Saturday, December 30, 2006

The new Christmas myth

This Christmas, the international charity War on Want saw fit to print a seasonal greetings card on which Mary, Joseph and the Christ child were depicted as Palestinians subjected to oppressive treatment by Israeli soldiers beneath the shadow of the security 'wall'. I wrote to them, and then submitted a complaint to the Charitiies Commission, who will respond in due course. Here is the text of my covering letter to the CC, followed by the longish letter that went to War on Want.

Covering message:

I'm writing to ask whether the Commission does not agree that a Christmas card produced by the charity War on Want contravenes the Charities Act in respect of politicization. The card shows Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus being subjected to a security check by Israeli soldiers, and seeks to draw some sort of parallel between their plight and that of Palestinians in the West Bank. That such a link can be made I would not quite deny, but I am profoundly conscious of the imbalance such a linkage may create (and doubtless has created) in the minds of the uninformed, in that no context whatsoever is given for the security check. Inasmuch as IDF security checks are aimed at preventing terrorism and, in particular, suicide bombings, it is unlikely that a reasonable person would object to them, even though they do cause hardship to some. The UK has used similar checks for the same purpose, notably in Northern Ireland (where I have experienced them at first hand), but War on Want directs its message against Israel only, without regard for the actions of other countries and without reference to the homicidal nature of Palestinian terror attacks. Nor does the card even hint at the fact that much Palestinian poverty has come from high levels of corruption within the Fatah party when it was in control, or the blockage of funds by the US and EU because the current government of Hamas refuses to recognize Israel, cease violence, or enter peace negotiations. All this and more seem to me to make the political message conveyed by the War on Want card highly controversial and unbalanced. I have covered these and several other points in a letter to Payul Collins at War on Want, a copy of which is attached to this e-mail. Assuming that War on Want still seeks to combat poverty worldwide, their adoption of a biased political agenda rooted in one side of the political spectrum must surely be questioned. It fits, I fear, with War on Want's recent report on the 2006 war in Lebanon, where it is stated that they found no evidence that Hizbullah placed rocket launchers, redoubts, or other military positions within civilian areas — a conceit that has since been exposed as a serious falsehood and one that flies in the face of overwhelming pictorial and testimonial evidence. It seems that War on Want has a political agenda, and that that agenda is to condemn Israel while lending support to a notorious terrorist organization. I trust this troubles you as much as it does me.

Thank you


Letter to Paul Collins at War on Want:

Dear Mr Collins,

I realize you will by now have seen more e-mails on the subject of
your Christmas card than you would like. I don't know whether you
have any intention of replying to them, or even of reflecting on what
many of them say, but I do hope you will try to take them into
consideration for your future policy in this matter.

I have always admired War on Want and its work, but in recent years
have been disturbed by the growing politicization of the
organization. This is not because I do not make the link between
poverty and politics, but because I think you have in many cases
become one-sided in a way that is not helpful. This refers, in
particular, to your treatment and portrayal of Israel, and is
exemplified in the card you have produced showing the Holy Family
being searched by IDF soldiers. While I do understand what you meant
to convey by this, I cannot be persuaded that the parallel you draw
is anything but factitious and, in the end, meaningless.

The correct parallel is this: Christians, Muslims, Druze, and the
followers of other religions are treated better in Israel than in any
other country in the Middle East. That is a fact (and I say that as
an Arabist/Persianist who has spent some forty years studying the
region). Let me give you a very simple example of what I mean when I
speak of Israeli tolerance. The largest religious minority in Iran is
that of the Baha'is. As you may very well know, they have never been
liked in that country, but since the Islamic Revolution they have
been subjected to severe forms of persecution: some 200 members have
been executed and many others imprisoned and tortured, while their
most sacred shrines have been bulldozed to the ground. They are
forbidden to meet for worship, to hold jobs in teaching or the civil
service, to attend university, and much else besides (receiving
pensions, for example). This same religion is banned in every Muslim
state, and the punishment for membership is, strictly speaking,
execution. Hatred of Baha'is reaches levels that are only surpassed
by hatred of Jews. In Israel, however, not only do Baha'is have full
rights, they have been permitted to build their two holiest shrines
and a string of gardens, terraces, and highly visible religious
buildings right along the front of Mount Carmel, in Haifa. Their
supreme body has its centre there, and pilgrims from all round the
world visit the holy places on a regular basis.

That is, in a nutshell, the difference between Israel and the
countries surrounding her. Complete tolerance in one, total absence
of tolerance in the others.

Why, then, would you choose to portray an intolerant Israel through
the images you chose to put on your Christmas cards? No doubt, you
will say, because IDF soldiers search peace-loving Palestinians at
check-points throughout the year. But your use of Christmas
iconography to make that point is inflammatory and profoundly
misleading in more ways than one. Perhaps there is a message to be
conveyed here, but I find it troubling that, of the messages that
might have been communicated, you have chosen one that lacks context
and uses a deliberately emotive imagery. Why is it more important for
you to tell recipients of your card that IDF soldiers search
Palestinians than to tell the story of Palestinian suicide bombings
that prompt such searches? Bombers have been carried to their
destinations in ambulances, or have dressed as pregnant or veiled
women, or have tried to pass security checks as children. Given that
each successful attempt at penetration by terrorists brings in its
wake death and injury, often on a massive scale, can you please
suggest why the Israel Defence Force should not attempt to police
their borders? Perhaps you would be willing to go on television here
in the UK and announce that you regard all attempts to prevent acts
of terror as something despicable, that you mock the work of our
security forces, that harassing would-be terrorists is somehow
equivalent to maltreating the Mother of God?

There are so many stories you might have chosen, but you chose this
one, distorted and decontextualized fable. You might have told the
story on your card of the abuse of Palestinian children, children
taught in school to hate Jews, children trained to become suicide
bombers and to aspire to the status of martyr from an early age,
children given Kalashnikovs instead of bicycles. Or perhaps you think
that is all something to admire, plucky kids trained by plucky
parents. You might have told the story of how innocent young women
are murdered in the PA territories in honour killings, by their own
mothers, fathers, brothers, and cousins: just holding hands with her
fiancé was enough to end the life of a young Palestinian woman shot
by a Hamas morality patrol earlier this year. Or do you just dismiss
all that as 'tough love'? No doubt passing through an Israeli
checkpoint is many times worse than having to watch every moment in
case you look at the wrong young man in the wrong way and are caught
doing it. You might have told the story about how gay Palestinian men
and women face death and beatings on a regular basis. Or that those
who can flee to Israel, where they are taken in and given protection.
Instead, you chose to say that instituting checkpoints to prevent
terrorist activity is a foul and dishonourable thing. I was born and
brought up in Belfast, and I can still remember having to pass
through military checkpoints just to go shopping. On the other hand,
I remember how my entire family came within inches of being
slaughtered when a bomb exploded beneath a train they were travelling
on. I never once complained about the checkpoints, because, like
everyone else, I didn't want to be in a shop when a bomb went off.

You might, indeed, have told the many stories of Israelis of all
ages, from all walks of life blown to shreds while out shopping,
eating in restaurants, attending bar mitzvahs, having lunch in their
university cafeteria, taking the bus home. The people who planted
those bombs or who turned themselves into bombs were motivated by
hatred, not a love of peace and justice and tolerance. I take it War
on Want condemns killings such as those. Why, then, does it hold up
for contempt an image of peace-keeping soldiers doing their best to
save lives?

There are many other stories you might have told: anti-Semitism
straight from the Third Reich on Arab and Iranian TV screens, calls
for the slaughter of Jews in Friday sermons from PA mosques, the
clauses from Hamas's Charter that describe all efforts at peace-
making, all international conferences, all negotiations, all attempts
to compromise as 'a waste of time'.... Or the story of how Israel is
one of the most racially mixed countries in the world (whereas most
Arab countries are not), or how Israel is one of the most
economically successful countries on the planet, helping the Third
World (remember the Third World) with its technology and medicine....

You need to do some hard thinking, and you need to start by examining
your own heart. I am a liberal, probably very like you, and, also
probably like you, I believe in taking a moral stance in public
matters. We probably want the same things, including a prosperous
future for the Palestinian people. You seem to think that this will
happen if we support Palestinian intransigence, force Israel to
abandon her defences, and maybe even allow Hamas and Hizbullah to
fire rockets onto Israeli towns without hindrance. Maybe you don't
think that, maybe you really would like to see both sides make peace
and live together. If that's so, then please think twice before you
make another card that condemns Israeli security measures and says
nothing about the reasons why they have been put there in the first

Thank you for reading this.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Denis MacEoin

Friday, December 22, 2006

Letter to Tony Blair

Here's a copy of an open letter I wrote to Tony Blair during the Lebanon conflict this summer, and which was later published in the Jerusalem Post. It calls for Mr Blair to continue his support for Israel, and sets out the reasons why I thought then (and think now) that such a stand was appropriate and moral. Sadly, the international community betrayed Israel and, through that, itself in letting a terrorist organization target rockets on innocent civilians then walk away from that, not just to survive, but to regroup, arm itself with even larger numbers of weapons, and become strong enough to threaten to overthrow the democratically elected government of Lebanon. I thought at the time, and I still think, that the international news media were malicious in their representation of the war, given the myths that were created and the relative absence of good reporting from the Israeli side. Something strange happened then, something almost unprecedented in the history of warfare: a terrorist organization armed and financed by a meddling foreign power and abetted by another, in breach of UN resolutions, and acting out of a total commitment to the destruction of a UN member state won the sympathy of the world's media and a majority of democratic states. Meanwhile, a small country that has lived from its inception under the threat of annihilation by its neighbours, retaliating against attacks on its civilian population, and acting in fulfillment of a UN resolution (that it vacate Lebanon, something it had done 6 years previously) became the object of opprobrium from all sides. How did Hizbullah pull off that remarkable piece of sleight-of-hand? By placing its fighters and terrorists bang in the middle of civilian population centres or within yards of UN posts. What a clever move that turned out to be: if the Israelis killed civilians when firing on bunkers or rocket launching pads, Hizbullah won a PR victory. If the Israelis held back from taking out a launch pad for fear of harming civilians, Hizbullah could stay in place in order to fire more rockets on — guess whom — Israeli civilians. By some perverse calculus, the international community thought the Israelis were the bad guys and Hizbullah must be terrific defenders of civilized values. Most of my fellow liberals thought the same thing. To them, as always, Israeli lives (be they Jewish or Arab) don't matter. Two terrorist organizations (Hamas and Hizbullah) and two ugly dictatorships (Syria and Iran) are the good guys now. At least the Mosleys and all those other supporters of Hitler used to have the basic honesty to define themselves as fascists, and thought it a good thing to march for the; today's fellow travellers tell us they are left-wing and liberal activists for peace and justice, and don't have any honesty at all when it comes to their essential racism (Palestinian lives are worth more than Jewish lives), their hatred of peace (keeping a terrorist group in business is better than forcing them to the negotiating table), and their insouciance in matters of justice (a country that obeys a UN resolution is to be condemned, an organization that breaches one is applauded).

For what it's worth, here's my letter to the man who is now in the Middle East on a mission to sort it all out.

4 August 2006

The Prime Minister
10 Downing Street

Dear Mr Blair,

I’m writing to encourage you to continue to do your utmost to see a just and realistic end to the fighting in Lebanon, and to support you in your determination to ensure that Hizbullah, an organization with a long history of terrorist activity against Israeli and Western targets, be not allowed to emerge from this conflict still intact and capable of regrouping, re-arming, and, in the end, growing strong enough to accomplish its long-stated goal of destroying the state of Israel.

Let me say, very briefly, that I take a particular interest in this conflict. I used to teach Arabic and Islamic Studies at Newcastle University, but my specialization has always been in Iranian affairs, specifically aspects of Shi’ite Islam. I am also a regional coordinator for the Israel Peace Forum, and much involved in presenting an accurate and nuanced picture of the Middle East conflict as a whole.

I believe that your analysis of a wide arc of terror is entirely accurate, and that failure to act now against the spreading evil of radical Islam may expose this country, its allies, and many other nations round the globe to increasingly severe acts of terror that will shift, given time, to more conflict of the kind now seen in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

I know that international pressure for a ceasefire in Lebanon is intense, and I realize that time must be running out for you and those few nations who have seen the real danger Israel now faces. Please stand firm. To leave Hizbullah largely intact would be to guarantee greater and bloodier fighting in the years ahead. The danger, as I am sure you are aware, is not only to Israel, but for the people of Lebanon, who may find themselves at Hizbullah’s mercy. Not only that, but a perceived victory for Hizbullah would permit both Syria and Iran to extend their baneful influence further through the region. If Hizbullah is seen to be capable of fighting with reasonable success against one of the world’s best armies, how may that not be interpreted elsewhere in the Islamic world? It would certainly be a boost for recruitment to radical jihadist ideology, to active jihadist groups, and to international organizations like al-Qaeda.

Here in Britain, support for terrorism among large sections of the Muslim population is an alarming trend that must surely be cut off before it grows to unmanageable proportions. I believe you are right to call for the glorification of terrorism to become an offence, but I also believe you have been taking advice from sections within the Muslim community that are committed to an anti-Western, anti-British, and anti-Semitic view of the world. If Hizbullah should proclaim even a partial victory, I would expect to see more young Muslims here flock to the banner of jihad, whether to fight abroad or here in the UK.

In the Middle East, force alone will not solve a deeply embedded problem. But one thing I am certain of and that is so long as its neighbours do not recognize Israel and her right to exist, there will never be peace. With a terrorist organization in control of Gaza and dominant in the West Bank, with a terrorist army on its borders, and with an apocalyptic Iranian president determined to wipe her from the map, Israel is faced with the greatest threat ever suffered by any nation since these islands faced the armies of the Third Reich.

In the 19th century, a sectarian group of Shi’ite Muslims in Iran, believing the advent of their Messiah, the Twelfth Imam, to be imminent, purchased and made arms and prepared for the final jihad. They made ready to fight in order to bring the Imam to earth. Today, there are reliable reports that President Ahmadinezhad holds an identical belief, that he anticipates the return of the Imam in a short space of time, and that he may be preparing to force his hand by initiating the holy war necessary to his advent.

Given that context and the knowledge that the destruction of Israel would win its author acclamations from every quarter of the globe, I fear for Israel. I have seen documents that suggest al-Qaeda already possesses nuclear materials. I know, as you do, that Iran is bent on the acquisition of nuclear weapons. Even a small number of such weapons in the hands of Hizbullah could wreak untold calamity on the people of Israel and open up chaos in international affairs. Unlike Mr Ahmadinezhad, I do not wish to sound apocalyptic. But I do believe that the elimination of Israel is planned, plotted, and even scheduled with great care and seriousness in more than one country. And I am convinced that, if Israel disappears, the consequences for all of us will be fearful.

You are a resolute politician, and I think you see this threat more clearly than most. If there was ever a time to act, I think this is it. If an international force does enter Lebanon, can you ensure, in tandem with the United States, that it will have teeth, that it be empowered to implement UN Resolution 1559, that it be capable of disarming Hizbullah with or without the cooperation of the Lebanese government, that Israel, which has never been the aggressor in the wars it has fought, be enabled to contribute to the downfall of this fascist-like group, and that both Israel and Lebanon finally enjoy secure borders across which they can work together to mend the breaches that have opened up between them?

Backed by an ideology of martyrdom through suicide or fighting — an ideology with deep Shi’ite roots, now disseminated from Tehran — radical jihadist Muslims have come to seem invincible. Whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Lebanon, they are starting to believe they can triumph over the forces of democracy, reason, and justice. They are starting to think they can destroy Israel, win back Spain, and impose shari’a law in Europe.

Just as our parents and grandparents fought the dark ideology of Nazism in the 1930s and 40s, so I believe this generation has the heaviest of responsibilities face to face with this growing threat to all civilized values. Not just the West, but the peoples of the Islamic world too may see their way of life changed for ever should the totalitarian spectre impose itself and its deadening hatred of life on all we and they hold dear.

I don’t like to speak in terms of historic moments or symbolic conflicts, but I’m afraid that, as this struggle intensifies, I am bound to do so. Civilization itself is at stake. The values of democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and the open society are as much or more at risk today than in the decades when we confronted, first German fascism and then Russian communism. It may or it may not be your destiny jointly to lead the free world in this clash of civilizations. But I ask you to hold firm now and in the future, not just here in Britain, but in the Middle East, where a sort of Armageddon is being fought on the television screens of the world.

Excuse my prolixity and my overwrought language. I intended something simpler. I wanted to say in a few words what I have now written in four pages. By all means ignore most of this, if, indeed, it ever crosses your desk. But promise me one thing: that if it is your destiny to stand up for Israel in the time of its greatest peril, you will not prove fainthearted.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Denis MacEoin

Saturday, December 16, 2006


The most common defence used by many anti-Semites on the left is that they are not anti-Jewish but anti-Israel, that criticism of Israel is not the same as hatred of Jews. In principle, of course, they are right. Many Jews are critical of Israel, and non-believing Jews are often critical of Judaism. There is no automatic connection between anti-Israel feeling and anti-Semitic sentiment. And yet it often feels like that. Anti-Israel activists on the left often come perilously close to conflating these two attitudes, particularly when their 'criticism' of Israel passes the limits of vigorous political discourse and emerges as hate speech. It is a real conundrum for leftists to get caught in this particular dichotomy. As leftists and liberals, they are committed to anti-racism and the promotion of the rights of all people to self-determination. The left has had a long and honourable history of fighting anti-Semitism, and many liberals today still combat it, especially when it's far-right anti-Semitism they have to deal wth.

But many more — a majority, it seems to me — find no trouble in so identifying with the Palestinian cause that they turn a blind eye to the virulent anti-Semitism that chokes Palestinian society, Arab society in the surrounding states, and the Muslim world in places like Iran or even secular Turkey. They never speak out against it, as they certainly would do if it were anti-Semitism of the BNP or Le Pen variety. Now, I find this both curious and frightening. If they are unaware of Middle Eastern anti-Semitism, they must be staggeringly ignorant of the region. You don't have to be able to reads Arabic or Persian to grasp what goes on: you just need to look at newspaper cartoons, TV shows (including children's television), or the imagery used in school textbooks. If they do know about it and don't speak out, they have clearly jettisoned their leftist and liberal principles. They might as well join in the calls for a second Holocaust.

But it's not just the manifest anti-Semitism or left-wing support for it that demeans anti-Israel activists. It's the way in which so many of the accusations they make about Israel or the pro-Israel lobby follow in a straight line from anti-Jewish diatribe throughout the centuries. When they claim, as so many do, that Israel lobbyists control the media or exercise a controlling influence in the politics of Western countries, or that wealthy Jews back Israel (as if this is particular to Israel, and not to many other countries, notably the Saudis and other oil-rich states), or that Israel is the greatest threat to world peace, or that Israelis target Palestinian children, then they are simply echoing many of the standard anti-Jewish accusations of the Third Reich and earlier. The grasping Jew, the Jewish cabal, the sacrifice of Muslim or Christian children are now incantations of the left, masquerading as criticism of the Jewish state.

When Georgetown professor Hisham Sharabi says 'the Jews are getting ready to take control of us', he would be more at home in pre-Nazi Germany than the United States. When Jewish students are specifically and often rudely excluded from conferences or expelled from classrooms, that is no longer political debate, that is anti-Semitism. Here's what a University of California students had to say about her experiences when campaigning for a student union post: 'People spit [sic] on me and said "Zionist" and kept on walking. I was spit [sic] on a couple of times. I was called a conservative Zionist bastard, a f**king Jew. There was another girl helping me out who happened to be Catholic, `and a guy said "Hey, are you a Jew girl?"' Left-wing pro-Palestinians or the world's new brownshirts? My sentiment here is echoed in the following statement by Laurie Zoloth, a former Professor of Jewish Studies at San Francisco State: 'I cannot fully express what it feels like to walk across campus daily, past maps of the Middle East that do not include Israel, past posters of cans of soup with labels on them of drops of blood and dead babies, labeled "canned Palestinian children meat, slaughtered according to Jewish rights under American license", past poster after poster calling out "Zionism=racism" and "Jews=Nazis". This is not civil discourse, this is not free speech, this is the Weimar Republic with brown shirts it cannot control.'

Here's Professor Norton Mezvinsky of Central Connecticut State University: '[Jews believe] the blood of non-Jews has no intrinsic value'. This, he says, allows Jews to consider that the killing of non-Jews does 'not constitute murder according to the Jewish religion'. 'The killing of innocwent Arabs for reasons of revenge is a Jewish virtue'. Criticism of Israel? I know exactly how any Jewish readers of this blog will be feeling as they read those words. Here is part of a letter by emeritus professor Helen Cullen in the University of Massachussetts student paper: 'Judaism and Jewish identity are offensive to most human beings and will always cause trouble between the Jews and the rest of the human race'. Neither Mezvinsky nor Cullen has been arrested for a crime of hate speech. As Tobin, Weinberg and Ferer put it: 'The fusion of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism inevitably takes one beyond the borders of Israel and im[plicates any Israel supporter, group of supporters, and Judaism as a religion.'

It seems to be a fact that the current growth in anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic violence is in part fuelled by anti-Israel sentiment and the demonization of Israel. Were this to be a plain political argument (as we might argue about a Kurdish state, or Tibetan or Xinjiang independence, or the situation in Northern Ireland), it would be unlikely to cross over into racist statements, slogans, or physical abuse. If I were to attend an anti-Israel rally and kept my mouth shut, I would suffer no abuse. If an orthodox Jew wearing kippah, pe'ot and tzitzit turned up, I rather think he would be sworn at or worse. But I support Israel, and he might not.

I have just been reading Tobin, Weinberg and Ferer's book The Uncivil University, from which I have taken many of the examples above. It makes frightening reading. I recommend it, above all to those of you on the left and centre who do not yet understand how closely anti-Israelism is linked in the minds of many. Some, particularly those within the Muslim community, are aware of the link and do not think it matters. Others, I imagine, may feel uneasy at times, but may exclude the anti-Semitism from their thoughts because they feel that, in their hearts, they are not anti-Semites, or sense that their left-wing views preclude anti-Jewish feeling. Thinking like that, however, makes it all too easy not to see that denial of the Jewish right to a homeland (and only the Jewish right) is itself a manifestation of anti-Semitism. Yet others may not see any of this. They may think their votes against 'occupation', 'Israeli apartheid', and 'Zionist conspiracies', or their support of Palestinian s right or wrong, even their recreation of Palestinian terrorists as 'militants' or 'freedom fighters' all add up to nothing more than a rigorous protest against a rogue state. They need to think again. And the last two groups need to ask themselves a hard question: if anti-Israelism is, in fact, a substitute for the oldest hatred in the world, if it really echoes the views and expressions of the Third Reich, if it allows Arabs to kill Jews because they are Jews — then what am I doing here, holding this placard, printing this leaflet, cheering this Hamas speaker?

Friday, December 15, 2006

All the problems of the Middle East go back to 1948?

Recently Swiss journalist Pierre Heumann interviewed the editor-in-chief of Al Jazeera, Ahmed Sheikh, a man of Palestinian origin. Here is a short extract from that interview (thanks to Ratna Pelle)

(Ahmed Sheikh:) In many Arab states, the middle class is disappearing. The rich get richer and the poor get still poorer. Look at the schools in Jordan, Egypt or Morocco: You have up to 70 youngsters crammed together in a single classroom. How can teachers do their jobs in such circumstances? The public hospitals are also in a hopeless condition. These are just examples. They show how hopeless the situation is for us in the Middle East.

(Pierre Heumann:) Who is responsible for the situation?

(Sheikh:) The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most important reasons why these crises and problems continue to simmer. The day when Israel was founded created the basis for our problems. The West should finally come to understand this. Everything would be much calmer if the Palestinians were given their rights.

(Heumann:) Do you mean to say that if Israel did not exist, there would suddenly be democracy in Egypt, that the schools in Morocco would be better, that the public clinics in Jordan would function better?

(Sheikh:) I think so.

(Heumann:) Can you please explain to me what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has to do with these problems?

(Sheikh:) The Palestinian cause is central for Arab thinking.

(Heumann:) In the end, is it a matter of feelings of self-esteem?

(Sheikh:) Exactly. It's because we always lose to Israel. It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about 7 million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West's problem is that it does not understand this.

I have seldom read anything quite so fatuous. In the second half of the nineteenth century and the first part of the twentieth, numerous Arab, Turkish, and Iranian reformers bemoaned at length the state of their countries, the backwardness of the people, the despotism of their governments, the sclerotis afflicting every element of their societies, from religion to education to politics to trade to their legal systems. Universally, they expressed wonderment at the extraordinarty progress the infidel nations of Europe had made while the Islamic world basked in an unwarranted belief in its own eternal supremacy. Students and diplomats travelled to Europe and returned home dismayed, and wrote in books and pamphlets of their dismay. They told of how Europeans had parliaments that made laws suitable for social change; of how kings were constrained by constitutions; of how universities transmitted the most modern forms of leaning; of how scientists made daily discoveries concerning the nmatural world and the heavens; how medicine was changing people's health; of how courts handed down justice; and they made a sharp contrast between this dynamism and the sluggishness that had overtaken every inch of their own world. Not only that, but the Europeans were steadily colonizing the lands of Dar al-Islam. The shock at finding such a great disparity was exacerbated by the long-standing conviction that God's will was being carried out through the spread of Islam and would be completed in the eventual dominion of that faith in every corner of the earth. To find that a people utterly despised in the Qur'an and the Traditions, abetted in many places by that most debased of all infidels, the Jews, had advanced so far beyond the Muslims as to make it unlikely the latter would ever catch up or ever surpass the world of unbelief again was a massive blow to the collective ego of Arabs, Iranians, Turks, and the other peoples of the Islamic realm.

The repsonse to this varied. To begin with, secular reformers like Malkum Khan in Iran or the Young Turks within the Ottoman empire argued that Muslims had to break free from the stifling burden of tradition that had been preserved by the religious establishment. With time, new laws were made based on Europen law, schooling was refashioned along Western lines, universities were established and modern disciplines were taught in them, books were translated from French, English, and German, military standards were overhauled by instructors and advisors brought from Europe, constitutions were drafted and in some places adolpted, parliaments were brought into being. As this process got under way, some religious reformers got into the act: men like Jamal al-Din Afghani, Muhammad Abduh, and the latter's disciple Rashid Rida agreed that Islam had fallen behind, but believed that things would only improve when Islam was reformed from within, in the conviction that the Qur'an, the Traditions, and the shari'a still held the answers to men's problems. During the 1920s, Rashid Rida set out a doctrine that would eventually send all this effectively into reverse. 'Abduh had expounded the notion of a return to the ways of the first three generations of Islam, the Salaf, but had seen this in a reformist fashion. Rida turned Salafism (as this movement came to be known) into something stultifying: Muslims had to restrict themselves to the world of the 7th century, had to reject Western ways, and had to revive Islam, not so much to reform it, as to make it greate again by fighting back against Western influences and modern thinking.

There's no need for a history of Salafism here, but it was this style of Islam that started to win followers through organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Mawdudist movement in India and Pakistan, and it was this deeply traditionalist approach that stood waiting in the wings while Arab, Turkish, Iranian and Pakistani nationalisms ran their course. As nationalism, whether through Nasserism in Egypt or the Ba'athist Party in Syria and Iraq or the state-sponsored Aryanism of Pahlavi Iran stumbled and broke down, the Islamists were ready to make their bid for power. How far they have advanced since the Iranian Revolution in 1979 is manifest everywhere today: al-Qa'ida, Hamas, Hizbullah, Tablighi Jamaat, Hizb al-Tahrir, and dozens of other groups, some terrorist, some politically radical exponents of Salafi Islam, have embarked on a last jihad against the West.

In Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, wealth beyond the dreams of avarice has been squandered on spreading deeply conservative Wahhabi Islam throughout the world, or in building palaces for princes on a scale unprecedented in the history of the world. Politics, education, the law, culture itself have all been boxed inside the restrictive practices of the shari'a. Everywhere else, the Muslim world remains economically, educationally, religiously, and politically behind the rest of the planet. When the oil money runs out, the theocracies and monarchies will still stay be in place, and things will get progressively worse.

What has any of this to do with Israel? Theodore Herzl was a babe when the first glimmerings of Islamic backwardness pierced the clouds of centuries of tradition. Things were already bad back in 1848, one hundred years before the state of Israel came into being. But everywhere you go in the Islamic world, you find the same complaint: put things right in Palestine (i.e. drive out the Jews and create a radical Palestinian state) and suddenly all those problems dating back to the 19th and 18th and 17th and 16th centuries, those years of stagnation and lost enterprise, those centuries of incuriosity about the wider world, that long interregnum during which the glories of the Islamic Middle Ages were allowed to fade into obscurity and lie forgotten — all those problems will go away. Palestine will become a world-class economy, Saudi Arabia will become a world-leader in political and educational freedom, Egypt will build industries to match those of China, Iran will become a haven for political and religious refugees.... And that nasty, filthy, 'shitty little country', Israel, with its Nobel prizes, its world-ranking universities, its vibrant democracy, its tolerance, its dynamic cultural and social life, it respect for human life — that will be gone, and we will all be able to breathe peacefully again. It stands to reason, doesn't it?