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

Ethan B. Katz
  • Review
By – December 17, 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.

Relat­ed Content:

Rachel Simon, a librar­i­an at Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty, does research on Jews in the mod­ern Mid­dle East and North Africa, with spe­cial ref­er­ence to Libya, Ottoman Empire, women, and education.

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