Exile in the Maghreb, co-authored by the great historian David G. Littman and Paul B. Fenton, is an ambitious tome contradicting the myth of how breezy it was for Jews to live in their homelands in the Middle East and North Africa when they came under Muslim rule.
“Ever since the Middle Ages,” the book jarringly illustrates, “anti-Jewish persecution has been endemic to Muslim North Africa.”
Littman, before his untimely death from leukemia in 2012, had intended this book on the Maghreb to be the first in a series that would cover the social condition of the Jews of Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Yemen, Iran and Turkey — an ambitious project that he was unable to tackle in its entirety.
The impetus for the book, which was first published in French in 2010 and in English in 2016, was to expose the misrepresentation by certain historians of the relations between the Jews of Morocco and Algeria and their Arab rulers. One such historian cited in the book was the French Orientalist, Claude Cahen, who dreamily wrote in his chapter on “Dhimma” in the Encylopaedia of Islam:
“There is nothing in medieval Islam which could specifically be called anti-Semitism… Islam has, in spite of many upsets, shown more toleration than Europe toward Jews who remained in Muslim lands.”