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Diasporas and ExilesVarieties of Jewish Identity$
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Howard Wettstein

Print publication date: 2002

Print ISBN-13: 9780520228641

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520228641.001.0001

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A Different Road to Modernity: Jewish Identity in the Arab World

A Different Road to Modernity: Jewish Identity in the Arab World

(p.150) 6 A Different Road to Modernity: Jewish Identity in the Arab World
Diasporas and Exiles

Daniel J. Schroeter

University of California Press

This chapter presents a study of a non-Western diaspora. It argues that there is no single story even for the Arab world, though the multiple Asian/North African Jewish identities are unified by shared contrasts with Western Jewish identities. It explores the meanings and effects of modernity for the Arab world generally—not only with respect to Jews. For example, the development of the modern nation-state in the Arab world was quite a different affair than that in Europe. In the former, the nation-state is somewhat artificial. The earlier rise of Islam as both a political and religious entity meant that, by contrast with the Catholic Church in Europe, “the Muslim community, the umma, never had to define itself in relation to the state.” This changes with the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century and even more so in the later Colonial period. These political movements attempted to establish a civil society, but the enormous influence of the Muslim past meant that secularism never took hold as it did in Europe. Accordingly, even with the rise of the Arab nation-state, the hold of religion and the cohesiveness of religious minorities remained strong. Unlike Europe, Arab lands never developed a secular common ground. Jewish assimilation thus was not a major threat to Jewish identity and survival.

Keywords:   Jewish identity, non-Western diaspora, Arab world, modernity, nation-state, assimilation

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