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Times 2 - features

June 28, 2002


The anti-Semitic lies that threaten all of us

Rampant anti-Semitism in the Muslim world, from schools to press, TV and internet, not only makes Middle East peace impossible, but makes us all targets now
Just before he was given the boot by President Bush, Yassir Arafat made an extraordinary offer — extraordinary because it was not one of the specific demands Bush was about to make, extraordinary because Arafat acknowledged a hidden horror: the indoctrination of the delusional young people who carry out suicide bombings. In a six-page private memorandum he sent to President Bush and Arab capitals outlining his 100-day plan for reform, Arafat said he would “renounce fanaticism in the educational curricula and spread the spirit of democracy and enlightenment and openness”.

There is a lot under the stone Arafat has lifted. Fanaticism has been bred into the suicide murderers and millions of young people throughout the Arab nations with scant attention by media, governments, academia and churches in the civilised world. The Palestinian schools, financed by Europe, are open sewers in terms of the hatred they seed — hatred not just of Israel, but of all Jews and all their friends. Dr Ahmad Abu Halabiya, former acting rector of the Islamic University in Gaza, speaks the message: “Wherever you are, kill the Jews, the Americans who are like them and those who stand by them.”

Arab leaders come to Washington and London and Geneva with formulas for peace, while at home they feed their populations with similar incitements. It means that even if by some miracle there is agreement on the shape of a Palestinian state, there will be no peace in the Middle East for a generation. The Israelis may forget or forgive the suicide assassins; the Palestinians may put behind them the humiliations of occupation. But the political conflict over Palestine is only one aspect of the fanaticism that has been fomented. It adds up to the dehumanisation of all Jews and it has been manufactured and propagated throughout the Middle East and south Asia on a scale and intensity that is utterly unprecedented. This is something relatively new in the Islamic world. There was more tolerance for Jews in the Islamic empire than ever there was in Christian Europe.

I was aware, as we all are, that the Palestinians hate the state of Israel. What has surprised me is the virulence of this new anti-Semitism throughout all the Muslim countries. It is frenzied, vociferous, paranoid, vicious and prolific, and is only incidentally connected to the Palestinian conflict. Hope, the familiar bromide, seems to have little to do with it. The moment of high hope following Camp David saw a surge, not a diminution, in the tide. It is a singular phenomenon; there is nothing comparable to it in relation to Arabs or Muslims.

Everyone talking about Palestine or terrorism is talking in a vacuum, for nothing can be understood without a proper appreciation of the way minds have been poisoned. A single skinhead assault on a synagogue in Europe is news, but not the unremitting daily assault on Jews waged from Morocco to Cairo to Damascus, from Baghdad to Teheran, the Gaza Strip to Karachi.

The paradox is that the world is connected as never before in terms of the flow of current, but many of the wires are lethally bare. The religious fanaticism that has spawned and condoned terrorism and drives the new anti-Semitism is insensible to reason. Jonathan Swift recognised our dilemma more than 200 years ago: “You cannot reason a person out of something he did not reason himself into.”

What we are up against is best illustrated by what the Jews did to the World Trade Centre. Everyone in the Muslim world knows that September 11 was a Jewish plot to pave the way for a joint Israeli-US military operation against not just Osama bin Laden and the Taleban but also Islamic militants in Palestine. On the day of the bombing, 4,000 Jews were absent from the World Trade Centre; they had been tipped off.

I thought this canard had long ago vanished up its own orifice, but it was being retailed with all sincerity by a Pakistani taxi driver last week in New York of all places — which proves nothing except that he is an accurate representation of a now unshakeable Muslim conviction. Millions and millions and millions believe this rubbish, as a Gallup Poll has found after questioning people in nine predominantly Islamic countries — Pakistan, Iran, Indonesia, Turkey, Lebanon, Morocco, Kuwait, Jordan and Saudi Arabia — representing about half the world’s Muslim population.

Some 67 per cent found the attacks morally unjustified, which is something — why not 100 per cent? — but they were also asked if they believed reports that groups of Arabs carried out the bombings. Only in West-aligned Turkey was the answer Yes, but it was close; 46 per cent to 43 per cent. In all the other eight Islamic countries, the populations rejected the idea that Arabs or al-Qaeda were responsible. Repeat, that is a poll just a couple of months ago, after millions of words from reporters and exultant videos from the Osama bin Laden show. The majorities are overwhelming in Pakistan, Kuwait, Iran and Indonesia — in Pakistan only 4 per cent accept that the killers were Arabs. Thomas Friedman, of The New York Times, reported last month from Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim state, that nobody has any doubt about the Mossad conspiracy.

Who could be naive/crazy/malign/misguided enough to disseminate such fabrications? The effluent is from official sources, newspapers and television in Arab states, from schools and government-funded mosques, from Arab columnists and editorial writers, cartoonists, clerics and intellectuals, from websites that trail into an infinity of iniquity. The appearance of modernity in the Arab media is illusory. More important than the presence of the hardware is the absence of the software, the notion of a ruggedly independent self-critical free press. CNN will film American bomb damage in Afghanistan; al-Jazeera and the Middle East stations would never dream of talking to the orphans and widows whose loved ones were blown apart by a suicide bomber. An Arab critic of America and the coalition is always given the last word. How could people be so susceptible to misinformation? Well, conspiracy theories simplify a complex world. The absence of evidence is itself proof of plot: missing records at Pearl Harbor, missing bullets in Dallas, missing bodies in Jenin. Preconceptions are outfitted in fantasy. Contradiction by authority is mere affirmation of the vastness of the plot: so he’s in it, too. Conspiracy and rumour bloom, especially where the flow of news and opinion is restricted and illiteracy is high.

But there is another explanation for the potency of lies today. It is the aura of authenticity provided by technology, by the internet. John Daniszewski, of the Los Angeles Times, asked an editor of The Nation in Islamabad, Ayesha Haroon, why they blamed Israel. “It is quite possible that there was deliberate malice in printing it,” she admitted. “I also think it has to do with the internet. When you see something on a computer, you tend to believe it is true.” Here in our new magic is a source of much misery. An Indonesian visiting the Islamic stronghold of Yogyakarta, according to Friedman, was alarmed by the tide running for jihad against Christians and Jews. Internet users are only 5 per cent of the population, but these 5 per cent spread rumours about Jews to everyone else. “They say, ‘He got it from the internet’. They think it’s the Bible.”

The smear that defiles the Jews who died in the World Trade Centre, that millions perceive as reality, owes its original currency in September 2001 to a website called InformationTimes.com, “an independent news and information service” whose address was given as the Press Building in Washington. I thought it worth asking the editor in chief, Syed Adeeb, for the evidence. He told me his source was the TV station Al Manar in the Lebanon. When I asked if he had any qualms about relying on Al Manar because it was a mouthpiece for the terrorist group Hezbollah, which exists “to stage an effective psychological warfare with the Zionist enemy”, Adeeb’s reply was: “Well, it is a very popular station.” Adeeb clearly believed his story; when I mentioned that there were Jews who died in the towers, he conceded that one or two might have died, but he found it sinister that nobody could tell him just how many.

He volunteered that he was an American citizen and that some of his best friends were Jews. Adeeb’s approach to the world speaks for itself in his headlines: “Israelis with bomb material arrested in Washington”; “Israeli mafia controls US Congress”; “Crazy Hindu terrorists threaten America”; “FBI and CIA should investigate the Israeli lobby”; “Barbarous Israeli soldiers rape and torture 86 women in Nablus, Palestine”.

I asked for the source of that rape story and was referred to the Labour MP for Birmingham Selly Oak, Lynne Jones. I checked. Dr Jones did indeed put the atrocity in circulation, quoting an e-mail from an Anthony Razook in Nablus, but she was careful to say that “this report has not been authenticated”. Such qualifications evaporate in the endless laundering of information.

Once upon a time stories such as this would circulate only on smudged cyclostyled sheets that would never see the light of day. But now Wizards of Oz such as Adeeb have a megaphone to a gullible world, with this spurious authenticity of electronic delivery. In the thirties, Cordell Hull complained of print and radio that a lie went half way round the world before truth had time to put its trousers on; nowadays it has been to Mars and back before anyone is half awake. At the end of the line of incendiary headlines and the careless propagation of e-mail there is Danny Pearl, tortured and butchered because he was a Jew and a reporter.

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