Tag Archives: Arab world

D-Day and the Nazi legacy in the Arab world [updated]

In the wake of the recent commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the historic assault on Nazi-occupied France, the well-respected Arab analyst and commentator Hussein Ibish posted a tweet suggesting that the participation of some forces recruited from Arab countries invalidated what he called the “myth” that “Arabs sided with the Nazis.”

Ibish DDay1

When I responded that the “fact that some Arabs were recruited for the Allies doesn’t make Arab Nazi collaboration a ‘myth,’” a heated exchange ensued.  Ibish countered that while there were only few Arab Nazi collaborators, there were “HUGE numbers of Arabs who took up arms against Axis forces.” He proceeded to cite specific numbers, claiming e.g. that “9,000 Palestinians enlisted in the British army during the war,” and while he did not link to any sources, Ibish definitely does not deserve to be suspected of making up his own facts.

However, even if one assumes it is correct that 9000 Arabs from British Mandate Palestine enlisted in the British Army, this number is dwarfed by the 30,000 Jewish volunteers from British-ruled Palestine who served with the British forces during World War II. In addition, Jewish refugees who had escaped Nazi-controlled areas in Europe also volunteered to join the fight against Hitler’s Germany. Altogether, some 1.5 million Jews fought in the regular Allied armies – which is to say: roughly 10 percent of the global Jewish population in 1940. Of course, by the end of World War II, some six million Jewish civilians had been murdered by the Nazis, and a quarter of a million Jewish soldiers had lost their lives fighting with the Allies.

The number – and percentage – of Jewish fighters is staggering, and it is perhaps little wonder that at one point during the exchange, Ibish moved from his original focus on Arabs to Muslims, even including Muslims from British-ruled India to bolster his numbers. But this shouldn’t be a numbers game; and it also makes no sense to assume that Arab and Muslim recruits from areas under colonial rule fought with the Allies because they were motivated by a passionate opposition to Nazi ideology and Nazi Jew-hatred. Towards the end of the exchange, Ibish claimed that I wanted to believe that “Arabs/Muslims were generally pro-Nazi,” and he added all too confidently: “Good news: they weren’t!”

Given that I did my Ph.D. on a somewhat related topic – US intelligence on Germany during the 1940s – I’m not quite as unsophisticated as Ibish seems to assume. I doubt that there are reliable studies about how Arabs and Muslims in general felt about the Nazis during World War II, and given that countless millions of Arabs and Muslims lived in great poverty and had very little education at the time, many likely knew too little to have an informed opinion. However, we do know that the Nazis invested considerable efforts to appeal to Arab and Muslim audiences through broadcasts and other propaganda, and several scholars have made a convincing case that the poisonous legacy of this propaganda and the collaboration between the Nazi regime and some Arab leaders lives on in the Middle East.

So while it is obviously true that Arab and Muslim forces participated for various reasons in the Allied efforts to defeat Nazi Germany and the Axis powers, it is unfortunately also true that the ideologies developed by Arab and Muslim Nazi collaborators and sympathizers have remained deeply entrenched in the Middle East throughout the seven decades that have passed since D-Day.

Syrian Protocols 2005

Syrian edition in 2005 of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”

It is interesting in this context that Ibish linked in the exchange on Twitter to one of his articles where he decried the “very disturbing tendency by both Western and, to some extent also Arab, observers to apply different standards […], to be very tough on Western populists, demagogues and religious fanatics on the one hand and to be neutral, blasé or ‘understanding’ about their Arab counterparts on the other.”

But unfortunately, such very different standards are also applied when it comes to the legacy of Nazism in the Middle East. In Europe and the US, no group that identifies with a text even remotely resembling the Hamas Charter would stand a chance to gain any political legitimacy; yet, when the Western-supported Palestinian Authority forms a “unity government” with Hamas, there is no shortage of analysts and politicians who argue that this is acceptable because after all, Hamas has a sizeable constituency among Palestinians and if they don’t mind the unmistakable echoes of Nazi ideology in the group’s charter, everyone else should be willing to along with it.

There is a similar willingness to ignore the Nazi connections of the Muslim Brotherhood. According to an American intelligence report from June 1, 1946, the return of Hitler’s ally Amin al-Husseini to Egypt was welcomed by Hassan Al-Banna, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, who praised Husseini in a statement to the Arab League as a “hero who challenged an empire and fought Zionism, with the help of Hitler and Germany. Germany and Hitler are gone, but Amin Al-Husseini will continue the struggle.”

As Rubin and Schwanitz note (p.233), al-Husseini indeed “remained the historic Palestinian Arab leader until he was able to anoint [Yassir] Arafat as successor during meetings between them in 1968, and selected Said Ramadan [his son-in law and father of Oxford professor Tariq Ramadan] as his successor to lead the European-based Islamist movement. Even more important was al-Husaini’s role as leader of the international Islamist movement, ensuring that it survived the lean years of the 1950s and 1960s. When Islamism revived in the 1970s, its ideology bore the mark of al-Husaini and the other wartime collaborators, especially the Muslim Brotherhood.”

But while al-Husseini continues to be hailed as a Palestinian hero – including by Mahmoud Abbas –, a Palestinian professor who earlier this year dared to take his students to Auschwitz was threatened and vilified and eventually resigned his position.

As these and countless other examples illustrate, even if sizeable Arab and Muslim forces helped to defeat the Nazis 70 years ago, the Nazi legacy in the Middle East still needs to be defeated.

* * *

After posting this piece at my JPost blog, I came across an article at the excellent Tablet, where David Mikics writes about the book “The Eternal Nazi: From Mauthausen to Cairo, the Relentless Pursuit of SS Doctor Aribert Heim.” As Mikics notes:

“When Heim landed in Egypt in 1963, he found himself on welcoming, even familiar ground. President Nasser, if one trusts his own words on the subject, was as true a disciple of the Nazi cause as had ever lived. “During the Second World War, our sympathies were with the Germans,” Nasser told the Deutsche Nationalzeitung in May 1964, adding that “The lie of the 6 million murdered Jews is not taken seriously by anybody.” Wehrmacht Gen. Wilhelm Fahrmbacher prepared the Egyptian army for its effort to destroy Israel in 1948, and Wilhelm Voss, a former SS weapons expert, developed the Egyptian missile program. Johann von Leers, a convert to Islam known as Omar Amin, served Nasser as an anti-Semitic propagandist.”

This highlights a fact that is too often ignored: while Nazi Germany was defeated in 1945, Israel’s Jews still had to fight Nazis – not just Nazi sympathizers – years later. Another example I noted in a recent post concerns a group of some 40 Bosnian Muslims – veterans of the units “Hitler’s mufti” al-Husseini had recruited for the Nazis – who fought in Jaffa in January 1948.

By now, Hussein Ibish has also published a column on the topic of our exchange on Twitter, though it was important for him to let me know that I shouldn’t “flatter” myself by assuming it had anything to do with this exchange. Under the title “Second World War record of Muslims is worth marking,” Ibish repeats the numbers he presented in our exchange, once again without citing any sources; and as the title of his piece already indicates, he again ultimately focuses on the numbers of Muslims who fought with the Allies to defeat Nazi Germany and the Axis Powers. While Ibish argues that “it is essential to remember and recognise that huge numbers of Arabs and Muslims fought in the war, and that – in spite of the constant misrepresentation, distortion or downplaying of this reality – they did so almost entirely on the ­Allied side and against Nazi Germany,” he also openly acknowledges that “there were significant groupings with sympathy for Nazi Germany in Arab and Muslim societies. Some of this was clearly driven by anti-colonial sentiment. But at times it clearly crossed the line into outright ideological support, such as by the short-lived Rashid Ali government in Iraq.”

Ibish refers to al-Husseini as the “most notorious Arab collaborator with the Nazi regime,” but falsely claims that

“following the war, after receiving a hero’s welcome in Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Husseini quickly slipped into obscurity and played no further role in Palestinian politics until his death. He remains a largely forgotten figure, with even Hamas according him no real historical significance.”

As I’ve shown repeatedly, there is plenty of evidence to conclude that a majority of Palestinian Arabs regarded al-Husseini as their leader in the years after his return from Europe, and it is an indisputable fact that he continued to play a leading role in the Islamist movement for decades. Unfortunately, Ibish is also wrong to claim that Palestinians no longer see him as a significant historical figure. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas explicitly honored al-Husseini in speeches he gave in 2010 and in 2013.

* * *

Note: I just came across a very interesting and relevant review of a book by Derek Penslar, Jews and the Military: A History, Princeton University Press, 2013.

 

The Palestinians and the Holocaust

In the past few weeks, several reports highlighted the vitriolic backlash that followed a visit by a group of Palestinian students to Auschwitz at the end of March. The controversial visit – apparently the first of its kind – was organized as part of a joint program on Reconciliation and Conflict Resolution with the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany, and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and was led by Al-Quds University professor Mohammed S. Dajani.

The media reports on this visit leave little doubt that Professor Dajani reacted to the abuse and threats directed at him with admirable courage and integrity; it is also clear that he greatly inspired the students who participated in this trip. Moreover, the organizers of this program obviously had only the best of intentions. Yet, it is arguably deplorable that nobody seems to have made an effort to use this opportunity to teach the Palestinian students about the collaboration of Haj Amin al-Husseini with the Nazis. As one of the Palestinian students who visited Auschwitz reportedly noted afterwards:  “It is a strange thing for a Palestinian to go to a Nazi death camp. But I would recommend the trip.”

Quite obviously, this student remained completely unaware that when Palestinians visit a Nazi death camp, they have no reason to feel like detached spectators for whom it is somewhat “strange” to come. On the contrary, when Palestinians visit a Nazi death camp, they are following in the footsteps of the man who is nowadays sometimes referred to as “Hitler’s mufti,” and they have the chance to understand what this Palestinian ally of the Nazis saw and what he envisaged for the Middle East after the Nazi victory he hoped for.

Barry &Schwanitz book

According to the recently published book “Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East” by Barry Rubin and Wolfgang Schwanitz, it was either al-Husseini himself or one of his aides and relatives who visited Sachsenhausen in June 1942 together with three other Arab officials (p.2); there is also credible information indicating that one year later, “Eichmann personally took al-Husaini to visit the Auschwitz and Maidanek concentration camps.” (p. 164)

Rubin and Schwanitz also document that at this time, al-Husseini traveled extensively in German-occupied Poland and in early July 1943, he was Himmler’s guest in the Ukrainian town of Zhitomir. As al-Husseini later recorded in his own memoirs, Himmler told him on this occasion that the Nazis had already “liquidated about three million” Jews. (p.188)

Mufti & Himmler

Screenshot showing a photo of Haj Amin al-Husseini meeting
SS leader Heinrich Himmler,
with the dedication:
To His Eminence the Grand Mufti as a memory; 4 VII: 1943; H.Himmler.

 This was obviously good news for al-Husseini. While the Nazis were initially content to solve their “Jewish problem” by driving Jews out of Germany and German-occupied areas, Rubin and Schwanitz argue that the importance they attached to their alliance with the Palestinian mufti was one of the factors that led to the adoption of the “Final Solution:” since al-Husseini wanted the Arab lands he intended to rule as “judenrein” as the Nazis wanted Germany and Europe, the Nazis had one more reason to conclude that it was in their interest to begin the systematic killing of Jews.

According to Rubin and Schwanitz, it was therefore also not entirely coincidental that shortly “after seeing the grand mufti Hitler ordered invitations sent for a conference to be held at a villa on Lake Wannsee. The meeting’s purpose was to plan the comprehensive extermination of all Europe’s Jews.” (p. 8) Al-Husseini was also “the first non-German informed about the plan, even before it was formally presented at the conference. Adolf Eichmann himself was assigned to this task. Eichmann briefed al-Husaini in the SS headquarters map room, using the presentation prepared for the conference. The grand mufti, Eichmann’s aide recalled, was very impressed, so taken with this blueprint for genocide that al-Husaini asked Eichmann to send an expert […] to Jerusalem to be his own personal adviser for setting up death camps and gas chambers once Germany won the war and he was in power.” (pp. 8-9)

The Nazis believed that, in contrast to some of the other Arab leaders who had shown interest in cooperating with them, the mufti had transnational appeal and influence due to his standing as a religious leader. The resulting esteem shown to al-Husseini by the Nazis was not only reflected in his access to the highest echelons of the Nazi leadership – including a lengthy audience with Hitler – but also in the lavish accommodations and payments he received:

“In November 1941, al-Husaini arrived in Berlin to a reception showing the Germans saw him as future leader of all Arabs and Muslims […] He was housed in the luxurious Castle Bellevue, once home to Germany’s crown prince and today the official residence of Germany’s president. Al-Husaini was paid for his personal and political needs an amount equivalent to about twelve million dollars a year in today’s values. The funds were raised by selling gold seized from Jews sent to concentration camps. Following this pattern, al-Husaini requested and received as his office an expropriated Jewish apartment. His staff was housed in a half-dozen other houses provided by the Germans. In addition, al-Husaini was given a suite in Berlin’s splendid Hotel Adlon and, for vacations, luxurious accommodations at the Hotel Zittau and Oybin Castle in Saxony.” (p.5)

So it is not at all “a strange thing for a Palestinian to go to a Nazi death camp” – particularly given the fact that al-Husseini remains a revered Palestinian leader. In recent years, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly paid homage to al-Husseini, which inevitably casts a shadow over today’s news that for the first time, Abbas issued a special statement for Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day describing the Holocaust as “the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era.”

This statement shouldn’t be dismissed lightly, since it will no doubt trigger furious reactions by all those who insist that the Palestinian “nakba” was a comparable tragedy. Nevertheless, those who will now rush to praise Abbas for this statement should pause for a moment and consider how much more could be achieved for the prospects of genuine reconciliation and peace if the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world were finally willing to confront their own historical connections to the Nazi era. As Rubin and Schwanitz rightly highlight: “The regimes that would later rule Iraq for forty years, Syria for fifty years, and Egypt for sixty years were all established by groups and leaders who had been Nazi sympathizers.” (p.4) Given the re-emergence of Islamism, it is no less important to realize that this “ideology bore the mark of al-Husaini and the other wartime [Nazi] collaborators, especially the Muslim Brotherhood.”

* * *

Also posted at  The Algemeinermy JPost blog and on the Polish blog Listy z naszego sadu

Quote of the day: Tribal Arab dictatorships

“In fact, among tribal and sectarian Arab dictatorships, no value is ascribed to the state or the people. In a place where tribal or sectarian loyalties are more important than any other affiliation, people have no sense of being part of a people or country. In a tribal state, the people can go to hell. Hundreds of thousands can lose their lives and millions can be uprooted from their homes, scattering in all directions. None of this makes an impression on the tribal leader. There is no room for soul-searching in such a tribal social structure, because it would be perceived as a sign of weakness. And that would ultimately result in a loss of the reins of power, along with a loss of tribal hegemony, the country and its resources.

Even the Arabic term ‘dawla’ (meaning ‘dynasty’) is derived from the tribal tradition, implying the decline of one tribe and the ascent of another. It always involved the mass slaughter of the members of the losing tribe and their allies. […]

The man at the helm of this tribal mafia is not going to change his ways. His entire existence is based on his imposition of terror. Any letup in this apparatus would spell an end to his regime, and could also spell his end in the more physical sense. Brutal suppression is an inherent aspect of such a regime and social structure.”

We all know how something like this would be taken if it was written by a western commentator or, to imagine the worst-case scenario, by a Jewish Israeli commentator.  But thankfully, this was written by the Israeli Druze poet and Ha’aretz columnist Salman Masalha.

Reflecting on the carnage and destruction in Syria, Masalha also notes that the Arab dictators he describes will always “continue to proclaim victory and the defeat of ‘imperialistic’ and ‘Zionist plots’ to overthrow him.”

What Masalha doesn’t mention is that until not that long ago, this went down very well with the “Arab street.” As a poll from 2008 documents:

“Across the Arab world, Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, is…the most popular leader, followed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The three leaders are seen as the only ones standing up against US influence in the region.”

I think Masalha’s observation that “Brutal suppression is an inherent aspect of such a regime and social structure” applies not only to the Assad regime in Syria, but also to Hezbollah’s rule in Lebanon and to the Iranian theocracy. But at least until a few years ago, a majority of Arabs apparently felt that standing up to the “West” and of course Israel was more important than the brutal suppression of their own people by those “heroic” regimes. This is one major reason why the region is in such a pitiful state when it comes to economic and social development.

 

Visualizing Palestine [updated]

*First published at The Algemeiner on March 6*

Last Sunday, Al Arabiya reported with much anticipation that an “advertising drive is expected to take Washington D.C by storm on Monday as the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and Visualizing Palestine call on the United States to halt $30 billion of military aid to the Jewish state.”

The advertisements targeted the annual policy meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Al Arabiya featured one poster that suggests US taxpayer-funded weapons are used by Israel to kill innocent Palestinian civilians.

The text on the poster claims that between 2000 and 2009, Israel’s military “killed at least 2960 unarmed Palestinians.” Unsurprisingly, it turns out that presenting Palestinians as the innocent victims of Israeli brutality and evil is the basic formula of the work put out by the “Visualizing Palestine” project.

This is probably a promising strategy, since many people who see a poster claiming that Israel killed almost 3000 innocent Palestinians between 2000 and 2009 will not necessarily recall what else happened in these years: In response to being offered a state of their own in the summer of 2000, the Palestinians launched a brutal war of terror against Israel;  and in response to Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, Palestinians elected the terror group Hamas  and subjected Israel to relentless attacks with thousands of rockets. In 2008, the Palestinians were once again offered a state including the West Bank, Gaza and parts of Jerusalem, but once again they chose not to respond positively.

When I checked out the work of “Visualizing Palestine,” I couldn’t help imagining how different their output would look if – instead of presenting Palestinians as hapless and helpless victims of Israel – mainstream views and attitudes of Palestinians were “visualized.”

So let’s give it a try and visualize Palestinian reactions to the aid they receive from the US.

For many years, the US has provided millions of dollars in bilateral annual aid to the Palestinians; in addition, the US is the largest single-state donor to UNRWA – the UN agency that works exclusively for the roughly 5 million Palestinians who claim (inherited) refugee status.

Yet, as documented by Pew surveys, Palestinians were always the most ardent admirers of Osama bin Laden. In 2003, 72 percent of Palestinians had “a lot” or “some confidence” that bin Laden would “do the right thing regarding world affairs.” Visualizing this fact could get us an image like this:

Pal visuals2

There is plenty of additional material. While the US pushed for the negotiations that resulted in the 2008 offer for a Palestinian state that I just mentioned, Palestinian “confidence” in bin Laden eroded only slowly: by 2009, 52 percent of Palestinians still trusted the Al-Qaeda leader to “do the right thing regarding world affairs,” and by 2011, when he was killed by US Special Forces in his hide-out in Pakistan, fully a third of Palestinians still held bin Laden in high regard. Indeed, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh condemned bin Laden’s assassination and deplored “the killing of an Arab holy warrior.”

Visualizing similar support for terrorism, extremism and Jew-hatred among Palestinians and the broader Arab and Muslim publics would perhaps be very useful for helping people understand why the Jewish state remains a small threatened island in a dysfunctional and volatile neighborhood.

Update:

BBC Watch recently had a post on Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor of the London-based Arabic language newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi. Atwan was born in Egypt-controlled Gaza, studied at Cairo University and has lived since the late 1970s in London. On his own website, Atwan (rightly) boasts that his “often controversial opinions are frequently sought by print and broadcast journalists the world over.”

There is no doubt that Atwan is a highly influential opinion-shaper, and as BBC Watch notes, his “controversial opinions” include “endorsements of terror attacks against Israelis” and the declaration “that he would ‘dance with delight’ in Trafalgar Square were Iranian missiles to hit Tel Aviv.”

Unsurprisingly, Atwan also considers Osama bin Laden a “great man,” because – as he explained on BBC Arabic – the “fact is that no one has caused more damage to the US than Al-Qaeda.”

Arab hatred and Arab identity

A few weeks ago, the London-based Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat published an article on “The Israel We Do Not Know.” The author, Amal Al-Hazzani, an Associate Professor in King Saud University in Riyadh, argued that it was “sad to say that Israel – the invasive, oppressive, occupying state – lives amongst us but we still do not know it.”

While the article didn’t do much to mend this situation, it apparently generated a lot of negative feedback, and a week later, Al-Hazzani responded by doubling down with a second piece entitled “Know Your Enemy”:

“I would like to thank those who showered me with a torrent of angry correspondence about my previous article on Israel, who accused me of calling for a normalization of relations, promoting the Hebrew language, and glorifying Israeli liberalism.

This response was to be expected because I breached a taboo. However, I am sorry to say to those people, despite my appreciation of their opinions, that their outrage will not change the reality. Israel will remain as it is; a small state but stronger than the rest of the Arab world.”

It’s probably a safe bet to assume that once again, there were a lot of furious reactions.

What I found most striking in Al-Hazzani’s second article is his conclusion, where he writes:

“We must understand the Israelis to know how we compare. Wars cannot be won by sentiments of hatred alone; otherwise the Arabs would have dominated the world long ago.”

One can easily imagine the outcry if any non-Arab wrote in a western media outlet that if wars could be won by hatred alone, “the Arabs would have dominated the world long ago.”

Notice that this is no longer just about Israel.

Yet, it is of course first and foremost a problem for Israel that Arab hatred for the Jewish state – perceived as a western implant in the Arab-Muslim Middle East – is generally ignored by the media.  The conventional and “politically-correct” wisdom is that if only Israel behaved differently, the Arab world would willingly accept the Jewish state.

But every now and then, even media sites that relentlessly push this conventional wisdom provide a perhaps involuntary glimpse of the intensity of Arab hatred for Israel. That happened recently to Ha’aretz when Zvi Bar’el reported on an interview with the Egyptian writer and intellectual Ali Salem. Salem had been shunned by the Egyptian media ever since he traveled to Israel in 1994, but now, almost 20 years later,  Al-Ahram published an interview with him.

According to Bar’el, Salem’s interviewer, Al-Bahaa Hussein, prefaced his piece by stating:

“I cannot allow myself to express satisfaction with Salem’s visit to Israel. Despite the fact that I am impressed by his talents, I am not persuaded that the devils [Israelis] can be good brothers, that they want peace or that they are willing to pay for its price. Nonetheless, we interviewed him not from the standpoint of a judge, as the dust has already settled; instead, we sought to understand his motives.”

Bar’el’s own article begins with a quote from the Al-Ahram interviewer telling Salem:

“When I’m on my own, I still dream of our pushing Israel into the sea.”

Salem responds by dismissing this as an unrealistic and therefore “romantic” idea.

There is much more in Bar’el’s article, but let’s just stay with this for a moment and imagine that the shoe were on the other foot: that a reporter from a respected Israeli paper interviewed an Israeli dissident who presented a lone voice for peace, saying to him: “When I’m on my own, I still dream of our pushing the Palestinians into the sea” – and that the Israeli intellectual would calmly respond that this was an unrealistic and therefore “romantic” idea.

To be sure, Salem emphasizes that “there is no path other than negotiation,” and Bar’el describes him as a “fervent supporter of peace” who “has paid a high price for his ‘crazes’” – because of course among Egyptian intellectuals, you’ll be considered a crazed outcast if you support peace with Israel, while Israeli intellectuals would ostracize anyone who wasn’t a fervent supporter of peace with the Palestinians.

Bar’el explains that Salem “remains associated with a term loathed by Egyptian intellectuals: ‘normalization’.” He lists several recent examples illustrating that Egyptian elites remain obsessed with opposing any “normalization” with Israel, among them a resolution adopted in January by an Egyptian writers’ conference at Sharm el-Sheikh which declared:

“Egypt’s identity should be preserved, along with its diverse, enlightened cultural depth; and the principled, consistent position maintained by all Egyptian intellectuals and writers in favor of rejecting any form of normalization with the Zionist enemy should be upheld.”

Mind you: this is a statement from the elites of an Arab country with which we have a peace treaty for more than 30 years now. How long will it take Arab elites to realize that by opposing “normalization” with Israel, they are first and foremost preventing their own countries from becoming normal?

As Bar’el rightly notes:

“The revolution in Egypt has yet to change anything in the way most intellectuals in the country relate to Israel. Liberals, secularists, leftists and rightists − mostly figures seen as being hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood and all religious-tempered political ideologies − view opposition to normalization as a fundamental pillar of their Arab identity ‏(Arab, as opposed to Egyptian‏). This identity still views the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, which is sometimes described via slogans that had currency in the 1950s ‏(such as “A cancer in the body of the Arab nation”‏), as a political anchor.”

That is definitely noteworthy coming from the veteran Middle Eastern affairs analyst for Ha’aretz: “opposition to normalization” with the region’s most successful modern state is “a fundamental pillar of…Arab identity.”

Of course, the same Zvi Bar’el will usually ignore Arab mainstream hatred for Israel and instead focus on a few widely condemned incidents in Israel to claim spuriously that “A good Jew hates Arabs.”

While racism is present in every society, racist incidents in Israel will often get prominent global coverage. At the same time, the pervasive hatred for Israel in the Arab world that is even championed by the elites is usually politely ignored – which actually reveals the bigotry of the western media. There can be little doubt that it would trigger a veritable tsunami of news coverage and commentary if a gathering of Israeli intellectuals declared its abiding commitment to “the principled, consistent position maintained by all Israeli intellectuals and writers in favor of rejecting any form of normalization with the Arab enemy.”

But supposedly, Arab hatred of Israel is justified because of the unresolved conflict with the Palestinians, who didn’t ask for, and weren’t offered, a state of their own when their Arab brethren were in control of Gaza and the West Bank. Of course, there are countless other examples that illustrate all too well that the Palestinian “cause” is worthwhile only when it can be used to bash Israel. Imagine for a moment how this recent New York Times report would read if Israel was involved:

“The Egyptian military is resorting to a pungent new tactic to shut down the smuggling tunnels connecting Sinai and Gaza: flooding them with sewage. Along with the stink, the approach is raising new questions about relations between Egypt’s new Islamist leaders and their ideological allies in Hamas who control the Gaza Strip.”

If it was not the Egyptian military but the IDF, nobody would dream of describing it rather light-heartedly as “a pungent new tactic.” If it was the IDF, it would be outrageous, indicative of Nazi-like racist contempt, a crime against humanity, a severe health risk, a threat to Gaza’s water supply, and on and on.

But when the Egyptians are doing it, it simply reflects their legitimate determination “to shut the tunnels to block the destabilizing flow of weapons and militants into Sinai from Gaza.”

It’s really something quite normal – and for Egypt’s elites, it’s probably not anything worth obsessing about like “normalization with the Zionist enemy.”

* * *

First posted at my JPost blog and at the Polish magazine Racjonalista.

Quote of the day

“The reality is that insane anti-Jewish conspiracy theories are the mother’s milk of political analysis in Egypt and in much of the rest of the Middle East. The emotional, visceral reaction against what is seen as Israel’s shaming, alien presence in the Arab world has fused with ugly and backward western anti-Semitism to create a turbo-charged fear and hatred of Jewish influence and Jewish power. A political and religious culture which cannot help but see the survival of a Jewish state in the region as a badge of humiliation and failure takes comfort in exaggerated ideas about Jewish power.

President Morsi didn’t think he was saying anything weird in claiming a Jewish conspiracy runs the American media. In the world in which he lives, this is like saying that the sun rises in the east. It is a cliche, not a smear.

Israeli policies can exacerbate the problem, but it is Israel’s existence not its excesses that are the heart of the problem. The Arab world will never prosper, and real peace in the Middle East will never come, until the mental disorder represented by anti-Semitism heals. That won’t happen soon—and until it does, a huge cultural gulf is going to keep Arabs and Americans apart.”

Walter Russell Mead, commenting on Egyptian President Morsi’s efforts to explain his antisemitic remarks documented in tapes from 2010 by telling a group of visiting US senators that “we all know that the media in the United States has made a big deal of this and we know the media of the United States is controlled by certain forces.”

As much as Mead’s forceful acknowledgement of the prevalence and importance of antisemitism in the Middle East must be welcomed, it inevitably also highlights how much this issue is neglected in the commentary and analyses provided by Middle East experts in the MSM. But Mead is right to argue that the “Arab world will never prosper, and real peace in the Middle East will never come, until the mental disorder represented by anti-Semitism heals.” It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that those who ignore this factor – and do so willfully if they are really Middle East experts – have an agenda that motivates them to hide or downplay a dynamic that shapes the region in important and negative ways.

Let me conclude with an excellent example illustrating Mead’s view “that insane anti-Jewish conspiracy theories are the mother’s milk of political analysis in Egypt and in much of the rest of the Middle East” – because it is very important to understand that this is not just a phenomenon that animates “the street.” In December 2008, the respected Egyptian Al-Ahram English Weekly published a lengthy analysis on the rampant piracy off the coast of Somalia that had developed into a very serious and costly threat to international shipping. The title of the Al-Ahram analysis was “Israel, piracy and the Red Sea.”

Israel piracy

In the ostensibly knowledgeable and sophisticated piece, long-time regular Al-Ahram contributor Galal Nassar suggested that

“Piracy of this magnitude make [sic!] it clear that the pirates are no longer a haphazard collection of opportunists or individuals with no other sources of income to turn to in their war-torn country. There must be a prime mover seeking to further its own agenda through operations that have grown increasingly sophisticated.”

Needless to say, the “prime mover” behind this evil was of course Israel (supported by the US), which sought to implement longstanding plans – going back to Ben Gurion – to dominate the Red Sea and East Africa.

I sometimes wonder if the US officials involved in granting Egypt’s requests for military equipment are aware of the kind of political “analysis” that informs these requests.

As noted above, the author of the “prime mover”-theory on Somali piracy was a long-time regular Al-Ahram contributor. His most recent piece, published a few days ago, is entitled “The revolution continues;” and he writes there:

“The Arabs are a people without a state because the states they have lack legitimacy that can only come from the people. Israel was planted in the heart of this region to drive them mad and warp their consciousness, and despotic governments were created to force them to love Israel. But the Arab people cannot be made to love their supposed masters — the West and Israel — and they rebelled when the punishment for their refusal to do so (despotic governments) proved too harsh and iniquitous. The Muslim Brothers stepped in to save the day in Egypt; they would convert the Muslims to another (more moderate?) Islam and the intelligence authorities that count every breath people take would be given a new name, in deference to and in honour of the faith. But…

The revolution continues. The Arabs have reached the point of no return. They can no longer accept having policies imposed on them against their will. […] the Arab people are at a crossroads and not sure what to do with their revolution, which is precisely the point where a counterrevolution can be most effective. Neoliberalism, by whatever guise or name it takes, is now the instrument of choice for defusing the revolution. Accordingly, Egypt must pawn its assets, including the Suez Canal, in keeping with the dictates of the World Bank and IMF, if it is to receive financial aid. This is what they call ‘moderate’ Islam. All you have to do is sell your belongings and love Israel in order to gain favour in the current international imperialist order.

The Arab revolution that began in 2011 spread throughout the Arab world at once, as though the Arabs have a single united will. However, if such a single will exists, it must not be translated politically in institutionalised forms, such as unity in a federated system that would enable the Arabs to become strong and give them a sense of meaning and direction. The masters of the imperialist order cannot allow this to happen at all costs. Arab countries are sitting on too much oil. It follows that terrorism must loom in equal abundance, or that while international negotiations, agreements and arrangements are put into place around oil rich Arab countries, terrorism continues to lurk in nearby surroundings and rears its head on occasion. This is how Mali becomes a theatre of war.”

You see: Islamist terrorism doesn’t have anything to do with the failures of Arab and Muslim states, it’s simply one of the perfidious tools of western imperialism and its most evil creation, the Zionist entity…

 

Arab Jew-hate and the western media

As much as the media like to report and opine on Israel, they usually do so in a way that presents Arab and Muslim hatred for the Jewish state as an ultimately understandable reaction to Israeli policies. The intense hatred for Jews that is so prevalent throughout the region is a topic that is rarely broached, leaving western audiences oblivious to the fact that in today’s Middle East, antisemitism is as acceptable – and perhaps even more popular – as it was in Nazi Germany.

However, it seems that the usual reluctance to report on Arab and Muslim Jew-hatred was deemed untenable when MEMRI recently posted some video clips from 2010 that showed Egypt’s current president Morsi delivering antisemitic rants.  But while this story has by now been widely covered, initially nobody was really eager to report it – as Jeffrey Goldberg highlighted when he entitled a related blog post “Egyptian President Calls Jews ‘Sons of Apes and Pigs’; World Yawns.” Goldberg also linked to a fascinating Forbes story by Richard Behar, who actually took the trouble to monitor how Morsi’s remarks were (not) covered in most of the western media for several days.

As Behar rightly notes, “the demonization of Jews is commonplace and de rigueur in the Arab media (although most Americans wouldn’t know that because they are not being made aware of it).” Behar tried to do his part to counter this lack of knowledge late last November, when he published an article highlighting the “continuous, venomous stream of hate messages disseminated by the PA [Palestinian Authority] through its media and social and education systems.”

In a follow-up to his recent story on the media’s reluctance to report Morsi’s antisemitic rants, Behar notes that eventually, even the White House got around to condemning Morsi’s vile views, and he suggests that this might justify the hope that “the media world (and Washington) may be waking up from its collective stupor–specifically, the timeworn and tiresome routine of ignoring anti-Semitic hate speech by Islamist officials as if it’s to be expected of them, and thus not newsworthy.”

While I don’t share Behar’s optimism, I sure wish he was right, because this would certainly be a most welcome development that would enable many people around the world to have a much better understanding of the Middle East and the reasons for the lack of peace between Arabs and Israel.

This point was emphasized in a related post by Walter Russell Mead, who observed:

“Morsi’s anti-Semitic views are not surprising in themselves; indeed they are completely mainstream and unobjectionable in the Egyptian context. Not many people in Egypt would disagree with the statements in question, and Morsi is more likely to be attacked for being too soft on Israel than for venting his spleen. But these statements, and the widespread support for them, should remind everyone just how slim the chances are for real peace between Israel and its neighbors.

There are a lot of illusions out there about how the exercise of power will moderate the Muslim Brotherhood and similar groups. To some degree, Morsi’s record in office shows a pragmatic willingness to maintain a treaty he deeply loathes with the ‘sons of apes and pigs.’ But we would do better to think of this as caution rather than moderation. If a real opportunity presented itself to destroy the Jewish state, there can be little doubt that Morsi and the members of his movement would think it their duty to act.

For Israel, the lesson is obvious. For the foreseeable future it must depend upon strength rather than trust if it intends to survive.”

Since I asserted above that in today’s Middle East, antisemitism is as acceptable – and perhaps even more popular – as it was in Nazi Germany, let me close with two recent examples that illustrate this point.

The first example comes from the speech by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to mark the recent anniversary of Fatah commemorating the group’s first terror attack against Israel on January 1, 1965. As rightly noted in an analysis of this speech by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Abbas used this opportunity to espouse a radical political doctrine:

“Abbas reinforced his uncompromising message with a pledge to continue the path of struggle of previous Palestinian leaders, mentioning the Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, who forged a strategic alliance with Nazi Germany, and heads of Palestinian terror organizations who were directly responsible for the murder of thousands of Israeli civilians, including Halil al-Wazir Abu Jihad (Fatah), Sheikh Ahmed Yassin (Hamas), Abd al-Aziz al-Rantisi (Hamas), Fathi al-Shikaki (Islamic Jihad), George Habash (Popular Front), Abu Ali Mustafa (Popular Front), Abu al-Abbas (Arab Liberation Front), and Izzadin al-Qassam (leader of the jihad war against the Jewish Yishuv and the British in the 1930s).”

A translation of the relevant passages of the speech by MEMRI shows that Abbas named Husseini – widely known as “Hitler’s Mufti” – as one of Palestine’s “pioneers.” Given that Abbas has faced much criticism for his Ph.D. thesis that questioned the Holocaust and claimed collaboration between the Nazis and the Zionist movement, he surely knew what he was doing. (And presumably Germany’s Social Democrats know what they are doing when they declare that they have “common values” with Fatah.)

The second example illustrates how this kind of nonchalant embrace of prominent Nazi-collaborators is reflected and amplified on popular social media sites: the Facebook page of “Palestine News” boasts more than 425,000 “Likes,” and when I checked it out just now, it registered “86,142 talking about this.”

A few days ago, this image with a supposed quote from Hitler was posted on the page:

Palestine News Hitler

This posting garnered 1853 “Likes;” the accompanying text is basically the same as a purported Hitler quote provided in a popular “Hitler quotes” app:  “I could have killed all the Jews in the world, but I spared some of them so you know why I killed the rest.”

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

Update:

The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh reported yesterday that during an interview with a Beirut-based TV station that is affiliated with Hezbollah and Iran, Palestinian President Abbas was asked about allegations that he was a Holocaust denier. Reportedly, Abbas responded with an apparent reference to his dissertation, saying that he had “70 more books that I still haven’t published” about the alleged link between the Zionist movement and the Nazis, adding: “I challenge anyone to deny the relationship between Zionism and Nazism before World War Two.”

However, a spokesman for Abbas later denied that Abbas had talked about a link between Zionism and Nazism, and the remark about the “70 more books” certainly seems bizarre.

News from Israel’s Islamist neighborhood

If it was a western president or prime minister – let alone an Israeli one – who had made utterly bigoted and hate-filled remarks about Muslims not long before he took office, it sure would be a top news item all over the world. But when it turns out that some two years ago, the man who is now Egypt’s president called “the Zionists” “blood-suckers,” “warmongers,” and “the descendants of apes and pigs,” most of the mainstream media (MSM) seem to think it should be politely ignored.

In a way one could actually argue that this really isn’t newsworthy, because if the MSM accurately reported on Islamist ideology, everyone would already know that implacable Jew-hatred is an integral part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s views and agenda. After all, Morsi’s statements from 2010, which were recently translated by MEMRI, faithfully echo themes that are all too familiar from the Hamas Charter, and similar views are regularly propagated by well-respected Muslim scholars.

The question why this torrent of loathsome statements by influential and widely respected figures who clearly shape and represent mainstream views is studiously ignored in the MSM was recently addressed by Pat Condell, who focused on the Palestinians and argued that this kind of “political correctness” reflected a patronizing and ultimately racist attitude.

While I largely agree with Pat Condell’s broader argument, I think there are also other important factors at work – first and foremost perhaps the western mantra that other societies should be approached as “people like us.” The problem with this approach is that, while it is always true on an individual level – we can meet people we personally like and get along with anywhere –, it is not true for societies.  A society where the reactionary and bigoted views of Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood are mainstream is simply not like a society where it is mainstream to reject and even loathe comparably reactionary and bigoted views.

Moments of truth: Osama vs. Obama

In a first reaction to the violent assaults on the American embassies in Egypt and Libya on this year’s anniversary of 9/11, Marc Lynch prefaced his commentary in Foreign Policy with a warning that has become almost obligatory:

“It would be a tragic mistake to allow the images from Cairo and Benghazi to undermine American support for the changes in the Arab world. The protestors in Cairo and Benghazi are no more the true face of the Arab uprisings than al-Qaeda was the face of Islam after 9/11. We should not allow the actions of a radical fringe to define our views of an entire group.”

Unfortunately for Lynch, it is debatable if al-Qaeda was “the true face … of Islam after 9/11.”

As Lynch knows full well, beginning in 2003, the respected Pew Research Center surveyed Muslim views on Osama bin Laden, and the results don’t necessarily justify his rosy view.  While Pew researchers usually worked hard to highlight the silver lining when they presented the results of their surveys, some of their findings were rather shocking.

This is particularly true for the support bin Laden once enjoyed in supposedly moderate Indonesia: in 2003, it was 59 percent, and by 2011, a bit more than a quarter of Indonesians still expressed positive views of bin Laden. The numbers for Jordan were similarly alarming: in 2003, 56 percent of Jordanian respondents expressed “confidence” in bin Laden “to do the right thing regarding world affairs,” and by 2005, this number had even grown to 61 percent. A year later, Pew recorded a “most striking decline” to just 24 percent, which was attributed to “al Qaeda suicide attacks in the nation’s capital, Amman.”

While bin Laden’s most loyal admirers were always found among the Palestinians –  72 percent in 2003, declining to “only” 34 percent by 2011 — there were several other countries where the al Qaeda leader enjoyed at times the “confidence” of some 40 percent of the Muslim population.

When it comes to Egypt, the numbers also don’t quite support the comforting view that the mob that attacked the US embassy represents a “radical fringe.” In 2011, 22 percent of Egyptians viewed bin Laden positively, and results published earlier this year show that both al Qaeda and the Taliban were viewed favorably by 19 percent of Egyptians.

Anyone who wants to see this as a “radical fringe” should note that exactly the same percentage of Egyptians were willing to express a favorable view of the US in the most recent Pew survey. So if the attackers of the US embassy in Cairo represent just a “fringe,” favorable views of the US among Egyptians are likewise just a “fringe” phenomenon.

The same holds true for the Muslim countries surveyed by Pew: results published last June show that on average, some 24 percent of Muslims have “confidence” in President Obama in general, though only 15 percent approve of his international policies; likewise, only 15 percent of Muslims have a “favorable” view of the US.

Compare these numbers with the 2011 numbers for bin Laden: in the eight Muslim populations that were surveyed, the al Qaeda leader achieved similar or better ratings in six – including, sadly enough, among Israel’s Muslim Arabs.

Given the surge of popular support for Islamist groups all over the Middle East in the wake of the so-called “Arab Spring,” it should also not be forgotten that in reaction to the news of bin Laden’s demise last year, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement that referred to the al Qaeda leader with the honorific term “sheikh.”

So perhaps it’s time to realize that we should not only worry about the “tragic mistake” of exaggerating Muslim extremism, but also about downplaying it?

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First published in The Algemeiner.

Quote of the day

“The person who comes out of all this looking smartest is Samuel Huntington. His book on the ‘clash of civilizations’ was widely and unfairly trashed as predicting an inevitable conflict between Islam and the west, and he was also accused of ‘demonizing’ Islam. That’s not what I get from his book. As I understand it, Huntington’s core thesis was that while good relations between countries and people with roots in different civilizations are possible and ought to be promoted, civilizational fault lines often lead to misunderstandings and tensions that can (not must, but can) lead to violence and when conflicts do occur, civilizational differences can make those conflicts worse.

The last few days are a textbook example of the forces he warned about.”

Walter Russell Mead, The Middle East Mess Part One: Over There. I’m really glad that Professor Mead has seized this opportunity to remind us of Huntington’s important book and to highlight his view – with which I fully agree – that the “Clash of Civilizations” has been unfairly maligned. I think there can be little doubt that many of the negative reactions to Huntington’s book were motivated by a “political correctness” which took it for granted that it was the West’s responsibility to prevent a “clash of civilizations” — and part of this prevention was to decry Huntington’s analysis.

As I have pointed out previously, one of the best illustrations of this mindset was provided just a few days after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, when French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine reportedly declared: “We have to avoid a clash of civilizations at all costs.” According to Vedrine, such a clash was a “huge […] monstrous trap” that had been “conceived by the instigators of the assault.”

In a way, the notion of the “monstrous trap” also seems reflected in Mead’s observations – but importantly, he makes clear that this is first and foremost an inner-Islamic issue:

“Unfortunately, Islamic radicals are deliberately hoping to promote a clash of civilizations in the belief that a climate of polarization will strengthen their political power in the world of Islam. Attacking the embassy in Cairo is an effort to push Egyptian opinion in a more radical direction, but the radicals hope that this is part of a larger push that will bring them to power across the Islamic world. Like Boko Haram in Nigeria, which hopes to provoke a religious war with the Christians partly in order to achieve power in the Muslim North, radicals use the prospect of a clash of civilizations to further their own cause throughout the troubled Islamic world.

The US and more generally the west (including Russia, so perhaps I should say the ‘Christian world’ instead) has tried several approaches to this situation and so far we haven’t been happy with the results. Confrontation, reconciliation, cooperation: there are good arguments to be made for them all, but in practice none of them seem to make the problem go away.”

There is a simple explanation why it is so hard to make this “problem” go away: Islamic radicals have more popular support among Muslims than western commentators and analysts like to acknowledge, and hostility to America and the West is enormously popular throughout the Arab and Muslim world. As Husain Haqqani recently emphasized in his excellent commentary on “Manipulated Outrage and Misplaced Fury:”

“At the heart of Muslim street violence is the frustration of the world’s Muslims over their steady decline for three centuries, a decline that has coincided with the rise and spread of the West’s military, economic and intellectual prowess.”

Haqqani goes on to argue:

“Once the Muslim world embraces freedom of expression, it will be able to recognize the value of that freedom even for those who offend Muslim sensibilities. More important: Only in a free democratic environment will the world’s Muslims be able to debate the causes of their powerlessness, which stirs in them greater anger than any specific action on the part of Islam’s Western detractors.

Until then, the U.S. would do well to remember Osama bin Laden’s comment not long after the Sept. 11 attacks: ‘When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse.’ America should do nothing that enables Islamists to portray the nation as the weak horse.”