Semite and Anti-Semite
Hatred of Jews in the Arab world.
by Carlin Romano
The Weekly Standard
10/22/2001, Volume 007, Issue 06


Peace: The Arabian Caricature
A Study of Anti-Semitic Imagery
by Arieh Stav
Gefen, 288 pp., $30

AS THE MORAL STENCH OF MASS MURDER by Islamic terrorists lingers, so does a blunt question: Why?

In his classic memoir, "Survival in Auschwitz," Primo Levi recounts a moment now famous in Holocaust literature. When he asked why a concentration-camp guard had cruelly knocked an icicle out of his hand that Levi, desperately thirsty, had managed to snatch through an open window, the guard replied, Hier ist kein warum: Here there is no why.

We're not quite left in that lurch when it comes to the events of September 11. In "Peace: The Arabian Caricature, "Arieh Stav, director of the Ariel Center for Policy Research in Israel, suggests one key factor: Islamic radicalism's implacable hatred of Jews.

Arab anti-Semitism usually receives little notice from European and American media, primarily because it undermines shibboleths that support behind much shaky foreign policy and public opinion. One is that Arabs don't hate Jews so much as they oppose Zionism or Israel. Another is that only fringe parts of the Arab world endorse anti-Semitism. A third is that all the Arab world really wants is for Israel to adjust its borders. A fourth--perhaps the most sensitive of all--is that Islam and the Koran require Muslims to be protective toward Jews and other non-Muslims.

Arieh Stav tells a different story, powerfully illustrated by scores of racist, anti-Semitic Arabic cartoons, and not just from pariahs like Iraq and Syria, but from our allies Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and even Kuwait. They illustrate the observations by the great scholar of the Middle East, Bernard Lewis, that the Arab world has been, "since 1945, the only place in the world where hard-core, Nazi-style anti-Semitism is publicly and officially endorsed and propagated."

Stav begins by asking, "Has the peace process really dampened Arab hostility?" And his answer is noit may actually have heightened Arab hatred of Jews. That, he maintains, "is reflected in the mirror of Arab caricature, which is a direct, authentic, and hugely influential expression of views in the Arab world, where nearly half the population is illiterate."

If that sounds overly aggressive, prepare for more. Stav specializes in unpleasant facts ignored in today's Middle Eastern policy debates, such as that "Jordan comprises two-thirds of the area earmarked for the Jewish National Home by the League of Nations." Jordan's late King Hussein and his son, King Abdullah, have been terribly reasonable over the years by Middle Eastern standards. So the issue of whether there already is a Palestinian state--called Jordan, and handed by Western powers to a "royal family" rather than Palestinian Arabs--gets muted.

Most of the early part of Stav's book chronicles the history of anti-Semitic caricature from the Middle Ages on. But it's after he analyzes Hitler's principles--such as that "Jews were like tubercular bacterium"--that Stav makes a segue few American writers would dare: to kindred animosity expressed in Islam. As Stav explains, drawing on such experts as the great Arab scholar Majid Khadduri, Islam divides the world between Dar al-Islam (House of Islam) and Dar al-Harb (House of War). Jihad, according to Khadduri, "may be regarded as Islam's instrument for carrying out its ultimate objective by turning all people into believers."

By that view, Islam obliges Muslims to bring all lands into the Dar al-Islam, which makes enemies of all countries not under Islamic sovereignty. The favored model of how non-Muslims should live under Islamic sovereignty, Stav writes, is as dhimmi--supposedly "protected minorities" under Islamic "tutelage," but historically there have been subservient minorities.

Israel particularly sticks in the craw of Islamicists, Stav writes, because even though it exercises sovereignty over only one-five-hundredth of the territory of modern Dar al-Islam, it's geographically smack in the middle, frustrating a Greater Islam. So, he observes, when Arabs castigate Israel as "a cancer in the body of the Arab nation," or "a dagger in the heart of the Arab"--rhetorical overkill to Westerners--they're making perfect sense within Islamic ideology, which calls for "Islamic hegemony over the world."

OVER PAGES AND PAGES, "Peace: The Arabian Caricature" displays recent Arab caricatures of Jews as snakes, insects, and drinkers of blood, and quotes such governmental organizations as the Academy for the Study of Islam at Al-Azhar University in Cairo the "highest center of learning in Islam," which described Jews as "dogs of humanity.... Their wicked nature never changes. . . . They slay women, children, and rip up pregnant women."

Stav's book isn't fair--it neglects more humane interpreters of Islam who, like Judeo-Christian scholars embarrassed by the Old Testament's savage God, emphasize jihad as "psychological struggle with oneself," or Koranic verses that stress peace rather than conquest.

Still, it provides useful counterevidence to the Bush administration and American media's desire to draw bright lines between Islamic terror and our "allies" in the Middle East, and to depict Islam as a uniformly kindly religion that prohibits killing innocents, loves little children, and so on. You can bet we won't be hearing much in coming days about how the Hadith, the collection of tales about the Prophet and his companions, says, "The Day of the Resurrection shall not come, unless you go to war against the Jews. And the rock shall say, 'Oh, Muslim, a Jew is hiding behind me. Come kill him.'" Until recently, Stav asserts, Arabic didn't even possess a word for secular people, referring to non-Muslims as "infidels."

As if his bravery in adducing such facts weren't enough, Stav also reports on a topic familiar to Israelis and Arabs, but virtually undiscussed in the United States: the historical and ideological connections between Islamic anti-Semitism and Nazism. No less than the former mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, stated that there was "a definite similarity between the principles of Islam and the principles of Nazism."

But Stav drives home the parallelism by offering hard evidence of the appreciation for Nazism often found throughout the Arab world, and comparing Islamic jihad with Hitler's concept of kampf (Hitler declared that "War is the foundation of existence," and the Hadith states that "Jihad is the pinnacle of faith"). Just as the German historian Heinrich von Treitschke coined the slogan, "The Jews are our catastrophe" (which became a Nazi battle cry), so Palestinian Arabs call their loss of land to Palestinian Jews in 1948 the nakba, or catastrophe. Stav's chapter on Arab celebration of Nazism teems with ugly facts unknown in America, such as Anwar Sadat's letter of praise for Hitler.

"WHERE IS THE ARAB EMILE ZOLA?" Stav asks. Where, in other words, is the man of conscience who, like that courageous French writer, will challenge the shabby hatred of his peers? The answer is--dead, in some cases, at the hands of extremists. Rather than flatter Islam in the difficult months ahead, writers, thinkers, and officials should acknowledge that it is capable, like Christianity and Judaism, of being used for either good or evil, and that too many of its adherents have veered into fanatical hatred. Calling Islamic terrorists "fundamentalists" avoids the crucial decision Islam faces: whether hate or love will be fundamental to Muslim life.

Carlin Romano, literary critic of the Philadelphia Inquirer, teaches philosophy at Temple University.

October 22, 2001 - Volume 7, Number 6

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