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Modern Islamophobia echoes murderous anti-Semitism


'That anti-Semitism and ... Orientalism resemble each other very closely is a historical, cultural, and political truth,' wrote Edward Said in 1978, 'that needs only to be mentioned to an Arab Palestinian for its irony to be perfectly understood.'

Joseph Conrad's The Secret SharerThat remark comes to mind in response to the remarkable speech delivered last week by Benjamin Netanyahu at the World Zionist Congress, in which the Israeli PM blamed the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, for convincing Hitler to exterminate the European Jews in 1941.

What was behind this extraordinary assertion, dismissed by all reputable historians as utter nonsense?

Netanyahu's reference to Hitler came in the midst of an address mostly devoted to attacking the current Palestinian leadership, whom he implicitly linked with al-Husseini. Thus, as Juan Cole writes, 'the real intent of [Netanyahu's] outrageous assertion is to create a blood libel that all Palestinians bear responsibility for the killing of 6 million Jews by the National Socialist state.

'He asserted that al-Husseini's animus was rooted simply in irrational Jew-hatred, which he alleged characterised the Palestinian masses then and now, without regard to the issues of the Jewish ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians or of occupation.'

Many commentators noted how, by diminishing the moral culpability of Hitler, Netanyahu moved into territory usually occupied by Holocaust deniers and neo-Nazis. Yet insufficient attention has been paid to the details of that association — in particular, the structural similarities between Netanyahu's argument and traditional anti-Semitism.

'This essentialisation of Palestinians as mass murderers,' continues Cole, 'mirrors the false mythology of medieval and early modern European Christianity that Jews stole Christian babies and used their blood in their rites — a myth that lay in part behind the Holocaust.'

As Cole implies, the affinity between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia can be traced back to their shared origins in medieval Christianity, where the Moor featured alongside the Jew as an enemy of the church.

Mattias Gardell points out that 'many stories told about Jews in medieval and early modern Europe were also spun around what were then termed Moors, Saracens or Red Jews: Muslims were devil-worshipping, sexually deviant, man-eating monsters; Muslims ritually defamed the cross and consumed the blood of ceremonially slaughtered Christian children in blasphemous communions.

'Church art portrayed Mohammed as the Antichrist, and Muslims as horned devils, Christ-killers, dogs or a hybrid race of dog-men.'

Both doctrines evolved over time, reshaped by domestic politics and the changing landscape of the international order. After 1945, the world's revulsion at the Holocaust helped drive anti-Semitism from the political mainstream — just as the shock of 9/11 later popularised and turbocharged Islamophobia.

Said described the Orientalist treatment of Islam as 'a strange, secret sharer of Western anti-Semitism'. The reference is to Joseph Conrad's story about seagoing doppelgangers, 'The Secret Sharer'. In that text, an inexperienced captain struggling with a potentially mutinous crew takes on board the fugitive Leggatt, a man fleeing his own ship after killing a sailor whom he was disciplining during a storm.

At the most obvious level, Said's reference to Conrad identifies Islamophobia as anti-Semitism's respectable twin, a discourse that, unlike old-fashioned Jew baiting, needn't disguise itself when it appears in the public sphere.

Think, for instance, of the American Republican primary, where Ben Carson has said no Muslim should ever be president, and Donald Trump, his main opponent, responded to an audience member asking when America could 'get rid' of Muslims by saying he would be 'looking at a lot of things'.

Without question, similar statements about Jews would be (quite rightly) career ending, even for Tea Party Republicans. Muslims, however, remain fair game.

In this light, Netanyahu's description of the Mufti urging Hitler on to greater evil takes on a new significance, an echo of the old anti-Semitic canard of Jews as shadowy manipulators.

This trope is central to the infamous Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion; it dominates Henry Ford's notorious tract The International Jew; it was a key element in Goebbels' propaganda campaigns — and it's now central to contemporary Islamophobia.

In her study of the ideas influencing mass murderer Anders Breivik, Liz Fekete argues that the 'myths that Muslims, supported by liberals, cultural relativists and Marxists, are out to Islamicise Europe and that there is a conspiracy to impose multiculturalism on the continent and destroy western civilisation are peddled each day on the internet, in extreme-right, counter-jihadist and neo-Nazi circles'.

Here's an example, chosen more or less at random. Several years ago, William G. 'Jerry' Boykin, the former Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence under President George W. Bush, appeared on a conservative radio program to discuss the 'threat of Islamic terrorism'. He explained to the host that he'd uncovered evidence of a dastardly plot:

In 2004, in Annandale, Virginia we discovered a false basement in a man's home there. It turns out he was the operations officer for the Muslim Brotherhood in America. They went through all of the things in this false basement and they discovered a five-phase plan to take over America.

And as you look at the plan, and it's on the web, you'll see that they are in the latter stages of phase three and moving into phase four very quickly.

Such revelations about Muslim plots for world domination, structurally identical to the claims of the Protocols, now appear routinely, on the far right and increasingly in supposedly respectable publications.

But the identification of Islamophobia as a 'secret sharer' of anti-Semitism has other implications. By concealing Leggatt (the man he calls 'my double'), Conrad's captain breaks the law — but, in so doing, he develops a new authority over his men. Leggatt might be a fugitive and a killer but his presence inspires the youthful protagonist to become the leader he needs to be.

Said's invocation of Conrad can be read, then, as implying a particular relationship between the murderous history of anti-Semitism and the parallel discourse of Islamophobia.

Let's think again about Netanyahu's speech.

The supposed responsibility of al-Husseini for the Holocaust has been a staple theme of pro-Israel propagandists: Ali Abunimah points out that the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust sponsored by Israel's official memorial Yad Vashem devotes less space to Goebbels and Goring than it does to the Mufti, who receives an entry only slightly shorter than that accorded to Hitler.

Nonetheless, Netanyahu's attempt to create an amalgam between Palestinian nationalism and Hitlerism was still significant, if only because of its crassness. It is, after all, usual for Israeli prime ministers to at least pay lip service to the idea of a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians. But Netanyahu's address gestures in a quite different direction.

As Dahlia Scheindlin argues in the Guardian, Netanyahu knows that overt racism plays increasingly well to the Israeli electorate. Like Conrad's captain, he thinks he can re-establish his authority by embracing his double — that is, by voicing, on the world stage, Islamophobic versions of old-style anti-Semitism.

The implications are alarming. The Israeli PM is openly articulating conspiratorial tropes historically connected with extreme nationalism and violence. It's hard not to conclude that, in the context of renewed Palestinian militancy, he is building a constituency for a crackdown of unprecedented severity.

Jeff SparrowJeff Sparrow is a writer, editor and honorary fellow at Victoria University.

Topic tags: Jeff Sparrow, Islamaphobia, Netanyahu, Israel, Palestine



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Existing comments

This article demonstrates twisted logic and obfuscation. Netanyahu’s somewhat ambiguous statement was clarified by his office stating: “Hitler was responsible for the Final Solution to exterminate six million Jews; he made the decision. It is equally absurd to ignore the role played by the mufti, Haj Amin al -Husseini, a war criminal, for encouraging and urging Hitler.” Amin al-Husseini was an anti-Semite. In 1920 he organized riots against Jews which left five Jews dead and 211 injured; was involved in plots to massacre Jews—60 Jewish immigrants in Hebron and 45 more in Safad in 1929; met Adolf Eichmann in 1937, and Hitler in 1941; his memoirs record that his request for “a free hand to eradicate every last Jew from Palestine and the Arab world” was answered by Hitler, “the Jews are yours”; he declared on German radio in 1944, “Kill the Jews wherever you find them”; he visited the gas chambers at Auschwitz; he organized three divisions of Bosnian Muslims who were trained by the SS and who fought in the Balkans assisting in the genocide of Jews, Gypsies and Christian Serbs in 1944 and 1945. Over 90 percent of Bosnian Jews were murdered. [http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/hitlers-mufti]

Ross Howard | 30 October 2015  

"Islamophobia": Yet another Alinsky-ite stratagem of leftists to counter views they oppose, not with rational argument, but by pathologising.

HH | 30 October 2015  

"This article demonstrates twisted logic and obfuscation" - Ross Howard. I disagree. As the author points out, "Netanyahu's reference to Hitler came in the midst of an address mostly devoted to attacking the current Palestinian leadership, whom he implicitly linked with al-Husseini". Of course, no argument has been made here commending or defending the actions of Haj Amin al-Husseini - that's a straw man. Netanyahu's speech to the World Zionist Congress was not specifically about the Mufti, who was appointed to his position by High Commissioner Herbert Samuel, with the authority of British mandate. That reference by Netanyahu was a calculated insertion to imply a linear connection between the actions of the Mufti back then, and the actions of Palestinian leadership today. That's where the 'obfuscation' lies. It was an escalation in Netanyahu's consistent 'nothing to see here' response to objections about Israel's ongoing military occupation, settlement building and statehood denial, which he himself is complicit in. And it was part of his ongoing demonisation narrative, which seeks to portray all Palestinians, including their leadership, as essentially bloodthirsty religious fanatics whose ultimate aim is and has always been the destruction of all Jews and Israel. Obfuscation and Islamophobia in equal parts.

Rashid.M | 30 October 2015  

Whenever the PR gets bad, the propaganda arm of the State of Israel plays the Holocaust card once again. Somewhere along the road Israel might come to a stage where it consciously chooses not to trivialize the murdered Six Million by using them as a cheap political device to deflect attention away from its abysmal treatment of other human beings, namely the Palestinians.

David Timbs | 30 October 2015  

Islamophbia is pathologising but Alinsky-ite and leftist is rational argument?

Ginger Meggs | 31 October 2015  

"Islamophobia" is the ad. hom. fallacy in this post, and it is rational to expose it for what it is. And provided one is correct about that, a genealogy is legitimate as well.

HH | 31 October 2015  

Just in passing and interestingly; " Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion is one of the best-known and most-discussed examples of literary forgery, with analysis and proof of its fraudulent origin going as far back as 1921. The forgery is an early example of "conspiracy theory" literature. Written mainly in the first person plural,[a] the text includes generalizations, truisms, and platitudes on how to take over the world: take control of the media and the financial institutions, change the traditional social order, etc. It does not contain specifics. Elements of the Protocols were plagiarized from Joly's fictional Dialogue in Hell, a thinly-veiled attack on the political ambitions of Napoleon III, who, represented by the non-Jewish character Machiavelli, plots to rule the world. Joly, a monarchist and legitimist, was imprisoned in France for 15 months as a direct result of his book's publication. Scholars have noted the irony that Dialogue in Hell was itself a plagiarism, at least in part, of a novel by Eugène Sue, Les Mystères du Peuple (1849–56]"[Wikipaedia]

Father John George | 04 November 2015  

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