The Burdens of Brotherhood: Jews and Muslims from North Africa to France

Harvard University Press  2015


In The Burdens of Brotherhood, a study of unprecedented chronological and thematic breadth in its field, Ethan Katz examines the relations between Jews and Muslims in France throughout the twentieth century. Katz provides numerous case studies and draws conclusions about specific situations as well as general patterns. Three French cities are highlighted in particular: Paris, the capital; Marseille, the main gate to France; and Strasbourg, with its unique Alsacian history. Katz shows how Jewish-Muslim relations were influenced by the different legal, economic, and cultural conditions of the two religious groups in France; he also explores the influence of external political situations including the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Katz begins by examining the Jews and Muslims who fought in the French army during World War I. These soldiers often hoped that their futures would benefit from their military service. During the interwar period, however, immigrants from North Africa encountered different conditions in France due to the fact that many immigrant Jews were French citizens; promises made to Muslim servicemen were slower to materialize. During WWII, the condition of the Jews became worse than that of the Muslims due to anti-Jewish racial legislation.

Katz then turns to the implications of the struggle for independence on North African Jews, and the resulting increase in North African immigration to France. Jewish immigrants received help from the French authorities as well as from Jewish organizations. The obstacles faced by Muslim immigrants resulted in more a difficult assimilation process, worse living and economic conditions, and a lower level of education—all of which widened the gulf between the Muslim and Jewish communities and eventually worsened their relations. Differing attitudes to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the establishment of the state of Israel, and the wars between Israel and Arab states and the Palestinians all added to the tension. France's increasingly anti-Israeli politics following the 1967 War also had severe implications on the attitudes of Muslims in France towards Jews.

Nonetheless, as is emphasized throughout the book, the two groups originally shared a bond that was fostered by their common backgrounds. Jews and Muslims often patronized the same shops, cafes, restaurants, and musical events. With the growing rift, daily contact between Jews and Muslims decreased. This estrangement resulted, at times, in violence and riots.

The Burdens of Brotherhood is based on extensive archival research, interviews, Jewish and Muslim media, and other primary sources. The analysis of contemporary media in particular enlivens this narrative, as do the interviews Katz conducts with French Jews and Muslims. The author’s grasp of the interconnections between local developments in French communities, French politics, and international issues make this book particularly noteworthy. Thanks to its broad view, rich and diverse sources, and the issues it tackles in depth, The Burdens of Brotherhood is an important and highly readable study.

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