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

Feb 8, 2016

Host Jonathan Judaken talks with author Ethan Katz, about his book, The Burdens of Brotherhood: Jews and Muslims from North Africa to France, which was a recent winner of the National Jewish Book Award. 

Credit Ethan B. Katz

This book’s central arguments—regarding the wide-ranging terms of Jewish-Muslim interaction, Jewish and Muslim ethnicity as situational, and the centrality of the French state and notions of "French-ness" to Jewish-Muslim relations—find their precision in the three underlying components of identification and status that long defined Jews’ and Muslims’ respective positions in France and in relation to one another: the place of each group as North African natives under French colonial rule, Jews’ and Muslims' positions as religious minorities in an at once officially secular and majority Catholic country, and the complex political and cultural attachments of members of both groups to transnational movements and entities. A fourth element, race, frequently overlapped in important ways with the preceding three factors.

Tracing the past 100 years of interaction between Jews and Muslims in France, today the largest populations of these groups living outside of Israel, this book could not be more timely given the terror attacks in France this past year, first at Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher in January and then the ISIS attacks in November.

Since autumn 2000 with the beginning of the Second Intifada, there have been nearly 600 anti-Semitic incidents in France each year, perpetrated mostly by Muslim youth. At the same time, Muslims are the next most targeted group in official statistics and Islamophobic discourse is widespread in France. Today a widespread story has taken hold about inherent conflict between these groups conjoined to a narrative about civilizational conflict between Muslims and the West.

Focusing on the experiences of ordinary people, Katz shows how Jewish–Muslim relations were shaped by everyday encounters and by perceptions of deeply rooted collective similarities or differences. We meet Jews and Muslims advocating common and divergent political visions, enjoying common culinary and musical traditions, and interacting on more intimate terms as neighbors, friends, enemies, and even lovers and family members.

Drawing upon dozens of archives, newspapers, and interviews, Katz tackles controversial subjects like Muslim collaboration and resistance during World War II and the Holocaust, Jewish participation in French colonialism, the international impact of the Israeli–Arab conflict, and contemporary Muslim antisemitism in France.

For more information about author Ethan Katz, you can visit the Harvard University Press website.

For more information about Rhodes College and the Communities in Conversation series, you can visit their Facebook page.