‘Chronicle’ of the past is peek into the present

‘Chronicle’ of the past is peek into the present

I have just finished my tenure as chair of the Government Relations Committee of UJC MetroWest’s Community Relations Committee. At the last meeting for the business year, I received a wonderful and, as many commented, appropriate parting gift.

Among other things, I am a news junkie. I read numerous papers, magazines, and blogs on line. I select articles from what I read and send them out to various e-mail lists, depending on subject matter, along with summaries and commentary on the articles. Many of my fellow CRC members are recipients of these e-mails.

Armed with this knowledge, the CRC staff selected the ideal gift, Jerusalem Chronicles: News of the Past, edited by Dr. Israel Eldad and Moshe Aumann. It is a boxed set of three volumes, broken up into different time periods from Abraham (1726 BCE) to Herzl’s Vision of a Jewish State (1897 CE).

What makes these volumes unique and delightful is that they are written and published in the form of a newspaper broadsheet, seven columns wide (think a late-1800s New York Times), complete with news articles, editorials, death announcements, and advertising — history retold in the language of contemporary journalism. The individual issues in the volumes were originally published as separate papers beginning in 1950 and were available at newsstands in Jerusalem.

I promised people at the CRC meeting that I would e-mail them a summary of the books the following day. Well, I missed my deadline, but here is an installment.

The French have a saying: Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose (the more things change, the more they remain the same).

In Vol. II, Issue 17, “Arab Conquest of the Middle East (640 CE),” a headline reads, “Caesaria Falls; Moslems Advance on All Fronts.”

Below the fold is “Temple-Mount Mosque ‘Temporary.’” Reminiscent of the core issues of Israel-Arab negotiations today, the article opened:

After a 3 1/2 hour discussion between Jewish delegation and representatives of the Moslem government last night, the Moslems gave assurances that the mosque under construction on the Temple Mount is only in the way of a temporary structure.

The delegation had requested the interview after construction on the mosque had begun despite explicit promises by the authorities that, because of the Jews’ helpfulness in uncovering the Foundation Stone, the holiness of the spot on which once stood the Temple would be carefully safeguarded.

The Foundation Stone was the subject of an editorial, which starts:

The Arab conquest of Jerusalem and the subsequent discovery on the Temple Mount (by Arabs and Jews jointly) of the Foundation Stone has given rise to a serious controversy among the three groups interested in this stone and in its immediate (and not-so-immediate!) environment.

Whence stems our interest in Jerusalem and in the land of which it is the capital and spiritual centre? Whence stems the Christians’ interest in this region? And the Moslems?

Page four of the issue contains an article, “Islam’s Success Formula: Migratory Tendency + National Zeal + Weakness of Rival Empires, which is pertinent today, especially in light of Muslim fundamentalism.” (Remember, this was written in the 1950s.)

On migration: “Islam’s march of conquest represents the climax of the great Arab migratory movement in the east, which parallels the wave of migration to the northwest that changed the map of Europe.” Today, the Muslim migratory movement continues into Western Europe and into the United States.

On religious fervor: “The inhabitants of the countries conquered by Islam had already become accustomed in a large measure to the belief in one G-d. What is more, Christianity — the religion of most of these people — had not struck deep roots among them…. Judaism, the other one-G-d religion in these regions, is a national religion and, as such, not capable of bringing about large-scale conversions among the non-Jewish masses.”

Today, there is still religious “fervor” across a wide swath of the Muslim world, particularly among Muslim fundamentalists. Increasingly in the West, religion, in the traditional sense, has been replaced by secularism and humanism, neither of which inspires a fervor similar to that of Islam.

Then there is nationalism. “[I]t was not until the present Caliph [Omar in 640 CE] came to power that nationalism really became a decisive factor. Omar has succeeded in firing the imagination of his followers that the Arab race stands above all other nations of the world.”

The nationalism described is akin to today’s Islamic religious fervor — the desire to substitute Sharia for domestic law and to restore the Caliphate, khilafa, the goal of the Muslim Brotherhood, Iranian mullahs, bin Laden, and others.

This interesting insert appears in the article: “Probably the most important single factor in Islam’s apparent invincibility is the Moslem soldier’s willingness to die.” Mohammed promised his followers that those who die in the cause of Islam will go straight to heaven. “The Moslem fighting man believes this without reserve. That is what makes him the dangerous enemy he is.”

These observations were true in 640, in the 1950s, and remain true today.

The more things change….

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