the very appropriately-named David Nice: Madu, if you don’t mind me asking, I have a very important question.
Madu Sogoba: Fire away.
D: Why are the Jews so clever?
M: Um… I’m not really sure what you mean by that.
D: You Jewish people, you are all so clever! Copernicus, Galileo, Einstein – all Jews!
M: That’s… incorrect. Copernicus and Galileo were Catholics – Copernicus studied astronomy under the Polish Church, and the Pope excommunicated Galileo from the Church because he said that the Earth revolved around the Sun. Galileo and Copernicus definitely weren’t Jewish.
D: But Einstein! He was a Jew!
M: Yes, Albert Einstein was certainly a Jew. He fled from Germany when the Nazis came to power, and then when the State of Israel was founded a lot of Jews there wanted Einstein to be the first Israeli President.
D: OK, so the Jewish people are only the people of Einstein. All clever! There are no dumb people among you – why is that?
M: No, that’s not true at all. There are lots of Jewish people who are really, really dumb; for example, the fanatics who are stealing Palestinians’ farmlands to colonize the West Bank – even most Israelis think that the settlers are frickin’ morons.
D: So except for Israeli settlers in the West Bank, the Jewish people are for the most part very clever, more clever than other people. Why is that?
M: I’m still not exactly sure what you mean by that. Do you mean “clever” as in intelligent, or “clever” as in scheming and mischievous? The former I would take a compliment, but the latter could be construed as somewhat malicious.
D: No, no… not crafty like weasels… I mean that you Jewish people are all so clever, you have discovered how to make complicated things such as the atomic bomb. We have not the atomic bomb in Africa – we have neither the tools nor the scientific knowledge. Only the Jews could build such an enormous weapon out of tiny, little atoms. How do you do it?
M: I don’t know how to build an atomic bomb.
D: What do you mean - you don’t know how to construct an atomic bomb? But you Jews invented the thing!
M: If I knew how to make an atomic bomb, do you think I would be digging shit holes here in Mali?
D: OK, you, Madu Sogoba, do not know how to build an atomic bomb. But you Jews can do so many other things, difficult things which other peoples cannot – Therefore you are all so clever. You have found so many ways of making money! So many ways of finding power! If only we Bambaras could have found these ways!
M: Alright, that is kind of true. We Jews do have disproportionate weight in the diamond district, the banking sector, Wall Street, Hollywood, journalism, psychiatry, dentistry and orthodontics… Much of that is because for millennia we have been shut out of official government power, and so the Jewish people place great emphasis on professional education of our children so that we can find lucrative careers in the private sector regardless of the whims of the King.
D: What king? There is no king in America! You have President Barack Obama! Jews in America have no reason to fear no king.
M: It’s a figure of speech… But it’s based on fact. Throughout history from Egypt to Babylon to Persia to Greece to Rome to Spain to Russia to Nazi Germany – we Jews have traditionally been held as slaves, banished to distant lands or systematically murdered in government-orchestrated extermination campaigns. That’s why we have been perpetually migrating from country to country all over the world in what we call the Diaspora. Maybe we Jews have had to become particularly clever as an evolutionary adaptation?
D: But here in Mali there is no king! Here the people are free to be any religion they want! But before you I have not met one Jew. Why have the Jews not migrated to Mali?
M: Actually, some did. Perhaps as early as the 12th century Jewish merchants traveled from Morocco to trade in the fabled markets of Timbuktu, and they eventually carved out a monopoly over the overland trade route. Some Jewish merchants eventually left members of their caravans behind in Timbuktu to establish ties with local gold and salt retailers. When the King of Spain declared in 1492 that all of his Jewish subjects had to either convert to Christianity or leave his kingdom, many Sephardic Jews left for Morocco and some continued south and found refuge with the existing community in Timbuktu.
D: But I hear nothing of these Jews of Timbuktu! Why have I not met them?
M: Well, at first the Malian Emperor like his Moroccan counterpart accepted the influx of Jewish merchants and their financial know-how with open arms. But within the year of 1492 a new Emperor Askia Mohammed assumed the Malian throne - like the Spanish king, Emperor Askia Mohammed dictated that the Jews must convert or flee.
D: What did they do?
M: Most of the Jews of Timbuktu converted to Islam, and their descendents have acted as practicing Muslims ever since.
D: No, Muslims should pray as Muslims, Christians should pray as Christians, Jews should pray as Jews! Why did the Timbuktu Jews not continue the Jewish religion?
M: Then they would have been exiled to the Sahara Desert where they would have probably died of dehydration - Or the Emperor would have had them killed. So they practiced Islam for many centuries - and told their children about their true identity only in secret. Only now some of them are beginning to practice Judaism in public once again.
D: Very clever, those Jews!
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