February 19, 2006

In Search of a New Antisemitism

Hatched by Dafydd

Bernard Lewis, Arabist extraordinaire and author of What Went Wrong? : The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East, has authored a new article about something else that has gone wrong: the New Antisemitism [HT to SJ from PL].

William F. Buckley famously went looking for antisemitism (my preferred spelling, explanations anon) in the halls of journalism and found it. Bernard Lewis is interested in its development in the Middle East. But he isn't concerned with just garden-variety dislike of Jews; he is after bigger game, the deep "cosmic hatred" of Jews... imputing to them Satanic evil that, in the mind of the antisemite, makes every Jew a walking crime against humanity.

Interestingly, and unexpectedly (based upon modern Arab societies), this sort of cosmic antisemitism did not exist among Arabs, argues Lewis, until the late nineteenth, early twentieth century -- and even then, they got it from the West:

Prejudices existed in the Islamic world, as did occasional hostility, but not what could be called anti-Semitism, for there was no attribution of cosmic evil. And on the whole, Jews fared better under Muslim rule than Christians did. This is the reverse of what one might expect. In the canonical history, in the Qur’an and the biography of the Prophet, Jews come out badly. The Prophet had more encounters with Jews than with Christians, so we find more negative statements about Jews than about Christians. The biography of the Prophet records armed clashes with Jews, and in those encounters it was the Jews who were killed. Muslims could therefore afford a more relaxed attitude toward Jews in the ensuing generations.

This is an interesting point, and I've been thinking about it since long before reading this piece by Lewis. Throughout most of the history of Islam, Jews were more or less comic relief, like the cowboy hero's lovable but foolish and cowardly sidekick in early Western serials. In the Koran, they rejected Mohammed -- who promptly gave them what for, crushing them for their impudence.

Thus, Moslems in general and Arab Moslems in particular could feel somewhat benevolent towards the Jews: the Jews had suffered for their rejectionism and they accepted their inferior status (not as slaves or really even dhimmi but as favored non-Moslems), so the Moslems of earlier centuries could feel complacent about them. Also, they posed no threat: there was no 17th, 18th, or 19th century Jewish superpower like the Christian superpowers, threatening the Islamic world. Thus Jews were tolerated; not equal, but tolerated.

But starting in the latter half of the nineteenth century, European antisemitism shifted from the religious prejudices of previous centuries to a "scientific" Jew-hatred that was race-based. Consciously antisemitic philosophers arose, primarily in Germany but elsewhere in Europe as well; and they began to associate Jews with a vicious and "cosmic" evil that was "in the blood," and could not be eradicated by mere conversion to Christianity.

The word "anti-Semitism" was first used in 19th century Germany. Despite its scientific-sounding reference to "Semitism," a linguistic term, rather than the religious term "Jews," the word always exclusively referred to Jew hatred; it was never used to mean hatred of Arabs. In fact, the Nazis personally reassured Rashid Ali al-Gailani, the Nazi-installed leader of Iraq until 1941, that German "anti-Semitism" was directed only at Jews, not Arabs, despite the fact that they too spoke a Semitic language. This is why I spell it "antisemitism," to make clear that disassociation.

The Nazis and other European Jew haters gave the Arabs the language of cosmic antisemitism; but the events of 1948 gave them a reason to resort to it. Despite European-style antisemitic writings and speeches, throughout the early 20th century, Arabs still thought of Jews as cowards and clowns, people to mock, not destroy. But when Israel raised her flag after the British lowered theirs in 1948, and five Arab armies swept confidently in to dispose of the insolent and impudent Jewish state -- the Arabs were crushed.

This had a bitter and lasting impact on their psyche:

It was then an appalling shock when five Arab armies were defeated by half a million Jews with very limited weaponry. It remains shameful, humiliating. This was mentioned at the time and has been ever since. One writer said: “It was bad enough to be conquered and occupied by the mighty empires of the West, the British Empire, the French Empire, but to suffer this fate at the hands of a few hundred thousand Jews was intolerable.”

How could "the Catastrophe" have happened? Was not Allah on the side of the Moslems? The only explanation available was that black magic must have been behind it... and somehow, the Arabs had to find the key to turning that magic back on the infidels who had bearded them in what they saw as their own land.

In my opinion, this humiliation (followed by three others in a quarter century) completed emasculated the Arabs. Their world turned upside down. Within a single lifetime, they went from masters of their domain to vassals of the great powers of Europe to being slapped around by the nascent Jewish state. This to the Arabs was like John Wayne being whupped by Gabby Hayes... and they can never live it down.

But since they can't do anything about it -- Israel is even stronger now, relative to the Arabs, than they were in 1967 -- they can do nothing but rant and rage. The "cosmic evil" they impute to the Jews now included Satanic powers to sap mighty warriors of their strength... and they desperately needed to find that magical Djinn lamp.

I personally believe that the nuclear weapon has taken on an almost totemic status among Arabs (and Iran): they see it as the Djinn who will finally grant them their deepest wish, avenging themselves upon the Jews for the humiliations of 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, and 1982. Thus the obsession of so many Arab states with developing, buying, or stealing nuclear weaponry. I don't think they imagine they can dictate terms to the United States with just a few measly nukes. But they may well believe Aladdin's bombs will once and for all eradicate the constant reminder of Arab failure and helplessness: Israel.

The Arabs likely also believe that if they destroyed Israel with nuclear weapons, the West may snort and bellow, but in the end, they will do nothing. Arabs have a great deal of history backing this up; as Lewis notes, Europe, the United Nations, and even the United States have stood by and done little or nothing about the blatant and explicit antisemitic ravings of Moslems from Gamal Nassir to Hamas to Mahmoud Ahmedinejad of Iran, who (in fine "cosmic evil" tradition) rejects the reality of the Holocaust and confidently promises to "wipe Israel off the map."

At the same time, the U.N. has done this literally: Kofi Annan spoke at an "International Day of Solidarity With the Palestinian People" last November -- standing in front of a map of the region from which Israel had simply been erased.

I do not believe the West would stand by and do nothing while the modern world was pulled down on top of its head. I know that is Mark Steyn's defining thesis, that the West will accept death or even slavery rather than stir a finger to defend itself. But Steyn has always been a raging pessimist at heart, and I suspect this thought comes not from the cortex but from the reptillian brainstem.

Today, John Hinderaker at Power Line posted this photograph of a protest in Pakistan by Moslems, presumably against the cosmically evil cartoons:

Pro-Hitler Pakistan protest sign

John asks, perhaps not rhetorically,

I wonder, though, why the sign is in English. We're apparently supposed to see and understand it, but how exactly could that help the Islamists' cause?

The answer is that its purpose is not to "help the Islamists' cause," but rather to serve as a triumphal ululation on posterboard. Moslems see themselves as rising; they see this as their time come round at last. They envision nuclear and CBW-armed Moslem nations regaining the upper hand over both the dangerous "crusaders" and the despicable Jews who humiliated Islam in 1948 by stubbornly refusing to fling themselves into the sea.

Arab and Persian Moslems see themselves standing on the verge of a "cosmic" victory over the West, when in fact they dance on the precipice of the most catastrophic defeat in human history, if they really push it as far as they seem to want. I think that's why it's been so hard to peel off moderate Moslems: they have, alas, begun to see themselves as invincible, unstoppable... so why would anyone want to desert the winning side?

Godwin or no Godwin, I must say that Moslem jihadis have become like Adolf Hitler: they imagine Destiny is on their side, and they are defiant and arrogant in victory. They believe their own propaganda... and that disease nearly always predicts cultural suicide.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, February 19, 2006, at the time of 11:57 PM

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Tracked on February 20, 2006 8:26 AM


The following hissed in response by: RBMN

Transcript of Pro-Lynne-Stewart Rally
featured speakers
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
San Francisco State University


Jess Ghannam:


We have to understand that, what is happening to Lynne Stewart, is connected intimately with what's happening in Iraq. What's happening to Lynne Stewart is intimately connected with what's happening in Palestine. What's happening to Lynne Stewart is intimately connected to what's happening in Philadelphia, to what's happening in Oakland, to the destruction and dismantlement of health care infrastructure for people of color. That when an Iraqi or a Palestinian loses their home, it's no different from what's happening in Philadelphia or in Oakland, when oppressed communities lose their homes or are being kicked out. All of these things are {applause}. Iraq is not the only place under occupation. Palestine is under occupation. San Francisco State is under occupation. {applause} Oakland is under occupation. I do believe in free speech, you know that deeply, and I see that we have our friends here, the College Republicans and the Israeli support community, here who are intimately connected with each other because we know that these are the two most brutal supporters of occupations in the world today. So it's no surprise {applause} that we have College Republicans and Israelis in bed together. What a surprising thing.

Cindy Sheehan:


I'm going all over the country telling moms: "This country is not worth dying for. If we're attacked, we would all go out. We'd all take whatever we had. I'd take my rolling pin and I'd beat the attackers over the head with it. But we were not attacked by Iraq. {applause} We might not even have been attacked by Osama bin Laden if {applause}. 9/11 was their Pearl Harbor to get their neo-con agenda through and, if I would have known that before my son was killed, I would have taken him to Canada. I would never have let him go and try and defend this morally repugnant system we have. The people are good, the system is morally repugnant. {applause}


What they're saying, too, is like, it's okay for Israel to have nuclear weapons. But Iran or Syria better not get nuclear weapons. It's okay for the United States to have nuclear weapons. It's okay for the countries that we say it's okay for. We are waging a nuclear war in Iraq right now. That country is contaminated. It will be contaminated for practically eternity now. It's okay for them to have them, but Iran or Syria can't have them. It's okay for Israel to occupy Palestine, but it's - yeah - and it's okay for Iraq to occupy - I mean, for the United States to occupy Iraq, but it's not okay for Syria to be in Lebanon. They're a bunch of f***ing hypocrites! And we need to, we just need to rise up. We need a revolution and make it be peaceful and make it be loving and let's just show them all the love we have for humanity because we want to stop the inhumane slaughter. {wild applause}

The above hissed in response by: RBMN [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 20, 2006 12:34 PM

The following hissed in response by: MTF

Brilliant post. I wonder what Lewis himself would think of your thesis.

Sadly, the "ululation on posterboard" will almost certainly become a broad, more physically violent conflict. That conflict will threaten the very survival of Islam, until eventually the Salafists are driven from their midst.

The above hissed in response by: MTF [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 22, 2006 12:14 PM

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