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Re: Under Andalusian skies
by Andre Gunder Frank
12 May 2002 16:35 UTC
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In the mid 90s there was a more than excellent film - alas at the moment i
cannot remember the title, but i hope this note will jarr someone else's
memory - about christian/muslim/jewish good community relations in a
Tunisian town, which then detriorated as a result of,if i remember
rightly, the 1956 war.
gunder frank

On Wed, 8 May 2002, Louis Proyect wrote:

> Date: Wed, 08 May 2002 13:21:37 -0400
> From: Louis Proyect <lnp3@panix.com>
> To: marxism@lists.panix.com, pen-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu, wsn@csf.colorado.edu,
>      psn@csf.colorado.edu
> Subject: Under Andalusian skies
> On April 11th a gasoline truck exploded in front of an ancient synagogue on
> the resort island of Djerba, which is part of Tunisia. At first considered
> an accident, it was subsequently revealed to be a terrorist act. This
> event--along with synagogue desecrations in Europe attributed to Arab or
> North African immigrants--have given ammunition to Zionist commentators who
> view anti-Semitism in essentialist terms. They are trying to reduce Islamic
> peoples to eternal foes of the Jews, just as Daniel Goldhagen did for the
> Germans.
> A careful reading of press coverage reveals a different reality. In the
> April 15th NY Times, Donald G. McNeil Jr. reports that the Jewish district
> in Djerba, called a 'hara', was never a ghetto:
> >>Tunisia's Jews have never been walled in. Police cars have been
> constantly present for years, but are there to protect this island's tiny
> Jewish enclaves.
> Tunisia, a center of Jewish life since the Roman Empire, was a refuge for
> those fleeing the Spanish Inquisition, Greek persecution and Sicilian raids
> on Libya. 
> "We're the shop window," said Rene Trabelsi, a tour operator whose father
> is president of the Ghriba Synagogue. "We prove to the world that there's
> religious freedom and tolerance in Tunisia. We're the favorite minority,
> like a girl in a family of seven boys."<<
> We also learn from McNeil that Jewish life in Tunisia absorbed Islamic
> culture:
> "Boys do not expect a bar mitzvah, party because religious law does not
> call for it, the rabbi said. Young men wear blue jeans and skullcaps, but
> older men often wear baggy-bottomed Turkish shorts, slippers and a sort of
> mashed red fez called a kabous."
> Describing the relationship of his community to Tunisian society, the rabbi
> of the Djerba synagogue said the community felt "integrated, not assimilated."
> One of the greatest tragedies of the Zionist project was the destruction of
> this historic amity between two peoples with so much in common. In an
> important article titled " Arabs and Jews Can Live in Peace" that appeared
> in Socialist Worker, John Rose wrote:
> >>Last month I was in Egypt, where I had the good fortune to spend a
> morning with the truly remarkable Youssef Darwish, a 91 year old Jewish
> Communist veteran of the post-war workers' struggles that formed the
> backcloth to Nasser's coup in 1952. 
> Youssef, all faculties intact and chomping away at cigars, waxed lyrical on
> many issues, not least the rich texture of Jewish life in Egypt in the
> early part of the 20th century. It's standard in these sort of discussions
> to debate the prominent role Jews played in the Communist movement
> throughout the Arab world. And of course we did. 
> But what struck me more was something else. It was the long historical
> Jewish attachment to and involvement in Egypt--one of its greatest medieval
> synagogues still stands--and the way this blossomed in the early 20th
> century, with now forgotten cultural expressions in painting, books and
> later film. 
> As Youssef says, the banner of independence was being raised, and the idea
> of achieving equality among the different social groups was vigorously
> pursued. Later Zionism sucked nearly all the Jews out of Egypt and told
> them they were coming "home". 
> It told the same nonsense to Jews from all over the Arab world, and helped
> them to forget their long history as it recruited them to build the Iron
> Wall against their new Palestinian Arab neighbours. Recovering that history
> someday soon will be an important part of showing just how Arabs and Jews
> can live together in peace.<<
> (http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/1795/sw179512.htm)
> Not only were Jews sucked out of Egypt, they were also sucked out of
> Tunisia. Only about 2,000 Jews remain there, down from more than 100,000 in
> 1948 -- and about 1,100 of them live in Djerba. They were ripped out of a
> society that valued them and placed into one that now suffers permanent
> warfare while visiting atrocities on the Palestinians.
> I had already begun thinking about these questions, but after attending
> back-to-back concerts in New York City featuring the Lebanese Marcel
> Khalife and the Moroccan Jew Emil Zrihan I was convinced to examine the
> ties between Arabs and Sephardic Jews more closely. The World Music
> Institute, one of New York's most important cultural institutions, produced
> both concerts. (http://www.worldmusicinstitute.org)
> Khalife (http://www.marcelkhalife.com) opened his April 27th Saturday
> evening performance with an instrumental from his new album titled
> "Concerto Al Andalus." All proceeds go to support humanitarian aid to the
> Palestinian people. "Al Andalus" is also called Andalusia. It was the most
> prosperous and culturally advanced province in Spain, when it was under
> Islamic rule. He preceded his instrumental with remarks to the effect that
> this was when we were at our best. 
> By the same token, Andalusia is an important symbol for Zrihan as well.
> (Zrihan was sucked out of Morocco at the age of nine into Israel.) The
> program notes for his Sunday, April 28th concert state: 
> "For more than a thousand years the musical style of the Arabs and Jews
> have flourished and intermingled in the western Mediterranean region of
> southern Spain and North Africa. For nearly seven centuries at the Muslim
> courts of Cordoba, Sevilla and Granada in southern Spain the arts of
> poetry, music and architecture flourished. the music known as "al 'Ala
> l-Andalusia" was born in this environment and can be traced to the early
> 9th century A.D. with the arrival of the Persian musician Ziryab at the
> court of 'Abd er-Rahman II in Cordoba. At his courts and those of
> subsequent Sultans throughout Andalusia music played an increasingly
> important role; Arab, Jewish and Christian musicians and poets were
> employed and played together."
> Zrihan performs in virtually the same style that existed 1000 years ago in
> Tunisia, Morocco and most of Spain. He mixes elements of the Jewish
> cantorial tradition with Arab-Andalusian song that evening, with backing
> from musicians in the same ecumenical spirit. The violinist was a Moroccan
> Jew, the pianist a Lebanese Christian, the oud player and percussionist
> Lebanese Muslims. He impressed the audience with his mastery of the
> 'mawwal', a virtuosic and highly ornamented improvisational style that can
> be found throughout the Arab and Islamic world. The Egyptian Om Kalthoum
> was considered the greatest practitioner of this style during her lifetime.
> The term Sephardic is derived from the Ladino word "Sepharad", which meant
> Spain. Ladino was the language of the Jews who lived in the vast Muslim
> empire that included most of Spain, North Africa, the Arab world and Turkey
> just as Yiddish was the language associated with the Ashkenazi or European
> Jews. Ladino is still spoken today in certain enclaves, while it remains
> the liturgical language for virtually all Sephardim.
> Despite Zionist attempts to paint Muslim and Jew as eternal enemies, there
> is an important trend *within* Jewish scholarship that depicts Muslim Spain
> and North Africa as a Golden Age for Jews from 950 to 1150 AD. Three names
> stand out: Heinrich Graetz, a nineteenth century trailblazer from Germany;
> a contemporary Princeton scholar named S.D. Goitein; and Eliyahu Ashtor, an
> Israeli and also a contemporary.
> Goitein is the author of a two-thousand-page study titled "Mediterranean
> Society" that is based on so-called 'genizah' (storeroom) archives
> retrieved from a synagogue in medieval Cairo. Observant Jews were
> prohibited from destroying documents with God's name on them, so they ended
> up in such archives. They include personal correspondence, commercial
> contracts, tax records, etc.
> For the casual reader, Goitein's "Jews and Arabs: Their Contacts Through
> the Ages" makes more sense even though it is out of print. In a chapter
> dealing with Jewish culture under Islam, Goitein writes:
> "The basic fact about Jewish-Arabic thought is that Greek science and Greek
> methods of thinking made their entrance into Jewish life mainly through the
> gates of Arab-Muslim literature. With the Arabic-writing Jewish doctors,
> mathematicians, astronomers and philosophers of the ninth and tenth
> centuries, science, in the Greek sense of the word, for the first time
> became known and practiced among the bulk of the Jewish community. All
> genuine Jewish reasoning before that time consisted either of simple,
> practical observations and conclusions, or of mythological conceptions, no
> matter how profound."
> Liberated from the heavy hand of orthodoxy, the Jewish denizens of Spain
> could now rise to the highest levels of the professions and the arts. The
> concluding paragraphs of V.1 of Eliyahu Ashtor's "The Jews of Moslem Spain"
> evoke the warm and supportive environment Jews found themselves in. It is
> part of a lengthy account of a reading by famed Jewish poet Ibn Khalfon. It
> is important also to consider that Jewish poetry was strongly influenced by
> the Arab style. Ashtor writes:
> >>At last the host gestured to the poet to declaim his verse, and Ibn
> Khalfon recited a florid poem in which he proclaimed all the qualities of
> the new officeholder, his deeds in behalf of his coreligionists, the alms
> he gave to the poor, and the merits of his forefathers, who were nobles in
> Israel. Not all those present understood the beautiful biblical Hebrew, but
> all listened intently; not a sound was heard. When the poet had finished he
> bowed to the host, who drew forth from the folds of his coat a purse full
> of gold pieces and handed them to Ibn Khalfon. All his friends voiced cries
> of enthusiasm over the beauty of the poem and the generosity of the noble
> lord. A few arose from their places to stroll in the corners of the
> courtyard, where tall trees stood; others remained seated and engaged in
> spiritual but friendly conversation.
> It was a warm and pleasant night, the skies were strewn with innumerable
> stars, and the moon shone with a brilliant light. From a distance could be
> heard a monotonous voice, yet pleasant to the ear: "There is no God but
> Allah, and Mohammed is the prophet of Allah. Life to those who pray to Him,
> life to those who serve Him." Again and again the voice repeated its cry
> saturated with yearnings. This was the muezzin calling the Moslem to
> prayer, for this was the month of Ramadan, when the call to prayer is
> sounded before dawn. East and West had met under Andalusian skies.<<
> Louis Proyect
> Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org


               ANDRE    GUNDER      FRANK

Senior Fellow                                      Residence
World History Center                    One Longfellow Place
Northeastern University                            Apt. 3411
270 Holmes Hall                         Boston, MA 02114 USA
Boston, MA 02115 USA                    Tel:    617-948 2315
Tel: 617 - 373 4060                     Fax:    617-948 2316
Web-page:csf.colorado.edu/agfrank/     e-mail:franka@fiu.edu


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