Horrible historical irony

You know that silly trope about anti-Semitism: “You can’t call me an anti-Semite because that would mean I hated Arabs, too”. Well, it turns out to have had some foundation in the nineteenth century. According to Jamil Ragep, there was a very notable tendency in nineteenth Century scholarship for the Germans to value Islamic science much more highly than the French. This was partly because the most influential French writer on the subject was Ernest Renan, who was anxious to prove that religion was all darkness as part of the secularisation wars, partly because a number of the German scholars involved were Jewish, and therefore anxious to point out the “Semitic” contributions to Western civilisation. So they searched out every Arab achievement they could find.

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4 Responses to Horrible historical irony

  1. Mrs Tilton says:

    Yes, but then IIRC the term ‘antisemitism’ (or Antisemitismus ) was not as broadly conceived as all that. It was, rather, coined in 18c Germany as a euphemism for Judenhass (and coined, I believe, by the Judenhasser themselves).

  2. acb says:

    Oh, you mean like “Judaeo-Christian” meaning “not the wogs”?

  3. Rupert says:

    What is a good term for people of the book, then?

  4. acb says:

    I think you just used it …

    There are two things I dislike about “Judeo-Christian”: firstly that it implies a much greater degree of sympathy and likeness between Judaism and Christianity than there seems to be from inside the traditions. Let’s face it, both have intellectually respectable reasons for supposing that the others are heretics.

    The second, perhaps related, point is that it ignores the very considerable Hellenic contribution to Christianity, which is of course the bit that people like Hyam Maccoby loathed.

    It really only makes sense in a context where you want to exclude Muslims. Which, I admit, is a market in the modern world.

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