The end of the Semites
Title: The end of the Semites
Author: RENTON, James
Citation: James RENTON and Ben GIDLEY (eds), Antisemitism and Islamophobia in Europe : a shared story?, London : Palgrave Macmillan, 2017, pp. 99-140
Series/Number: [Global Governance Programme]; [Cultural Pluralism]
ISBN: 9781137412997; 9781137413024
By the end of the nineteenth century, the idea of the Semites had become the principal manifestation in Western European thought of the Christian tradition of linking Judaism and Islam, the Jew and the Muslim. This concept posited that both religions belonged to a single race, which was bound by its own family of languages and the product of a unique geographical space: Western Asia. Since Edward Said described ‘the Islamic branch of Orientalism’ as the ‘strange secret sharer of Western anti-Semitism’ in 1978, a significant body of scholarship has been produced on the idea of the Semites—though it pales in comparison to the explosion of writing on Orientalism more broadly. Yet even within the specialised field of post-semitic studies, as we might call it, few have examined precisely when and why the idea ceased to be common currency in Western thought—for fallen from grace it surely has. The end of the explicit use and naming of the Semitic category, however, is of enormous significance for understanding the trajectory of the relationship between Islamophobia and antisemitism; it is the start of the story in which the European ideas of the Jew and the Muslim splintered into two separate sides of global politics: the West versus the Islamic East.
Subject: Racism and discrimination; Islam; European identities and culture
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