Palestine and the tiger of terrorism: anti-semitism and history
AS THIS ARTICLE APPEARS tens of millions of Muslims throughout the Arab world have almost finished marking the holy month of Ramadan in the manner which has now become customary. Not only have they been fasting from dawn to dusk but they have also been watching a great deal of television. This year a 41-part drama series shown during Ramadan has ignited international controversy.
�Knight without a Horse� tells how in 1906 an Egyptian, fighting the British occupation of his country, stumbles on a document which reveals a secret international Jewish conspiracy for global domination.
The document is none other than the Protocols of the Elders of Zion which was originally created by the Russian secret police at the end of the nineteenth century and was circulated in 1919 to delegates at the Versailles peace conference. The work (whose translation into English was sponsored in America by Henry Ford) purports to reveal an international Jewish plot to take over the government of the world. Once the most widely distributed book after the Bible, and a crucial influence on Hitler, it was long ago discredited in the Western world.
The Egyptian television blockbuster, however, treats this anti-semitic
forgery as genuine and blames the creation of the state of Israel
on the machinations of a sinister Jewish world-conspiracy. Its unashamed
anti-semitism gave rise to international protests which included a US
senate resolution. The fact that the series went ahead regardless has
strengthened the arguments of those who have portrayed militant Islam as
the new fascism.
the �root causes�, says Mark Steyn,
the massacre in Bali was part of the continuing Islamofascist war against
the West, and those who ignore it are sleepwalking to national suicide.
The charge that militant Islam is inherently anti-semitic is, or should be, a deeply disturbing one. The first question we need to ask is �is it true?�. My impression is that this question tends to be avoided (or at least not adequately addressed) by commentators such as John Pilger, Robert Fisk and Noam Chomsky who have written most critically about the war on terrorism. If so, the omission is a dangerous one, for it leaves extraordinarily powerful ammunition in the sole possession of those who are the advocates of war. Those advocates sometimes seem, on this issue, to be seeing reality more clearly than their opponents do. If we are to redress the balance we need to reconsider the entire question of Islamic anti-semitism.
The case of
Osama bin Laden is itself instructive. In a series of television
interviews which he gave before the attacks on New York and Washington, he
made it quite clear that, although America may be the prime target for the
killings which he has deliberately incited, the Jihad he supports is
directed against a shadowy alliance of �Jews and Crusaders�. He refers to
this elsewhere as �the external archenemy, the Crusader-Jewish alliance�.
Read carefully his pronouncements suggest that the ultimate enemy of
extremist Islam is a sinister power of which America is supposedly but the
puppet � the Jews. �The leaders in America,� bin Laden says, �have fallen
victim to Jewish Zionist blackmail.� Inside the Pentagon and the CIA, �the
Jews have the upper hand . . . They make use of America to further their
plans for the world, especially the Islamic world.�
demonological anti-semitism, which is almost a religion in itself, remains
essentially destructive, however seemingly just the cause in which it is
deployed. To demonise your enemy is to confuse issues, destroy moral
judgment, and block rational analysis. Such demonisation, which invisibly
licenses terrible acts of destruction, will pervert or corrupt any cause.
We have seen the results in the mutilated bodies of Israelis blown up by
suicide bombers; in the ruins of the twin towers in Manhattan as rescue
workers sifted through rubble for body parts; or in the night-club in Bali
after the recent mass slaughter. As Eduardo Galeano has written, �In the
battle between good and evil it is always the people that get killed.�
the argument about demonisation cuts both ways. Merely to
anathematise Islamic terrorists as �evil� is in itself to demonise an
enemy in a manner which risks deepening and intensifying the very moral
wrong which is condemned. The question which we need to ask at the same
time that we oppose it, is why anti-semitism has taken root within Islam.
For demonological anti-semitism is not an Islamic tradition; it is a
specifically western, Christian invention of which the racial
anti-semitism that emerged at the end of the 19th century was a modified
and secularised version.
The future of the Jewish people
and their Zionist project to settle in Palestine was, in the view of
Arthur Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary and author of the Balfour
Declaration of 1917, �of far profounder import than the desires and
prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land�.
Montagu, who also raised concerns about the fate of the �Mahommedans� then living in Palestine, may never have anticipated the extent to which European anti-semitism, having played such a significant role in providing the new Zionist colony with its population, would be adopted by Palestinian Arabs. Yet from the 1920s onwards this is what happened.
The most damaging development
in this respect was itself the result of western meddling. When the Mufti
(religious leader) of Jerusalem died in 1921, the recently appointed
British Governor, Sir Herbert Samuel, took charge of appointing a
successor, inventing the new title of �Grand Mufti�.
Then, during the 1930s, a large
part of the Arab world was naturally drawn towards Germany. The Middle
East had been effectively taken over since 1918 by Britain and France.
Now, Germany, which had itself been humiliated by the Versailles treaty,
seemed set to humiliate the humiliators. German anti-semitic propaganda
almost immediately began to be used by Arab campaigners against the
Zionist colony which British anti-semitism had helped to establish.
Although such propaganda disappeared from Europe after the end of the war it continued to circulate in the Arab world. In Egypt anti-semitism was taken up not only by Nasser, but also, in a particularly violent form, by Sayyid Qutb, the western-influenced ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood whom Nasser executed and who, more than anyone else, shaped the thinking of modern, militant Islam including that of bin Laden himself. In Qutb�s view, Jews, who had always rebelled against God, were inherently evil: �From such creatures who kill, massacre and defame prophets, one can only expect the spilling of human blood and dirty means which would further their machinations and evilness.�
What this intricate story should serve to demonstrate is that the destructive form which anti-semitism has now assumed within militant Islam, though it undoubtedly does have precursors in the Koran and in Muslim tradition, is not authentically Islamic; this new form of anti-semitism is distinctively western. Certainly, the dreams of world-domination which drive extreme Islamists have been there from the beginning. But such dreams are not unique to Islam; they are the common property of all three Abrahamic faiths. For, in that they look forward to a time when the entire world will bow down to the God they worship, Judaism, Christianity and Islam have always been, at their scriptural core, ideologies of world-domination. It was in the Christian tradition alone that the fantasy of world-domination was denied and projected onto the Jewish people.
Because the historical origins
of Islamic anti-semitism are so complex it is simplistic and unhelpful to
refer, as Christopher Hitchens has done, to �fascism with an Islamic
face�. By using this formula, Hitchens � like George Bush announcing a war
against �evil� �� intensifies the progressive demonisation of extremist
Islam which has been going on for many years. And Hitchens�s solution is
as chilling as that of the Arab anti-semites. �It is impossible,� he
writes, �to compromise with the proponents of sacrificial killing of
civilians, the disseminators of anti-Semitic filth, the violators of women
and the cheerful murderers of children � In confronting such people, the
crucial thing is to be willing and able, if not in fact eager, to kill
them without pity before they can get started.�
What Jabotinski implicitly
recognised was that any attempt to settle on land already occupied by
another national group was inherently aggressive and would inevitably be
perceived in this way. Although the initial Zionist colonisation of
Palestine was achieved almost entirely by peaceful means, Jabotinski was
entirely correct in anticipating that the Palestinians would increasingly
resort to violence in an attempt to preserve their ownership of a land
which they naturally considered theirs both by history and by right. In
doing so they were reacting not so much to the acts of Zionism, but to its
evident colonial intentions. Within the Zionist movement these were
sometimes made explicit. As David Ben Gurion put it in 1936: �I favour
partition of the country because when we become a strong power after the
establishment of the state, we will abolish partition and spread
The state of Israel itself was established only after a campaign of deliberate killing which was waged against the British military in order to force them to withdraw and allow the creation of an Israeli state. When, in February 1947, the British government effectively conceded that Palestine was ungovernable and handed the entire problem over to the United Nations, this goal was within grasp. Once the UN had voted to partition Palestine, however, in November 1947, the Jewish colonists found themselves under attack from a Liberation Army assembled by the Arabs. It would seem clear that this Liberation Army was, to some degree at least, driven not simply by considerations of self-preservation, but also by anti-semitism. As Azzam Pasha, secretary-general of the Arab League, said in a radio broadcast: �This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre.�
The ensuing conflict almost
inevitably led into a spiral of violence. In April 1948, after a number of
Arab attacks on Jewish settlements, the two most extreme Zionist
organisations, the Irgun and the Stern Gang, attacked the Arab village of
Deir Yassin outside Jerusalem in reprisal. After a fierce battle, a
horrific massacre took place during which as many as two hundred men,
women, children and old people were killed and their bodies mutilated.
Although Menachem Begin, the leader of the Irgun, cannot have known at
this point the details of what had taken place, his reaction was
nevertheless significant. He sent out his congratulations �on this
splendid act of conquest .... As at Deir Yassin, so everywhere, we will
attack and smite the enemy. God, God thou hast chosen us for conquest.�
Given such treatment it was only to be expected that Palestinians would
react like any group of dispossessed people. And that both sides
should increasingly succumb to extremist leaders or factions who saw in
violence the only solution to their conflict.
The great danger of the left�s omissions, and in particular its failure to engage with the problem of Arab anti-semitism, is that Hitchens, Sullivan and all those commentators who have characterised their opponents as �Islamofascist�, are currently succeeding in persuading many people of what is false by urging upon them what is true.
Contrary to what they suggest,
the greatest threat to world peace we now face is not that posed by
Islamist dreams of world-domination; it is that which is posed by our
failure to understand that these cruel and destructive dreams are
themselves intimately related - by a complex process of reciprocal
influence - to western fantasies of world-domination.
As the history of Islamic anti-semitism enters a new phase and the myth of the Protocols is disseminated further through the Arab world by a television blockbuster, the partial truths which Hitchens and Sullivan have enunciated so fiercely cannot be dispensed with.
But the idea that there is some kind of autonomous �Islamofascism� which can be crushed, or that the West may defend itself against the terrorists who threaten it by cultivating that eagerness to kill militant Muslims which Hitchens urges upon us, is a dangerous delusion.
The symptoms that have led some
to apply the label of �Islamofascism� are not reasons to forget root
causes. They are reasons for us to examine even more carefully than we
have done up to now what those causes actually are.
'When anti-semitism is no longer treated as
Jewish business, to be taken care of by Israel and the rightwing Zionist
lobby, Sharon is robbed of his most effective weapon in the indefensible
and increasingly brutal occupation.'
Article from Ha'aretz (the liberal-progressive Israeli newspaper). In it Tariq Ramadan, a Muslim and the grandson of Hassan Al-Bana, founder of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, speaks out against anti-semitism.
Samah Jabr is a young Palestinian doctor who was born and brought up in Jerusalem where she still lives and works. A child during the first Intifada, she reflects here upon the second, taking as her starting point the kind of defamation and demonisation for which there is no convenient name like 'anti-semitism' but which is just as dangerous and just as destructive:
'During the horror that faces us daily on the West Bank, these are some of the interviews heard on television.
Said one Israeli settler when asked how he felt about the death of 12-year-old Muhammad Al-Durra, a Palestinian boy in Gaza: "Our kids are the kids of God; theirs are the kids of Satan."
"They [Palestinians] are not humans...they are animals," said another . . . '.
In her article Jabr goes on, with simple and
moving eloquence, to convey the human tragedy of present-day Palestine.
Here Jabr explores the central moral dilemma
of all those who find themselves victims of oppression - how to resist
those who demonise you without demonising them in return:
'We will win the cultural battle only if we don�t fail to see the human in our enemy, and if we preserve the moral aspect of our cause. When we rise above the atrocities we have been exposed to, and never subject others to them, we�ll never get psychologically defeated . . . We are a nation of unarmed civilians and although a nuclear power like Israel can surely win the military battle, and kill most of us, no military power can destroy our love, pride and dignity.'
How can it be that, in the first section of a
web bibliography about Israel and Palestine which is headed 'introductory
essentials' there are (including this one) five articles written by
Palestinians or Muslims and only one (which is also critical of Israel) by
a writer who is Jewish?
Said goes on to say this:
'In the American mind, analogies with South Africa's liberation struggle or with the horrible fate of the Native Americans most emphatically do not occur. We must make those analogies above all by humanising ourselves and thus reversing the cynical, ugly process whereby American columnists like Charles Krauthammer and George Will audaciously call for more killing and bombing of Palestinians, a suggestion they would not dare do for any other people. Why should we passively accept the fate of flies or mosquitoes, to be killed wantonly with American backing any time war criminal Sharon decides to wipe out a few more of us?'
Said then relays the news that the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) is, at the time he writes, about to launch 'an unprecedented public information campaign in the mass media to redress the balance and present the Palestinians as human beings - can you believe the irony of such a necessity? - as women who are teachers and doctors as well as mothers, men who work in the field and are nuclear engineers, as people who have had years and years of military occupation and are still fighting back.'
'This new ADC campaign,' Said writes, 'sets
out to restore [to the Palestinians] their history and humanity, to show
them (as they have always been) as people "like us", fighting for the
right to live in freedom, to raise their children, to die in peace. Once
even the glimmerings of this story penetrate the American consciousness,
the truth will, I hope, begin to dissipate the vast cloud of evil
propaganda with which Israel has covered reality. . . And then, we can
by Uri Avnery
Uri Avnery, a leading figure in the Israeli peace movement, argues that, because of the policies of Sharon, Jewish people throughout the world are trapped in a dangerous vicious circle: 'Sharon's actions create repulsion and opposition throughout the world. These reinforce anti-Semitism. Faced with this danger, Jewish organizations are pushed into defending Israel and giving it unqualified support. This support enables the anti-Semites to attack not only the government of Israel, but the local Jews, too. And so on.'
Literature professor Jacqueline Rose reflects on a recent visit to Israel.
Israeli peace movement
by Bernard Lewis
The Middle East Media Research Institute. For a critical perspective on the role of this organisation, see Brian Whitaker's Guardian article,
Long-established Jewish organisation campaiging against anti-semitism. Commentary to follow.
The Daniel Pipes think-tank which unashamedly declares as its aim that of working 'to define and promote American interests in the Middle East'. This includes seeking 'a stable supply and a low price of oil'.
An internet based group, whose 'goal is to
weave a world-wide web of Arabs, Jews and others who want to build a new
Middle East based on coexistence and neighborly relations'.
� Richard Webster, 2002