Tag Archives: Islam

Christmas propaganda from Palestine

It’s this time of year again when Palestinians and their supporters gear up to use Christianity’s most popular holy day for their own ugly political purposes. Elsewhere it may be the season of goodwill to all, but for the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), it’s just another welcome opportunity to stir up ill will towards Israel and the Jews.

For this purpose, the PLO has just released a short animated clip, which the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department (PLO-NAD) helpfully tweeted with the hashtag #ChristmasUnderOccupation.

PLO Xmas propaganda

The clip shows Santa passing all the usual symbols of Palestinian victimization: the evil kippa-wearing Israeli settler, armed and accompanied by a fearsome dog; a checkpoint guarded by an armed Israeli soldier; a sad girl with her teddy bear in front of a ruined house, and of course the security barrier built in response to the terrorist carnage of the Al-Aqsa intifada. But the best part of the clip is arguably the short text that accompanies it, which explains that on Christmas, “Palestine celebrates the birth of one of its own, Jesus Christ.”

Perhaps one should view this as a huge improvement over some of the other “Jesus was a Palestinian”-fantasies that are part of the annual Palestinian Christmas propaganda routine – last year, for example, an op-ed in the official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida proclaimed:

“Jesus is a Palestinian; the self-sacrificing Yasser Arafat is a Palestinian; Mahmoud Abbas, the messenger of peace on earth, is a Palestinian. How great is this nation of the holy Trinity!”

Given that Palestinians are used to being indulged by the world, there is indeed no reason why they should care that elsewhere, practicing Christians acknowledge history and think that it is important to remember

“that the first Christmas was first and foremost a Jewish event. Mary, Joseph, the innkeeper, the shepherds, the baby: they were all Jewish. And as the baby Jesus moved toward adolescence and adulthood, it was Jewish religion, Jewish literature, Jewish culture and Jewish history that shaped his personality and his mind.”

The fact that the historic Jesus was a Jew is of course also reflected in the concept of shared Judeo-Christian values. But all this is merrily ignored by Palestinians and their supporters, who don’t seem the least bit embarrassed to press Jesus into the service of Palestinian nationalism – never mind the fact that the declared goal of this nationalism is a state with Islam as “the official religion” and the “principles of Islamic Shari’a” as “the main source of legislation.”

In this context, it is rather interesting to ponder the popular Palestinian propaganda fantasies about the terrible hardships that would be inflicted by cruel Israeli soldiers on a present-day Joseph and the pregnant Mary on their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  For this Christmas season, the PLO-NAD chose to retweet a tweet by the virulently anti-Israel (not to say antisemitic) website “If Americans knew,” which apparently sponsored a billboard in Atlanta depicting Joseph and Mary being blocked from reaching Bethlehem by the security barrier.

PLO Xmas propaganda2

That Palestinian propagandists would choose such an image is a perfect illustration of their confidence that when it comes to maligning Israel, neither facts nor Christian beliefs matter. After all, the historical Joseph and Mary were Jews, and according to the Christian Bible, they travelled “out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he [Joseph] was of the house and lineage of David); To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.”

Can you imagine what would happen nowadays to a Jew from Nazareth who claims to be of the lineage of David and goes to Bethlehem because he regards it as the “city of David” and therefore his hometown?

I’m afraid the best case scenario is that the international media would denounce him and his pregnant wife Mary as extremist settlers who have only themselves to blame if anything happened to them and their newborn baby. And one thing is for sure: if this present-day Joseph tried to buy any property in Palestinian-controlled Bethlehem, any Palestinian willing to sell to him would risk being either lynched or sentenced to death for the crime of selling property to a Jew.

But the arguably most distasteful aspect of the annual Palestinian Christmas propaganda is the implicit belittling of the desperate situation of Christians all over the Muslim Middle East. To be sure, the West’s politically correct elites also don’t like to dwell on the fact that Christians nowadays suffer more persecution than any other religious group, and of course it counts for little that Christianity was born in the Middle East long before the region was conquered by Islam. By now it seems that the millennia-old native Christian communities may be facing the same fate suffered by the ancient Jewish communities of the Muslim Middle East. As Robin Harris put it in a Spectator column: “The ‘Sunday’ people are now following the ‘Saturday’ people out of the Middle East.”

Well, as a matter of fact, the “Saturday people” are still clinging to a tiny patch of the Middle East – and Palestinian propagandists work not just on Christmas, but all year round to create the impression that this is what ails the region.

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First published at my JPost blog.

The Temple Mount as symbol of Muslim fanaticism

In recent weeks, there have been numerous media reports warning about escalating tensions and possible violence on the Temple Mount.  Even if you just read the headlines and leads, the situation sounds pretty dire, as this selection from Al Monitor, Sky News and the Washington Post illustrates:

Israeli Restrictions at Al-Aqsa Mosque Could Spark Violence: Israel is imposing tighter restrictions on Palestinian Muslims wishing to access Al-Aqsa Mosque while allowing more Jewish visits that disrespect Islamic customs.”

Sacred Shrines Become ‘Ticking Time Bomb: ‘The chief cleric at one of the world’s holiest mosques tells Sky News that acts of Jewish prayer could spark a regional war.”

Jewish activists want to pray on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, raising alarm in Muslim world.”

These headlines and leads also tell us already who is to blame for this potentially explosive situation: Jews who want to visit the Temple Mount and maybe even pray there. Well, who could imagine a greater outrage than Jews wanting to visit and perhaps pray at the historic site of the Jewish Temples?  And who would dispute that followers of the “religion of peace” have every right to react to such an outrage with threats of massive violence? After all, Muslims are used to having their holiest sites off-limits to “infidels.” True, frustrated journalists who don’t make it into Mecca and Medina may point out that “You don’t have to be a Catholic to go to the Vatican. You don’t have to be Jewish to go to the Western Wall… You don’t have to be Buddhist to hear the Dalai Lama speak” – but there is obviously no reason to expect similar openness from Islam. Indeed, as a Guardian contributor casually remarked: “a billion Muslims worldwide would go ballistic” if Jews were allowed to freely visit the Temple Mount and pray there. And of course, in the Guardian as elsewhere, it’s the Jews who are the extremists.

However, this kind of reporting and commentary isn’t as biased as it may seem, because it unfortunately reflects the view of the Israeli authorities.  As a recent Jerusalem Post report about violent attacks by Muslims explains:

“Although the [Israeli] Supreme Court has upheld Jewish prayer rights at the Temple Mount – which is overseen by the Wakf Muslim religious trust – the court also allows police to prevent any form of worship there if they believe such activities will incite a ‘disturbance to the public order.’ […] Asked what has precipitated the pronounced uptick in violence, Police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said Arabs are growing increasingly incensed by religious Jews who increasingly illegally pray there in an act of civil disobedience. ‘The Arabs don’t like Jews coming there to pray, and an extreme group of Jews is going there to provoke them,’ he said.”

In other words, Israel’s Supreme Court has acknowledged that Jews have the right to pray on the Temple Mount, but it has also given Muslims a veto right: if they don’t like it and become violent, then they’ll get their way and Jews who exercise their supposed right are accused of engaging in a provocative “act of civil disobedience.” In practice that means that the Saudi policy of treating “infidels” like dogs who have to be kept off Muslim holy grounds is all too often also enforced on the Temple Mount.

Temple Mount threats

 Sky News screenshot

While I myself am not religious and have little sympathy for the political agenda of the more prominent activists who push for greater access to the Temple Mount, I don’t quite agree with the conclusion offered in a recent article by Avi Issacharoff that “[r]adical Muslim and Jewish groups at times seem to have forged an unholy alliance to push for holy war.”

As most of the reports on anything that happens on the Temple Mount emphasize, it is probably the most explosive spot on earth – but it is so explosive because the whole world takes it for granted that it is perfectly acceptable that “a billion Muslims worldwide would go ballistic” if they had to acknowledge the fact that first and foremost Jews, but also Christians have a historic attachment to the Temple Mount and that the claim of exclusive Muslim control is a ridiculous anachronism rooted in the glorification of Islamic imperialism and supremacism.

One of the very few Muslims to publicly acknowledge the long pre-Islamic history of the Temple Mount and its significance is Qanta Ahmed, who earlier this year published a fascinating four-part report on her visit to the site. In the final part of her report, she recounts her visit to the Al Aqsa mosque, where her Muslim guide showed her some massive ancient columns, explaining: “This was the entrance to the Second Jewish Temple that was here before Al Aqsa. You can see it is absolutely distinct.”

Reflecting on this sight, Qanta Ahmed writes:

“Somehow, these hardy arches, these massive pillars had escaped even the Romans’ determined destruction of the Second Temple. Before this place was made ours, it had clearly been theirs. We were on borrowed ground.”

Already in a melancholic mood from the decay and neglect she witnessed all over Islam’s supposedly third-holiest site – something noted also more recently by another Muslim visitor – Qanta Ahmed ends her report with a somber conclusion:

“Nowhere in my long ago travels and imperfect memory is the anoxia of Islamism more apparent than [in] the spent bosom of the Farthest Mosque [i.e. Al Aqsa]. Here, we have become the Farthest Muslims. I feel our departure most acutely in Jerusalem, the world’s gentle biographer, the beating, romantic heart of all belief, to all People, of all Books. Jerusalem, dear Muslims, is home to a gilded dome rendered hollow, little more than a fading husk to the richness once contained therein. She is ours no more.”

Once we hear even remotely similar sentiments from Muslim leaders, we will know that the Middle East is on the mend and peace is really possible.

In the meantime, it would be already a big step in the right direction if journalists and commentators hesitated a bit before they nonchalantly report – and implicitly justify – threats of Muslim violence. Ironically enough, the recent “Islamophobia” report of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) lectures us that the notion “that Muslims are inclined to violence including revenge and retaliation” is “Islamophobic.”  So the next time a Sky News reporter hears the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem threatening that the “whole region will be engulfed by war” if Jews want to pray on the Temple Mount, he could perhaps ask the Grand Mufti to explain this threat in view of the historic Jewish attachment to the Temple Mount and claims that Islam is a “religion of peace.” And maybe next time a Guardian blogger – particularly if he happens to be a Christian priest – writes about how easily “a billion Muslims worldwide would go ballistic,” he could ask himself what it would take for him to write with equal understanding about the threat of a billion Christians worldwide going ballistic.

As long as the media depict Muslim violence in the name of Islam as an inevitable reaction to any perceived provocation and give a free pass to the Muslim leaders who never tire to threaten such violence, we can regard the OIC definition of “Islamophobia” as no more than a cynical political tool that allows Muslim leaders to incite violence with impunity – and we can expect that the Temple Mount will remain a dangerous symbol of Muslim fanaticism.

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First published at my JPost blog on December 12, 2013

 

Islam and the war of ideas

A few weeks ago, the New Yorker published a very interesting post by George Packer on “Islamist Violence and a War of Ideas.” Packer began by giving “a very partial box score of global Islamist violence during the month of September.” Highlighting that “hundreds, of people…most of them Muslims…are being murdered every day, blown to pieces, burned alive, shot to death, beheaded, in the name of an extremely violent strain of Islam,” Packer argued that

“the violence flows from ideas, terrible ideas, about the meaning of Islam, the character of non-Muslims, and the duties of Muslims. These ideas are promulgated in mosques and coffee shops and schools, and on satellite TV and the Internet, with the aid of conspiracy theories, half-truths, deceptive editing, and lies.”

Packer warns that Americans, and presumably the West in general, must not be indifferent to this bloody violence even when its victims are primarily Muslims themselves. In his view, Americans have relied too much on fighting Islamist extremism by military means, while not giving “enough thought to… addressing the heart of the violence: the terrible ideas that license massacres in the name of religion.”

However, as Packer reports, there is a new initiative to fight these “terrible ideas.”  A recently created joint U.S.-Turkish fund to combat Islamist extremism, called the Global Fund for Community Engagement and Resilience, is supposed “to identify and finance grassroots groups around the Muslim world that will do the difficult work of opposing extremist ideas at home.” As Packer emphasizes, the “American role would be very much in the background;” indeed, he notes that “Americans are not in a position, morally or practically, to lead this effort.” Instead, “citizens, organizations, and governments of key Islamic countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, would take the lead.”

While I agree that America can’t lead this “effort” for practical reasons, it seems to me that giving Saudi Arabia and Pakistan a leading role in combatting Islamist extremism is like putting a pyromaniac in charge of the fire brigade.

No less problematic is Packer’s failure to fully acknowledge what it means that the Islamist violence he denounces so wholeheartedly flows indeed, as he himself writes, “from ideas, terrible ideas, about the meaning of Islam, the character of non-Muslims, and the duties of Muslims.” These “terrible ideas” are by no means propagated by just a handful of extremists; indeed, Packer rightly notes that they “are promulgated in mosques and coffee shops and schools, and on satellite TV and the Internet.”

In other words, these “terrible ideas” are mainstream Muslim fare – which means that in the politically-correct West, non-Muslims are generally expected to refrain from any criticism.

A good example for an influential Muslim leader who spreads truly terrible ideas is Yusuf Qaradawi. Many millions of Muslims regard Qaradawi as a great scholar and, due to his enormous influence, he has even been described as the “Global Mufti”. Among the terrible ideas Qaradawi has propagated is his fervent belief in a divinely ordained battle between “all Muslims and all Jews,” his view that the Holocaust was well-deserved “divine punishment” for the Jews, and his hope that “the next time will be at the hand of the believers.” Yet, the politically-correct view of Qaradawi (expressed e.g. by a widely respected Middle East expert in the influential magazine Foreign Affairs) is that we should politely ignore Qaradawi’s genocidal Jew-hatred and instead appreciate him as a leading Muslim moderate:

“He [Qaradawi] is best known for his doctrine of wasatiyya, or ‘centrism,’ which lays out a middle ground between secularism and fundamentalism. He rejects the doctrinal extremism of the Salafists and the violent extremism of al Qaeda[…] At the same time, he often takes issue with U.S. foreign policy and is certainly hostile toward Israel, not to mention being a highly successful proselytizer of the Islamist worldview. This potent mixture may be troubling, but it largely defines the mainstream Muslim position. Indeed, one of the keys to Qaradawi’s popularity is his ability to anticipate Arab and Muslim views; […]  Qaradawi is a barometer of Muslim opinion as much as a cause of it.”

The message here is clear: if the “mainstream Muslim position” reflects a “troubling” mixture, the West should simply be grateful that it’s not worse…

Qaradawi genocidal prayer

Sheik Yousuf Al-Qaradawi leads a prayer for the annihilation of the Jews, broadcast on Al-Jazeera TV (Qatar) – January 9, 2009 (MEMRI screenshot)

Maybe this is a very pragmatic approach, but it hardly provides a sound footing for fighting a “war of ideas.”

Indeed, when it comes to Islam, the West seems very reluctant to engage in fighting any “war of ideas,” despite the fact that particularly in Europe, the radicalization of fast-growing Muslim minorities is very worrisome. An excellent feature essay for the November cover of Standpoint Magazine is devoted to the question if the West is losing “The War For The Soul Of Islam.” Author Douglas Murray notes early on that historically, “in the battle for the soul of Islam the extremists tend to win” and he concludes pessimistically:

“it is assumed that Islam is like all other religions, that suspicion of Islam is as dangerous as suspicion of any other religion. In short, they [British and Western governments] have tried to treat Islam like any other faith. And the problem is that it is not. Not just because Islam behaves in significantly different ways from other faiths, but because at the very point  that it is swiftly growing in our own countries its global direction of travel is consistently regressive.”

Several of Murray’s central observations are confirmed in a recent post on the popular blog Harry’s Place, where a liberal Muslim notes despondently that nowadays, Muslim leaders in the West “can happily believe and even state publicly that the death penalty should apply to anyone who has sex outside of marriage, takes part in a homosexual act, insults the Prophet or leaves Islam without being [criticized as] ‘extreme’.”

So maybe instead of spending resources on funding an unpromising campaign to combat Islamic extremism in countries whose governments continue to promote fundamentalist Islam, the West would be better off to stop the appeasement of Muslim reactionaries and instead start vigorously supporting reform-minded Muslims in Europe and the US?

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First published November 1, 2013, at my JPost blog.

 

Destroying Muslim heritage [updated]

There is a veritable industry out there producing an endless stream of “reports” about imaginary Israeli efforts to destroy, damage or defile Muslim sites, in particular the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. I have repeatedly written about this vicious campaign that goes back to the days of Haj Amin al Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, who later gained notoriety as a Nazi collaborator. Many recent examples of this ongoing incitement have been compiled by Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), and for the very latest installment, you can always turn to the website of Quds Media Center .

The manufactured outrage that usually accompanies the false reports on invented Israeli transgressions against Muslim holy places stands in stark contrast to the docile silence that has allowed Saudi authorities to transform Islam’s holiest places into glitzy luxury destinations.

However, by now several reports highlighting the destruction of historic Islamic sites in Saudi Arabia have appeared in the media. A CNN report includes some fascinating photos dramatically illustrating how much reckless construction has transformed the area of Islam’s holiest site.

CNN Mecca screenshot

As the CNN report notes:

“Lavish skyscrapers now tower over devotees circling the Kaaba in the Grand Mosque.

Most imposing is the Royal Mecca Clock Tower, a 120-floor hotel that resembles London’s Big Ben and which, at 601 meters, is the world’s second tallest building.

The U.S.-based Institute for Gulf Affairs estimates that 95% of Mecca’s millennium-old buildings have been demolished in the past two decades.”

The Independent has also published several related reports; the most recent one is headlined “The photos Saudi Arabia doesn’t want seen – and proof Islam’s most holy relics are being demolished in Mecca.”

Saudi destruction 1of3

Previous reports include a September 2011 piece on “Mecca for the rich: Islam’s holiest site ‘turning into Vegas’” and another report from last October about “Medina: Saudis take a bulldozer to Islam’s history.”

Saudi destruction 2of3 Saudi destruction 3of3

In a related article in October 2012, The Independent’s Jerome Taylor asked “Why don’t more Muslims speak out against the wanton destruction of Mecca’s holy sites?

It’s of course a good question given that the affected sites are part of Islam’s holiest places.

As Taylor pointed out:

“One area that you might think would see Muslims speaking out with one voice is the wholesale archaeological and historical destruction of Islam’s birthplace. Over the past twenty years, fuelled by their petro-dollars and intolerant Wahabi backers, the Saudi authorities have embarked on cultural vandalism of breath-taking proportions.

Mecca and Medina, the two holiest cities in Islam, are being systematically bulldozed to make way for gleaming sky scrapers, luxury hotels and shopping malls. […] Most appallingly dozens of early Islamic sites – including those with a direct link to the Prophet himself – have been wiped off the map. The situation is so bad that the Washington based Gulf Institute estimates that 95 percent of the millennium old buildings in the two cities have been destroyed in the past twenty years.”

Taylor goes on to argue that “Muslim silence on this issue isn’t just cowardly, it’s deeply hypocritical,” noting that it is of course “politically a lot more convenient to blame infidels for disrespecting your religion’s founder than it is to point the finger of blame at your own kind.”

But while nothing may beat the political convenience of getting all worked up about imaginary Israeli plans to destroy Al Aqsa, it turns out that the real destruction wreaked by the Saudis includes a centuries-old column (possibly dating back to the 8th century) that was “supposed to mark the spot where Muslims believe Muhammad began his heavenly journey on a winged horse, which took him to Jerusalem and heaven in a single night.”

This means of course that from the monuments associated with Muhammad’s legendary “Night Journey,” only the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem remains.

I doubt very much that any of the purveyors of the “Al-Aqsa-in-danger”-libel and similar incitement had anything to say about this. And if one hears anything from these quarters, one can expect something along the lines of a screed posted last December by Iran English Radio under the promising title “Saudi-Zionist plot to destroy cultural heritage of Muslims.” About two-thirds of the piece are devoted to summarizing western media reports about the destruction of Islamic sites in Saudi Arabia – with some added heartfelt comments like: “the Saudis are following the footsteps of the pagan Arabs in their hatred of Islam, and the Prophet’s family;” but inevitably, the last third moves on to all the usual fantasies about nefarious “Zionist” plots that justify the conclusion that “the Wahabbis and the Zionists have joined hands to destroy the cultural and religious heritage of the Islamic world.”

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

Update:

Under the wonderful title “McMecca: The Strange Alliance of Clerics and Businessmen in Saudi Arabia,” The Atlantic has now also published a piece on the destruction of historical sites in Islam’s holiest city. Zvika Krieger notes there that “developers and retailers have found an unlikely ally in Wahhabi clerics, who consider the veneration of historical sites to be a form of idolatry, and are happy to see all them demolished.”

Krieger highlights a pamphlet published by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs that was endorsed by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia and distributed at the Prophet’s Mosque – where Mohammed, Abu Bakr, and the Islamic Caliph Umar ibn Al Khattab are believed to be buried – which declared: “The green dome shall be demolished and the three graves flattened in the Prophet’s Mosque.”

According to the article, examples of already destroyed sites include an “ancient house belonging to Mohammed [that] was…razed to make room for, among other developments, a public toilet facility. An ancient mosque belonging to Abu Bakr has now been replaced by an ATM machine. And the sites of Mohammed’s historic battles at Uhud and Badr have been…paved to put up a parking lot.”

Krieger writes that when he questioned the head of all the hajj-related construction projects about the destruction of historical sites in Mecca, “he seemed unconcerned about their religious significance. More important to him was that the hajj was ‘a good opportunity to visit Mecca and Medina, do some shopping, make a vacation out of it.’”

It should go without saying that only Muslim vacationers are welcome in Saudi Arabia’s holy cities…

Saudi apartheid[Screenshot]

 

Qaradawi for the (deliberately) clueless

It’s probably not a good idea to try to debate Islamophobia on Twitter – but I got involved in such a debate anyway because I was thinking about this issue after having read a very interesting post on “Theocracy in the UK.” However, the Twitter debate wasn’t at all related to this post. At the point I joined in, the focus was on the controversial term Islamophobia, which in my view is very problematic because it implies that the teachings of Islam cannot legitimately be criticized.

To illustrate my point, I linked to a post of mine entitled “Who’s defaming Islam?,” where I argued that there are plenty of examples of popular Muslim leaders or widely respected authorities making statements about Islam that depict the faith as requiring Jew-hatred and support for jihadi terrorism.

I then focused in particular on Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi, because he is without a doubt a mainstream figure who is regarded as a great scholar by many millions of Muslims and who has even been described as the “Global Mufti” due to his enormous influence.

But unfortunately, Qaradawi’s views fully justify the conclusion of Mark Gardner and Dave Rich that he represents “the combination of theological anti-Judaism, modern European antisemitism and conflict-driven Judeophobia that make up contemporary Islamist attitudes to Jews.”

Indeed, Qaradawi is an avowed Jew-hater who fervently believes in a divinely ordained battle between “all Muslims and all Jews.” As Qaradawi emphasizes in his “Fatawa on Palestine” in reference to the notorious hadith that features prominently in the Hamas Charter:

“The last day will not come unless you fight Jews. A Jew will hide himself behind stones and trees and stones and trees will say, ‘O servant of Allah – or O Muslim – there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’”

“[W]e believe that the battle between us and the Jews is coming … Such a battle is not driven by nationalistic causes or patriotic belonging; it is rather driven by religious incentives. This battle is not going to happen between Arabs and Zionists, or between Jews and Palestinians, or between Jews or anybody else. It is between Muslims and Jews as is clearly stated in the hadith. This battle will occur between the collective body of Muslims and the collective body of Jews i.e. all Muslims and all Jews. (p. 77)”

 Perhaps even more disturbingly, Qaradawi has expressed the view that

“Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the [Jews] people who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them – even though they exaggerated this issue – he managed to put them in their place.

“This was divine punishment for them. Allah willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers.” [...]

On another occasion, Qaradawi prayed:

“Oh Allah, take your enemies, the enemies of Islam. Oh Allah, take the Jews, the treacherous aggressors. Oh Allah, take this profligate, cunning, arrogant band of people. Oh Allah, they have spread much tyranny and corruption in the land. Pour Your wrath upon them, oh our God. Lie in wait for them. Oh Allah, You annihilated the people of Thamoud at the hand of a tyrant, and You annihilated the people of ‘Aad with a fierce, icy gale. Oh Allah, You annihilated the people Thamoud at the hand of a tyrant, You annihilated the people of ‘Aad with a fierce, icy gale, and You destroyed the Pharaoh and his soldiers – oh Allah, take this oppressive, tyrannical band of people. Oh Allah, take this oppressive, Jewish, Zionist band of people. Oh Allah, do not spare a single one of them. Oh Allah, count their numbers, and kill them, down to the very last one.”

However, in the debate on twitter, two people were resolved to downplay both Qaradawi’s Jew-hatred and his influence. @LutherBlissetts claimed triumphantly that Qaradawi wasn’t the only one who regarded the Holocaust as a divine punishment inflicted on the Jews, citing the fervent (and controversial) supporter of Israel John Hagee and Rabbi Yoel Teitlebaum (the Satmar Rebbe).

Now, it is indeed true that both Pastor Hagee and the Satmar Rebbe have argued that the Holocaust should be understood as God’s punishment for the Jews – and they both have done so in the context of a theological quest to explain the unspeakable evil and suffering of the Nazi genocide. To suggest that this is in any way comparable to Qaradawi’s views is simply beneath contempt: Qaradawi makes it crystal clear that he thinks it was praiseworthy that the Nazis “managed to put them [the Jews] in their place” and he explicitly expresses the hope that there will be a “next time…at the hand of the believers [i.e. the Muslims].”

The argument advanced by @TellMamaUK  – an organization that encourages Muslims to report instances of harassment and bigotry – was very different: they claimed that Qaradawi’s views “do not reflect the range of British Muslims” and complained that I was “really hung up on the ‘mainstream’ thing,” arguing that “Communities are diverse or does that not matter?”

But it is of course a platitude to say that there will be some diversity and a range of views in any given group of people – whether it’s a religious, political, social or ethnic group. It’s also a platitude to say that in any group of people, there are likely some fringe figures with bizarre and outrageous views – and Qaradawi wouldn’t be worth mentioning if he was such a fringe figure.

In the context of the debate about the term Islamophobia, my point about Qaradawi being mainstream by virtue of his huge following and influence was therefore a different one: while Qaradawi’s standing obviously does not justify bigotry against individual Muslims, it illustrates very well the problems with the term Islamophobia.

The Runnymede Trust’s definition of Islamophobia – which was mentioned in the debate as the relevant definition – includes the point that Islam “is seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism, and engaged in a clash of civilizations.”

While Qaradawi may not accept the wording here, he certainly is an enthusiastic advocate of an Islam that stands for violence – indeed for genocidal violence – and a “clash of civilizations” when it comes to the Jews (and to a somewhat lesser degree to the US and the West).

So should Qaradawi – and the many other Muslim clerics and scholars who preach similar views – be denounced as Islamophobic ?

The problem is obviously – as this debate illustrated all too well – that it is much more likely that it is considered Islamophobic to argue that there is a serious problem when somebody with Qaradawi’s views is mainstream.

How to stoke Islamophobia [updated]

Addressing Congress just a few days after the devastating terrorist attacks on 9/11, President George W. Bush repeatedly emphasized the need to distinguish between the peaceful teachings of Islam and the fanaticism of those “who commit evil in the name of Allah.” The terrorists who had struck on 9/11, were, Bush asserted, “traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself.”

Even Bush’s most vitriolic critics would echo this view for years. Writing in the Washington Post in July 2007, John L. Esposito, Founding Director of Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding – which in 2005 was renamed The HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding – insisted: “In our post-9/11 world, the ability to distinguish between Islam itself and Muslim extremism will be critical.”

But soon enough, this was no longer good enough. With a new administration in Washington trying to distance itself from Bush’s “war on terror” at least rhetorically, there were determined efforts to avoid any reference to Islam.

By now, however, it seems clear that this avoidance strategy hasn’t been helpful in any way.

In a scathing essay peppered with lots of sarcasm, Walter Russell Mead recently commented on the “War That Nobody Wants,” arguing:

“But roads paved with good intentions don’t always take you where you want to go, and denial does not look like an effective or sustainable strategy in the current state of what is and remains a multi-theater war against a set of armed religious fanatics and bigoted zealots with a crazed world view and the capacity to make a lot of trouble in a lot of places at the same time. […]

If you want to stoke Islamophobia, don’t level with the people about the nature of the problems we face. […] sometimes truth needs to be told. […] We are fighting a battle first to contain and then to defeat a vicious ideology of murder and hate that masks itself as religious zeal. We are fighting this war both at home and abroad, and there is not an inhabited continent anywhere on Planet Earth where this threat is not a serious concern. All Muslims are not our enemies — far from it, and many of our most important allies and associates are decent, pious, enlightened Muslims who loathe the hate-spewing murderers as much as anybody else — but all of our enemies claim to be fighting in the name of Islam.”

Unfortunately it seems that Mead’s common sense arguments won’t be welcomed by those who prefer to complain loudly about “Islamophobia” while they themselves dismiss the distinction between Muslims and violent extremists who justify savage acts of terrorism in the name of Islam.

As the recent controversy about ads in several US cities that denounce violent jihad as “savage” illustrates, we apparently live in a time when it is “anti-Muslim” to feel it is “savage” that self-described jihadists would consider videos of beheadings “very, very important” tools for recruiting volunteers to their ranks. And apparently, it’s also beyond the pale to recoil at the savagery of Muslim fanatics who proudly announce that they will keep trying to kill a fourteen-year old girl that they already injured grievously to silence her demands for education, respect and dignity.

The prominent Egyptian-American writer Mona Eltahawy, who is widely considered a liberal activist, has done much to publicize the controversy about the ads denouncing violent jihad as “savage.” As I have documented, she responded to the ads by declaring herself a “proud savage;” she then proceeded to deface one of the ads and, in the aftermath of being arrested and charged with misdemeanor and criminal mischief, she started a very successful publicity campaign to style herself as a latter-day heroine of the Civil Rights movement – while boasting at the same time that she and her supporters succeeded in getting the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to announce revised advertising guidelines.

After all this agitation, Eltahawy has now decided that it was finally time to do what one could have expected from a prominent writer long ago, and she has taken to the pages of the Guardian’s Comment is Free (CiF) website to make her case in writing.

It is quite obviously a weak case. The headline of her post announces “If anti-Muslim ads are protected, so must be my free speech right to protest” – but the text reveals that even Eltahawy is aware that her act of vandalism wasn’t really an exercise of free speech, because she admits: “I broke the law, yes.”

But Eltahawy adds defiantly: “So what? I broke it to make a point of principle. Eleven years after the 9/11 attacks, American Muslims are still being bullied and vilified.”

Indeed, Eltahawy tries hard to make the case that there is at least some “coincidental correlation” between the ads that denounce violent jihad as savage and various incidents of anti-Muslim violence and bigotry. Her article opens with a reference to a recent arson attack on the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo:

“Five days after I spraypainted over a racist and bigoted advertisement in the New York subway, a man set fire to my brother’s local mosque. He struck just a few hours after the mosque’s kindergarten had been filled with children at Sunday school, including my four nieces and nephews.

It was a coincidental correlation but there was nothing casual about either the hate speech on the walls of the subway […] or the arson in Ohio, which was described as an ‘act of terrorism’ by officials who announced federal hate crime charges against the suspect.”

Leaving aside the fact that Eltahawy of course knows full well that the accused arsonist was reportedly motivated by his anger about recent anti-American violence in the Middle East, it is noteworthy that it apparently wouldn’t occur to her that, due to the fanaticism of violent jihadists, hundreds of thousands of Israeli children live daily under the threat that her nieces and nephews might have faced attending Sunday school in a mosque in Ohio.

One could also recall in this context the terrorist attack on a religious seminary in Jerusalem in spring 2008 that resulted in the killing of eight students and the wounding of 11 others – a result that was cheered and celebrated by Hamas supporters in Gaza.

In the world of Mona Eltahawy, it is “anti-Muslim” to denounce any of this as savage. And in Mona Eltahawy’s world it is also “anti-Muslim” to point out that there is not just a “coincidental” but a very direct “correlation” between the thousands of rockets aimed at Israeli civilians as well as the many brutal terrorist attacks and the ringing endorsements of a divinely ordained genocidal battle against the Jews by leading clerics like Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who – according to Eltahawy herself – is “mainstream” and “commands a huge audience on and off the satellite channels.”

While Eltahawy would not hesitate to express her loathing of Qaradawi’s views on women in the strongest terms, she apparently takes no offense when Qaradawi tells his “huge audience” of followers that the extermination of Jews by Muslims is divinely ordained – so much so that even the “stones and trees” will do their part by betraying any Jew who might hide behind them.

Whether Eltahawy and her supporters like it or not, the kind of Jew-hating jihad preached by Qaradawi and recently threatened by the Supreme Guide of Egypt’s  Muslim Brotherhood is indeed savage in the context of 21st century civilization.

The claim that it is “anti-Muslim” to say so unfortunately makes sense only if one accepts that Qaradawi’s Jew-hatred is and should be part of mainstream Muslim beliefs. Mona Eltahawy seems to accept that when she rails against the condemnation of jihad as savage and adopts the hashtag #ProudSavage, but fails to even acknowledge the appalling ideology and acts of the violent jihadists of our time.

Rather bizarrely, she concludes her CiF-article by emphasizing that her nieces – who apparently live in the US – “will not grow up to be scared or apologetic for being Muslim, or Egyptian, or brown.” She also praises the “refusal to be intimidated by bullies” shown by many young Muslims who “were just 10 or 11 when 9/11 happened, and […who] refuse to apologise for something they had nothing to do with.”

Very different from what Eltahawy suggests, nobody who wants to be taken serious will demand that young Muslims apologize for “something they had nothing to do with.” But it is entirely reasonable and justified to expect Muslims – whether younger or older – to understand that demands to ignore the horrors advocated and perpetrated by violent jihadists won’t do much to combat anti-Muslim bigotry.

Mona Eltahawy clearly doesn’t understand that and concludes her article declaring: “The only hashtag I will consider is #ProudSavage.”

* * *

This post was first published at my JPost blog and, under a slightly different title, cross-posted on CiFWatch.

Update:

Only after I published this post, I saw that the Wall Street Journal had an article on this issue on October 1. The brilliant title says it all: “Call a Terrorist a ‘Savage’? How Uncivilized.”

Here is one of the examples highlighted in the WSJ to illustrate that the description “savage” is justified:

“This is a Reuters photo that ran on the New York Times front page for Sept. 1, 2004. It shows an Israeli bus after it had been blown up by a suicide bomber. Neither bloody nor gory, the photo is nonetheless deeply disturbing, because it shows the lifeless body of a young woman hanging out a window.

The Times news story added this detail about the reaction to that attack. “In Gaza,” ran the report, “thousands of supporters of Hamas celebrated in the streets, and the Associated Press reported that one of the bombers’ widows hailed the attack as ‘heroic’ and said her husband’s soul was ‘happy in heaven.’” What part of any of this is not savage?”

Some three weeks have passed since the controversy about the ads denouncing violent jihad as savage erupted, and neither Mona Eltahawy nor her fans and supporters have bothered to explain why they object to this. I have asked this question a few times on Twitter, but either I didn’t get any answer – which actually was sort of the best-case scenario – or I got blocked (this was Mona Eltahawy’s response) or I had some abuse hurled at me. Sad times for self-described progressives: it seems they can function only in a well-insulated echo-chamber.

In any case, I’ve in the meantime also come across a report on reason.com about Mona Eltahawy’s defacing of one of the ads, which notes:

“Eltahawy is not a raving lunatic. In the past she has made some fairly intelligent criticisms of extremists. But even allowing that few people keep cool heads while getting handcuffed by burly cops, she has obviously gone off the deep end here.”

Following the links provided here leads to two articles by Mona Eltahawy. The first was written in July 2005, shortly after the 7/7 London bombings; the second one is from January 2006 and comments on the riots staged by Muslims in response to some cartoons published in an obscure Danish newspaper. In both articles Eltahawy expresses views she apparently no longer holds – because if she did, it’s hard to see why she would have been so incensed by the denunciation of violent jihad as savage.

Consider these statements from Eltahawy’s commentary on the cartoon riots:

“the cartoon incident belongs at the very center of the kind of debate that Muslims must have in the European countries where they live – particularly after the Madrid train bombings of 2003 and the London subway bombings of 2005. While right-wing anti-immigration groups whip up Islamophobia in Denmark, Muslim communities wallow in denial over the increasing role of their own extremists.

As just one example, last August Fadi Abdullatif, the spokesman for the Danish branch of the militant Hizb-ut-Tahrir organization, was charged with calling for the killing of members of the Danish government. He distributed leaflets calling on Muslims in Denmark to go to Fallujah in Iraq and fight the Americans, and to kill their own leaders if they obstructed them. […]

Not only does Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an organization banned in many Muslim countries, have a branch in Denmark, but Abdullatif has a history of calling for violence that he then justifies by referring to freedom of speech – the very notion the Danish newspaper made use of to publish the cartoons. In October 2002, Abdullatif was found guilty of distributing racist propaganda after Hizb-ut-Tahrir handed out leaflets that made threats against Jews by citing verses from the Koran. He was given a 60-day suspended sentence.

Abdullatif used the Koran to justify incitement to violence! And we still wonder why people associate Islam with violence?

Muslims must honestly examine why there is such a huge gap between the way we imagine Islam and our prophet, and the way both are seen by others. Our offended sensibilities must not be limited to the Danish newspaper or the cartoonist, but [must extend] to those like Fadi Abdullatif whose actions should be regarded as just as offensive to Islam and to our reverence for the prophet.”

I sure couldn’t agree more – indeed, about a year ago, I argued in a post asking “Who’s defaming Islam?”:

“efforts to shield Islam from defamation by non-Muslims will inevitably look like an attempt to proscribe free speech as long as authorities that claim a leading role in the Muslim world as well as mainstream Muslim groups and widely revered Muslim scholars come out with statements that sound quite ‘Islamophobic’ when quoted as representative of mainstream Muslim views.”

However, in the meantime, Mona Eltahawy seems to have changed her views. She apparently no longer thinks it is worthwhile to make demands on her fellow Muslims and prefers instead to add her voice to the chorus of complaints about western “Islamophobia” and styling herself as a potential victim by declaring herself a “proud savage.”

But while Muslim extremism and militancy remain as much of a problem today as they were on 9/11, we know that the charges about “Islamophobia” have been greatly exaggerated. As Jonathan S. Tobin pointed out in a post entitled “FBI Statistics Belie Islamophobia Hysteria:”

“It has become an accepted trope of contemporary journalism that American Muslims are under siege and beset by hatred and prejudice. But the evidence for this conventional wisdom is lacking. The story line of Muslim persecution in the United States has always been a matter of anecdotes and perception, not facts. That truth was confirmed this week when the FBI released their annual crime statistics report which showed once again that hate crimes against Muslims remain rare and are far outnumbered by attacks on Jews. […]

Because the far greater number of attacks on Jews is not viewed […] as proof the country is boiling with hatred for Jews, how can anyone rationally argue that the far fewer number of assaults on Muslims can justify the conclusion that Islamophobia is rampant?”

Tobin, however, is making the same mistake that I made: he wrongly assumes this is a rational debate. But it isn’t a rational debate – and as far as Mona Eltahawy is concerned, it shouldn’t be a rational debate. Indeed, it seems she feels that as long as she has some 165 000 followers on Twitter, rational argument is just a waste of time.

Mona Eltahawy defends jihad: We are all proud savages now! [Updated]

On Tuesday, the prominent Egyptian-American writer Mona Eltahawy informed her almost 160 000 Twitter followers in no uncertain terms that she was incensed by an advertisement that had been placed in some New York City subways stations. Quoting a Reuters report about the ad, Eltahawy referred to it as “‘Savage’ jihad ad,” and, by adding the hashtag  #ProudSavage, presumably declared her solidarity with maligned jihadists who see themselves in a war against Israel and (western) civilization.

Indeed, as the day wore on, Eltahawy playfully pondered on Twitter how best to protest the ad, deciding eventually that defacing it with pink spray paint would be “sexier” than the alternatives. A few hours later, Eltahawy was going through with her plan to cover one of the ads with pink paint, but was confronted by a woman resolved to stop her. The ensuing brawl was captured by a New York Post camera crew, and Eltahawy was eventually arrested and held overnight to face a criminal mischief charge in court.

This story is a perfect, if utterly depressing, illustration of the mindless sloganeering that all too often passes for political action and debate nowadays.

First, let us consider what the ad that Reuters described as “inflammatory” really said. As the Reuters report noted, the ad equates “Islamic jihad with savagery;” saying specifically:

“In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.  Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”

To me, the most straightforward reading of the message here is: Jihad, understood as war, and in this case specifically as war against Israel, is savage. This is only “inflammatory” if you worry that many Muslims would be insulted to see violent jihadi acts of war denounced as savage.

But apparently, this is not how Eltahawy and her many ardent supporters read the ad. The most revealing illustration for their reading was provided by the well-known cartoonist Carlos Latuff, who has rightly been criticized for his “staggering amount of work dedicated to advancing explicitly anti-Semitic political imagery.”

Latuff was quick to support the #FreeMona campaign developing on Twitter with a drawing that, according to Latuff’s own caption, meant to illustrate that “equating Muslims with savages is freedom of speech – protesting against it is not…”

But while Latuff claimed that the ad was “equating Muslims with savages”, his rendering of the ad tellingly left out the last line “Defeat Jihad.”

It wasn’t the text of the ad that equated Muslims with savages, but Latuff – as well as Eltahawy and her admirers – apparently equated Jihad, understood as war, and specifically as war against Israel, with Islam and therefore with Muslims.

That would probably please jihadists everywhere.

Let’s now consider what the solidarity expressed in the hashtag #ProudSavage really means in the context of contemporary jihadist declarations and actions.

First, I would hope that we can all agree that self-described jihadists who consider videos of beheadings “very,very important” tools for recruiting volunteers deserve to be denounced as savage.

Unfortunately, jihadi rhetoric can hardly be considered as all that more civilized.

Among the most widely known examples is probably the Hamas Charter, especially the declaration:

“The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”

The enormously influential Egyptian Islamic leader Yusuf Qaradawi – who is even regarded by some as “Global Mufti” – has explicitly praised this declaration as “one of the miracles of our Prophet,” noting:

“[W]e believe that the battle between us and the Jews is coming … Such a battle is not driven by nationalistic causes or patriotic belonging; it is rather driven by religious incentives. This battle is not going to happen between Arabs and Zionists, or between Jews and Palestinians, or between Jews or anybody else. It is between Muslims and Jews as is clearly stated in the hadith. This battle will occur between the collective body of Muslims and the collective body of Jews i.e. all Muslims and all Jews.”

Qaradawi has made many similar statements encouraging hatred and violence between Muslims and Jews; indeed, a few years ago, he even used his popular Al Jazeera show that reached an audience of tens of millions of Muslims to praise the Holocaust as a divinely ordained punishment for the Jews, expressing the hope that “Allah willing, the next time will be at the hands of the believers.”

How “racist” or “hateful” is it to denounce these racist and hateful views as savage?

Indeed, if there is such a thing as universal values and universal human rights and if we all share a common humanity, then it cannot be that denouncing calls by mainstream Muslim organizations and personalities for a bloody Muslim Jihad against Jews is somehow worse than this incitement to Jew-hatred and violence.

Well-meaning people like Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, are therefore arguably wrong to criticize this specific ad by repeating the well-worn piety that “for the vast majority of Muslims, ‘jihad’ refers to a spiritual quest, not the more politicized idea of holy war.”

That may be true, but the fact of the matter is that, as I have documented above, there is today also a mainstream Muslim understanding of jihad as bloody and, as far as Jews are concerned, ultimately genocidal war. There are also numerous violent jihadi groups, and the “vast majority of Muslims” who understand jihad as a spiritual quest have arguably little reason to feel offended when violent terrorists are denounced as savage.

Indeed, in the wake of 9/11, there were countless appeals by western leaders and commentators admonishing people not to conflate terrorists who kill in the name of Islam with the religion followed by more than 1.5 billion Muslims. But when we have an ad that denounces jihad as savage, the “politically correct” consensus now seems to be that this is an “anti-Muslim” ad.

Unfortunately, this view appears to reflect the sad fact that when it comes to Israel, most Muslims are indeed opposed to the Jewish state’s existence and Jews are viewed negatively by an overwhelming majority of Muslims in the Middle East.

Another reason why this ad is interpreted as “anti-Muslim” is of course the fact that it was sponsored by a group that has often rightly been criticized and condemned for campaigns that betray anti-Muslim bigotry. Yet, such groups arguably only stand to gain adherents when it becomes anti-Muslim bigotry to denounce violent jihad as savage.

As deplorable and objectionable as it is that some believe that by denigrating Islam and Muslims in general, they are engaging in pro-Israel activism, it is not all that much better to pretend that widespread hatred of Jews, Israel and even the West doesn’t exist in the Muslim world.

Particularly a prominent writer like Mona Eltahawy surely had the option to turn to numerous widely read media outlets to explain what she finds so objectionable in this specific ad – and perhaps also what she thinks of the mainstream Muslim views of jihad I cited above. Engaging in an act of futile vandalism accompanied by a few rather vulgar tweets and claiming that this is an exercise of free speech and anti-racist political action is indeed a poor reflection on a widely admired writer of our time.

But while I am writing this, Eltahawy’s most recent tweet announces:

“I return to court to face my charges – proudly – on Nov29. #ProudSavage #FuckHate #NYC

And, in yet another tweet posted just five minutes ago and already retweeted by almost 100 people, Eltahawy declares:

“I spray painted that racist piece of shit poster out of principle, protected speech & non-violent disobedience. Proud & absolutely no regrets!”

Unthinking demagoguery attracts a lot of fans, it seems. And what do you know: there is also a new slogan, because, naturally, when a much-despised fringe group sponsors an ad describing the jihad that targets Israel as savage, the most anti-racist thing to do is to declare that we are all proud savages now…

* * *

This article was published on my JPost blog and in the Algemeiner.

UPDATE:

There is an amazing article in The Forward, which reports under the title: “Jewish Groups Object to Anti-Muslim Ad; Hope To Limit Damage From ‘Savage’ Controversy

“The timing of the [ad] campaign could not be worse, as anger is still simmering worldwide over the anti-Islamic YouTube film ‘Innocence of Muslims,’ which insults the Prophet Muhammad. Despite the small reach of the AFDI campaign – only 10 ads among the 11,000 spread across New York City’s 400-odd subway stations – the reaction to it is unpredictable.

Jewish advocates are particularly disturbed by the ads because they combine anti-Islamic propaganda and pro-Israel discourse as if supporting Israel and rejecting Islam were two sides of the same coin.

Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and a longtime champion of interreligious dialogue, told the Forward that he was “troubled” by the linking of Islam and Judaism in such a contentious way.

“People must understand that there is not a conflict between Muslims and Jews,” Schneier said. “The only conflict there is is between those who believe in coexistence and those who seek to destroy human rights.”

Schneier added that in the same way that other seemingly small manifestations against Islam have been taken as extremely offensive in the past, it would not be hard to imagine how this “could mutate in other parts of the Muslim world” — and raise anti-Israel feelings.

“These ads are Islamophobia at its worst, and in a very irresponsible fashion, since Israel has been brought into the frame,” Schneier said.”

So let’s get this straight: The good Rabbi Schneier, who thinks that these ads present “Islamophobia at its worst,” also thinks that “10 ads among the 11,000 spread across New York City’s 400-odd subway stations” could cause terrible riots all over the Muslim world and “raise anti-Israel feelings.”

On the last point, the Rabbi might be less worried if he knew that “anti-Israel feelings” and outright Jew-hatred are so prevalent in the Muslim world that it’s hard to “raise” them. And when it comes to his inordinate fear of Muslim mob violence, the Rabbi might want to check out the excellent World Affairs Journal piece by Michael Weiss on “Guilt and the ‘Innocence of Muslims’.”

But, most pathetic – if likely well-meaning – is of course this part:

“People must understand that there is not a conflict between Muslims and Jews,” Schneier said. “The only conflict there is is between those who believe in coexistence and those who seek to destroy human rights.”

Rabbi Schneier should tell this one time to Global Mufti Qaradawi – though unfortunately, he won’t be able to do this in person, because Sheikh Qaradawi doesn’t meet with Jews

The Forward’s coverage of this story also includes a blog post that reports gleefully that at least five of the 10 ads have been politically corrected – which is to say, partly plastered over by stickers claiming “Racism” or “Hate speech.”

The morale of the story is clearly that it is “Islamophobia at its worst” to distinguish between Muslims and jihadists – which presumably means: all Muslims are jihadists and anyone who wants to say something not so flattering about jihad should be told to shut up so as not to risk a frightful outbreak of jihadi=Muslim rage…

 

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?

* * *

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.”

 

A very short history of antisemitism

Britain’s Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks is widely admired as an eminent intellectual and a great writer. His most recent article provides an excellent example of his remarkable ability to bring the crucial aspects of a complex subject into sharp focus. Writing about the widely criticized decision of a German court to effectively outlaw the circumcision of male babies or children, Sacks addresses the broader context and outlines in just a few sentences some of the salient features of European antisemitism:

“I have argued for some years that an assault on Jewish life always needs justification by the highest source of authority in the culture at any given age. Throughout the Middle Ages the highest authority in Europe was the Church. Hence anti-Semitism took the form of Christian anti-Judaism.

In the post-enlightenment Europe of the 19th century the highest authority was no longer the Church. Instead it was science. Thus was born racial anti-Semitism, based on two disciplines regarded as science in their day: the “scientific study of race” and the Social Darwinism of Herbert Spencer and Ernst Haeckel. Today we know that both of these were pseudo-sciences, but in their day they were endorsed by some of the leading figures of the age.

Since Hiroshima and the Holocaust, science no longer holds its pristine place as the highest moral authority. Instead, that role is taken by human rights. It follows that any assault on Jewish life — on Jews or Judaism or the Jewish state — must be cast in the language of human rights. Hence the by-now routine accusation that Israel has committed the five cardinal sins against human rights: racism, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, attempted genocide and crimes against humanity. This is not because the people making these accusations seriously believe them — some do, some don’t. It is because this is the only form in which an assault on Jews can be stated today.”

The observations offered by Sacks here are all the more important because nowadays, we tend to think of racism and bigotry as somehow “primitive” resentments that are fed by ignorance and a lack of education. But Sacks is obviously right to point out that historically, antisemitism was justified by the elites – first the Church, and then by “science.” Indeed, it was the effort to introduce a pseudo-scientific racial component into the debates about Jews in Germany that motivated the German agitator Wilhelm Marr to use the term “antisemitism” instead of Jew-hatred.

Obviously, the assertion that contemporary antisemitism has found a new source of moral authority by utilizing the language of human rights will be denounced most loudly by those who view Israel as a serial perpetrator of monstrous human rights violations that fully justify singling out the Jewish state at the UN and in political campaigns.

In this context, it is interesting to consider the writings of Anthony Julius, author of the widely acclaimed book “The Trials of the Diaspora,” which provides a comprehensive history of antisemitism in England. In a short excerpt of the book, Julius argues that in the past few decades, socialist agitation for revolutionary transformation has been replaced by NGO activism:

“A human rights discourse now dominates politics; there is a powerful human rights ‘movement’. It is the new secular religion of our time. […] This new ‘human rights-ism’ accords great value to the United Nations – notwithstanding its inability to enforce its decisions, and its refusal to make practical demands of its members to be democratic or respect the human rights of their citizens. […]

This is, in any event, a post-left, one reconciled to the impossibility of revolutionary transformations […] its transitional demands have been resurrected in the shrill discourse of human rights and their ‘abuses’. The new militant is not the party sectarian but the NGO activist.”

It was of course exactly this kind of militant NGO activism – with the Jewish state as its preferred target – that prompted Robert Bernstein, the founder and long-time chairman of Human Rights Watch, to “publicly join the group’s critics” and denounce its obsessive focus on Israel. Eventually, Bernstein decided that it was best to start all over again, and he founded a new organization named Advancing Human Rights.

Yet another revealing feature of the “human right-ism” of recent years is that since Israel is its favorite target, antisemitism is usually either ignored or even excused as understandable “anti-Zionism” or entirely justified “criticism” of Israeli policies.  Needless to say, such views have been eagerly embraced by Arab and Muslim regimes. In this context it is also important to see that the observations of Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks about Europe’s Jew-hatred are equally valid for the Muslim world.

Just like the medieval church legitimized Christian anti-Judaism, Muslim religious texts, including the Koran, provide plenty of “justifications” for Jew-hatred, and Jewish communities under Muslim rule experienced not only the indignities associated with their subordination as “dhimmi”, but also outbreaks of violence and communal persecution.

Even in our times, Muslim scholars see nothing wrong with rehashing quotes and passages from Islamic texts that incite hatred of and violence against Jews. And while it is often emphasized that Nazi-style antisemitism is “just” an import in Muslim countries, it has been championed right from the very beginning by influential Muslim leaders, most notably the notorious Haj Amin Al-Husseini – also known as “Hitler’s mufti.” Nowadays, there are Muslim leaders like the very popular cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi who combine traditional Islamic incitement against Jews and praise for the Holocaust. In an Al-Jazeera program in January 2009, Qaradawi declared:

“Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the [Jews] people who would punish them for their corruption […] The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them – even though they exaggerated this issue – he managed to put them in their place. This was divine punishment for them. Allah willing, the next time will be at the hands of the believers.”

As Mark Gardner and Dave Rich have documented on the basis of Qaradawi’s writings and statements:

“Qaradawi personifies the combination of theological anti-Judaism, modern European antisemitism and conflict-driven Judeophobia that make up contemporary Islamist attitudes to Jews.”

Yet, Qaradawi is widely regarded – and indeed admired – as the “Global Mufti.” The fact that this “Global Mufti” of our times is an avowed Jew-hater who is a fervent believer in a divinely ordained battle between “all Muslims and all Jews” is clearly of no concern to the champions of “human right-ism” who would eagerly mobilize to denounce any Christian or Jewish leader espousing views even remotely comparable to the ones Qaradawi has long been preaching.

The Global Mufti: The Phenomenon of Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. Bettina Graf, Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen, C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd (20 July 2009).

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog.