By Jamal Saidi
By Jamal Saidi
Morocco World News
Casablanca, June 22, 2012
Moroccan Muslim scholars should raise awareness on the evils of anti-Semitism.
Driss Chraibi’s Le Passé Simple portrays some elements of anti-Semitism in Moroccan society. It is then argued that three characters of the novel are anti-semetic, Le Seigneur, Driss and the beggar. It is also stated that misreading of sacred religious texts and historical events are probably the major reasons behind this feeling.
The novel revolves around a conflict between a son, who studies in a French school, and his father, the patriarch, who is referred to throughout the novel as “Le Seigneur” or The Lord.
Le Seigneur is likely to be an anti-Semitic par excellence. He is a father who rules his family with an iron fist in the name of religious institution. He meant to be immortal; a man “whose beard never changes its black colour. P36.” He says in one of his conversations with his rebelled son, “The hand which greets a Jew should be cut off”P.15.”To greet a Jew then is a crime to which a punishment is already prescribed.” His remarks about the Jews can not but give an impression of a man whose hatred towards them is endless.
The quote stated above is a case in point. The man, who is most likely a God like figure, is strictly rejecting any form of contact with this religious group. Though Le Seigneur has no Jewish enemy in his daily life, he still keeps this animosity which derives probably from religious beliefs and, sometimes, a given political situation.
With this in mind, “Le Passé Simple” is a product of its time, as far as the cultural feature is concerned. The novel was written in the beginning of the 1950s. That is to say, its publication came few years after the establishment of Israel. In June 1948, a number of forty four Jews were killed in Oujda and Jerrada, Morocco. This implies, among other things, that a significant part of Moroccan society, which Chraibi attempts to portray in his novel, reacts constantly to what is taking place in Palestine, a very distant place but close to the minds of the people.
It is worth noting that there is a presence, in Moroccan context, of some common anti-semitic expressions such as “ Ihodi hachak”, a word used only after despised creatures such as dogs, donkeys, and Jews in this case. This negative perception may be derived from misreading of some sacred texts. It is stated in the Quran in the verse 5: 82 that “the most intense of the people in animosity toward the believers [to be] the Jews”. According to the prophet’s speech, “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews, when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdullah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’’ Reported by Albukhari,(Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:52:177).
Unlike his father, however, Driss is not openly anti-Semitic. He asks his father to curse family members as God did to ‘Jews’, most probably based on Islamic doctrine. Driss states, “ God cursed the Jews…”P. 20.Chraibi’s hero, after all, turns out to be , perhaps, anti-Semitic in the sense that he falls into the trap of generalizing the curse over the whole race . He rebels against almost everything but probably fails to rebel against deeply rooted feeling of hatred towards Jews. One may deduce that it is roughly difficult for him to do so because of one reason: he can not see it.
The readers and perhaps the writer himself may not have thought of what I call sleeping cell of anti Semitism which manifests itself in the quote stated earlier. Driss seemingly resists the process of him being brainwashed but somewhere in his unconscious world, anti Semitism is still at its best manifestation. That is to say, whether Driss is aware or unaware of his anti-Semitism does not make a big difference, for hatred is always there.
The beggar is another anti-Semitic character in Chraibi’s novel. He is at the low level of social class, and most probably illiterate, as opposed to Driss and his father. In a reaction to Le Seigneur who refuses to give him a cent, the begger insults him to the best of his ability, ‘Jew son of a Jew … pig, son of a bitch, father of monkeys’P.31.Being a Jew here becomes a sort of social stigma. It is associated with the most disliked creatures in society- pigs, dogs, prostitutes and apes.
In 1965, Said Ghellab, a Moroccan writer of the same generation as Chraibi, stated that, ‘The worst insult that a Moroccan could possibly offer was to treat someone as Jew.’ Again, this insult may find its root in religious texts, which are often misread. The Quranic verse 2: 65 says ‘And you had already known about those who transgressed among you concerning the sabbath, and We said to them, “Be apes, despised.”
Hence the Egyptian scholar Mohammed Hussein Yaaqub, like many scholars at the end of Friday sermon in Morocco’s mosques, an Egyptian scholar urged Allah on Arrahma TV to ‘ make the Muslims rejoice again in seeing them as apes and pigs. You (Jews) pigs of the earth! You pigs of the earth!’ Chraibi’s beggar is perhaps not educated to be aware of all these religious discourses but he is a good learner, like the social category he represents, of what the religious institution wants him to despise – the Jews.
It is significant that those characters represent different categories of society. Le Seigneur is probably over fifty years. He is a father who controls the whole family. His attitudes towards the Jews are not limited to his own convictions, for he is constantly teaching the generations to come. Driss is an educated young man. He seems to be liberal, but one would doubt his full awareness about anti-Semitism. The beggar makes the novel somehow successful in representing people from different walks of life.
The community as one single entity is also depicted as holding common feeling of anti-semitism. A reference to the common racist feelings towards the Jews can be found in a proverb stated by Chraibi’s Le Seigneur, “the joy of a little village , the saying goes, means that a Jew died” P24. The whole community then considers the death of Jew as a good piece of news.
The novel, I believe, mirrors the presence of some anti-Semitic individuals in Moroccan society. The historical context in which it is written might have fuelled that hatred. The misreading of religious texts, in turn, could be another source which makes matters worse.
This is not to say that Islam is inherently calling for hatred towards Jews but rather to argue that some Moroccans, Le Seigneur, Driss and the beggar as their allegory, have wrongly assumed so due to false interpretation of the sacred texts. Moroccan Muslim scholars should raise awareness on the evils of anti-Semitism. After all, both the history of Islam and that of Morocco demonstrate a great deal of unprecedented religious tolerance towards Jews.