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Freya Stark: Intrepid Arabian Adventurer, Ardent Jew Hater

Posted on January 20 2011 8:00 am
Phyllis Chesler is an Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies at City University of New York. For extended biography visit The Phyllis Chesler Organization.

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Stark does not critique Islamic gender or religious apartheid at all. In fact, she actually believes that sequestered Muslim women in purdah exercise a great deal of power and that the then-existing feminism unwisely sought to turn women into men—something which, in Stark’s view, would have greatly reduced Muslim women’s essential and pre-existing power.

In short, Stark is a typical British Memsahib: Happy to be the only (foreign) woman among many Arab and Muslim men—or among male British officials; happy to be out of rainy, dreary England; happy to do her mixed-gender socializing only within the British colony. She—an agent of the greatest colonialist power on earth, dares to write:

I have always held that force is a monstrous thing to use against a people long settled on its lands to induce it to accept immigration; if the arrivals are angels from heaven, it makes no difference—the habitation of a land for two thousand years gives one a right to close or open the door. And to say that a country’s ‘absorptive capacity,’ or inferior efficiency’ give other people a claim to rearrange its populations, whether it be Italians in Abyssinia or Zionists in Palestine, savours too much of what we have spent these years fighting against to be acceptable to a civilized mind.

In other words, knowing that the Jews were being mass murdered in a monstrous genocide in Europe, she still viewed the “Zionist” escapees from countless pogroms the same as she viewed the Italian fascists who were trying to gain a foothold in the Middle East. No, she is not entirely cold-hearted. She continues:

Let us by all means try to help those we care for—and in these I wholeheartedly include many sons of Zion—to obtain their wish, and revisit the home of their childhood which is now the house of our friends: but let us do it by asking, and give to the present owner the privilege of yes or no which is his right, and not stand with a bludgeon on the doormat.

No one has handled a bloody bludgeon better than Britain. Here’s Stark’s continued view on the Jewish struggle to survive in Palestine:

Palestine would be self-governing already if the Zionist question had not brought into that unhappy country its ancient tangle, renewing in modern form the old wars of Israel, Philistia, Edom and Moab, and the Hittites of the north.

Mind you: In this work, Stark underplays what she herself knows, namely, that each and every Arab tribe and sheikdom remained at war with every other Arab tribe and sheikdom, tended to resist nationalism, or preferred a pan-Arabic vision of one Islamic nation. Stark views Arab nationalism positively, passionately, and views the introduction of Zionism as an irritant, one which has stopped the nation of Transjordan from otherwise flourishing. Listen further to her words:

I have visited agricultural colonies round Galilee and Hule, in the plain of Esdraelon and under the heights of Nazareth, and have seen the remarkable industrial development near Haifa and the ruthless vitality (sic) of Tel Aviv…

What a telling phrase—“the ruthless vitality of Tel Aviv.” Would Stark describe the English industrial revolution in quite this way?

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