Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: The Formation of a Secret

By Kalmar, Ivan Davidson | Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: The Formation of a Secret


Kalmar, Ivan Davidson, Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge


Edward Said suggested that Islamophobia was a "secret sharer" of anti-Semitism. (1) This was more than a passing nod to a subject outside of what he was writing about; on the contrary, long, detailed passages in Orientalism make it clear that the construction of the Semite was at the core of what Said was writing about. (2) That should hardly have surprised anyone who knows the history of how Jews and Muslims were imagined from the Middle Ages to the mid twentieth century: together, as two of an oriental kind. The real question is how it came about that Said could refer, correctly, to such an overwhelmingly obvious fact as having become a "secret." It was no such thing to the people who started using the term "anti-Semite" in the late nineteenth century. That was roughly a hundred years after the term "Semite" was first used by German biblical scholars as a label for a language family, whose best-known members were Hebrew and Arabic. (3)

What I would like to do in this article is to ask what happens if we take anti-Semitism at its word, literally that is, as targeting all Semites and not only the Jews. I would like to explore anti-Semitism as one aspect of the long history of the joint construction of Jew and Muslim, and then ask how it is that in more recent times the commonality between Jew and Arab, which the term "anti-Semitism" displays unambiguously, could ever have become a "secret." I intend to stay with the very superficial, etymological issue of the "Semite" in "anti-Semitism." But I do so, of course, in the belief that this is an entry point that can take us much deeper.

"Semitism" was a term that was invented to refer to a language type and a type of human being: a race and what we would now call a culture. It referred above all to the Jews and their biblical Hebrew-speaking ancestors, and to the Arabs. It was a development of an old tradition in the Christian West of regarding Jews and Muslims as distinguishable but yet closely related species of the same religious genre, a tradition going back to the very beginnings of Islam itself. (4) The major changes were two.

First, the substitution of "Arab" for "Muslim" added a clear linguistic and "racial" dimension to the construction of Islam in the West. It was accompanied by a similar identification of the Jews, both biblical and contemporary, as carriers of a distinctive oriental, Hebrew culture and members of an equally distinctive, oriental Jewish race. Second, if the medieval habit was to imagine the Muslims as Judaizers and to compare them to the Jews, from the Renaissance on the tendency was on the increase to imagine the Jews on the pattern of what was becoming known of the Muslims.

There was a common message coming from scholars like the orientalist explorer Carsten Niehbuhr, who in 1772 compared Arab Bedouin to the biblical patriarchs, from Ludwig Schlozer, who in 1781 first used the term "Semitic," from the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who in about 1821 declared that Judaism was part of "overall Arab religion," from the writer-politician Benjamin Disraeli, who in 1847 wrote that "God never spoke except to an Arab," including under that label the Jew, and, unforeseen by all of them, from the pamphleteer politician Wilhelm Marr who, according to tradition, invented the term "anti-Semite" in 1879, when he founded an organization called the "Anti-Semites League." (5) That message was, "look, the Jews are like the Arabs." To philo-Semites, including many Jews, this just made the Jews even more interesting in a period of romantic orientalism. (6) But to the enemies of the Jews it gave intellectual support for claiming that the Jews were, as they liked to say, an "Asiatic" element unassimilable to Christian Europe and western civilization ("Palestinian" in fact was used to describe in a derogatory way the Jews of Germany by the proto-Nazi orientalist and pamphleteer, Paul de Lagarde). (7)

Orientalism was ambivalent: in some ways it feared or condemned the Orient and in others it loved and romanticized it. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: The Formation of a Secret
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.