General Antisemitism

Guardian’s Afghan sugar-coat: More disinformation on ethnic cleansing of Jews from Muslim lands


This is cross posted by Bataween at the blog, Point of No Return

Jewish cemetery in Herat, Afghanistan

If there was an Oscar awarded for ‘chutzpah’ (cheek), Nushin Arbabzadah’s article yesterday on the Guardian ‘s website Comment is Free would probably win it hands-down.

The ‘story of the Afghan Jews is one of remarkable tolerance’ belongs in the realm of fiction, rather than on a newspaper of record. You might as well say water is not wet. Hitler was not evil. There was no historic antisemitism in Afghanistan.

The author builds a fantasy that Jews were pretty much like other Afghans – conservative, patriarchal. Because of their cosy isolation, Afghan Jews were shielded from antisemitism. Antisemitism was something, Nushin implies, that came from the ouside.

The piece begins with the author’s own personal experience of Jews during the era of the Soviet occupation, a time when only a few hundred Jews still lived in Afghanistan. Nushin had a clever, blond Jewish classmate whose household was accused of immorality for letting a man into the home (presumably a Shabbat goy) on Shabbat. The inference is that such religious bigotry had suddenly sprung out of nowhere to prepare the ground for the fundamentalist era of the Taliban.

Then Nushin drops the bombshell: the Afghan antisemitism she witnessed was not representative.

“From a historical perspective, the story of the Afghan Jews is a tale of remarkable tolerance. It may seem hard to believe today, but historically it was Afghanistan to which Jews turned to when escaping religious persecution in Iran and central Asia. It was in the dusty, ancient cities of Herat and Kabul, to the west and the east of Afghanistan, that they found freedom to practise their faith without getting murdered in the process. A community of leather and karakul merchants, poor people and money lenders alike, the large Jewish families mostly lived in the border city of Herat, while the families’ patriarchs travelled back and forth on trading trips, moving between Iran, Afghanistan, India and central Asia on the ancient silk road.”

Thankfully, a few Guardian commenters are quick to point out that as dhimmis, Jews had wear black turbans distinguishing them from Muslims and were subject to the usual strictures of sharia law, paying the jizya or poll tax in order to buy the protection of the authorities. Although Jews have lived in Afghanistan for 2,500 years, arriving as part of the Babylonian diaspora, they were wiped out in the 13th century by the Mongols and were never in Afghanistan in great numbers. Iman Allah Khan (1919 – 1929) worked to break the power of the religious authorities, but it was only under the relatively enlightened Nadir Shah (1929 – 33) that the jizya and discriminatory signs were abolished.

There was one brief demonstration of ‘remarkable tolerance’ in the 19th century: Nushin is correct that there was a short term influx of Jews fleeing from Persia, where the Muslim authorities had begun to aggressively persecute them and forcibly convert the Jews of Meshed to Islam, quickly bringing Afghanistan’s Jewish population up to 40,000. But all this changed in 1870 when many Jews left Afghanistan and the Muslim authorities enacted anti-Jewish measures.

Nushin then drops another bombshell:

“The Afghans’ isolation from the rest of the world was a blessing in disguise for the Jewish community because being cut off from global political trends meant that ordinary Afghans were untouched by the raging, European-led, antisemitism of the early 20th century. Even at the height of the Nazi influence in Kabul of the 1930s, it was Afghan nationalism rather than antisemitism that led the government to introduce economic measures that bankrupted Jewish money-lending families.”

In 1933, following the assassination of Nadir Shah there was an anti-Jewish backlash and Jews were banished from most Afghan cities, limiting them to Kabul, Balkh or Herat. It is true that Nazi-inspired nationalism victimised the Jews in the Thirties (stripping them of citizenship, preventing them from settling in the north, and imposing swingeing taxes), but there is only one way to describe the Sh’ite riots in Herat in 1935 and other violence against the Jews until 1944, accompanied by incitement by Musim clerics, forced conversions to Islam, rape of women, girls and boys:

Good old-fashioned antisemitism, much of it religiously-inspired.

“The laws affecting the Jewish community were soon removed and in the following decades Afghanistan was the only Muslim country that allowed Jewish families to immigrate without revoking their citizenship first. When Afghan Jews left the country en masse in the 1960s, their exile to New York and Tel Aviv was motivated by a search for a better life but not because of religious persecution.”

Some 4000 out of 5,000 left in 1951 shortly after the foundation of the state of Israel, not in the 1960s, as Nushin states.

What ‘remarkable tolerance’: Afghanistan did not revoke emigrating Jews’ citizenship. Yet for years Jews had not been allowed to move from city to city, let alone leave the country.

The trials and tribulations of the remaining community did not cease. One can safely assume that persecution and discrimination were a key factor in their subsequent departure. In an echo of the Jizya, Jews had to pay a tax (harbiya) not because they were exempt, but because they were excluded from military service. In 1955, a young girl, Tova Shamualoff, was kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam. After the Six-Day War the authorities had to call out the army to protect the remaining 300 Jews. Now there is a single, solitary Jew in the country.

Call that tolerance?

17 replies »

  1. ‘Even at the height of the Nazi influence in Kabul of the 1930s, it was Afghan nationalism rather than antisemitism that led the government to introduce economic measures that bankrupted Jewish money-lending families.”

    Isn’t that a rather fine distinction?

  2. It was in the dusty, ancient cities of Herat and Kabul, to the west and the east of Afghanistan, that they found freedom to practise their faith without getting murdered in the process.

    Without getting murdered?! Where?! In the wonderfully tolerant Muslim countries where according to the Guardian the Jews were equal citizens?

  3. Maybe the author could be forgiven for being naive, but I suspect the Guardian’s point was: look, this is still one (1) Jew left! Give the Afghans a medal!”

    • It was Arabs who spread Islam. From a tourism site: “there are Arab enclaves in the north”.

      And how welcoming Afghanistan has become:

      Non-Muslim Population
      Hindu-Sikh population in Afghanistan in 1990 was approximate 30,000. Under the reigns of Taliban, the Hindus were forced to wear yellow badges to identify themselves. Continuous violence caused rapid decline in Hindu-Sikh population.

  4. What these overly romaticized pictures of Jewish life in parts of the Arab world and beyond always remind me of is a complete idiot’s account of African-American life in the early twentieth century.

    Why, it was a model of tolerance! There were black people living in all the major cities! Some of them were middle-class and educated! Sure, there was some, er, tension, but that was economic, not about race! Look at these interesting facts about the community!

    It sounds fascinating. It even sounds respectful. Until you look at what’s being left out, or brushed under the rug.

    Anti-Semitism was as basic to Jewish life almost everywhere in the wide reach of former Jewish communities as racism was to black communities everywhere in the United States in 1930. As basic, as unremarkable, as absolutely accepted by society. Perhaps more so: radicals in the US preached racial equality, while radicals in Europe and the Arab world tended to see the Jews as part of the problem.

    It’s fake history, to tell the history of an oppressed minority as though the oppression were the least important part.

  5. I recommend to all to read: The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism by Prof’ Andrew Bostom.
    After reading this historical book about Islam you might begin to understand where we are living.

  6. The Guardian and it’s reporters it’s cheer squad BTL, these people live in a parallel world all of their own,where facts are mere,where right is wrong and left is right.The Afghan Jews that live in Israel would scoff at this woman and her claims that Afghanistan was safe haven for Jews.This woman is another Rachel Shabi both make claims that are ridiculous hogwash……..

  7. One of the things that really annoy me is the use of the words “remarkable tolerance”. Tolerant people are those who put up with something annoying or unpleasant in others. So trumpeting the Afghans’ “remarkable tolerance” of the Jews suggests that the Jews were particularly odious, had particularly annoying or unpleasant traits, but the Afghans somehow managed to overcome their natural disgust to “tolerate” a Jewish presence in their country.

    Gee thanks.

    • I absolutely agree. Tolerance in the case cited by the author should just be a given.

    • Moreover, who wants to be tolerated in a s*it-hole of a country, ruled by hysterical and murderous ape-like mobs, enraged because of certain book full of rubbish (and which most of the people are unable to read anyway) is burned?

      • No SerJew – I think that comment crosses the line. “Ape-like mobs”? Not acceptable.

        As for your comments about the burning of the Koran. I don’t follow the Koran but I can quite understand Muslims getting angry if it is burned (although that in no way excuses murderous attacks on civilians).

        I hate to say it, but “as a Jew” I would be pretty damn irate if anyone started burning Torah scrolls, chumashim etc, even if others may think it is “full of rubbish”.

        • “No SerJew – I think that comment crosses the line. “Ape-like mobs”? Not acceptable.” Goon

          It´s your opinion. Are you also infected with the PC moralism? See, I rather think that prtzl calling people racists and mental midgtes much more offensive. But I have absolutely no problem with him posting those slurs. In fact, they are also very comical. Doc doo-doo´s very polite ideological lies are way much graver.

          As for burning books with rubbish, well you can be pretty damn irate. I´d be irate if someone burned books I like. But I don´t think books are sacred. Moreover, getting irated is one thing and getting murderously hysterical and getting away with it is another thing altogether. And *that* is crossing the line from decent human behavior into ape-like-mobstery.

          IMHO, as always.

          • “As for burning books with rubbish, well you can be pretty damn irate. I´d be irate if someone burned books I like”

            Remarkable, considering the Taliban’s own developed sense of religious sensitivity, that it was the Taliban under Mullah Omar who dynamited the statues of Buddha. Statues that had been there for the best part of 1,500 years and pre-date Islam.

  8. Agree with you on ‘tolerance’. As the author Eli Amir puts in in The Dove Flyer, ‘tolerance is a form of discrimination’.