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2015 - The Jews in the Islamic World

 
 

2015
The Jews in the
Islamic World

 

 
 

Topic

While terrorism is killing innocent people and causing fear from Paris to Peshawar, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are spreading in Europe. Syria, Iraq, and Egypt are dominated by civil war and authoritarian regimes, and a group of terrorists known as ISIS claim that they have created a new caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq. This is the backdrop for this year’s International Saladin Days, which will focus on what we today often refer to as the Muslim world, and what for many is an unknown chapter in the history of the people living there.

Judaism is older than both Christianity and Islam, and the Jewish people have a much longer history in the Middle East than in Europe. In Iraq, the history of the Jews goes back more than 2,000 years, while countries such as Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and Syria have also long housed large Jewish populations – many Jews went to these countries after being persecuted and thrown out of Spain in the 15th century. What has characterised Jewish-Muslim relations over the years and what does being a Middle Eastern Jew mean today? How has the situation of the region’s Jews been affected by Arab nationalism and the creation of the state of Israel? And what is the relevance of the history of the Jews in the Muslim world for us here in Norway today?

 
 
 

Participants


ORIT BASHKIN

...is professor of Modern Middle Eastern History at the University of Chicago. Her last publication, New Babylonians. A History of Jews in Modern Iraq, tells the story of the Jewish population living in Iraq at the beginning of the 20th century. 


ALMOG BEHAR

...is an award-winning Israeli poet, writer and activist, living in Jerusalem. He has published two poetry collections, a novel and a collection of short stories. Among the awards he has received are the Bernstein Prize for Poetry (2010) and the Prime Minister’s Prize (2010).


HOURIA BOUTELDJA

...is a French activist and writer with Algerian roots. She has been the leading figure of the the anti-racist protest movement Indigènes de la République. 


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MARK R. COHEN

... is Professor Emeritus at Princeton University, and has written a number of books and articles about Jewish history, such as Under Crecent & Cross. The Jews in the Middle Ages, which investigates the relationship between Muslims, Jews and Christians in the Middle Ages. 


ALAIN GRESH

... is of Egyptian-Jewish-Russian descent, former editor of Le Monde Diplomatique and one of France’s leading commentators on the Middle East. He has also written several books about Egypt and the Middle East, such as An A to Z of the Middle East (1990)and Israel, Palestine. Truths of a Conflict (2007).  


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RANA HISHAM ISSA

... is a PhD candidate at the Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages at the University of Oslo. 


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HELGE JORDHEIM

... is a professor of Cultural History at the University of Oslo.


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RAVID KAHALANI

... is Israeli of Yemeni heritage, and the leading figure of the band Yemen Blues. Kahalani and his band base their music in Yemeni traditions, mixing it with jazz and West-African music. Yemen Bluesis one of the leading players on the world music stage, with a reputation as astounding live performers. 


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NADIA KAMEL

... is an Egyptian documentary filmmaker and writer, best known for the film Salata Baladi (Mixed salad), which portrays the complicated ethnic and religious heritage of the director’s own family. 


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GIDEON LEVY

... is a journalist in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, and among the harshest critics of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. His latest book is The Punishment of Gaza (2010).


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MARTE MICHELET

... is a writer and commentator, and a former journalist in the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet. Last year she published the book Den største forbrytelsen. Ofre og gjerningsmenn i det norske Holocaust [The greatest crime. Victims and perpetrators in the Norwegian Holocaust], which tells the story of the Braud family, a Norwegian-Jewish family where most lost their lives in the Nazis’ death camps. The critically acclaimed book was awarded the 2014 Brage Prize for best non-fiction book.


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HANNE EGGEN RØISLIEN

 ... is a scholar of religious history, and associate professor at the Norwegian Cyber Force and Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington DC. Her latest book is Israelerne. Kampen for å høre til [The Israelis. The struggle to belong] about the complex and conflict-ridden country Israel and its citizens.(2012).


 
 
 
 

Program


MONDAY, MARCH 22TH

5 PM - Jews and Muslims in the Middle Ages
Opening lecture by Mark R. Cohen

From the Arabian Peninsula, along the Mediterranean coast, and all the way to the Iberian Peninsula Jews and Muslims have been living side by side ever since the creation of Islam. What was the relationship between Jews and Muslims in the centuries after the Prophet Muhammad’s time and how does this history differ from the way in which Christian societies in Europe have treated Jewish people? These are core questions in the work of the renowned Middle Ages scholar Mark R. Cohen. In this lecture he will outline the (largely peaceful) coexistence of Jews and Muslims in what is often considered a less tolerant time. A Professor Emeritus at Princeton University, Cohen has published a number of books and articles about Jewish history, and is also known from the TV series Jews and Muslims, which was shown on Norwegian NRK and during last year’s Saladin Days. In his lecture Cohen will tell us about his findings from the Middle Ages and how they could be relevant in 2015.

 

7 PM - The World after Charlie
Alain Gresh, Houria Bouteldja, Gideon Levy & Marte Michelet

The terrorist attacks in Copenhagen and Paris are the most recent results of the increasing polarisation between the West and the Muslim world. What are the connections – if any – between the tragic attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, and events such as the occupation of Iraq, the ongoing war in Syria, the development of ISIS and the Israeli occupation? What do the terrorists’ backgrounds tell us about why they attack Jewish communities? What should be done to prevent both future terrorist attacks and growing anti-Semitism and Islamophobia? Are there ways to reduce the polarisation between Muslim communities in Europe and the majority population, on the one hand, and between the West and Muslim countries, on the other? Former editor of Le Monde Diplomatique and one of France’s leading commentators on the Middle East Alain Gresh, activist and writer Houria Bouteldja, and Gideon Levy, a journalist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, meet for a conversation led by Norwegian writer and journalist Marte Michelet.

 

9 PM - Shadow in Baghdad
Film viewing and introduction by Rana Issa

The documentary Shadow in Bagdad tells the story of Linda Abdul Aziz, who escapes the riots in Iraq in the early 1970s, and of her father, who disappeared shortly thereafter. As an adult living in Israel, Linda is contacted by an Iraqi journalist, and together they start investigating what really happened when her father disappeared. The film is about Iraq during an uprising and about uncovering political secrets. The closer Linda and her companion get to the truth of what happened to her father, the more is revealed about Jewish Baghdad – the streets and neighbourhoods left behind by the Jews and a culture obliterated with the creation of the Israeli state, which coincided with a growing Iraqi nationalism. After more than 2,000 years of Jews living on Iraqi soil there was no longer room for them with the emergence of the modern Iraq. Directed by the award-winning Duki Dror, the film will be introduced by Rana Hisham Issa, PhD candidate at the Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages at the University of Oslo.

(English subtitles, 70 min.)


TUESDAY, MARCH 23TH
 

10 PM - Minorities, nationalism and nation states
Seminar with Alain Gresh and Houria Bouteldja

Nationalism is closely connected to the emergence of nation states, in which the process of constructing various nations resulted in some groups being included and others being marginalised and/or excluded. What has been the effect of this for various minorities, be they religious, ethnic, or sexual, or differentiated by language, disabilities or gender? How do we understand ourselves and the self-image of our nations, and what are the consequences of such self-images for those who are excluded from them? Among the participants in this conversation are former Le Monde Diplomatique editor Alain Gresh and activist and writer Houria Bouteldja.

 

5 PM - Iraqi Jews. Bilingualism, nationalism and racism
The Saladin lecture 2015 by Orit Bashkin

What was the relationship among Iraqi Jews, Muslims and Christians in Baghdad, Iraq, in the early 20th century? What for many years made it possible for members of these groups to forge friendships and show good neighbourliness across ethnicities and beliefs? What was the reason why this period saw a stronger national than ethnic or religious affiliation? In 1948 Israel declared itself a Jewish state, whereupon the country was attacked by the neighbouring Arab countries Syria, Egypt, Transjordan, Lebanon and Iraq. In the aftermath of this war the status of Iraqi Jews was suddenly changed to that of “Zionist traitors”, and between 1950 and 1951 approximately 120,000 Iraqi Jews left Iraq for Israel. Here, however, their welcome was less than hearty. Their culture, language and background were too closely connected to the Arab enemy and they experienced discrimination compared to European-born Jews. What can this double tragedy tell us about how we should think about religion and coexistence today? This year’s Saladin Lecture is given by Orit Bashkin, professor of Modern Middle Eastern History at the University of Chicago. Her last publication is New Babylonians: A History of Jews in Modern Iraq.

 

6.30 PM - The history of the jews in the Middle East
Orit Bashkin and Mark R. Cohen in conversation with Helge Jordheim

How should the Jewish heritage be used when building a future? What insights might be of importance for us today and are there pitfalls one should try to avoid? Orit Bashkin has specialised in the stories of Iraqi Jews. For more than 2,000 years their history was mainly characterised by peaceful coexistence with Christians and Muslims. However, this changed drastically with the emergence of Iraqi nationalism in the early 20th century. The Jewish people faced pressure from both the Iraqi and Israeli sides, which eventually caused most of them to move to Israel. Mark R. Cohen’s work focuses on the position of Jewish people in Muslim and Christian societies in the Middle Ages and how they were treated as a minority. In this conversation Cohen and Bashkin will talk about what we might learn from history. How should our knowledge about earlier times affect how we relate to one another today? The conversation between Bashkin and Cohen will be led by Helge Jordheim, professor of Cultural History at the University of Oslo.

 

8 PM - Egypt on the brink
With Alain Gresh, Nadia Kamel and Mustafa Can

The Arab Spring is over and people have been forced to leave Tahrir Square in Cairo, as the tensions increase among various power blocs and social undercurrents. The army is still in power more than sixty years after the generals carried out a coup d’état in 1952. Nadia Kamel and Alain Gresh both have family stories that reflect many of the dramatic incidents and ethnic, religious and political tensions that characterise the recent past and present in Egypt. Kamel is an Egyptian film maker whose documentary Salata Baladi (Mixed Salad) tells the story of her own family, whose mixed Jewish, Catholic and Muslim background extends to countries such as Turkey, Italy, Ukraine and – most controversially – Israel and Palestine. Alain Gresh is of Egyptian-Jewish-Russian descent, the former editor ofLe Monde Diplomatique and a commentator on Middle Eastern affairs. His father, Henri Curiel, was leader of the Egyptian Communist Party, which in its time fought for a liberated Egypt and supported the 1952 coup that brought General Nasser to power. However, Curiel himself was forced into exile in 1950, and in 1978 he was murdered in Paris – a case that remains unsolved to this day. Now, Gresh and Kamel meet on stage in a conversation with the Swedish journalist and author Mustafa Can on the development of contemporary Egypt and how the larger conflicts that have affected this country are reflected in their family stories.


WEDNESDAY, MARCH 24TH


5 PM The Israeli-Jewish society and the occupation
Lecture by Gideon Levy

Gideon Levy is a journalist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz and one of Israel’s most prominent liberal commentators. He has won several awards, one of which is the Peace Through Media Award for 2012. In what direction is Israel moving and what does the average Israeli think about the occupation of Palestine?The Punishment of Gaza is the title of Levy’s 2010 book, in which he examines how Israeli policy on Palestine has changed in the years from 2005 to 2009. In this lecture Gideon Levy will take a closer look at the Israeli Jewish society and consider its future in relation to the occupation.


7 PM - The political poet 

Almog Behar is an Israeli poet and activist. With a family tree of German, Turkish and Arab Jews, his language identity is as much rooted in Arabic as in Hebrew, and as an author he makes use of both languages. But in the Israel of his childhood there was no space for the Arabic language or culture within the dominant Jewish culture. With his four books – two of poetry, one of short stories and one novel – Behar has gained a significant position on the Israeli literary scene. And despite resistance from the dominant Hebrew-speaking literary establishment, he has been awarded several prestigious awards, among them the Bernstein Prize for Poetry (2010). Both as an author and a commentator he has been an important corrective voice focusing on the strong bonds linking Eastern Jewish culture, the Arabic language and Islam. He argues that these bonds can serve to create mutual understanding and reduce the level of conflict.

Mustafa Can is a Swedish-Kurdish author who had great success with his debut, Tätt inntil dagarna (2006), which was about his mother and her struggle to gain a foothold in her new homeland. Now he meets Almog Behar for a conversation on cultural plurality and Israeli self-awareness.


9 PM - Salata Baladi 
Film viewing and conversation with Nadia Kamel

Salata Baladi (Mixed Salad) is the name of Nadia Kamel’s 2008 documentary, which portrays the complicated ethnic and religious heritage of the director’s own family. Nadia sets out on a journey, together with her ten-year-old Egyptian-Palestinian nephew, who grew up hating Israel, and her mother, who is half-Jewish, half-Italian, and who converted to Islam on marrying Nadia’s half-Turkish, half-Ukrainian father. The journey ends at her relatives, who have been living in Israel since 1948. Before the film viewing the director will meet Mark Taylor, research director at Fafo, for a conversation about the complex connections, contradictions and powerful emotions caused by embodying multiple sides of the same conflict.

(English subtitles, 105 mins.)


THURSDAY MARCH 25TH
 

6 PM - Language, religion og identity in todays Israel
Almog Behar, Ravid Kahalani, Orit Bashkin & Hanne Eggen Røislien

Mizrahim is a term used in Israel to refer to Jews coming from the East, i.e. the Arab countries. What has been the position of the mizrahim Jews in Israeli society and how are these experiences relevant to other contemporary issues, such as the situation of Palestinians in and outside Israel, and the relationship between Jews and Muslims in this region today? The poet Almog Behar and artist and musician Ravid Kahalani belong to a generation of Israeli artists that have started questioning the prevailing notions of Israeli identity. Behar is an award-winning Israeli poet, writer and activist who lives in Jerusalem and is particularly known for the poem “My Arabic is mute”. In addition to the novel Rachel and Ezekiel, he has published two poetry collections and a collection of short stories. As an activist and man of letters, Behar has focused on the mix of Jewish and Arabic culture in Israel, calling for greater attention to how each influences the other. An Israeli of Yemeni heritage, Kahalani is the leading figure of the band Yemen Blues and believes music to be the universal language in which all differences are suspended. And is this not a political stance in a world that is founded more on what sets us apart than what brings us together? Orit Bashkin’s work focuses on the history of Iraqi Jews and their journey to becoming Israeli citizens. Together they will meet Hanne Eggen Røislien for a conversation. A scholar of religious history, Røislien has written the book Israelerne: Kampen for å høre til (The Israelis: The Struggle to Belong) about the complex and conflict-ridden country of Israel and its citizens.

 

8 PM - Concert: Yemen Blues

The lead figure of the band Yemen Blues, Ravid Kahalani, is an Israeli of Yemeni heritage. Yemen Blues has become one of the leading players on the world music stage in record time, after causing a sensation at a festival in Marseille in 2010, and has earned a reputation as an astounding live performer. Straight from Los Angeles, Kahalani brings Itamar DoariRony Iwryn and Shanir Blumenkranz along with their brand new album. Kahalani kicks off from his own country’s musical traditions, adding a rich mix along the way, including the best of jazz and West African music. The band’s music is a mix of the historical and the contemporary, of oud and guitar, with a lot of percussion and a little intense flute, trumpets soft as velvet and elements of the blues, soul, funk and mambo. But Kahalani and his star-studded ensemble from various countries are also inspired by classical opera. It may be hard to sit still!


 

The program is developed with support from the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre and Oslo World Music Festival, and with financial support from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.