Tuesday, January 12, 2010

History is just a way to view the present

That's what one of my favorite professors said. We argue about history because history is the weapon used to prove what the present should look like. This is awesomely presented by Thessaloniki. The young Mustafa Kemal probably never imagined this happening:



And yet here they are, BMX rappers cruising through the capital of Jewish life in the Ottoman Empire. I've written about Salonika and the Balkans a lot in the more-serifed past, but TabletMag, the "New Read on Judaism" blog just discovered them. Sorta.

Viewed through an American-Jewish lens, these folks are some weird outlier. THIS can't be Judaism: they blended into the ruling classes, ran the city, spoke weird languages, and ate funny foods. This ain't an outlier, this was ~350 years of existence. To paraphrase D'Israeli, Ottoman Jews were rolling deep in Ottoman Lands back when Lvov was a muddy speck.

I guess this piece bothered me so much because it Otherizes the whole aspect of a shared past. There's this nationalistic ideal that Jewish people are Different because they're Special and Untainted and Never Intermixed. In the American context, that means they've only spoke Hebrew or Yiddish, and while they may be nappy-haired, they're always sheeny-white. This ideal perpetuates hard-liners while ignoring an actual shared, legitimate past. Yeah, Shabbatai Tzvi was a weird dude. Yeah, he was a big deal in a big empire.

This is wayyy off what I mean to write about, and probably belongs on Blogging the Casbah, but still. History is complex. Historiography is arbitrary. This is very basic stuff, so embrace it and move on. Please.

1 comment:

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