practice the yoke presses much more lightly upon the Jew. As he is never a cultivator of the soil, as he commonly lives in the large towns, the worst forms of Turkish oppression do not touch him. He has also endless ways of making himself useful to the Turk, and oppressive to the Christian. The Jew is the tool of the Turk, and is therefore yet more hated than the Turk. This is the key to the supposed intolerance of Servia with regard to the Jews. I can speak for Servia; I have no information as to Roumania. The Servian legislation is not aimed at Jews as Jews, for Jews are eligible to the highest offices in Servia; it is aimed at certain corrupting callings which in point of fact are practised only by Jews. Strike out the word “Jew,” and instead name certain callings which none but Jews practise, and the law of Servia might perhaps still be open to criticism on the ground of political economy; it could be open to none on the ground of religious toleration. The union of the Jew and the Turk against the Christian came out in its strongest form when Sultan Mahmoud gave the body of the martyred Patriarch to be dragged by the Jews through the streets of Constantinople. We cannot have the policy of Europe dealt with in the like sort. There is all the difference in the world between the degraded Jews of the East and the cultivated and honourable Jews of the West. But blood is stronger than water, and Hebrew rule is sure to lead to a Hebrew policy.
Throughout Europe, the most fiercely Turkish part of the press is largely in Jewish hands. It may be assumed everywhere, with the smallest class of exceptions, that the Jew is the friend of the Turk and the enemy of the Christian. The outspoken voice of the English people saved us last autumn from a war with Russia on behalf of the Turk. The brags of the Mansion-House were answered by the protest of Saint James’s Hall. But we must be on our guard. If Russia once goes to war with the Turk, a thousand opportunities may be found for picking a quarrel. Every step must be watched. As we cannot have the action of Canning, we must at least make sure that the inaction of Lord Derby shall be the worst thing that we have.
Source: The Ottoman power in Europe, its nature, its growth, and its decline by Edward A. Freeman, 1877
Freeman came to have an abiding dislike of Jews and, as he saw it, their pernicious influence.
Europe and the Jews: The Pressure of Christendom on the People of Israel for 1,900 years by Malcolm Hay (Author), Walter Kaufmann
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Source: Diversity Macht Frei