Anniversary Essay, Part I
THE POSSIBILITY OF PEACE
by Richard LeCuyer and Cindy Hasz
American Reporter Correspondent
San Diego, Calif.
SAN DIEGO, April 17, 2002 -- Editor's Note: In this, the third of our 7th Anniversary Essays, two compelling writers suggest that the Arab-Israeli conflict is not as intractable as it seems when viewed in the light of the region's long history of cooperation.
This is the first of a two-part series; the second part will run on April 18.
The misconception that Jews and Arabs have been at each other's throat for a thousand years due to fundamental religious and historical animosities is a myth that a clear-eyed review of history will dispel.
Geographically, the land west of the Jordan is a crossroads of three continents, and has been both a conduit of trade and a battleground for warring powers since the beginning of recorded civilization. It is undeniably the solar plexus of the Mediterranean world.
What seems to be lost in all the rhetoric about the inevitability of the Middle East conflict is that, 10 centuries before Muhammad was born, Jews and the predecessors of the Arab peoples successfully shared this land. Their struggle for survival was not with each other but with the periodic foreign invaders who enslaved, slaughtered or scattered the indigenous populations. During the 10th Century B.C., King David was able to unite the various Hebrew tribes.The kingdom of David and Solomon lasted a little over 300 years before being crushed by the Babylonians in 640 B.C. After a Century of captivity, the Jews returned to their homeland, where they lived with relative freedom under the benign Persian Empire for the following two centuries. During this time, the the Jews and the predecessors of the Arab peoples (the Arabic-speaking peoples had yet to coalecse into a unified population) continued to co-exist.
During the next 12 centuries the Middle East was assaulted and conquered by Greeks, Romans, and Christian Byzantines. Throughout this millenium of invasion the Semitic peoples - the Hebrews and the various Arab populations - struggled together to survive the invasions of the Great Powers of their day.
By the 1st Century B.C., Rome had conquered the Mediterranean world, subjugating Jews and Arabs alike. In the year 313 A.D., the emperor Constantin adopted Christianity as the state religion and moved the seat of power to Byzantium, renamed Constantinople, thus splitting the Roman Empire in two. The Holy Land had become part of the Byzantine Empire, and remained so for the next 300 years until the rise of Islam.
In the 7th Century A.D. the Arabic speaking peoples of the Middle East were a sleeping giant ready to be awakened. Religion, far from being only a set of principles or a spiritual force, is one of the great unifying nationalistic forces of history. Just as Judaism united the ancient Hebrew tribes, and as Christianity united the emerging nation-states of Europe, Islam was the great unifying force of the Arabic-speaking people of Arabia and the Middle East.
A united Arabic people under the banner of Islam arrived rather late on the scene, historically speaking. It took little military might to rout the feeble remnants of the decaying Byzantine Empire. The dynamism of the Islamic faith was a great unifying factor that swept through the Arabic world and extended itself throughout many non-Arabic populations as well. Islam overcame both the remnants of Byzantium and the Sassanid Persians, who ruled Persia, Eastern Turkey, and what is known today as Iraq, and eliminated them from the Middle East.
Inhabitants of the Middle East, including the Jews, greeted the Islamic Empire with some relief. The Byzantines had been cruel and careless rulers, taxing the people into starvation, and the Christian Byzantines had little tolerance for other religions. The Islamic Empire demanded more reasonable taxes than had the Byzantines; moreover, they respected Jews as a'People of the Book,' as Muhammad had specified that other monotheistic religions and their adherents be respected and well-treated, and their prophets revered. These were the teachings of Islam, and the Jews were allowed to farm, conduct business, practice their faith and educate their children.
The golden Age of Islam lasted for over 300 years, extending from southern Spain to Persia and Pakistan, and parts of Africa and Java. It was the high point of Firstst Milleniuml culture and a time when Europeans still lived in filth and ignorance. As medieval Europe stuggled to overcome poverty and ignorance, Islam gave the Middle-East the first stable, tolerant government it had known since the days of Solomon. Jews were respected by Islam, and were better treated than they were by the Byzantine Christians, and far better than they would fare in Europe of the Second Millenium. Thus matters stood as the Second Millenium approached. The antipathy between Jews and Muslim Arabs certainly wasn't rooted in Islam's Golden Age. To be continued. (Part 2: From Crusaders to Colin Powell)Richard LeCuyer is a historian/writer living in San Diego; Cindy Hasz is a nurse/writer living in Ramona, Calif.