So what is it between the Jews and the Arabs? Why don’t they like each other? Human beings aren’t born with an inherent capacity to hate, by the way. It has to be taught. So who taught them to hate each other, and where did it all begin?
It’s difficult to know where to start. What’s an Arab? What’s a Muslim? Why are they so angry? What makes them think they have the right to insist everyone else believes what they believe? Is it really that important? Why are they so rude? The answer, of course, is that they’re not. It’s only the radical Islamists who are losing the head about it. The rest of them seem pretty cool to me.
So let’s get our facts straight first of all. What’s a Muslim and what’s an Arab? Okay, well the word ‘Muslim’ is the Arabic word meaning ‘One who submits to God.’ Simple as that. Got it?
Arabs are a panethnic group of people with multiple racial genes. You can mostly find them inhabiting Western Asia, Northern Africa, parts of the Horn of Africa, Sparkhill and Bordesley Green in Birmingham. The term ‘panethnic’ in this context is really no more correct than labelling all Spanish speakers as Latin American or Chicanos, but it’s going to have to do for now because although they share a common language, a common religion and similar physical characteristics there are tribal affiliations and intra-tribal relationships that play such an important part of Arab identity that in all honesty it’s just one big melting pot. Most Arabs, however, have direct or partial tribal relationships to the nomadic indigenous occupants of the Syrian Desert and Arabia. And these are the Bedouin nomads.
The word ‘Arab’ has had several different meanings over the centuries, but at times 'A'raab' was used exclusively by the Bedouin. And this mob has been around forever. The name actually means one who lives out in the open, as in the open desert. Most people preferred to settle near a river which kind of makes sense, but the Bedouin preferred to live in the Arabian and Syrian deserts, the Sahara Desert of North Africa and the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. They had a rich oral poetic tradition and traditional, if somewhat questionable, codes of honour.
Now this is where it gets interesting because the Bedouin claim their ancestry from Ishmael, son of Abraham and ancestor of Muhammed, although the Christians view Ishmael as the ancestor of the Biblical Ishmaelites. Now you see Ishmael’s mum wasn’t Abraham’s wife, Sarai (who was Jewish, by the way), but Hagar her handmaiden (who was Egyptian), which wouldn’t have gone down too well with Sarai at all, who by all accounts was drop-dead gorgeous. But there’s a little bit of incest going on here that’s worth recording because Sarai was actually Abraham’s half-sister. They shared the same dad, you see, and his name was Terah. So Terah’s daughter was also his daughter-in-law, which would have saved money on birthday and Christmas presents.
Now Sarai may well have been a hot number, but she was barren until she was about 90, when she gave birth to Isaac. Abraham held a great feast for Isaac, but Ishmael started taking the piss. Sarai was so hacked off at this that she asked Abraham to get rid of both him and Hagar, which he did, sending them both out into the desert. And remember the word ‘Bedouin’ means one who lives out in the open, as in the open desert.
Both the Quran and the Bible agree on the story so far, but in Islam Ishmael is viewed as a prophet, and both Jewish and Islamic traditions consider him as the ancestor of the Arabs.
So while Jews traditionally see themselves as descendants of Isaac that would make his mother Sarai ancestress of all Israel. Arabs and Muslims, however, trace their lineage to Hagar and Ishmael.
And many people today regard the Arab-Israeli conflict to have its roots in the ancient rivalry between Isaac and Ishmael, or more accurately between their mothers, Sarai and Hagar.
(African-Americans, by the way, have assigned Hagar as a symbol of the plight of the slave woman).