Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Warped Mirror: Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia


by Petra Marquardt-Bigman


In a recent article, New York Times critic Edward Rothstein used two newly published studies on anti-Semitism to list some of the points that are often brought up by people who feel that this is an issue that has not all that much relevance for our time.

Inevitably, the notion that critics of Israel risk being unfairly denounced as anti-Semitic is among the points mentioned by Rothstein. While Rothstein repeats the often acknowledged view that "criticism of Israel is not necessarily anti-Semitic any more than criticism of any particular Jew is," he ultimately argues that it is "easy enough to discern when responsible criticisms of Israel veer into something reprehensible: the structure of anti-Semitic belief is not subtle." As Rothstein explains:

There is a wildly exaggerated scale of condemnation, in which extremes of contempt confront a country caricatured as the world's worst enemy of peace; such attacks, and the use of Nazi analogies, are beyond evidence and beyond pragmatic political debate or protest. Israel's autonomy - its very presence - is the problem."

Unfortunately, Rothstein is completely wrong to assert that there is a clear red line that separates what he calls "responsible criticisms of Israel" from "reprehensible" demonization that echoes anti-Semitic sentiments. Indeed, it is depressingly easy to illustrate that there is no such red line, or rather, that no such red line is accepted by Israel's many ardent "critics."

Just a day after Rothstein's article was published, Mark Gardner of the British Community Security Trust (CST) reflected in a blog post on the "
Drip, Drip, Drip of Criticism and Hatred" that is an everyday part of the British media coverage of Israel. Gardner hinted at the endless controversies about the question what constitutes legitimate criticism of Israel and what qualifies as anti-Semitism, and he could have added that this is actually only part of the problem - as illustrated by two of the subsequent blog posts written by Gardner's colleague Dave Rich.

Under the title "
Ayatollah Fadlallah: obituary of an anti-Semite," Rich pointed out that Hezbollah's praise for the deceased Fadlallah highlighted statements that clearly document his anti-Semitism and support for extremism and terrorism, whereas these issues were either ignored or glossed over in many of the obituaries published in the Western media. The second post on "The decency of antisemitism" focused on the commentary posted by the British ambassador to Lebanon, Frances Guy, who reacted to the news of Fadlallah's death with a blog post on the website of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) that offered her reflections on "The passing of decent men." It has to be noted, though, that this post was eventually removed from the FCO site and replaced by an entry that addresses "The problem with diplomatic blogging."

Among the views espoused by Fadlallah was that Israel:

continues to extort Germany, using as a pretext the German Hitlerist-Nazi past, and the placing of the Jews in a holocaust. Zionism has inflated the number of victims in this holocaust beyond imagination."

This is of course a view that is so widespread in the Arab and Muslim world as to be commonplace, and at least in part this view reflects the equally widespread refusal to acknowledge Arab and Muslim sympathies for Nazi-Germany that have been well-documented in several studies. One of these studies, Jeffrey Herf's "Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World", is also mentioned by Rothstein, who observes that:

Nazi ideology bears many resemblances to that of contemporary Islamic extremism, some the consequence of careful teaching. That teaching is still present in the Arab world, amplified by political leaders and imams, often annexed to denigrations of Jews taken from Islamic sources. The result [] has been one of the most historically noxious forms of anti-Semitic mythology, which has also fed into political debates in the West and cannot be overlooked or easily dismissed."

Again, however, Rothstein is unfortunately wrong when he asserts that the well-documented Nazi "inspiration"for some elements of Islamist ideology "cannot be overlooked or easily dismissed." An example of just how "easily" it can be done, even in the most respectable forums, is provided in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, where George Washington University Professor Marc Lynch attacks Paul Berman's recently published book The Flight of the Intellectuals. As Lynch puts it:

Many of the valuable debates that The Flight of the Intellectuals could have sparked are drowned out by Berman's ludicrous efforts to construct an intellectual and organizational genealogy linking Nazi Germany and contemporary Islamism."

Lynch also seems to suggest that any debate about the question whether the concept of "Islamic fascism" is a valid one should be avoided because "virtually all Muslims consider it a profound insult to their faith and identity." Presumably, therefore, Lynch also wouldn't want to challenge the claim of Turkish prime minister Erdogan who declared: "It is not possible for those who belong to the Muslim faith to carry out genocide."

The eagerness to avoid any offense to Muslim sensitivities that is illustrated by Lynch is clearly also a factor when it comes to the fashionable idea that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia should be regarded as similar phenomena. In his New York Times article, Rothstein notes one recent incident that occurred when Hannah Rosenthal, the US special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, gave a speech during a visit in Kazakhstan and asserted that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia were similar. However, controversies about comparing or even equating anti-Semitism with "Islamophobia" have caused much acrimony
in other cases, not least because proponents who postulate such an equivalence are often loath to address Muslim Jew-hatred.

While Rothstein acknowledges that "cases of unwarranted discrimination are always similar", he emphasizes that "Islamophobia" is a rather recent concept. Rothstein also points out that "much of what is characterized as "Islamophobia" today arises out of taking seriously the impassioned claims of doctrinal allegiance made by Islamic terrorist groups and their supporters."

In this context, it is rather interesting to consider a recent news report about an
initiative of Muslim states to demand action against Western Islamophobia from the United Nations. According to this report, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) regards "criticism of Muslim practices and linking of terrorism waged under the proclaimed banner of Islamism as 'islamophobia' that pillories all Muslims."

Presumably, this means it would be "slamophobic" to find anything wrong with the
anti-Semitism expressed in the Hamas Charter.



Petra Marquardt-Bigman

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


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