This review was originally written six years ago. When I wrote it, it did not occur to me to distinguish between Arab and Muslim cultures. In one case we are referring to a culture and a people. In the other to a religion. In practice, the cultures are the same, and every country that is of the Arabic culture is also of the Muslim religion. Some non-Arab countries are not permeated with anti-Semitism, such as Kazakhstan, but non-Arab Muslim countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia are anti-Semitic.
Arab and Muslim Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism, A Study
In this synopsis, I hope to briefly examine the roots and current status of Arab and Muslim Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism, and to provide a compendium of useful sources on the subject, either gathered at this Web site or elsewhere on the Web. This may be viewed as a work in progress, reflecting my understanding as well as your comments.
What is anti-Semitism?
At the outset, let's be clear that by "anti-Semitism" I mean precisely hatred of Jews, as the term is defined in most dictionaries. I use this term rather than "Antisemitism" or "Judeophobia" simply because "anti-Semitism" is the term everyone knows. This meets the objection of Arab anti-Semites that they cannot be "anti-Semites" because they are Semites.
Not All Arabs and Muslims are anti-Semitic
Second, nobody should claim that all Arabs or all Muslims are anti-Semitic or racist. There are over a billion Muslims, and hundreds of millions of Arabs. Fuad Ajami is not anti-Semitic, Sheikh Pallazi is neither anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist. Irfan Khawaja is certainly not an anti-Semite. Having said that, we must admit that there is overwhelming evidence for a large and frightening current of anti-Semitism, expressing itself in classic forms, permeating much of Arab and Muslim society. The examples given by Irfan Khawaja show that it is not absent even in US Muslim society. However, it is much more deeply rooted in Arab and Muslim countries, as a few choice quotes and the extensive documentation of the Roth center ( see Arab Anti-Semitism 1997 and subsequent reports) show beyond a shadow of a doubt. There is a problem of Arab anti-Semitism, and despite the claims of Khawaja and others, it is not a reaction to "Islamophobia" engendered by Islamist terrorism or incited by "the Jews." It existed well before the rise to popularity of Osama Bin Laden and before the Iranian revolution.
Anti-Semitism versus Anti-Zionism versus legitimate Criticism
Third, let me state that I do not confound criticism of Israel with anti-Zionism as such, nor anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. That said, the evidence is overwhelming that the sort of criticism of Israel or "anti-Zionism" that one is likely to meet in the Arab world, is often based on racist anti-Semitism and indistinguishable from it. In my view, it is not "anti-Semitism" for a Palestinian to say "The Zionists took my land" even if we may disagree with the historical facts. Moreover it is not "anti-Semitism" for a Palestinian to say, "I want to destroy Israel to get my land back." This may be an odious view, but it is not racist. It is the position of someone who has been done an injury and seeks redress for himself first, whether justifiable or wise or not. Leaving aside the argument that wishing for destruction of Israel or ending the occupation is the same as anti-Semitism, an argument often used by over-enthusiastic advocates like Phyllis Chesler, a very large part of the "criticisms of Israel" consists of racist themes, including but not limited to those below. These themes have been around since before the existence of Israel. Certainly, they preceded the occupation.
God cursed the Jews, therefore they don't deserve a country - (the statement of H.R.H. King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud:
'Our hatred for the Jews dates from God's
condemnation of them for their persecution and rejection of Isa (Jesus
Christ), and their subsequent rejection later of His chosen Prophet.
The Jews cause trouble wherever they are For example:
"People all over the world have
come to realize that Hitler was right, since Jews . . . are bloodsuckers . .
. interested in destroying the whole world which has . . . expelled them and
despised them for centuries ... and burnt them in Hitler's crematoria ...
one million ... six millions. Would that he had finished it!"
The Talmud teaches Jews to despise gentiles. It is a secret book:
Typically, we find assertions such as these, borrowed wholesale from Christian anti-Semitic mythology to "anti-Zionist" Muslim Web sites:
...Then the first edition of the
Talmud containing all it's blasphemies against Non-Jews was published in
Venice in the year of 1520...Towards the end of the 16th century, when many
famous men undertook diligently to study Talmud; The Jews, fearing for
themselves began to expunge parts of Talmud which were inimical to Non-Jews.
Thus the Talmud which was published at Basle in 1578 has been mutilated in
( Hesronot Shas actually contained parts of the Talmud that were arbitrarily banned by Christian authorities. The book is freely available to be purchased by anyone today. The Babylonian Talmud, which is the major Talmudic compilation is written in Aramaic, and not Hebrew, and therefore Martin Luther's supposed studies in Hebrew would not have have helped him understand the Talmud.)
Jews (or "Zionists") control the world or are plotting to control the world, based on the Protocols of the elders of Zion (see Hamas Charter for example and "Knight Without a Horse" - the popular Egyptian TV drama and see Mahathir Mohamed - OIC Congress address )
Anti-Semitism is not confined to Islamist Extremists or Fundamentalists
Arab and Muslim world anti-Semitism was never confined to Islamist extremists. Muslim-Arab anti-Semitism, precisely like its European counterpart, is a cultural and political fact that transcends religious-secular divisions and left-right divisions. The nominally secular Baathist parties were and are anti-Semitic, and the Arab socialists are anti-Semitic. The Minister of Defense of Baathist Syria, Mustafa Tlass, wrote a book claiming that the Blood Libel accusation is a true fact, and that Jews actually kill Christian children in order to bake Matzoth. This book has enjoyed wide popularity and several reprintings. So, though it is fashionable to look for the roots of Muslim or Arab anti-Semitism in the rantings of Osama Bin Laden or in extremist interpretations of the Qur'an, it is probable that anti-Semitism was just one of many convenient cultural substrates that were adopted and adapted equally by Islamism, Baathism, pan-Arabism and Arab Socialism.
Islamic History, the Jews and anti-Semitism
It is true that Muslim-Arab society was far less intolerant of Jews than European society for the most part. It is equally true that even in the best case, Jews and Christians were "dhimmi," the social inferiors of Muslims throughout the Arab world, though less so in most non-Arab Muslim countries. It is also true that in the worst cases, Muslims practiced forced conversion of Jews, as occurred in Yemen for orphan Jewish children who had lost their fathers, and as occurred in Spain during the time of Maimonides. Stoning of Jews -- 'ada' -- was a common custom in much of the Arab world, from the Maghreb to Yemen, Jerusalem not excepted.
When the Turks occupied Yemen (1872) they asked an assembly of Muslim leaders to stop Muslim children throwing stones at Jews. The answer was that the practice was an old religious custom called “Ada,” and could not be forbidden. (see Persecution of the Jews Under Islam )
Such customs and traditions form a cultural backdrop for anti-Semitism. However, we cannot draw a straight line of causation from Jew hate in pre-modern Islam to modern Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism. The Ottoman Turks were for the most part not anti-Semites, and their implementation of the Pact of Umar - the law that set out the rights and limitations of dhimmi (Jews and Christians) was usually benign and sometimes benevolent. Notably, the Ottoman Empire became a haven for Jews escaping the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition. In Iran and Iraq the Jews enjoyed many, many centuries of relatively untroubled existence. They preserved their way of life and prospered. Of course, they were not allowed to aspire to an independent national life, it was out of the question for the Jewish or Christian religions to be on an equal footing with Islam. There would never be and could never be a Jewish general in an Arab or Muslim country, nor could there be a Jewish head of state. This was certainly no worse than the situation in Christian Europe until the 19th century. More than that, unlike the situation in Europe, it is certainly true that in Muslim countries the Jews, of all peoples, were never singled out for hate in particular, as opposed to idol-worshippers, Christians or others. It is probable that Turks for example, hated Greek Christians or Armenians in many periods far more than they hated Jews.
Likewise, one cannot attribute Islamist Jew-hate to the Quran and Hadiths, though there are surely many racist statements there, and though Islamists would like us to believe that their ideology has a firm "religious" basis. True, the Qur'an contains many colorful and explicit injunctions against Jews. We can argue whether these are more or less virulent than the injunctions of the Old Testament against gentiles, or the opinions of the fathers of the Christian Church concerning Jews. In any case, it is certain that these Quranic injunctions were almost never invoked in the cause of persecuting Jews in daily life in Muslim countries, beyond the every day humiliation and degradation that the were the universal lot of Jews in the best of times in Medieval Europe. Anyone who wants to hate Jews or other groups can usually find ample bases in religious scriptures, which those who do not find messages of brotherly love. Protestantism begat the Jew hate of Luther and the 19th century German protestant church. Catholicism begat the inquisition. However, Protestantism equally begat Christian Zionism and Catholicism begat Pope John XXIII and ecumenism. Religion can provide the excuse and cultural referents for an ideology of Jew-hatred, but it is apparently not the cause.
Tacit disapproval of Jews and a lower status for Jews were always part of Muslim and Christian culture in the best of times. Virulent Jew-hate of the type evident today in many Muslim and Arab countries was not consistently a part of traditional Muslim culture. If the Islamists have adopted a virulent form of Jew hate, we have to seek the cause, rather than the justification, beyond the Quran and religious teaching. The current anti-Semitism of Arab and Muslim countries is not explained wholly by history or religion.
Palestine and Zionism
The facile explanation of Muslim and Arab anti-Semitism is that it is caused by Zionism. According to the standard "Impact of Zionism" myth, Jews and Muslims lived in peace and harmony for over a thousand years, enjoying the benefits of the Sha'riah, until the Zionists came along, expropriated the land of the poor hapless Palestinians and kicked them out of Palestine. Naturally, according to this myth, "the Arabs" and "the Muslims" became angry at "the Jews." It can easily be shown that this convenient myth is false:
Arab anti-Semitism preceded the advent of Zionism - By 1840, there had been a blood-libel in Damascus. Apparently, there had also been one in the previous century. There might or might not have been a single pro-Zionist in the vicinity of Damascus at the time. There is no way that this anti-Semitism could have been caused by Zionism.
Palestinian Arab anti-Semitism and Racism were at their worst prior to 1948 - The worst excesses of Arab racism in Palestine were directed against the Jews of Palestine between 1920 and 1947. There had been no "Nakba" - no mass exodus or expulsion or expropriation of Arabs. During the British Mandate, the Arabs of Palestine prospered economically and demographically and benefited from Zionist investment. Only a tiny portion, less perhaps than would normally be affected in a country undergoing relatively rapid industrialization, experienced displacement (see Zionism and Its Impact ) Propagandists like Grand Mufti Hajj Amin El Husseini manufactured the myth of imminent expulsion from the very beginning of the British Mandate. The propaganda fell on willing ears. In 1921, before the Mandate was officially established, Musa Khazem al Husseini told Winston Churchill:
The Jews have been amongst the most active advocates of destruction in many lands... It is well known that the disintegration of Russia was wholly or in great part brought about by the Jews, and a large proportion of the defeat of Germany and Austria must also be put at their door.
Musa Khazem El Husseini, Mayor of Jerusalem to Winston Churchill, March 1921, quoted in Benny Morris, Righteous Victims, Knopf 1999 Page 99.
In one blow, as it were, this quote from Musa Khazem el Husseini, and there are others like it, demolishes all the favorite themes of apologists for Arab anti-Semitism. There is no evidence in this quote of the hypothetical esteem and respect that the Arabs supposedly had for Jews (as opposed to Zionists). If Jews and Muslims had lived together in harmonious bliss, it is not at all evident in the above, nor can it be claimed that Arabs differentiated between Jews and Zionists, and directed their hate only at the latter.
The riots of the 1920s organized by Hajj Amin El Husseini and Aref el Aref such as the Nebi musa riots, Riots and Massacres of 1929 and the so called "Arab Revolt" of 1936-9 were directed at Jews, not Zionists. The riots of 1929 in particular, were not touched off by Jewish immigration, but rather by hysterical rumors that "the Jews" were planning to build a synagogue near the wailing wall, a traditional place of Jewish worship. The crowds screamed itbach al yahood (murder the Jews) and nashrab dam al yahood (we will drink the blood of the Jews) rather than anti-Zionist slogans. They did not particularly attack Zionist settlements. In the main, in most of the disturbances during mandatory times, they fell on Jewish communities that had existed for hundreds of years, consisting mostly of Sephardic "Arab" Jews who were supposedly the beneficiaries of Muslim love and tolerance: the Jewish quarter in the old city of Jerusalem, Tiberias, Safed and Hebron. All this happened before there was a Nakba (flight/expulsion of Palestinians in 1948) before there was an occupation, before there was an Israel. It began before there were Zionists. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict was not caused by Zionism as such. It assumed the violent and implacable proportions that it has today because of anti-Semitism.
Palestinian Arabs are less racist and anti-Semitic than most other Arabs and many other Muslims and they have generally become progressively less racist since the occupation began in 1967. Palestinian Arabs in Gaza told me that before 1967, growing up as children, they simply didn't know what Jews were. They were very surprised to meet actual Jews and find that Jews do not have horns and tails. One could understand the personal bitterness of a Palestinian Arab refugee. The fury of a Malaysian politician or a Saudi Sheikh against Jews is far less comprehensible. This hate was present before 1948, as evidenced by the statements of King Saud to George Dickson in 1937.
The Arabs of Palestine did not hate the Turks - The issue was not foreign domination. The Arabs of Jerusalem, Acre and Gaza had been under Ottoman Turkish rule since the sixteenth century. Though there were rebellions of the Arabs of Palestine against Turkish and Egyptian rule of the Sanjak of Acre and the special district of Jerusalem as they were styled by the Turks, there was never any vehement hatred of the Turks.
Arabs and Muslims did not object to British control of Palestine, or British control of Jerusalem - The issue was not domination by people of another religion. Arabs objected only to Jewish control. In 1917, Jerusalem and all of "the Holy Land" were conquered by the British. Palestinian Arab agitation thereafter was directed almost exclusively at the Jews. The Arabs of Palestine and the Muslim world in general did not raise objections to British control of the holy places in Jerusalem, and only grew to hate the British because they were viewed as agents of Jewish aspirations.
Roots of Modern Muslim and Arab anti-Semitism
The roots of Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism, that is, the cultural and ideological sources are eclectic:
All of these sources serve as a repository of ideas, folklore and cultural referents for development and dissemination of Jew-hate and "anti-Zionism." . However, these different and opposing ideologies and religious ideas obviously cannot be the causes of anti-Semitism. If the causes had been religious, then Arab socialists would not be anti-Semitic. Were the causes in socialist ideology, then religious Muslims would not be anti-Semitic.
Causes of Muslim and Arab anti-Semitism
It appears that the causes of modern Muslim and Arab anti-Semitism are different from its "roots." Rather than the Qur'an or Israel, it is more likely that the causes of anti-Semitism in the Arab world are the same as its causes in the Western world.
In Europe, anti-Semitism reached its peak not in the Middle Ages, but rather in the 19th and twentieth centuries. It was in this period that Germans coined the word "anti-Semitism" in fact. This was the period of the pogroms in Russia, the virulent anti-Semitism of the Polish nationalist government, and of course, the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust in Germany.
The enlightenment, democracy and the industrial revolution produced enormous and threatening economic changes and instability. These included mass movements of populations from the countryside to the cities, loss of traditional wealth and status due to land ownership in favor of commercial interests, rising consciousness of group and culture due to rising nationalism, threats to traditional authority by the rise of literacy and universal suffrage, volatile economies that could turn huge portions of the population into paupers overnight and population explosions. This combination resulted in large numbers of people who were, in times of depression, hungry and insecure.
It was not only the "petit bourgeoisie," the lower middle class of classical Marxist analyses, who felt threatened. Workers felt threatened by loss of jobs. Clerics were threatened by loss of authority to science and literacy. Aristocrats were threatened by loss of wealth and loss of political power to the rising middle class. Peasants, tenant farmers and small holders were evicted by enclosure acts or sold out because their land was more productive in other uses, and their labor could generate more wealth in factories. They lost the security of their farms and the agrarian way of life. Everyone hated the new system and the new way of doing things, yet nobody could really stop it and almost nobody really wanted to return to the middle ages. This was true of Europe a hundred years ago, and surely it is even more true of the Muslim and Arab worlds today. Many inveigh against "globalization" "the Americans" "the Jews" and technology, but few want to give up the airplane, the cell phone and the printing press.
In fact, it is interesting that the self-image of the 19th and early 20th century was far more modern than the reality. Most people still lived in the country and made their living by agriculture, particularly in Russia. Life expectancies were still no more than 50 or 60 years. Infant mortality rates were five ten or twenty times modern levels. In many ways, if we describe Europe of 100 years ago, we are also describing the Muslim and Arab world of today - Literacy rates of 70%, infant mortality of 30 to 50 per thousand, extremely uneven division of wealth and acculturation to modernity are the rule between the Mediterranean and the Indus river, and in Muslim South Asia as well.
In Europe of those days, as in the Middle East of today, Distribution of wealth and its benefits was extremely uneven and the differences, thanks to modern communication and transportation, became increasingly evident. Peasants who plowed with a horse, used an outhouse and ate dinner by candle light coexisted in the same societies as Kaiser Wilhelm and his dreadnought war ships, fancy automobiles, radio and the cinema. The real victims of "Modern Times" were not only Chaplinesque characters performing rote work in factories until they were fired, but also the majority of peasants in Europe who had been entirely passed by by the industrial revolution, and were finding it increasingly difficult to stay afloat in its wake. Better medical care gave them more mouths to feed, but no way to feed them. The cinema showed them all the riches of the new world, but gave them no way to attain them.
Modern society promised much more than it could deliver immediately, and the rules of game changed constantly, resulting in enormous social tensions and frustrations. Literacy was by no means universal and the education of most people was confined to "functional literacy" in the best case. Their ability to conceptualize and understand arguments and issues was grounded in what they knew - traditional teachings, folklore and an often irrational worship of "science" and "progress," and "democracy" "the people" ("volk") without understanding the full implications of any of those terms or seeing how they could be used or misused. The great surprise of universal (male) suffrage was that the ruling classes, contrary to their worst fears, were not voted out of office. Incomprehensibly, German and French and British workers voted time and again for governments that operated against their best interests, sent them off to fight wars in India and Crimea for the enrichment or protection of private firms and kept wages low and social conditions virtually nonexistent. The aberrations of modern Arab and Muslim populations should therefore not be surprising in any way. These populations were easily swayed by demagogues, and indeed, the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were the age of the demagogue, the dictator and the "great leader" : Louis Napoleon, Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, Franco and Hitler. Men like these inevitably replaced more staid aristocracies or failed democracies in societies where feudalism could no longer function, and democracy could not yet operate. Democracy was too weak to handle any major crisis in most of these countries. The Kerensky government in Russia had no middle class behind it, because the Russian "bourgeoisie" existed mostly in the head of Lenin. Russia had no industry to speak of and therefore had no real "bourgeoisie."
Where is the bourgeoisie and the large literate proletariat in Syria or Egypt or Iran or even Iraq who will support true democracy? It is still developing, very slowly, but it is not in place yet. The pressures are much greater because these societies are not true analogues of European development of 100 years ago. They cannot afford to slowly evolve from inefficient to efficient industries, because inefficient industries cannot compete with modern ones. They cannot develop food supply as their population increases, because antibiotics and modern medicine are already cutting mortality rates. They do not have the agricultural base of European societies, so they cannot feed large populations. Thanks to satellite television, fellahin in the remotest corners of the Middle East can see the intimate details of modern life, its appurtenances, opulence and gadgets. They can see, but for the most part they can't have. This does not mean that it is necessarily these poor peasants who will be the source of suicide bombers and anti-Semitic ideology, any more than the Soviet revolution was led by poor and illiterate workers. They require leadership, and there is always someone there to exploit their need.
Virulent anti-Semitism, along with Fascist and dictatorial communist movements, was one outlet for the frustrations of the modern era. Certainly this is not a new thesis. Admittedly, we do not understand perfectly why it is so, but it is certainly true, and there are suggestive hints as to the reasons. The Jew was the perfect outsider. Science could be discredited by clerics as "Jewish." This served to discredit Jews because they were impious, and science because it was Jewish. Human rights and socialism could be discredited by ruling classes as Jewish. Jews who were allies of the ruling class, such as land agents in Eastern Europe, were objects of hate for the peasants. All Jews were hated as agents of landlords, or bankers, though most Jews engaged in neither of these trades. This served to discredit Jews because they were capitalists or agents of landlords, and landlords and capitalists because they were supposedly Jews. Marx insisted that the Jews worshipped money. Capitalism was therefore Jewish. If Jews joined revolutionary groups, then obviously, it must be because they were Jewish and therefore not loyal to the nation, the narod, the volk, the oumma. This served to discredit Jews because they were revolutionaries, and the revolution, democracy and human rights because they were supposedly Jewish. Which curse is more effective, "All Jews are Communists" or "Communism is Jewish?" Take your pick.
Few would be foolish enough to imagine that Louis Napoleon was the inheritor of Charlemagne, Hitler the spiritual scion of Odoacar, the German who deposed the last Roman emperor of the West or Mussolini the heir of Julius Caesar: Osama Bin Laden and the Mullahs of Iran are not the restorers of the Caliphs either. History does not reverse itself. It is fatuous to assert that the Nazis really believed in Thor and Wotan and Loki and wanted to really recreate ancient Teutonic and Norse society. Mussolini was not really going to recreate the Roman Empire. Every demagogue drew on the old myths and folktales and cultural referents. It is equally improbable that Islamist and Jihadist religious precepts and anti-Semitism are a resuscitation of Quranic law and Islamic society under the caliphate.
It is not necessary to invoke either the special influences of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or of Quranic and Islamic tradition, though these are complicating factors, in order to understand Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism. Islamism, Pan-Arabism and Baathism as the counterparts of Communism and Fascism. They adopted anti-Semitism for the same reasons, and in virtually the same way. We can understand, or fail to understand, Arab world anti-Semitism on the same basis and to the same extent as we understand or fail to understand European anti-Semitism. \
However, that does not mean that Arab anti-Semitism exists only because it was imported from elsewhere. True, the Arabs adopted and adapted some Christian anti-Semitic themes such as the blood libel and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. However, the cultural antecedents of modern Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism were laid down in the Quran and the Hadiths. Quranic injunctions not to befriend Jews or Christians, and the Hadith of the trees, which claims that at judgment day the Muslims will slaughter all the Jews, were sufficient cultural background for any anti-Semitic or racist campaign. It is not the case apparently that an innocent Muslim society was contaminated with racism by contact with the West. Rather, Muslim societies borrowed Christian anti-Semitic themes because these were convenient and satisfied a societal requirement. In the reports of Muslim and Arab anti-Semitism, we can find abundant examples of anti-Semitic culture that are unquestionable of native Arab and Muslim origin, and have nothing whatever to do with Christianity. For example, from Racist Saudi textbooks distributed in the United States:
"As cited in Ibn Abbas: The apes are Jews, the people of the Sabbath; while the swine are the Christians, the infidels of the communion of Jesus."
"God told His Prophet, Muhammad, about the Jews, who learned from parts of God's book [the Torah and the Gospels] that God alone is worthy of worship. Despite this, they espouse falsehood through idol-worship, soothsaying, and sorcery. In doing so, they obey the devil. They prefer the people of falsehood to the people of the truth out of envy and hostility. This earns them condemnation and is a warning to us not to do as they did."
"They are the Jews, whom God has cursed and with whom He is so angry that He will never again be satisfied [with them]."
"Some of the people of the Sabbath were punished by being turned into apes and swine. Some of them were made to worship the devil, and not God, through consecration, sacrifice, prayer, appeals for help, and other types of worship. Some of the Jews worship the devil. Likewise, some members of this nation worship the devil, and not God."
There is no good purpose to be served by being polite, avoiding the issue or blaming Arab racism on Christianity. Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism can only be eradicated after it is first recognized and understood. That is first step.
Sources and Further Reading
Arab Anti-semitism 1997, Arab Anti-semitism 1998, Arab Anti-semitism 1999, Arab Anti-semitism 2001, Arab Anti-semitism 2002, Arab Anti-semitism 2003. Arab Anti-semitism 2004, Arab Anti-semitism 2005, Arab Anti-semitism 2006, Arab Anti-semitism 2007, Arab Anti-semitism 2008 .Anti-Zionist Quotes, Mahathir Muhammad Speech 2003 , Racism in Saudi Texts, Jews and Muslims in Post-Israel Middle East - Azzam Tamimi, The Problem of Muslim Anti-Semitism - Irfan Khawaja
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