Middle Ages and 21st Century Clashing

The following are excerpts from an interview with Wafa Sultan, an Arab American psychologist from Los Angeles. It aired on Al Jazeera TV on Feb. 21, 2006.

Wafa Sultan: The clash we are witnessing around the world is not a clash of religions or a clash of civilizations. It is a clash between two opposites, between two eras. It is a clash between a mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another mentality that belongs to the 21st century. It is a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality.

It is a clash between freedom and oppression, between democracy and dictatorship. It is a clash between human rights on the one hand and the violation of these rights on the other hand. It is a clash between those who treat women like beasts and those who treat them like human beings. What we see today is not a clash of civilizations. Civilizations do not clash, but compete….

Host: I understand from your words that what is happening today is a clash between the culture of the West and the backwardness and ignorance of the Muslims?

WS: Yes, that is what I mean….

Host: Who came up with the concept of a clash of civilizations? Was it not Samuel Huntington? It was not Bin Laden. I would like to discuss this issue, if you don’t mind….

WS: The Muslims are the ones who began using this expression. The Muslims are the ones who began the clash of civilizations. The Prophet of Islam said: “I was ordered to fight the people until they believe in Allah and His Messenger.”

When the Muslims divided the people into Muslim and non-Muslims and called to fight the others until they believe in what they themselves believe, they started this clash and began this war.

In order to stop this war, they must re-examine their Islamic books and curricula, which are full of calls for takfir and fighting the infidels. My colleague has said that he never offends other people’s beliefs. What civilization on the face of this earth allows him to call other people by names they did not choose for themselves?

Once he calls them Ahl Al-Dhimma, another time he calls them the “People of the Book” and yet another time he compares them to apes and pigs, or he calls the Christians “those who incur Allah’s wrath.”

Who told you they are People of the Book? They are not the People of the Book; they are people of many books. All the useful scientific books that you have today are theirs, the fruit of their free and creative thinking.

What gives you the right to call them “those who incur Allah’s wrath” or those who have gone astray, and then come here and say that your religion commands you to refrain from offending the beliefs of others?

I am not a Christian, a Muslim or Jew. I am a secular human being. I do not believe in the supernatural, but I respect others’ right to believe in it.

Dr. Ibrahim Al-Khouli: ( a teacher at Al-Azhar University) Are you a heretic?

WS: You can say whatever you like. I am a secular human being who does not believe in the supernatural.

Al-Khouli: If you are a heretic, there is no point in rebuking you, since you have blasphemed against Islam, the Prophet and the Quran.

WS: These are personal matters that do not concern you…. Brother, you can believe in stones, as long as you don’t throw them at me. You are free to worship whoever you want, but other people’s beliefs are not your concern, whether they believe that the Messiah is God, son of Mary — or that Satan is God, son of Mary.

Let people have their beliefs…. The Jews have come from the tragedy [of the Holocaust] and forced the world to respect them with their knowledge, not with their terror; with their work, not their crying and yelling.

Humanity owes most of the discoveries of the 19th and 20th centuries to Jewish scientists. Fifteen million people, scattered throughout the world, united and won their rights through work and knowledge.

We have not seen a single Jew blow himself up in a German restaurant. We have not seen a single Jew destroy a church. We have not seen a single Jew protest by killing people.

The Muslims have turned three Buddha statues into rubble. We have not seen a single Buddhist burn down a mosque, kill a Muslim or burn down an embassy. Only the Muslims defend their beliefs by burning down churches, killing people and destroying embassies.

This path will not yield any results. The Muslims must ask themselves what they can do for humankind before they demand that humankind respect them.

Translation from Arabic is courtesy of MEMRI: The Middle East Media Research Institute.


Rome’s Jewish Culinary Heritage

Rome is a layer cake of culinary civilizations. For centuries Jewish specialties have formed the core of the Roman culinary repertoire including Carciofi alla Romana (artichokes braised in white wine and olive oil), Gnocchi di Semolino alla Romana (semolina gnocchi with butter and cheese), Aliciotti con l’Indivia (baked anchovy and endives) and Lattughe Farcite (stuffed lettuce with olives and anchovies).

Jews first came to Rome in large numbers as prisoners following the annexation of their lands by general Pompey the Great in the first century B.C.E. The Roman Jewish community flourished under prince Herod Agrippa II, who moved from Judea to Rome with his entourage after Emperor Titus’ destruction of Jerusalem (70 C.E.).

Rome’s medieval Jewish community followed the Tiber River’s unincorporated west bank in Trastevere. Later, Jews began moving into the left bank area now occupied by the Synagogue. In 1556 under Pope Paul IV that area became the infamous walled Ghetto. Rome’s Jews suffered periods of persecution and poverty there, but also tolerance and prosperity.

The Ghetto’s walls came down in 1848 and although its residents were free to live wherever they wished many stayed on. To this day, the spirit of this age-old community lives on. The Ghetto’s colorful delis, specialty food outlets, bakeries and restaurants are found primarily on or in the vicinity of the Via del Portico d’Ottavia. On one end of this atmospheric street stands the eighth-century church of Sant’Angelo in Pescheria. It occupies the ruins of a portico that Augustus Caesar rebuilt and dedicated to his sister, Octavia. The portico housed Rome’s main fish market (la Pescheria) from the 12th to the late 19th century, a market largely operated by Jews. Then as now, fish and anchovies in particular were a big part of the local diet.

The roots of the Roman Jewish predilection for anchovies go back to at least the imperial era. Nowadays Romans, whether Jewish or not, favor the anchovy (Engraulis encrasicholus) over other fish species. The Italian terms for anchovies are alici or aliciotti when fresh and acciughe when salted; anchovy paste is called pasta di acciughe. Using them in much the same way as the Ancients, contemporary Roman cooks slip or crush them with glee into everything from antipasti to vegetable side dishes, pasta and main courses.

So fond are Italians in general and Romans in particular of fishy flavors that they commonly home-salt their own anchovies. A few even make contemporary versions of ancient fish sauces.

Anyone wanting to experience what garum actually tastes like should have a meal at Magna Roma, a self-styled "archeological restaurant" in the Via Capo d’Africa near the Coliseum. Magna Roma bases its menu on the writings of first-century C.E. gastronome Apicius, who collected the recipes that later went into the world’s oldest cookbook, "De re Coquinaria" ("The Art of Cooking"). Apicius called for fish sauce in just about every dish he listed.

Surprisingly, the contemporary garum served at Magna Roma is less aggressive than anchovies still crusted with salt, Colatura d’Alici (anchovy juices macerated in brine), or even some anchovy pastes. In making garum the fish does not rot; it’s transformed in a process similar to that of lactic acid fermentation in making cheese or sauerkraut, with a parallel action caused by enzymes and oils found in high concentrations in the entrails of fatty fish.

It was in large part thanks to the Jewish community that the garum tradition was kept alive, through the use of salted anchovies or anchovy brine in myriad recipes.

Recently, I visited Trastevere to ask my favorite Rome fishmonger, Anna Elisa Scipioni, how she preserves her acciughe the old-fashioned way. I discovered that she uses coarse sea salt or kosher salt, a handful of bay leaves and a large round sterilized glass jar at least 5-inches wide with a tight seal, such as a Mason jar. She fills the jar with layers of salt, bay leaves and fresh anchovies 4- to 5-inches long. She discards the anchovy heads but does not gut the fish (the entrails impart flavor and their enzymes aid the maturing process). Atop the filled jar she places a weighted, wide-bottomed water glass or tumbler that fits snugly into the jar’s mouth. The weight slowly presses down the anchovies and salt, keeping air out.

Stored in a corner of the refrigerator or in a cool cellar and topped off regularly with salt to keep the fish submerged in brine, the anchovies are ready after one month (but are even better after two or three). To use them, all you need do is rinse them under cold water and with your fingers remove the fins, backbone and entrails, and then separate them into fillets. If desired, you can crush them to make paste. Once desalted you can store anchovy fillets or paste under olive oil in the refrigerator for several weeks and use them to make all the traditional Roman Jewish and other favorite recipes.

David D. Downie is the author of “Cooking the Roman Way: Authentic Recipes from the Home Cooks and Trattorias of Rome” (Harper Collins).