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Emet m'Tsiyon

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Jews as the Ultimate Underdog in Muslim Society, in particular in Jerusalem

We have shown in previous posts on this blog that the Jews were at the bottom of the pecking order in Ottoman society, in particular in the Land of Israel as demonstrated by evidence from Jerusalem. Francesco Suriano, a Franciscan monk, reports this situation even before the Ottoman conquest, towards the end of Mamluk rule in Israel [about 1500]. Chateaubriand, the French writer, reports on his trip to Jerusalem in 1806; NeoPhytos [Neophitos], a Greek monk, reports on the period between 1821 and 1841, also from Jerusalem; and Karl Marx reports as of 1854. All of these persons were actual eyewitnesses to events and doings in Jerusalem and Israel, but for Marx. Nevertheless, Marx, whatever we may think of his economic, historical, philosophical, and political theories, was a very well informed person in his time and wrote a regular column on world affairs for the very capitalist New York Daily Tribune [his piece on Jerusalem appeared 15 April 1854]. Accounts by other writers that have not yet appeared on the Emet m'Tsiyon blog are similar. We hope to soon post the account of Gerardy Santine, from the 1850s like Marx's account. These accounts were all written before Theodore Herzl was even born; hence, the State of Israel and political Zionism cannot explain them.

A series of Ottoman political reforms --the Tanzimat reforms-- undertaken mainly under Western pressure, granted near equality in the Empire to non-Muslim subjects. These reforms started in 1839. Jews too benefitted from them. Of course, to what extent the reforms were applied in practice in every corner of the Empire is another matter.

Not everyone was happy --putting it mildly-- about the Tanzimat reforms which granted the non-Muslims a status close to that of equality with the Muslims in the Ottoman Empire. These reforms were not "organic." They did not grow out of the wishes or thinking of the Ottoman governing class or of the dominant, ascendant Muslim population in the Empire. They were imposed on the Empire by the Western powers which wanted to show their peoples that they had received some return for their military efforts to defend the Ottoman Empire against Russia. Now, not only were many Muslims bitterly angry and resentful over changes which made the dhimmi peoples nearly equal to themselves by law --in violation of the Muslim shari`ah law-- but according to an Ottoman writer, some dhimmis were resentful of being placed on a level of equality with other dhimmis traditionally treated as on a lower level than themselves. And the mid-19th century writing below is additional support for our thesis that the Jews were low man on the Ottoman totem pole --certainly in the Land of Israel-- treated with disdain and humiliated by Christians too. I do not know whether the author is describing a legally formal situation of a hierarchy or ranking of dhimmi peoples, or merely a de facto situation, the situation in practice.

Bernard Lewis has translated this passage from Turkish.
"A contemporary Ottoman source remarks [BL]:

In accordance with this ferman [decree] Muslim and non-Muslim subjects were to be made equal in all rights. This had a very adverse effect on the Muslims. Previously , one of the four points adopted as basis for peace agreements (musalaha) had been that certain privileges were accorded to Christians on condition that these did not infringe the sovereign authority of the government. Now the question of specific privileges lost its significance; in the whole range of government, the non-Muslims were forthwith to be deemed the equals of the Muslims. Many Muslims began to grumble: 'Today we have lost our sacred national [milli] rights, won by the blood of our fathers and forefathers. At a time when the Islamic millet is the ruling millet, it has been deprived of this sacred right. This is a day of weeping and mourning for the people of Islam.'

As for the non-Muslims, this day, when they left the status of raya [= herd; used especially to refer to Greeks and Armenians] and gained equality with the ruling millet, was a day of rejoicing. But the patriarchs and other religious chiefs were displeased, because their apppointments were incorporated in the ferman. Another point was that whereas in former times, in the Ottoman state, the communities were ranked, with the Muslims first, then the Greeks, then the Armenians, then the Jews, now all of them were put on the same level. Some Greeks objected to this, saying: 'The government has put us together with the Jews. We were content with the supremacy of Islam.' [Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong? (London: Phoenix 2003), p 104]

The point made by this quotation is supported by published 19th century accounts written by persons who were neither Muslims nor Jews. Chateaubriand, NeoPhytos, Karl Marx, and Gerardy Santine. Marx is sometimes considered a Jew. He was of Jewish birth, but his father, ambitious to rise in Prussian society, had him converted at age six and Marx received a Christian education. The article in which he reports oppression of Jews in mid-19th century Jerusalem is the only writing by him that is in the least sympathetic to Jews. NeoPhytos was a Greek Orthodox monk who lived in Jerusalem for many years; his chronicle as published covers a period of twenty [20] years, from 1821 to 1841. He was obviously in a very good position to know what was going on in the country. Moreover, since he was a monk, there is no reason to suspect that he was trained to have pro-Jewish sympathies.

Note that the author and the Muslims whom he refers to perceive themselves as belonging to an Islamic people or nation --millet in Turkish [from the Arabic millatun]-- not as part of a Turkish or Arab nation, etc.

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Coming soon:
The unofficial exploitation of Jews --beyond what is prescribed by Muslim law-- by Muslim officials, notables and chieftains in Jerusalem both before the Crusades and in the late 18th century. See the extortion of money for permits to do all sorts of necessary activities, etc., as documented by Moshe Gil and Jacob Barnai.
Compare with the extortion of money from the Greek Orthodox in reaction to the Greek revolt of the 1820s, presented in previous posts.


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