Minorities in the Middle East:
A History of Struggle and Self-Expression
Paperback: 351 pages
Publisher: McFarland & Company; 2nd edition (October 2002)
Dimensions (in inches): 0.79 x 9.08 x 6.30
From Library Journal
The Middle East is a kaleidoscope of competing ethnic groups. This informative
volume by a scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem seeks to examine the
struggle for self-determination by many of these ethnic groups in the region.
The strength of the book lies in the breadth of its coverage of minorities in
the Middle East. Individual chapters describe the condition of such Muslim
minorities as the Kurds, Berbers, Baluchis, Druzes, and Alawites. The author
also explains the history of Christian minorities, such as the Copts, Assyrians,
Armenians, Maronites, and the Sudanese Christians. However, Nisan's occasional
gratuitous attacks on the Arabs and Islam detract from the book's objectivity.
Useful for informed readers and scholars of ethnicity and Middle Eastern
studies. - Nader Entessar, Spring Hill Coll., Mobile, Ala. Copyright 1991 Reed
Business Information, Inc.
From Book News, Inc.
In contrast to the common monocultural stereotype of the Middle East as Islamic
and Arabic, Nisan reveals the unique character and way of life, as well as
shared experiences and goals, of a variety of Middle East minorities, including
Kurds, Berbers, Baluch, Druzes, ^Alawites, Armenians, Assyrians, Maronites,
Sudanese Christians, and Jews. Annotation copyright Book News, Inc. Portland,
Minorities in the Middle, Alive but oppressed.
By Bat Yeor
To the average observer, the Middle East appears to be a homogeneous, gigantic
Arab-Muslim continent. Under this heavy blanket of uniformity, however, the
remnants of colonized, extinguished nations, crushed and dispossessed by
imperialism, survive in pain and anguish. These peoples — Kurds, Alawites,
Copts, Jews, and others — have withstood jihad, genocides, persecutions, and
continual sociopolitical repression. Yet their hearts still beat, inspired by
the hope of freedom and survival.
It is their history that Mordechai Nisan tells, combining clear scholarship with
a perspicacious sensibility. Who are these peoples? In his subtle analysis,
Nisan demonstrates that they represent diverse ethnic groups, with unique
historical experiences. The author constructs a fascinating mosaic of peoples,
beliefs, and intertwined histories. This work expands upon a 1991 study, with
much new material.
Nisan begins by specifying the characteristics these people share in their
diversity. What inner forces of cohesion shaped their resistance to the Arab and
Islamic onslaught on their lands and civilizations from East Persia to North
Africa? The factors promoting survival are neither fixed nor stable. Throughout
the political dynamism of historical events, each of these peoples has preserved
a collective self-consciousness that spans millennia. "The crux of a minority
struggle," writes Nisan, "often revolved around the ability to define identity
from within as a matter of group self-articulation, and not be the victims of a
superimposed identity from without." Crushed by cultural and religious
Arab-Islamic imperialism, the group's identity and cohesion is a testimony to
its indigenous uniqueness. But can this human and cultural diversity of the
Middle East survive after millennia of hardship, unforeseen challenges, and
One discovers, for instance, beneath the uniformity of Arabism a substructure of
living, resistant, minority peoples cultivating their pre-Arab and pre-Islamic
native languages, cultures, and religions. Nisan organizes the groups into four
main categories: (1) the Islamized peoples who resisted Arab/Muslim colonialism
and kept their own culture and languages, like the Kurds (Iraq, Syria, Iran,
Turkey), the Berbers (Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco), and the Baluch (Pakistan); (2)
the heterodox Muslim minorities who were Arabized but resisted Islamization by
keeping their ancestral beliefs and customs under a Muslim veneer, like the
Druzes (Levant) and the Alawites (Syria); (3) the Christian minorities:
Armenians, Assyrians, Copts, Maronites, and Sudanese; and (4) the Jews, the only
minority who succeeded in liberating a part of their historical land from
Nisan describes the rich history of each group and the inevitable tensions that
accompany cultural, linguistic, and religious resistance to Islamization. Their
histories include the difficulties entailed in maintaining the history and
culture of the group, the processes of survival they adopted, the modalities of
adaptation, and the compromises employed to save a modicum of freedom without
disappearing. This analytical survey carries us through several levels of
understanding, from the policy of conquest and domination that included
spoliation, slavery, deportation, and genocide to the various mechanisms of
survival adopted by each crushed, humiliated, oppressed, or tolerated community.
Not every group developed the same self-consciousness of its history, culture,
and ethnic characteristics, but all resisted.
The political and social tensions highlighted by Nisan are most urgent and
topical for the West. In our age of multiculturalism, which has seen the recent
development in the West of large immigrant communities, what does integration
mean? Can some groups integrate more easily than others? Can integration succeed
when fundamental values clash? Nisan's sober and scholarly analysis of the
conflict between territorial ethnicity and religious imperialism is of great
relevance to the West.
In history, chance is a fugitive fairy that rarely passes twice. The light of
freedom sparkled for the oppressed Christian minorities in the Middle East after
World War I. It was quickly extinguished by France and Britain in their
eagerness to appease Muslim hostility in their Arab colonial dominions.
Sacrificed were the legitimate aspirations of the Armenians, Kurds, Assyrians,
Their ancestral homelands were arbitrarily lumped into enormous Arab-Islamic
entities, while concessions to Islamic demands violated their rights. Some, like
the Armenians, Assyrians, and Jacobites, were simply abandoned to bloody
reprisals, while the promises they had been given were broken. Only the
Maronites and the Jews were given a chance; even for these, it was a delusion
and a snare. British pro-Arab policy in the 1930s in Palestine, the gestation of
the Shoah in Europe, and the closure of all routes of escape for the Jews at the
Evian Conference in 1938 seemed to have delivered the last blow to the Zionist
dream of national liberation. The Maronites had to wait a generation to
experience the bitterness of world abandonment and the betrayal of their
friends. Hence, among all the dhimmi peoples, only Israel survived the lethal
Euro-Arab alliance against the indigenous Middle Eastern minorities.
This history of blood, hope, and massacres that Nisan recalls in a masterly way
is not over. The martyrdom perpetrated on the Lebanese Christians by the
Palestinians and their Muslim allies, generalized jihad, the slavery and
butchery inflicted on the rebellious non-Muslim Sudanese populations, the
oppression of the Copts and the Assyrians, the massacres of the Kurds, the
negation of the Berber's cultural rights, the jihad Intifada against Israel —
all are ignored or explained away by European governments and the media. Do
these ancient and courageous peoples still have a chance to deliver themselves
from the shackle of dhimmitude, and the manipulations of Eurabia? Now that a new
Middle East is being projected, in spite of old Europe's lethal alliance with
the most repressive regimes, maybe the good-luck fairy will pass a second time,
to console and redress the cynical injustice inflicted on vulnerable and
martyred peoples. Nisan's book is invaluable for a fuller understanding of
Middle East history, past and present.
In the mid 19th century, the French Turcophile writer Abdolonyme Ubicini
(translation from The Decline of Eastern Christianity) described the subjected
dhimmis of the Ottoman Empire — Christians and Jews — awaiting liberation
despite centuries of oppression:
The history of enslaved peoples is the same everywhere, or rather, they have no
history. The years, the centuries pass without bringing any change to their
situation. Generations come and go in silence. One might think they are afraid
to awaken their masters, asleep alongside them. However, if you examine them
closely you discover that this immobility is only superficial. A silent and
constant agitation grips them. Life has entirely withdrawn into the heart. They
resemble those rivers which have disappeared underground: if you put your ear to
the earth, you can hear the muffled sound of their waters; then they emerge
intact a few leagues away. Such is the state of the Christian populations of
Turkey under Ottoman rule.
Will his observations prove relevant today for the Christian and other ethnic
minorities of the Arab-Muslim dominions?
Bat Yeor is the author of three books on jihad and dhimmitude. Her latest
study Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide.
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