Melanie Phillips

14 June 2002

Wake up, Europe

Published in: Jewish Chronicle

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It is commonly assumed by many that the Arab quarrel with the Jews is over Israel, and more particularly over Israel's policies in the occupied territories and the settlements and towards the idea of a Palestinian state. This assumption surely puts the cart before the horse. At the root of the quarrel lies instead the Muslim perception of the humiliation of Islam by the west, of which the presumption to statehood by the Jewish people is both a symbol and a particularly intolerable affront.

Two important recent publications make this abundantly clear. The first is a report for the American Jewish Committee by the historian Robert Wistrich. Entitled Muslim Anti-Semitism: A Clear and Present Danger, it sets out the all- too abundant evidence that Arab hostility to Israel derives from a profound, pathological hatred of the Jewish people.

A veritable torrent of hideous anti-Jewish literature is pouring daily out of Arab countries in newspapers, journals, magazines, radio and television. Jews are portrayed as demons and murderers, the origin of all evil and corruption, and the authors of an unrelenting conspiracy to infiltrate and destroy Muslim society in order to take over the world. Much of this is taken from western anti-Jewish tropes such as the blood libels, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Nazi-style cartoons. The objective of such outpourings, says Wistrich, is not simply to de-legitimise Israel as a Jewish state but to de-humanise Judaism and the Jewish people. Its flimsy anti-Zionist pretext, he observes, is an insult to the intelligence of any decent individual.

Unfortunately, however, much of the west has fallen for precisely this pretext. As Wistrich says, it is extremely reluctant to relate the current terrorist war against Israel and the west to its ideological roots in Islam or the sources and meaning of jihad. As he notes, it is simply astonishing that the west has virtually ignored the volume, nature and viciousness of the anti-Jewish hatred pouring out of Muslim countries. Even more alarming, this is slowly but surely infecting other parts of the world, as demonstrated by the grotesquely misnamed UN 'conference against racism' in Durban, South Africa shortly before the Twin Towers were hit last year, a conference which produced 'the most brazenly anti-Semitic document at any international gathering since 1945'.

Wistrich calls this language of unquenchable hatred for Israel and the Jewish people 'Islamic fascism'. It displays, he says, the same totalitarianism and pseudo-messianic aspiration to rule the world as German Nazism or Soviet communism, and articulates a latent and sometimes explicitly genocidal rhetoric in its assault on 'Jewish-Crusader' civilisation, by which jihadic terrorists are bent on total confrontation with the infidels.

The second recent publication not only puts all this into historical context, but provides an explanation for the refusal by the west to see what is happening. Bat Ye'Or, a Jewish Islamic scholar who was born in Egypt, has fought for several decades, through meticulous and astonishingly detailed scholarship, to record the truth of how Islam dealt with the Jews who lived under its dominion. In her latest book, Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilisations Collide, she explains how the attribution of stereotypes to Jews appeared from the beginnings of Islam.

It is popularly thought that Jews and Christians were treated relatively well under Muslim power. In fact, they were subjected to second-class status, expulsions, expropriations, and murder. Islam regards subject peoples as 'dhimmi', and Bat Ye'Or uses 'dhimmitude' to describe the status of servitude and enslavement in which Islam requires Jews and Christians alike to be kept.

She also provides an explanation for the way many Muslims tend to invert logic, history and facts to represent their own aggression as victimhood and their victims as aggressors. It arises from their belief that the world is divided into the sphere of Islam and the sphere of the infidel which must be brought within the Islamic fold. Because of the noxiousness of the sphere of the infidel, jihad brings peace and happiness to conquered peoples. The result of this thought process is that Muslim aggression is simply denied. Thus, says Bat Ye'Or, the conflicts between Muslims and Christians have been blamed on the Crusades, ignoring the incessant Islamic wars from the seventh century onwards which extended from Armenia to Spain and the Mediterranean coast. Similarly, the conflict between Islam and the west is attributed to 19th century colonialism and Zionism.

Despite the fact that this is not true, the history of Islamic aggression has been ignored by many leading Islamic scholars. The result, she says, has been a generally accepted narrative of western culpability and the victimisation of Muslim populations, a narrative in which Israel has been allocated a starring role. So the fact that Israel was created as the result of world reaction to the near extermination of the Jewish people, the fact that the nascent Jewish state was attacked by five Arab states backed by the Arabs of Palestine, the fact that this was accompanied by pogroms of Jews in Arab countries leading to their flight and by subsequent wars of annihilation and terrorist attacks against Israel that continue to this day, all this is portrayed instead as a continuing history of aggression by Israel and the west.

Where Bat Ye'Or's analysis takes off into particularly striking and controversial territory is in the way she inculpates Christianity in the story of Islamic aggression. She emphasises throughout that Christians and Jews were subjected alike to dhimmitude. But instead of acknowledging the Jews as victims alongside them, the early Christians instead blamed the Jews for the servitude to which they had been reduced. This led them to add their own persecution of the Jews to the mix, thus restoring by this exercise of power over another people some of their own shattered pride.

The key point here, and one which is obviously relevant to today's perverse reaction by Europe to Israel's defence against terror, is the denial by Christianity of the true source of persecution and the displacement of blame onto its Jewish victims. Bat Ye'Or goes further. Many Islamic scholars, she argues, have tried to Islamicise the Bible by claiming that Islam, which actually started in the 7th century, preceded Judaism and Christianity. The West, she says, is already showing signs of dhimmitude in its submission to the Islamic strategy of de-Judaising Christianity by denying its Jewish origins, as well as stripping the Jewish people of their identity by denying their historical continuity with the Biblical land of Israel.

The 'foundation myths' of Palestinianism, she suggests, were part of this joint project by Muslims and Christians to air-brush the Jews out of Biblical history. In the 1960s, the PLO's Christian and Muslim strategists, assisted by European advisers, developed the core myth of a Palestine devoid of Jews before the Jewish immigration in 19th century. Jesus was said by Yasser Arafat to have been 'the first Palestinian fedayeen who carried his sword along the road on which today the Palestinians carry their cross'. This abuse of religion and history drew no comment from the journalists who reported these words, nor - most significant of all - any protest from the churches.

Instead, says Bat Ye'Or, the 'dhimmi' churches developed an Arabised version of the Gospels. From this flowed the representation of the Shoah as an anti-Palestinian moral blackmail, with the implication that Europe owed a moral debt to the Muslim world that was the equivalent of two millennia of Christian anti-Semitism and the attempt to exterminate the entire Jewish people. Some clergymen and European politicians, she suggests, used these arguments to silence public opinion against the immigration of millions of Muslims into Europe. Compromises by France and Italy in the 1970s led to shady deals with Arab terror groups. The Faustian pact made by these governments, she claims, was to allow defamatory propaganda against Zionism and Israel in return for the absence of Arab terror on French and Italian soil. There has been a corresponding silence on the persecution of Christians in Arab lands - a silence, she says, which is an implicit submission by the west to the laws of the shari'a.

This silence by the Christians, she says, cannot be ascribed to ignorance since they include distinguished scholars and theologians. 'History will judge their silence concerning the destruction of Eastern - particularly Lebanese - Christianity by Syria and the Palestinians; their responsibility for the diffusion of dhimmitude in Europe; their passive obedience to political pressures; and above all their obsessive desire to see the demise of Israel, willy-nilly'.

This analysis certainly goes far to explain why the European reaction to Israel's predicament has been so hostile. It also helps explain the chaotic and contradictory situation in Europe, where xenophobia and violence are being directed against black people and immigrants, while European Jews are being vilified and attacked by Muslims. This lethal cocktail, says Bat Ye'Or, is the result of the incredible irresponsibility of European leaders during the past three decades, whose appeasement of terror has produced in Europe a veritable cauldron of seething hatreds.

Bat Ye'Or's scholarship is awesome and her analysis is as persuasive as it is terrifying. One must remember, however, that for many Muslims peaceably settled in Britain and Europe, the vicious doctrines that she records have little relevance to their lives. They do not want to subject anyone, let alone do violence to them. They merely want to raise their families and prosper, just like anyone else. There are also brave Muslims who are struggling to make an accommodation with modernity and articulate a liberal form of their religion. Such people should be saluted and need every encouragement.

But if these three religions are ever to live peacefully with each other, it is imperative that these issues are openly discussed. There are, however, alarming signs of attempts in the west to shut such discussion down on the spurious grounds of prejudice. This is, of course, itself a prime example of the condition of 'dhimmitude' which Bat Ye'Or so graphically describes. The response of a free people to such intellectual intimidation must be resistance, and the facts revealed by Bat Ye'Or and Robert Wistrich should be made more generally known.

About Melanie

Melanie Phillips is a British journalist and author. She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail. Awarded the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996, she is the author of All Must Have Prizes, an acclaimed study of Britain's educational and moral crisis, which provoked the fury of educationists and the delight and relief of parents.

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