Middle Eastern state-sanctioned racism against Jews

Under Islamic law, if a Muslim kills a non-Muslim, no punishment need be applied.

Arvin Nathaniel Ghahremani. Source: Avi Kaner/X.
Arvin Nathaniel Ghahremani. Source: Avi Kaner/X.
Lyn Julius
Lyn Julius is the author of "Uprooted: How 3,000 Years of Jewish Civilization in the Arab World Vanished Overnight" (Vallentine Mitchell, 2018).

Earlier this month, Arvin Ghahremani, an Iranian Jew, was due to to be executed by the clerical regime. His crime was to defend himself in a brawl, resulting in the inadvertent death of his knife-wielding attacker.

Iranian law states that if a non-Muslim kills a Muslim, “retributive justice,” or qisas, can be applied and the perpetrator sentenced to death. However, if a Muslim kills a non-Muslim in Iran, qisas does not apply and no punishment is handed down.

If you think that such a law discriminates unfairly against non-Muslim minorities, you would be right.

This is how the law is applied in the Islamic Republic of Iran. 

This application of sharia law reflects a form of colonialism in which non-Muslims are held to be inferiors deserving of few rights. Jews may be exploited by traditional Muslim society for their talents and skills, but are relegated to the very bottom of the social ladder, just above the rank of slaves.

Yet in the topsy-turvy opinion of much of the world, it is Israel that “discriminates,” commits “genocide” and treats minorities unfairly. One of the key accusations leveled at Israel following the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre is that Israel is a ‘”colonial state.” Swathes of young people who get their news from TikTok and Instagram believe it.

How do we begin to rebut this pernicious libel, which is the inverse of the truth? Denials are not sufficient. We need to reframe the debate.

It is not enough to say that the Jews are indigenous to the Land of Israel and the only people for whom Israel is their ancestral homeland. We must zoom out of the narrow framing of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to show the wider Middle Eastern context: Centuries of Arab, Persian and Turkish imperialism subjugated Christians, pagans and Jews. Yet Jews are an authentic Middle Eastern people, established in the area since biblical times—1,000 years before the advent of Islam.

Starting in the seventh century, pan-Arab imperialism foisted the Arabic language and culture on Jews and other indigenous peoples like Assyrians, Berbers, Kurds, Zoroastrians, Maronites and Egyptian Copts.

In the 20th century, many of these peoples suffered mass murder, persecution and exile. The primary victims of “ethnic cleansing” in the Middle East conflict are not the Palestinians, but the one million Jews who had been living in Middle Eastern and North African communities for millennia. In this exodus without precedent, a larger number of Jews were driven out of Arab countries than Arabs from Israel. Those Jews and their descendants now constitute the majority of Jewish Israelis. While two million Arabs are living in Israel, there are scarcely more than 4,000 Jews left in Arab countries.

If Israel was birthed by modern European colonialism, so were the 22 Arab states that achieved independence at roughly the same time. The Middle East is misrepresented as “the Arab world.” In fact, the region is a rich patchwork of different peoples, ethnicities and sects. The Arabs are not the only ones who deserve political rights. 

Indigenous peoples of the Middle East—Kurds, Assyrians, Jews, Armenians—attended the 1919 Paris Peace Conference and called for autonomy or national self-determination. Only the Jews and the Armenians managed to achieve it. Lebanon survived for a few decades as a haven for Maronite Christians but is now thought to have a Muslim majority.

Not only are the 22 Arab countries 99% Muslim but several are failed states. There are only a few exceptions. As things stand, non-Muslim minorities can only be accepted if they surrender their collective identity. The Muslim denial of collective minority rights is rooted in the historical rejection of non-Muslim peoplehood. At best, Islam treats them as a faith, not an ethnic group.

Iran is not an Arab country but it applies a strict form of Islamic law.  Iranian Jews are not allowed to occupy government or army posts. They are ostensibly allowed to practice their religion but forbidden contact with the “Little Satan”—Israel. Like Assyrians and Zoroastrians, Jews are represented in Parliament by a token mouthpiece of the regime and are forced to echo the party line or face arrest and even death.

Egregiously, they are, like Arvin Ghahremani, at the mercy of an institutionally racist legal system that abuses their human rights. 

This is the dystopian future those who advocate sharia law plan to apply to non-Muslims outside Iran.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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