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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Followup on Damascus, 1816

Kashmiri Nomad takes me to task for misreading James Silk Cunningham's description of ">an encounter between the richest Jew in Damascus and a dervish in tattered clothes. He correctly points out that the dervish is not a servant:
The comparison that Buckingham made was not between the richest Jew in all of Damascus and a servant but rather was a comparison between the richest Jew in all of Damascus and a Sufi dervish. For any one in any doubt Muslim societies that venerate the sufic mystical interpretation of Islam that naked tatters wearing dervish would have been in a higher social status than even the prime minister himself . Therefore for elder of ziyon to characterise him as a servant is misleading to say the least.
I wish he would have commented here so I could have corrected it earlier.

While Kashmiri Nomad (who links here often) says this is a case of the "pot calling the kettle black" in terms of today's discrimination that Arabs suffer in Israel, my point still stands: the richest Jew in Damascus still had to spend an entire meal "seated ...with the greatest possible humility on the floor beneath us, at the feet of his superiors who occupied the sofa, first kneeling, and then sitting back while kneeling, on the heels and soles of his feet, with these and his hands completely covered, in an attitude and with an air of the most abject and unqualified humiliation." The visiting Christians and the Muslims in the room enjoyed fine foods and were attended to by servants, while the Jew was given nothing and apparently ignored by the servants, and was denied a place at the table.

So while I certainly was mistaken as to the social standing of dervishes, the point is that in 1816 Damascus, even the most powerful Jews were treated like dirt.

It is undeniable that there is discrimination in Israel against Arabs, but the difference is that it is roundly considered by most to be a bad thing, while in the Muslim world the social discrimination against non-Muslims is an essential feature of the religion.