Tuesday, September 25, 2007

An example of Israeli/Jew elision and modern anti-Semitism

Please read at least some of the following. The piece came from a comment in today's Scotsman online, a respectable newspaper that assumes an intelligent readership. I've reported it as anti-Semitic, but it's actually more than that. I've put all of it here, obnoxious though it is, to ilustrate an important point, that, when anti-Israel activists claim they are not anti-Semitic, they ared for the most part lying. It could not be clearer: the writer shifts between Israelis and Jews with gay abandon. Add in some gratuitous anti-Americanism, and you have in its full glory the modern answer to knowing anything about anything. Apart from the eliding of Israelis and Jews, we can see the use of exaggeration and outright falsehood typical of much earlier anti-Semitism, now re-expressed in terms of Israel. Thus, Israel is a tyranny that oppresses Europeans and Canadians, the President of the US takes his orders from the Israeli PM, the US is a 'slave state' of Israel, and so on. In other words, the Jews/Israelis possess almost supernatural powers and are simultaneously the most powerful people on earth yet the most persecuted and hated. The author is clearly not well educated, but he's not entirely ignorant either. I present it to you as a particularly vivid example of the new anti-Semitism (on which, do read Walter Lacqueur's The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism). It appeared, as I said, on the website of a very respected paper, showing just how far this bigotry is spreading. I had to object to another anti-Semitic posting on The Washingon Times today as well. Here it is:

'Talking about blood on the hands and lying I thought you might want to reflect on the following.
Bush invaded Iraq on the strength of his lie that Iraq possessed WMD. According to the New England Medical Journal some 100,000 civilian Iraqis died as a result of co-lateral damage in that initial rape of Iraq. American troops and foreign mercenarie hired by the Americans continue to add to the Iraqi death toll. "Baiting" of Iraqis seems to somehow ligitimise the murder of these suspects by American snipers.
In 1953 Iran had its first democratically elected government headed by Mohamed Mosaddeq. He soon gave notice that he would not be an American puppet like Maliki. The CIA covertly engineered a coup and the compliant American puppet, the Shah was installed. He kept power by torturing the Iranians on an industrial scale as in Abu Ghraib under the American occupying forces. This led the Iranian people to turn to their religion and thus fall prey to the mad Mullahs. On 3August1988 an American Captain on a state of the art warship murdered 290 Iranian civilians by shooting down their Jumbo jet. Americans talk about freedom, why then do you not "liberate" Europe and Canada from Jewish oppression? Israeli tyranny does not allow Europeans or Canadians the intellectual freedom of thought to critically and analytically investigate what the Jews force us to believe is history! If you demand the right to question what the jews dictate we must believe then prison awaits. The Jewish population of the Western world have become the new Spanish Inquisition dictating what the world will be forced to believe regarding the theology of the Holocaust. The joke is ultimately on America as the President of the USA has to take instructions from the Israeli Prime Minister. Israel will never allow the USA to leave Iraq! What is more you will be forced to invade Iran and Syria or whoever Israel wants you to. You are a slave state of Israel. The only way you will regain your freedom is by armed revolt against your slave-masters. You are mislead by the fact that you worship the son of the bloodthirsty Asian god that the Jews worship. The Jews exploited your religious guillibility and effected the intellectual equivalent of a pre-frontal lobotomy on you. Return to the worship of of the gods that are indiginous to the European people and the Jewish hold on your collective minds will weaken. The Muslims were content to practice their barbaric religion on their own people until the terrorist state of Israel was established. On 22July1946 Jewish terrorists blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem killing 90 people. Begin was the head of the Irgun gang that perpetrated this introduction of terror to the Middle East. Israel was established by terror, ethnic cleansing and genocide.'

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Hajji Baba of Natanz

In his 1824 picaresque novel of Iran, Hajji Baba of Isfahan, James Morier has his principal character say ‘If it wasn’t for the dying, how the Persians would fight’. No modern Hajji Baba would say that, of course. Anyone who has witnessed the alacrity with which Iranian fighters have embraced death during the Iran-Iraq war, or last summer in Lebanon, or currently in Iraq doesn’t have to be told that a desperate courage informs the warriors of the Islamic Republic. The centuries-old Shi’ite obsession with martyrdom has in recent years inspired a death cult that now embraces Sunnis as well, from Palestinian Hamas homicide bombers, to the threatened wave of Taleban martyrs. Hezbollah General Secretary Hasan Nasrallah, expresses this mood in chilling words: ‘We have discovered how to hit the Jews where they are the most vulnerable. The Jews love life, so that is what we shall take away from them. We are going to win, because they love life and we love death.’
Imagine you’re an Israeli Jew. You see boasts about ‘martyrdom operations’ translated into real attacks on children. Then you hear Iranian leaders call for your extermination. Let’s not be in any doubt about this: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and others are not talking about regime change. He has spoken of Israel being ‘exterminated’ (qal‘ o qam‘ shavad). Last year, Ayatollah ‘Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, declared ‘There is only one solution to the Middle East problem, namely the annihilation and destruction of the Jewish state.’ In 2001, Ahmadinejad’s predecessor, ‘moderate’ cleric ‘Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was explicit about what this annihilation could mean: ‘… the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality.’
If you go to www.myspace.com/teapacks, you can listen to ‘Push the Button’, this year’s Israeli entry to the Eurovision song contest. ‘The world is full of terror, if someone makes an error, he’s gonna blow us up to kingdom come.’ It takes me back to 1965 and Barry McGuire singing ‘We’re on the Eve of Destruction’. The threat back then was real enough; but today it has become commonplace to say that the Israelis are exaggerating the threat posed to them by Iran.
It’s hard to understand why anyone should think Israel has nothing to fear. For almost sixty years, the Jewish state has had to fight off enemies bent on its destruction, and it still faces daily peril from foes who prefer to train their own children to die than accept the reality of a Jewish state on their borders. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you. And Israelis aren’t paranoid, they’re as worried as you and I would be in the same situation.
In northern Europe, we may no longer feel we’re on the eve of destruction, but Israelis know that, should anyone launch a nuclear weapon, they are the most likely targets. Either an upgraded Shahab 3 or Shahab 4 missile could carry a heavy nuclear warhead as far as Tel Aviv. Iran’s nuclear programme is on course to develop such warheads over the next few years. Having completing the nuclear fuel cycle, it’s just a matter of time before the system delivers weapons, somewhere between 2007 and 2015.
The Iranian regime is unstable by nature. Pragmatists and hardliners rub shoulders at all levels. No-one imagines the pragmatists want to embroil the country in a nuclear mess. But for others, an attack on Israel is very tempting. It would serve to reinforce Iran’s credentials as the state wiling to fulfil Muslim dreams. It would solidify Iranian ambitions to be the regional superpower. That in turn could trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
Israelis cannot rely on the Mutually Assured Destruction doctrine to feel safe from attack. Leave Iran’s nuclear installations alone, and they have to live with uncertainty every time the political wind shifts in Tehran. If they do go in, they will find themselves at war again, possibly without US support.
Since 1948, all the Israelis have wanted is security. It may be chic in some circles to wink at the claims of Holocaust deniers, but Jews know better. The Middle East is awash with Jew-hatred of a kind we in Europe haven’t seen since the Third Reich. Literally. Mainline newspapers praise Hitler and say it’s a pity he didn’t finish the job with the Jews. Former Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, put Israeli fears succinctly last year: ‘It’s 1938,’ he said, ‘and Iran is Germany. And Iran is racing to arm itself with atomic bombs.’

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Arabic newspapers

One of the things that Brian Whitaker, one of the Guardian's Middle East editors, objected to about my Comment is Free piece was that he thought all the anti-Semitic stuff was to be found in little, minority-interest papers. I prepared the following list for him, showing how mainstream it is. He didn't reply. (gov. means 'government', of course).

Akhir Sa‘a, Egypt, gov. weekly
Akhbar al-Khalij, Bahrain, gov.
Akhbar al-Yawm, Egypt, gov. weekly
al-‘Ilm, Egypt, gov. science magazine
al-Ahram al-‘Arabi Egypt, gov.
al-Ahram, Egypt, gov.
al-Akhbar, Egypt, semi-official, 2nd.-largest
al-Ayyam, Bahrain, gov.
al-Ba‘th, Syria, Baath Party
al-Bayan, UAE, gov.
al-Dustur, Jordan, gov.
al-Ghad, Jordan, ind., one of biggest
al-Hayat al-Jadida, PA, semi-official
al-Ittihad, UAE gov.
al-Jazira, Saudi, gov.
al-Jumhuriyya, Egypt, gov.
al-Khabar, Algeria, the top-selling daily
al-Khalij, UAE, pro-gov.
al-Liwa’ al-Islami, Egypt, ruling party
Al-Madina, Saudi Arabia, pro-gov.
al-Mawqif al-‘Arabi, Egypt, Nationalist
al-Mustqbil, Lebanon, mouthpiece for late Rafiq al-Hariri
al-R’ay, Jordan, gov.
al-Rayah, Qatar, royal family
al-Riyadh, Saudi gov.
al-Sha‘b, Egypt. Labour Party
al-Sharq, Qatar, semi-official
al-Thawra, Syria, gov.
al-Thawra, Yemen, gov.
al-Wafd, Egypt, ‘opposition’
al-Watan, Oman, pro-gov.
al-Watan, Qatar, royal family
al-Watan, SA, semi-official
al-Watan, Saudi gov.
al-Wifaq, Iran
al-Yawm, Saudi Arabia, pro-gov.
‘Aqidati, Egypt, ruling party weekly
Arab News, internet
Arab News, Saudi Arabia, pro-gov.
Kayhan, main Iranian daily, gov.
Oktobir, Egypt, gov. weekly
Rawz al-Yusuf, Egypt, gov.
Riyadh Daily, Saudi Arabia, pro-gov.
Syrian Times, Syria, gov.
Tehran Times, Iran, Foreign Ministry
Tishrin, Syria, gov.

Middle East Anti-Semitism

Here's a piece I tried to have placed as a Comment is Free article in the Guardian, wh dismissed it as exaggerated. What a surprise. I may start posting more such articles here: over the years I've built up quite a few.

‘First they came for the Jews…’

In front of me is a cartoon of a stereotypical Jew, black hat, long beard, hooked nose, glaring eyes. Grinning, he holds up a goblet filled with skulls and blood, labelled ‘the Lebanese people’. Forget the politics for a moment. This is the blood libel in modern garb. Is it from a neo-Nazi publication sold under the counter to die-hard anti-Semites? Far from it. This is in al-Watan, one of Qatar’s five mainstream daily papers. Al-Watan is jointly owned by a member of the royal family and the country’s foreign minister.
This Jew is only one of thousands who, over the years, have leered and still leer out of the pages of the mainstream Arab and Iranian press in a chilling reflection of the imagery of Der Stürmer. When I say ‘the mainstream press’, I mean prominent, state-controlled dailies and weeklies like Egypt’s al-Ahram and al-Jumhuriyya, Jordan’s al-Dustur, the Palestine Authority’s al-Hayat al-Jadida, Syria’s Tishrin, Lebanon’s al-Mustaqbal, Saudi Arabia’s al-Watan, and dozens more. Even Egypt’s state-sponsored science journal, al-‘Ilm, has featured articles claiming that Jews are spreading AIDS as part of a conspiracy. In October 2000, Ibrahim Nafi‘, editor of al-Ahram, the Egyptian equivalent of The Times, was subpoenaed by French legal authorities for the paper’s support for the blood libel.
There is no subtlety about it: Jews are horned demons, pigs, puppeteers, child killers, lechers, greed-driven financiers, snakes, cannibals, and, worst of all, Nazis. Not Israelis, mark you, but Jews, all Jews.
And it isn’t just the press. Arab and Iranian television air shows that make your hair stand on end. Egypt’s 41-part TV series, Horseman without a Horse, aired in 2002 to audiences on at least 17 channels throughout the Middle East; using the famous Tsarist forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, it convinced viewers that Jews were plotting to take over the world. Syria’s 2003 $5.1 million al-Shatat (The Diaspora), screened 30 episodes of vicious propaganda, portraying Jews as depraved killers in pursuit of Christian and Muslim blood. Just last year, Iran staged a Holocaust denial conference and an exhibition of cartoons mocking Jewish suffering in the non-Holocaust.
Mosque sermons in many Middle Eastern cities feature the sort of anti-Jewish language you might have expected to hear at a Nuremberg rally. The world’s leading Sunni cleric, Shaykh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, the rector of Cairo’s al-Azhar, has called Jews ‘the enemies of God, descendants of apes and pigs’. The imam of Islam’s holiest mosque, the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, has preached that Jews are ‘the scum of the human race, the rats of the world’. Ken Livingstone’s favourite radical preacher, Qatar-based Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, said in a Friday sermon in 2005 ‘Allah, [harm] your enemies, the enemies of Islam. Allah, [harm] the treacherous and aggressive Jews.’
Hitler is widely regarded as a hero (translations of Mein Kampf, like those of the Protocols, are best-sellers) whose only offence was not having finished the job of wiping out the Jews. Some of the worst anti-Semitic sentiments and images may be found on children’s TV and in textbooks. Both Hezbollah and Hamas use the Nazi salute as a matter of course. Welcome to the Fourth Reich.
It would be comforting to say that all of this is inspired by anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist sentiment. Much of it is, of course, though it’s hard to see how that makes it any better. But this new style anti-Semitism begins before the foundation of Israel and is clearly directed at Jews, not just Israelis. We should not forget that even Nazi propaganda against enemies of the Reich like Britain never reached depths like these. When the Nazis wanted to portray people as vermin, they did not use the English: they singled out the Jews. The same thing is happening in the Middle East.
Islam has never been anti-Semitic in the racist sense. The treatment of Jews in countries like Morocco, Egypt, or Yemen was generally more tolerant and less prone to outright violence than that of Christian Europe. Even as late as the 1920s, the condition of the Jewish communities of Cairo and Alexandria was well in advance of that found in Russia, Poland, or France.

In the 1930s and 40s, however, many Arabs were drawn to German fascism, hoping the Nazis would defeat the French and British and drive out the Jews. Hajj Amin al-Husayni, the infamous Mufti of Jerusalem, spent most of the war in Berlin, broadcasting to the Arab world and building the largest of the Reich’s SS divisions. Escaping arrest, he continued his propaganda work long after the war. In the 1960s, this imported style of anti-Semitism started to hold hands with a vicious strain of religious Judaeophobia coming from radical Islamic movements like the Muslim Brotherhood. Since then, this hybrid has entered the mainstream, where it has taken hold everywhere from universities to kindergartens.
But this is probably the first time most of you will have read about any of this. Despite its obvious newsworthiness, it’s a subject routinely ignored by reporters, journalists, and documentary makers in Europe and North America. This allows most Westerners to go on fantasizing that anti-Semitism is the strict preserve of the loony right.
Would that it were so. Anti-Semitism has always known how to mutate, moving from one culture to another with the greatest of ease. Just as the medieval European blood libel slipped into the Arab world in the 19th century and survives there today, so the new Middle Eastern anti-Semitism has moved back to Europe, where it has taken up residence among two groups, extremist Muslims and sectors of the Left.
Last year’s All-Party Parliamentary Report on Anti-Semitism showed that hatred of Jews in the UK is growing, just as an earlier European report showed the same phenomenon across the continent. The UK report said ‘We received evidence of an increase in antisemitism within certain fringe elements of the Muslim community. In many cases, these are the actions and words of a small yet radical minority whose views do not represent those of the mainstream majority. However, this cannot simply be dismissed as insignificant and the views of radical Islamists do seem to be entering mainstream discourse.’
Arabic translations of Mein Kampf and the Protocols can be found on sale on the Edgware Road. Foreign-language videos on sale at some mosques contain anti-Jewish incitement. Internet sites carry anti-Semitic material. But nothing much is done. A 2006 Pew poll found that 68% of British Muslims disliked Jews, compared with 29% in France. A Populus poll showed 46% of UK Muslims believe Jews are in league with Freemasons to control the media and politics, while 37% think Jews are ‘legitimate targets’.
Meanwhile, liberals like myself are betrayed by an increasingly disturbing rise of left-wing anti-Semitism. Having built up an unbalanced hatred for Israel (for many, it’s the only country in the world they condemn), many leftists have carelessly conflated anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, and pride themselves in doing so. Here’s a considered remark by University of Massachusetts professor Helen Cullen: ‘Judaism and the Jewish identity are offensive to most human beings and will always cause trouble between the Jews and the rest of the human race’.
Fair and honest criticism of Israel is one thing, but many on the left have left rationality behind to march alongside radical Muslims whose views on women, homosexuals, and Jews should send a chill down any liberal spine. It seems that the destruction of Israel, the very likely slaughter of its Jewish population, and the near-certain establishment of a deeply illiberal Islamic state have become goals for too many leftists who haven’t thought things through. Or simply haven’t thought. For too many, anti-Zionism acts as an excuse for anti-Semitism in a manner quite divorced from normal political argument.
This vicious circle, from the European right to the Middle East, back to European Muslims and the European left, to a leftist fascism and so back to radical Islam must be stopped now, before it corrupts liberals beyond hope. It’s time the silence was broken and a proper debate opened up. When liberals join forces with people who train their children to become suicide bombers and teach them to call Jews ‘apes and pigs’, something is wrong. It won’t be put right until the liberal left sorts itself out on this litmus test of a true liberal conscience.

Monday, May 28, 2007

A Day in the Life of the Guardian

One day in the Guardian
Guardian readers (like myself) are curious folk. There's no doubt that they have decent liberal values: they sympathize with the poor, with the downtrodden, with the dispossessed. They hate bigotry. They hate racism. They are feminists of varying styles and persuasions. Their hearts are in all the right places. Except for three things: they hate complementary medicine with a loathing bordering on fanaticism. (I have my own prejudice here: I used to be President of the Natural Medicines Society, and my wife is a homeopath.) They hate Israel. And they can't find it in their hearts to call terrorists terrorists, unless they explode themselves on the British transport system. This won't come as a surprise to anyone likely to read this blog.

I don't want to take up your time analysing all this. I just want to draw your attention (especially if you are a Guardian reader) to today's (28 May 2007) edition.

On page 14, a report on the disgraceful neo-fascist attack on European MPs and others protesting a ban on a gay rights parade in Moscow. The mayor of Moscow dubbed gay rallies as 'satanic'.

Page 15 carries a full-page report on the coming Syrian referendum, in which Bashshar al-Asad is the only choice. This is dubbed in the headline: 'Democracy Damascus style'. 'There is no legal opposition. Tellingly, the event is described in Arabic as "renewing the pledge of allegiance" as if this young, British-educated ophthalmologist and computer buff were a medieval Calip'. I imagine the Arabic reads something like 'tajdid al-bay'a', which takes us back to the times of the Prophet and the very first caliphs. The seventh century, not the Middle Ages.

Page 17 heads witgh a piece on how 'Riot police on alert as anti-Chávez TV channel taken off air'. Ahmadinejad-loving Chávez is the darling of the Left and a hero to Guardian readers. As Radio Caracas Television prepared to be closed because of its opposition to Chávez, its director, Marcel Granier, said 'This marks a turn toward totalitarianism'.

Let's skip to page 21 (18-19 are taken up by a huge photograph of a ship amidst Arctic ice, 20 is an advert): 'Mugabe ready to seize foreign companies' — 'a move that economists warn would be as damaging as the widespread land seizures in the country'.

Now, it's fair to say that, even if they don't always occur in so concentrated a form, stories like this do feature in the Guardian on a more or less daily basis. So Guardian readers are well aware of some of the unpleasant things that happen in some foreign countries. And they know how some of these things impinge on their own most cherished beliefs (Peter Tatchell was among those beaten in Moscow). I don't doubt they feel outrage when they read such stories. But for some reason whatever indignation they feel doesn't, in Forster's words, 'connect'.

Here's a gay rights parade banned in Moscow (and dubbed 'satanic' by a politician), here's a group of European gay rights protesters badly beaten by neo-fascists. I expect there may be murmurs of protest (in fact, I hope there will be plenty). But over there in Tel Aviv (don't mention the bigots in Jerusalem) they openly hold gay rights parades. They offer sanctuary to gay men and women from Gaza and the West Bank. And Guardian readers proclaim loudly that Israel is an 'apartheid state'. Perhaps one group of gay Guardian readers might like to go to Moscow and another bunch to Tel Aviv, and write a piece for G2 six months later, telling us their experiences.

Here's a country run by yet another Arab dictatorship, a state under one-party rule. One-party rule is anathema to Guardian readers. This dictatorship gives aid to terrorist groups like Hizbullah, who threaten Israel, but clamps down on others (notably the Ikhwan al-Muslimun, the Muslim Brothers) who threaten the Baathist state. When did Guardian readers last march in the streets to protest Syrian clamp-downs on a free press, free elections, or, among others, gay rights? Never, I think. When did they take to the streets to condemn Syrian interfreence in Lebanon, or Syrian support for terrorism? Never. When did they last complain bitterly about Israel, the one democracy in the region, calling it a 'fascist' state? As far as I know, every day of the week.

Guardian readers refuse to say a word about censorship in the Middle East. Two years ago, Human Rights Watch published a report on the extensive clamp-downs in Egyptian universities. Guardian readers on the march? Not likely. An Israel-based agency publishes TV clips and press transcripts showing anti-Semitic material from Iran and the Arab woirld. The Guardian's Middle East editor takes exception to an agency based in Israel and set up by an Israeli, and dismisses all this material out of hand. Who are we dealing with here? Guardian readers? Or Goebbels? And I don't expect to see anyone on the streets protesting about censorship under the increasingly-autcratic Chávez. Though the anti-Israel lobby, many of them Guardian readers, does like to claim that Israel, a country that has no censorship beyond what we have here in the UK, covers up, hides, harasses journalists etc.

I don't suppose anyone will complain about Mugabe, bearing in mind that many of the foreign companies he will take over are multi-nationals, whom Guardian readers hate anyway. But they will be quite comfortable in calling for a boycott of Israeli products, putting at risk, among others, joint Jewish-Arab businesses, solo Arab businesses, socialist kibbutzim, and honest, hard-working Israelis of all backgrounds.

So let me say it clearly. I am a Guardian reader. I love Israel. I am a contradiction in terms. Or maybe not. Maybe I just read what's in there and draw unusual conclusions. Unlike so many of my fellow readers, I am, I believe, consistent.

Sunday, May 06, 2007


Few things have damaged Israel's international reputation more than the security barrier it has been constructing to prevent Palestinian terrorist crossing into its territory and commiting outrages against innocent civilians. Invariably — and inaccurately — portrayed as a wall ('The Apartheid Wall'), the barrier has been pillored in the media almost everywhere. I've written at some length about this issue on an earlier blog, so I won't repeat myself here. One of the points I made in that blog was that, although the Israeli barrier is portrayed as egregious, even unique, it is, in fact, just one of many similar barriers around the world. Human rights activists protest about the Israeli barrier, however, yet remain silent about fences and walls that are longer, higher, and, in some cases, deadly. We need to protest this for its imbalance. By a great irony, the Guardian recently published a map of security fences round the world. It won't reproduce easily, so I have tabulated the basic data, which I reproduce below as a resource for anyone who has to talk about this issue.

Security fences or barriers to peace?
Information taken from a map published in The Guardian 24 April 2007

(Reformulated Denis MacEoin 4 May 2007)

US/Mexico Proposed. 3,360km. Several barriers already exist with Mexico (California, Texas, Arizona). This would cover the entire border. Anti-immigration.

Belfast, N. Ireland. Built early 1970s. Average 500m. Number around 40. Anti-terror.

Padua, Italy 2006. 85m. 3m-high, round mainly African Anelli estate. Internal.

Ceuta, Morocco 2001. 8km. €30m. EU-funded. Anti-immigration.

Mellila, Morocco 1998. 11km. Anti-immigration

Morocco/Western Sahara 1987. 2,700km. To keep out W. Saharan (Polisario) insurgents

Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt 2005. 20km. Anti-terror

Botswana/Zimbabwe 2003. 500km. Anti-immigration.

South Africa/Mozambique 1975. 120km. Anti-immigration. Carries 3,300 volts. Has killed more people than Berlin Wall

Israel/West Bank Under construction. 703km. Anti-terror.

Adhamiyya, Iraq 2007. 5km. Anti-terror.

Cyprus 1974. 300km. Conflict zone barrier.

Kuwait/Iraq 1991. 193km. Conflict zone barrier.

Saudi Arabia/Yemen 2004. 75km. Anti-terror.

United Arab Emirates/Oman 2007. 410km. Anti-immigration.

Russia/Chechnya Proposed. 700 km. Anti-terror

Kashmir 2004. 550km. Anti-terror (India).

Pakistan/Afghanistan Proposed. 2,400km. Anti-terror (Pakistan).

Uzbekistan/Kyrgyzstan 1999. 870km. Conflict zone.

China/North Korea 2006. 1,416km. Conflict zone.

Korea Demilitarized Zone 1953. 248km. Av. 4 km wide. Patrolled by 2 million soldiers. Most heavily border in world. Conflict zone.

China/Hong Kong 1999. 32km. Internal barrier.

China/Macau 1999. 340km. Internal barrier.

Brunei/Limbang 2005. 20km. Anti-immigration.

Thailand/Malaysia Proposed. 650km. Anti-immigration.

India/Bangladesh Under construction. 3,268km. Conflict zone.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Israeli despair

In a recent article in The Jerusalem Post, Caroline Glick argued that Israelis have started to feel despair for their future and the future of Israel. The Zionist dream is fading, she says, in a desperate dawn of stark reality. Despite a soaring economy, a world-class educational system, a high standard of living, and the glories of the land itself, Israelis are losing their patriotism. The Zionist hope of bringing an end to the persecutions of the Diaspora centuries through the creation of an autonomous homeland in which Jews would be able to defend themselves from aggression rings hollow in the aftermath of wars, terrorist attacks, and last summer's rain of Hizbullah rockets. In the greatest irony of two thousand years, the most dangerous place on earth for Jews is the Jewish state of Israel.

One can hardly blame Israelis for experiencing despair under such circumstances. In Northern Ireland, where I'm from, the violent phase of the Troubles went on for about 30 years, and people despaired then of it ever ending; even now, with the violence largely under control, it's still proving hard to negotiate a political solution. Israelis have been coping with much greater levels of violence for about 60 years, or longer if you go back to the 1920s. Even at their height, the Irish Troubles never threatened the existence either of Northern Ireland (the worst thing that would have happened would have been integration in the increasingly properous Republic) or the UK mainland. What Israelis are experiencing is an existential threat, to themselves, their families, their townships, their houses, the places they walk in, the city and country views they admire, the cafés they frequent, the secluded places they go with their lovers, the graveyards that hold their dead, the sense of place brought home by long memory and reading the Bible. You can't just pick that all up and take it somewhere else, not when you have a bitter memory of having done it before, and of the suffering that came with the state of being in a diaspora.

More and more people are saying 'it's a pity Israel was ever established' — most recently London's obnoxious mayor, Ken Livingstone. The argument goes that, if there had been no Israel in the first place, and if the Palestinians had been given a state instead, there would be no unrest in the Middle East, no radical Islamic violence anywhere else, no war in Iraq or Afghanistan, no war on terror, and—who knows—even universal peace.

Of course, that's unbelievably naïve. Without Israel, things would have been and would now be different. But that's a bit like my saying, 'if I hadn't married my wife, things would have worked out differently'. Some writers use this concept effectively, developing a theory of the 'shadow self', the 'me' who would be a totally different person if this or that hadn't happened. For myself, I know with considerable accuracy the one tiny decision, a last-minute thing, that influenced the rest of my life totally and irrevocably. Most of us can do this, especially as we get older. The idea was very well expressed some years ago in a film called Sliding Doors. We may sometimes regret this or that choice, but we know that a different choice might have worked out even worse. (My wife worked out as an excellent choice, by the way!)

If Israel hadn't existed, the Middle East would have fallen into disarray anyway, thanks to the collapse of centralized Ottoman rule and the existence of numerous mainly religious divisions across the region. When empires collapse, their constituent parts inevitably fragment and turn on each other. The tensions the Ottomans kept in check have become vicious since 1918, and they would have been so Israel or not.

Of course putting a Jewish state down in the Arab world may not have been the most judicious thing. With hindsight, it can seem to have been unwise. But if we think about it, might it not also have been a very positive thing? After all, there were Jewish communities throughout North Africa and the Middle East in those days, and these communities often played major roles in the lives of the countries they lived in (Egypt, especially Alexandria, being perhaps the best example). When we look at somewhere like Alexandria around the turn of the century and for many decades later, not only was there a thriving Jewish community, but there were Greeks, Armenians, Iranians, Lebanese, Turks, and British. Nowadays, all that cosmopolitan vigour has gone. Was that the fault of Israel? What would someone like Nasser have done without Israel to focus on? What would the Muslim Brotherhood and other Salafi religious groups have done without Israel? In the case of Nasser, he might have taken his pan-Arabist ambitions and gone on to conquer or try to conquer other Arab countries. The Brotherhood might have concentrated on cleansing the Muslim world of its heresies and decadence. Who knows?

A positive Arab response to Israel, based on an understanding of the contributions made by the region's Jews (remember how hard the Moroccans tried to get their Jews to stay?) might have led to the creation of two viable, mutually reinforcing states with alliances across the region and beyond. Without al-Husayni, without the Muslim Brotherhood, without the German thrust for Palestine, how different it all might have been.

Is this reason to despair? Yes and no. To feel threatened, to feel afraid, to feel despondent because nobody seems to love you — all these are valid emotions. But if we give in to negative emotions, they can destroy us more effectively than our enemies. And if Israelis capitulate to their enemies, if Hamas et al one day establish a Palestinian theocracy, can anyone believe it will be the end of the story? For Jews, it will spell the end, exposing them to international obloquoy and the threats that will stem from it. For the rest of us, it will be a triumph for intolerance, for the rule of violence, and for hardline fundamentalism. Doctors tell patients suffering from depression that they have to do hard things, from forcing themselves out of bed in the morning, to going to work, to eating properly. It's tough, but the alternative is tougher. Israel's daily struggle isn't helped by the mood of despair. Now, I firmly believe, the only thing that will raise Israeli spirits will be a total victory over Hizbullah, whether that's this summer or the next.

A poor showing by Leeds university

Further to my post about the Matthias Küntzel affair, here are two letters, one from the university, giving rather weak excuses for their action, and my response to that.

On 19 Mar 2007, at 19:03, Roger Gair wrote:

Dear Dr MacEoin,

As the responsible officer, I write in response to your messages to the Chancellor and the Vice-Chancellor.

Dr Kuentzel's proposed public lecture last Wednesday evening was cancelled neither for any reason of censorship nor because of pressure from any interest group. It was cancelled because the organisers did not give us enough notice to provide the normal level of portering, stewarding and security (around twenty people in total) for such an event.

It is simply not true that we somehow capitulated to threats or complaints. As a matter of fact, we received no threats, and only a handful of complaints – fewer indeed than for a talk delivered on our campus the previous evening by an Israeli diplomat. The talk by the Israeli diplomat went ahead; the difference was that the organisers (the University’s Jewish Society) told us about that talk the week before and worked with us to make the necessary arrangements.

Assuming that we are given enough notice, and appropriate logistical information, I know of no reason why Dr Kuentzel should not deliver his lecture in Leeds at a future date.

For the record, and despite press reports to the contrary, the University did not in any way seek to prevent two other talks by Dr Kuentzel on (I believe) the same theme: as internal academic seminars, they did not require the same level of support as a large public meeting.

Yours sincerely,

Roger Gair


Dear Mr Gair,

I have had now had a chance to garner further information about the cancellation of Dr. Küntzel's lecture and seminars, and I have to say that I do not find your explanation of the university's action at all convincing. Nothing you write adds up. You speak of security matters, yet deny any threats or menaces that might make such measures necessary. You suggest that the need for such security came up entirely at the last minute, on the day Dr. Küntzel arrived in Leeds to give his lecture, yet it is patently clear that the university had known of this event for four months and had advertised it for three weeks. That can only mean that something fresh must have intervened some very short time before the 14th. Since I know that e-mails from Muslim students had been received by the university administration during that time gap, and that these messages might easily have been interpreted as indicators of possible protest or worse, I find it remarkably easy to connect the two things as cause and effect.

If those messages (and perhaps other communications to which I am not privy) did not serve as prompts to suggest a need for a very high level of security, I would like to know what other factor or factors did in fact prompt you. I have studied and worked in universities for forty years, teaching, among other things, Islamic Studies, yet I have never once known a situation in which a university has felt it necessary to provide other than the most regular level of security for an event — a porter usually, or notification of the university police. Dr. Küntzel's lecture was to have been on a valid academic subject, one on which I have myself written and talked, and to whose validity and urgency I can testify. The subject matter of Islamic anti-Semitism is neither unacademic nor, frankly, particularly controversial except to some (and by no means all) Muslims. Why should this one lecture out of a series have been singled out at the last minute for such draconian attention? It really isn't good enough to say that the department had not arranged for proper security soon enough, since I have to imagine that the same problem would then have applied to all lectures in the series. Or did the department only forget to do so for this one lecture?

I think the university did something disgraceful in cancelling this important lecture. I think veiled threats were made, or an assumption of threat was deduced (it would be naïve in the extreme to believe that a university based in Leeds of all places would not be sensitive to the potential results of Muslim grievance), and that the result was a denial of academic freedom. That it should be more important to give in to someone wishing to censor the dissemination of information than to grant a responsible academic the freedom to pass on the fruits of his research is to act in direct contravention of all standards of academic responsibility and, I am sure, the charter of your university itself.

Although I am not a member of staff at Leeds, I concern myself with this issue because I have known other examples of such pressure and am seriously frightened of the consequences of letting extreme Muslim opinion dictate what happens in academia wherever something seems to touch on radicalized sensibilities.

In conclusion, may I ask if it might not be appropriate for the university to hold or allow to be held an enquiry into the circumstances that led to this sorry business? You have a responsibility to everyone involved to provide better explanations than you have done so far and, should my interpretation or an approximation of it turn out to be correct, you owe an apology to all concerned. Such an apology must, without question, include a formal invitation to Dr. Küntzel to deliver his lecture and hold his seminars at a later date, the event to be given full and appropriate publicity.

I hope action can be taken to restore the university's integrity and to make it clear that censorship, threats, and bans form no part of Western academic norms.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Denis MacEoin

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The censorship of the study of anti-Semitism

I will reproduce here two letters I've written this week, one to Lord Melvyn Bragg, cultural icon and Chancellor of Leeds University, and an earlier one to Professor Michael Arthur, the Leeds Vice-Chancellor. As many of you will know by now, a lecture and workshop that were due to have been given in Leeds last week by Dr. Matthias Küntzel of the Hebrew University's Vidal Sassoon Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism, were cancelled by the university on the grounds of 'security'. The subject was to have been Islamic Anti-Semitism, a keen research interest of my own, and tghe event would have taken place over three days in the university's German department. Some Muslims (possibly students, it isn't clear), perhaps a couple, perhaps many more, had objected to the sessions being given, and it looks fairly certain that the university administration, fearful of a protest and perhaps violence, caved in without even so much as a consultation. It is hard to understand what these Muslims thought they were protesting about in the first place. That a university should dare fulfil its obligation to provide a safe environment in which ideas can be explored? That someone in a university was going to say, heaven forbid, that many Muslims in the Middle East are flagrant anti-Semites? That this might somehow impinge on the dignity of Islam? That Dr. Küntzel might in passing refer to Qur'anic verses and hadiths of a less-than-friendly disposition towards Jews?

My own experience in researching and teaching in the field of religious studies has given me many memories of how easy it is to offend some religious people. My job as a teacher of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Newcastle was terminated when my sponsors, the Saudi Ministry of Higher Education, decided they didn't like me teaching two 'heretical' subjects, Shi'ism and Sufsim (as well as half of a course on the sociology of religion, which I devoted to my own 'expert' subject of Baha'ism). I've had flak from the other side as well. That's because the academic study of religion must, by definition, pass the limits of what believers may feel to be proper.

But Dr. Küntzel's seminar wasn't even about Islam as such. It was about a genuine evil, namely the ubiquitous presence of anti-Semitic tropes and images in parts of the Muslim world, especially Egypt, the Palesinian Territories, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and, of course, Iran. That is exactly the sort of subject any respectable university should wish to encourage. It is topical, it involves detailed analysis of history (links between Islamism and the Third Reich), it offers possibilities for serious textual analysis and theory-based commentary on film, television, and cartoon imagery (why, for example, do Arabs, who are Semites and share Semitic features with many Jews, choose to depict Jews with hooked noses, a trope taken directly from the Third Reich, where the hooked nose was an exaggerated emblem of non-Aryan status?), it leads into a discussion of the differences and similarities between anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, and anti-Israelism. It is a valid academic subject, but, without warning, a university chooses to remove it from its campus.

Does any of this relate to Israel? You bet it does. Understanding this legacy involves a study of the way the Muslim Brotherhood and some of the Palestinian leadership (above all Hajj Muhammad Amin al-Husayni, the Mufti of Jersualem) chose to ally themselves with the Nazis and how, after World War II this support for fascism mutated into bitter anti-Zionism and imitation of fascist methods. Today, members of Hamas and Hizbullah use the Hitlergrüss salute, something only neo-Nazi groups do in Europe or North America. Knowing this helps us place a different interpretation on anti-Israel rhetoric and behaviour. To say it's a pity Hitler didn't finish the job and kill all Jews in the world, and then to claim 'I'm only anti-Israel, not anti-Semitism' is to stretch credulity. Yet Western journalists and politicians seem to fall for this line every time. Unless and until we learn to see through this smokescreen of 'anti-Israelism' to the underlying Judaeophobia, we will go on praising some of our very worst enemies. Because these people aren't just anti-Semitic. They are fascists, who hate democracy, freedom, and the rule of law in sovereign states. They are as much enemies of Western civilization as Hitler and his mafia were in the 1930s and 40s. When a British university thinks it better to avoid controversy than to open up debate about a reality that threatens its core freedoms, then it's time to ask just where we are all headed.

Here are the two letters, for what they are worth:

Lord Bragg of Wigton,
The University of Leeds.

Dear Lord Bragg,

I am copying here a letter (via e-mail) that I sent some days ago to Professor Michael Arthur, the Vice-Chancellor of Leeds University, on what is now becoming a notorious instance of capitulation to outside pressure to cancel a legitimate and (many may say) crucial academic venture. As my letter to Professor Arthur points out, I had myself given a lecture under almost exactly the same title last Saturday, and have researched in this area myself, so I feel qualified to argue the appropriateness of Dr Küntzel's research and lecturing.

I fully understand your non-administrative position within the university, but I'm convinced that the implications of this ban for the wider world of academe and culture are so great that the incident threatens to bring the university into disrepute (and, indeed, has already done so in some circles). Hence my writing to you in the hope that some form of intervention on your part may lead to a fresh invitation being extended to Dr. Küntzel and, should he accept, a three-day workshop being held on the Leeds campus, followed perhaps by a public lecture on this vital subject. Should this be done with appropriate publicity within the university, and if both the workshop and the lecture (or lectures) should be attended by larger numbers, it would serve both an academic and educational purpose, by alerting audiences to the existence throughout the Middle East of a virulent form of anti-Semitism that is ubiquitous, mainstream, popular, and derived in its largest part from the tropes and images of the Third Reich. It is inconceivable to me that any university should seek to favour objections to such information and to put a gag on the bearer of what may be an unwelcome message, yet a hugely relevant one for modern society. Forms of Islamic anti-Semitism have already moved to Europe and North America, making all the greater the relevance of this message to a British university in a city that has bred Islamist terrorists.

I hope you will at least speak to the university authorities on this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Denis MacEoin
Royal Literary Fund Fellow
Newcastle University


Dear Vice-Chancellor,

May I begin by introducing myself as a former lecturer in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Newcastle University, where I am currently the Royal Literary Fund Fellow.

I have just received news of a decision made by Leeds University to cancel a talk and 2-day workshop series by Dr. Matthias Kuentzel of Hebrew University, both under the title 'Hitler's Legacy: Islamic Antisemitism in the Middle East'. Having myself given a lecture on Islamic Antisemitism a few days ago, I am horrified and outraged by this decision. As an academic who has struggled with religious pressures to censor and exercise control within my field, I place a high value on academic freedom within Western universities. I appreciate those freedoms the more for having studied at Shiraz University in Iran and taught at Mohammed V University in Fez, Morocco, where such freedoms are absent. An academic book of my own has recently been blocked from publication due to pressure brought on the publishers by a religious group. That is how keenly I feel about censorship contaminating the realm of academia, and why, in part, I am spurred to write to you in these terms. Academic freedom is the very foundation of all work carried in universities and colleges, and without it, as I know you must be very well aware, the entire project of unbiased, free, and honest academic teaching and research slips into degradation and abuse.

Since it is a research interest of my own, I can testify that the subject on which Dr. Kuentzel was due to speak is one of considerable importance, both academically and as a topic for public and governmental interest. Not to study it and not to debate it opens up a glaring gap in our knowledge of the Middle East, our understanding of Islam, and our analysis of Muslim relations with the West and with the Jewish community in particular. Anti-Semitism is in itself a subject studied internationally in numerous centres, and one about which innumerable books and articles have been written. Much of that latter work has originated in the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, at which Dr. Kuentzel works. It is beyond my comprehension that a scholar with his credentials, affiliated to such a centre and such a university, speaking on a topic of vital academic and general interest should be barred from speaking simply because a pressure group with blatantly vested interests has complained. What will be next? No lectures on Iranian nuclear strategy because someone in the Iranian embassy made a phone call to someone in your office? A lecture on animal research in your faculty of biological sciences cancelled because an animal rights group threatens to stage a protest?

I cannot believe that you yourself would for one moment consider letting outside interests exercise the least influence over the content of academic courses or guest lectures in any other context. Yet it has happened at your university, and I for one feel betrayed by that. If someone invites me to lecture at Leeds on this or a related topic, will I now be automatically persona non grata? Will I have to submit the text of my lecture to a censorship committee beforehand?

I wish to be reassured as to what action you and the university propose to take to remedy this serious breach of academic principle. I intend to forward details to the Council for Academic Freedom and Academic Standards, of which I am a long-standing member. They may in due course contact you as well. I do hope you can find a way to put this matter right, regardless of pressure from within or without your institution. I place my trust in you to do so.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Denis MacEoin

Supporter, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East
Patron, Friends of Israel Academic Study Group on the Middle East

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The core issue between Israel and the Palestinians

In my last post, I talked about delusion. I want to take that concept further by admitting that it's not all delusion. Most Muslims are living through a different reality to the rest of the world, not through any form of insanity, but because their worldview differs radically from that of the West or, for that matter, much of Africa or the Far East. This, I believe, is the core issue between Israel and the Palestinians (and, indeed, the Arabs, Iranians, and the Muslim world in general). Of course, it's obvious that we all have differing worldviews, views we take from our society or our religion or our political party or the zeitgeist. It's human and it's inevitable, and most of the time it does no harm. But when two worldviews clash, things can go badly wrong. I play fado music all the time while I work at my computer, but I don't imagine it would go down well at one of the nightspots just up the road from me. There would be arguments and, if some of the clubbers were very drunk (which most of them probably would be), there could well be violence. Fortunately, that sort of showdown doesn't happen often, because most of us learn to keep our worldviews separate. In a civilized society, worldview clashes don't often lead to violence: even if a Jehovah's Witness or a Mormon tries to push their (to me bizarre) view of the universe in my face, the most will they will suffer is yet another blow to their well-accustomed pride as I close the door. But when we move out onto the international scene, clashing worldviews often lead to wars. This is at the root of the Israel-Palestinian conflct, but because observers like to think its just a clash over territory, it is seldom seem for what it really is and what it has been from the start.

The best way to examine this—and the most relevant for our purpose here—is to talk about the Westphalian System. We're in disputed territory here (in more ways than one), and I'm not a political scientist or a political historian, so readers will have to go easy on me. But, for what it's worth, this is my understanding of the heritage of the Peace of Westphalia. Back in 1648, two treaties were signed, ending both the Thirty Years' War and the Eighty Years' War. The resulting peace came to be called the Peace of Westphalia, and until recently it was generally thought to be the case that it brought into existence the modern system of relations between sovereign states, the so-called Westphalian System, that has governed international relations down to the present day. Of course, it wasn't that simple: European states had to develop much further. Italy and Germany took much longer to coalesce into their present shape, the monarchical system had to bend to the emergence of democracy, and imperialism had to give way to independence for nations outside Europe. The two biggest advances, like the Peace of Westphalia itself, came after major wars: the creation of the League of Nations and then the United Nations.

It was the League of Nations that developed the mandate system as a sort of half-way house between colonialization and independence, turning the Ottoman Empire in a group of states or embryonic states throughout the Middle East. This was how several Arab provinces were transformed into autonomous states, such as Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, and this was how a Jewish state was to be built on what had been southern Syria and was now the British mandate of Palestine. All the actors, Europeans and Arabs alike, had been brought into the Westphalian system, even if the Arabs found it impossible to accept democracy.

The rub lay, of course, in the Jewish state. Created by the mandate and in accordance with a majority vote at the United Nations, it was conceived and created as a child of the Westphalian system, and designed by its own makers to be a liberal democratic entity unlike any other state in the region. The Arab reaction, as we all know, was to attack it with the aim of destroying it utterly. The European nations had, in the main, taken lessons from the Second World War and the Holocaust, and had helped create Israel as a haven for Jews who wanted the right to defend themselves. The Arabs had, of course, taken advantage of the Westphalian mandates to create their own sovereign states; but it was impossible for them to extend this privilege to Israel, even to live side by side in harmony with the Jewish state. Arab nationalism became an important feature of Middle Eastern political life in the coming years, but Jewish nationalism was declared unacceptable from the start.

This intransigence is, in part, due to the existing Islamic theory of international law, predicated on two things: the notion of a supernational Islamic entity known as the umma, and existing Islamic law concerning jihad. Rudolph Peters puts this succinctly: '... modernist authors have argued that the doctrine of jihad offers a theory of bellum justum [just war]. Some of them have elaborated this point and have interpreted this doctrine as Islamic international law or as Islamic law of nations.... Christian as well as modern international law are (sic) founded on the fact that they are regarded as binding by all states concerned. On that basis, they give rpescriptions for international intercourse, which, in the case of Christian international law, is confined to the Christian nations. Islamic law, on the other hand, is not interested in the relations between the Islamic states as, ideally, there is but one [the umma]. Its object is to provide Moslems with a code of behaviour in their relations with non-Moslems. Thgus, its prescriptions are only binding for Moslems.... Because of the Islamic claim to universality, it does not recognize non-Moslems and non-Moslem states as legal subjects equal to Moslems and the Islamic state.... With the exception of treaty obligations, non-Moslems, in as far as they are not protected by aman [surety] or dhimmah [being a Jew or Christian subject to a Muslim state], cannot, in general, claim any right under Islamic international law.... An important characteristic of the writings on Islamic international law is that in nearly all of them the point is stressed that Islamic international law, at least in its principles, is superior to positive international law.' (Rudolph Peters, Islam and Colonialism: The Doctrine of Jihad in Modern History, pp. 135-39)

Where does this leave us? With the seemingly unstoppable rise in Ilamic radicalism, it means we face a greater struggle than ever to stabliize the situation in the Middle East and achieve recognition and toleration for Israel. Hamas and Hizbulah, unlike the PLO and Fatah, rest their case on a rigid adherence to Islamic law and principle. Until such time as this brand of Islam receives a serious check, and Islam itself undergoes a major reformation, we all have to live with the fact that many Muslims live in a different mental world in many matters. It's not delusional to hold to a particular religious belief or ideology; but when clinging to a belief that puts very large numbers at odds with the majority, it can be seen as disfunctional to persist. In most cases, of course, holding to one's belief despite external pressure to conform is a noble, even empowering thing: one just has to look at the history of Judaism to see that. But when the result leads, not to the shedding of one's own blood, but to the shedding of that of others, persistence grows dangerous. The Palestinians and their suppporters do harm to Israelis, but also to themselves. They, more than anyone, have suffered from their intransigence. No-one has tried to deny them a state. No-one wishes them harm. But if their new government cannot abandon their obsessive belief that God will grant them an Islamic state in a Palestine built on the ruins of Israel, who knows what hardships are in store for them?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sane delusions and the Temple Mount

Sometimes, when I look at the issues Israel's enemies bring up either to condemn the Jewish state, or to justify their own position, I think many of them are delusional. That's come up in this past week during the controversy (still simmering) about building work near the Temple Mount. Palestinians, Egyptians, and others have been taking to the streets, tearing their hair out in despair because the evil Jews are plotting to undermine the structure of al-Aqsa Mosque. On February 13, Khalid Mish'al, the leader of Hamas's political wing (their Gerry Adams, if you like) wrote in an overwrought piece in the Guardian: 'Meanwhile, excavation resumed last week in the compound of al-Aqsa mosque, and on Friday the mosque, to which access is denied to Palestinians below the age of 45, was invaded by Israeli troops who wounded scores of worshippers.' Speaking to al-Jazeera television, Taysir al-Tamimi, the Palestinian Authority's Chief of Judges and chairman of its Islamic law high council, said 'Israel is now carrying out wide excavations under the mosque and is building a synagogue in front of the Dome of the Rock'.

Come again? 'In the compound of al-Aqsa mosque'? Has Mish'al ever visited Jerusalem or the Temple Mount? Did he take the elementary trouble to look at a map. The essential building work is being carried out well beyond the Temple Mount, let alone al-Aqsa. '...wide excavations under the mosque'? What excavations? Where? The only people doing anything on the Temple Mount are workers from the Islamic Waqf organization, which controls everything up there (and underneath). '...building a synagogue in front of the Dome of the Rock.' What synagogue? There were implausible plans for one, but Israel preferred to let the Muslims build a minaret there instead, which they are doing.

In other words, everything these people are saying is a lie. And the people in various Muslim countries demonstrating and calling on God for vengeance are deluded. Not in the way a paranoid schizophrenic is deluded, which is mental illness, but because they have bought into a culture of shameless half-truths, brazen lies, and mind-boggling conspiracy theories. It is incredibly easy to look at a map and examine photographs in order to see how the land lies on and around the Temple Mount. All the Palestinian Arabs have to do is walk to the walkway and then stroll over to al-Aqsa, whereupon it will dawn on them that talk of excavations under the mosque is pure poppycock. But they know it's poppycock anyway, and prefer to go with that than to deal with the reality in front of their noses. That is to choose delusion, because it serves a greater political or religious interest. It's what Hitler and Stalin did when they told the Big Lie in its various forms. It's what the Palestinian Arabs do when they say there is no evidence for a Jewish presence in Jerusalem two thousand and more years ago. That there was never a Second Temple. Nor a First Temple.

The standard of education in the Middle East is poor. Even universities expect students to learn what they are told, and discourage questioning. This establishes a mindset that permits even the best educated to trot out balderdash as if it were Gospel truth. The Israeli security fence is a wall for mile after mile after mile. 9/11 was a US-Jewish plot that had nothing to do with al-Qaeda. The Zionists encouraged the Nazis to kill as many Jews as possible in order to force Jews to flee to Palestine. There was a massacre in Jenin. Hizbullah were innocent bystanders in a violent war started by the Jews with the aim of destroying Lebanon. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is an authentic historical document. The Holocaust never happened. Or, if it did, the Jews started it. There was a state of Palestine on what is now Israel, and it was destroyed by the evil Jewish settlers.

It goes on and on. Read Daniel Pipes's book The Hidden Hand to get a broad picture of how far conspiracy theory eats into the soul of the Muslim world. It poisons both politics and religion. Statesmen in the Middle East believe in things no self-respecting seventh-year schoolboy or girl here would take on board for a moment. Making a walkway safe for visitors (including Muslims) is a diabolical plot to destroy the Islamic presence on the Temple Mount. Muhammad al-Durra was shot by Israeli troops whose bullets made 90-degree turns.

If the educated believe some of these things, there's no hope for the illierate and semi-literate who take their cues from their religious and political leaders. The waters are constantly muddied by this almost blanket refusal to come to terms with historical, geographical, or political reality.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Protest is Fine, Balanced Protest is Better

It's easy to form the impression that anyone who defends Israel comes from a right-wing, even a far-right, political viewpoint. Because a majority (or what seems like a majority, but may well be only a vocal minority) of people on the Left, most of the liberal and left-leaning press, most liberal and leftish intellectuals, journalists, TV producers, and political activists have become anti-Israel in their sentiments and actions, it is too easy to assume that defence of Israel is automatically a right-wing matter, and a matter for shame at that. But it really isn't that simple. There are Labour MPs who belong to Labour Friends of Israel, there are pro-Israel, Left-oriented pressure groups like Engage, and there are plenty of vocal Israel advocates from the centre of politics, like myself.

There are, naturally, many people who defend Israel who do take conservative and neo-conservative positions on related issues. Some of them are very hawkish indeed, and they frighten me as much as they do you. But they are not representative. For one thing, there are many liberal-minded people on the right whose concern for social justice is equal to that of those on the left and centre. For another, there are probably more on the extreme right who consider Israel and Jews with contempt or outright hatred. It's also important to remember that, until not that long ago, Israeli politics and Israeli government were dominated by the Left. Israel's history is more socialist than that of the UK. Israelis protest about many of the same things other liberal-minded people protest about. Israeli liberals anguish about much the same things as liberals everywhere: poverty, war, injustice, freedom of speech, torture, abuse of human rights, the environment, racism, the impact of giant corporations, prisoners of conscience, and other, often related, issues.

This is not to suggest that people on the right, in Israel as elsewhere, do not anguish about these matters or take action to improve them. But the centre and left are more likely to be seen on the streets marching, carrying placards, or shouting slogans, writing letters to the press, creating pressure groups. And such activities, it must me said, are vital to the health of any democratic society. We all have to care about the oppressed, the disappeared, the imposition of capital punishment, the waging of war, the massacre of innocents. If liberals and the Left take up their cudgels on behalf of such causes more visibly than those on the Right, then we must all be grateful for that. If left-wing feminists have advanced the cause of women's rights in the teeth of opposition from conservatives and traditionalists, they deserve the thanks of women (and men) everywhere. If liberals have put apartheid or sex trafficking or the exploitation of workers and farmers in the Third World on the agenda, and have challenged the Dutch Reformed Church or women traffickers or big business to do so, they can be credited for many legal and political reforms that enhance the rights of us all. Their predecessors, who brought about the abolition of slavery, the end of child labour, the curtailment of capital punishment, or the introduction of legislation granting homosexuals the same rights as other citizens no longer seem the enemies of propriety, morality, and social cohesion they did all those years ago.

But over the past couple of decades, liberal and left-wing politics have undergone an unprecedented, even bizarre, change of direction, a sea change that has distorted and disfigured much of its original world-view. Much of the natural sentiment of liberal politiics remains: a bias towards the underdog, a determination for justice, a belief in humanity and the rights human beings deserve as a natural heritage. But this has often been obscured — and, as time passes, is ever more obscured — beneath other messages. Political correctness, from valid beginnings, has transmogrified into something so far removed from its original purposes as to be unrecognizable. This is nothing new in politics or religion, of course: human minds and institutions seem to have an instinctive drive towards extremes. Thus Marxism, starting as an ideology based in justice and the equitable distribution of wealth and resources, helped create some of the least just societies in history, some forms of Christianity, though rooted in the teachings of a man of peace who loved the poor and the dispossessed, became illiberal and violent expressions of militancy and aristocratic contempt for the poor, the French Revolution, situated in the Rights of Man, devoured its children and brought forth a megalomaniac emperor. We can all add examples from history and current affairs, from both the left and right of politics.

Political correctness and related political attitudes have turned several otherwise honourable endeavours into extremist onslaughts on moderate and balanced democratic discourse. For example, feminism achieved great things then turned sour in part with radical feminists made men culpable for all the ills of human kind, declared that 'all sex is rape', and became as intolerant of the male sex as men had ever been of women. Similarly, where Martin Luther King took black people on a great march to freedom and equality, black power ideologues became racists in reverse. Listening to the boxer Muhammad Ali pour out venom on the white race was to me as sickening as giving ear to a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan spew forth hate speech against blacks.

The current vogue for post-colonial studies, introduced in part by the Egyptian 'Palestinian' intellectual Edward Said, consists for the most part of criticism of the colonial enterprises of the great Western empires — the British, French, Spanish, and Portuguese conquest of most of the world, or the later US neo-colonialism by proxy. Much of that criticism is entirely valid, if we bear in mind the multitude of wrongs done to native peoples and their cultures. But less is said about the benefits imperialism sometimes brought, nor do we hear much about non-Western imperialism, its vices, and its benefits. The many Islamic empires — the Umayyads, the Abbasids, the Mughals, the Safavids, the Ottomans — seem to be blameless, the Arab conquests, with their devastating impact on the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia are passed over in silence. The imperial history of Africa, the exploits of the great jihad states of Nigeria and elsewhere, the Chinese empire, the depradations of the Mongols and Timur Lang, the empires of the Byzantines and Sasanids, the military exploits of the Tartars, the Cossacks, the Turks, and the rest are seldom referred to.

In political terms, this approach translates into an all-consuming hatred for our own culture, for Western civilization in general, and for specific parts of the Western world, notably the United States, Israel, and the United Kingdom. That other civilizations have oppressed subject people, committed atrocities, established totalitarian ideologies, carried out vast and long-lived trading in slaves (notably the Arabs and Ottoman Turks) seems to escape liberal reproach. Meanwhile, the great achievements of the West are swept under the carpet: the abolition of slavery, the United States Constitution, the Declaration of Human Rights, the spread of advanced education, science, medicine, tolerance for different creeds, democracy, and the very creation of left-wing and liberal political thought.

What has turned an entire generation of young people, committed to great ideals, desiring the well-being of their fellow men and women, well educated, enquiring, the recipients of the greatest material comforts bestowed on any generartion in history, with hearts burning for good and peace, dedicated to make poverty history and discrimination a thing of the past into what seems at times a gang of thugs whose hatred for Israel — and sometimes Jews in general — a driving force in their lives? Is it not that same sense of imbalance, that absence of measure that has been imposed on them by the strident demands of political correctness, that numbing sense of righteousness and rightness that has come to pervade the liberal world, that political absolutism that resembles so greatly the unswerving will of the Third Reich, that black-and-white Manichaeism of the Stalinist empire, or that fixed division of the world between Dar al-Harb and Dar al-Islam that characterizes all Islamic political thought?

The demonization of Israel has reached proportions that none of us have seen since the days Hitler and his propagandists made Jews the scapegoats of all the ills of mankind. It is everywhere accompanied by a dogged refusal to see harm in the thoughts and deeds of the PLO, Hamas, Hizbullah, or any other of the terrorist armies whose knives seek Jewish throats, to acknowledge the feverish anti-Semitism of the Palestinians, the Egyptians, the Iranians, and others throughout the world, to contemplate, however briefly, the possibility that Israelis are like other human beings, and that they may have sound reason to defend themselves from a second genocidal attack on their race. Not seeing things like that, that's what hard to understand. How can a liberal not see it? How can members of the International Solidarity Movement pose with Kalshnikovs and still insist they work for peace? How can Muslim liberals read anti-Semitic texts and see anti-Semitic images every day in their press and on television, and turn aside from it, and say and do nothing to call their societies — the very societies they purposrt to condemn for their absolutism and intolerance in every other field — to account? How come the left-wing president of Nicargua, Daniel Ortega is even now embracing Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad, the president of a deeply conservative theocratic state, and claiming they have much in common?

How is it possible for a man like Jimmy Carter to abandon his own principles so thoroughly as to seek in the Middle East, not a righting of wrongs, but a down-and-dirty fight with Israel and a whitewashing of Palestinian obstinacy and violence? He knows better than that, I'm convinced; but in a world where value is seen only in the underdog, however ignobly he may have barked or bitten, where strength against intolerance is seen as the iron fist of an apartheid state, and where terrorism becomes the moral equivalent of heroism and a struggle for freedom from 'colonial' oppression, perhaps he felt he had no other choice, if he was not to lose all credibility with the credulous centre of American politics.

Why does no-one march against al-Qa'ida? Against female genital mutilation? Against forced marriages? Against honour killings? Where are the protests about the Burmese dictatorship, the Chinese occupation of Tibet, the Turkish denial of the Armenian massacres, the continuing Arab slave trade, Mugabe's robber regime in Zimbabwe, Pakistan's nuclear bomb, North Korea's state-created famines, and all the other glaring injustices that drag on just above or, more often, just below the headlines? Could it be that none of these involve Western states? Could it be that liberals have come to believe that any sort of injustice or violence may be excused so long as it is the work of non-Westerners, whom we must never condemn? Is that not a form of reverse racism?

When I see ISM members stand in Palestinian streets to place their bodies as shields between Palestinian suicide bombers and Israeli children; when there are banners outside Parliament calling on Hizbullah to disarm in accordance with UN resolutions; when I hear the sound of tramping feet and shouting voices calling for an end to terrorism; when I open my morning Guardian and read a letter signed by hundreds, calling for a boycott of Iran — then, and only then, will I start to believe that the liberal left and the liberal centre have regained their sense of proportion. Until then, I despair, not that there may be peace and justice and kindness in the world, but that political correctness will have blinded so many to where they may find them.