Letter to Sylvia Wynter

beautiful, lucid, unflinching writing by Ariella Azoulay. an exploration of what ‘judeo-christian’ means to someone with arab jewish ancestry.

‘This lesson of Frenchness, standardization, eradication has a name in French: laïcité. The term “secularism” doesn’t quite capture the stripping bare the worldliness, or being-in-the-world, of a person, which laïcité requires. Part of solving the “Jewish question” in Europe required the refashioning Jews as secular Europeans (who could still be “Jews” at home) before they could go in public. With the French conquest of Algeria, the Jews were singled out from the Arabs and were made into a “problem,” forced to get rid of what identified them as indigenous, so that a few decades later the colonial regime could reward them for their efforts with the gift of French citizenship. Thinking of this “Judeo-Christian” bargain in relation to the state process of laicité helped me. As my interlocutor, you helped me to identify the “Christian” component in the secular Jew.

Your uninterrogated use of the term—Judeo-Christian—assumes a readership that recognizes itself in it. If you could have anticipated a reaction like mine while you wrote, I am inclined to think that you would have asked more questions about it. It’s true, some of your Jewish readers, and maybe also some Christians, may find this category reassuring, a confirmation that the post-WWII bargain, the one which promised Jews whiteness and welcomed them into the Christian-secular world, and offered Christians a way out of their guilt, is respected. I’m Jewish, but I am not one of these readers, and I’m not alone.’ More here.

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