On Flinn and Jewish success

Tue, 8 Nov 1994 23:21:00 PST

Forstadt writes:

"I'll just take issue with one point. Flinn wrote that the lack of similar
performance on the part of Sephardic Jews:

>resulted from the long-term effects of anti-Semitic policies in
>Muslim countries which generally prevented the development of a
>highly intelligent, entrepreneurial Jewish elite.

Anti-Semitic policies were probably much worse in Europe than in the
Muslim countries."

I agree with Forstadt's taking exception to what Flinn posted--but not for
quite the same reason.

First, the writer of the post that Flinn forwarded to Anthro-L is abysmally
ignorant of the relationship between christians, jews and muslims in
so-called muslim countries prior to 1948--and presumbably the writer means
arabic countries as "muslim countries" would include a region extending
throughout much of africa and eastward to indonesia. Ashkanazi Jews
are "Semitic" primarily by default [i.e., by virtue of being of the Jewish
faith and by virtue of the term "Semite" currently being used to refer to all
Jews regardless of their historical origins] as (I understand) they are quite
likely the descendants of groups in europe which converted to Judaism and do
not trace their ancestry to the middle east. So-called Sephardic Jews were
one of the peoples that made up the islamic empire which extended
(until 1492) into Spain and thus are part and parcel of the people who trace
their ancestry to populations living in what we call the middle east. Trying
to sort out the actual relationships among the various groups in that area is
obviously not simple, but clearly the present day labeling of Sephardic Jews
as if they are somehow distinct from and completely isolated from the arabic
peoples of that area is not very accurate. When southern spain came under
the aegis of islam, jews were incorporated in this expansion of islamic
civilization and obviously came to spain by virtue of their relationship with
the majority, islamic ruling groups. As is well known, jewish scholars (with
arabic names!) flourished in islamic spain and made their contribution to the
intellectual advances of the islamic civilization. When muslims and jews
alike were expelled from spain, many expelled jews resettled in islamic
countries such as Turkey.

Second, even if one is persuaded (regardless of the reality) that
"anti-Jewish" policies characterized historically the position of middle
eastern jews in islamic countries, it is still a malapropism to refer to
"anti-Semitic policies in Muslim countries" as Semitic peoples are those who
speak Semitic languages which includes arabic, phoenecian, ancient hebrew,

D. Read