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Jewish World Review
Jan. 15, 2007
/ 25 Teves, 5767
Guilt for the ages
It only took PBS one hour to uncover the causes of anti-Semitism, now in an alarming heyday. In "Antisemitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence," narrated by Judy Woodruff, PBS offered the answer: The reason for Jew-hatred, now widely promulgated among Muslim populations, is, well... Jews! Israel! Even Christianity!
Oh, brother. This wreck of a thesis emerged early in the documentary as fact and fiction collided, mangling cause and effect. According to the show, Jews basically caused anti-Semitism in the Arab-Muslim region around them by first building the tiny modern state of Israel (500 times smaller than that Arab Muslim region), and then actually trying to defend it against a host of Muslim armies and terror groups. As PBS tells it, it isn't the genocidal proclivities of surrounding Muslim nations that have caused war unending on the Jewish state; it's the continued existence of the Jewish state that has caused the genocidal proclivities. The show practically begs a viewer to ask, Well, what else could you expect?
But there's more to this lefty apology for the luridly vicious anti-Semitism expressed on a daily basis in the Islamic world in sermons, schoolbooks, television shows and newspapers, some of which is helpfully shown in the documentary. We are told that anti-Semitism is something new to Islam. According to the practically oracular authority of Princeton's Bernard Lewis, never in 1200 years did Muslims even think of anti-Semitism, let alone act on it not until European Christian empire-builders introduced the pathology to the region in the 19th century, what with tales of Christ-killers and, later, the forged "Protocols of the Elders of Zion."
It wasn't that those first 1200 years of Islam and Shariah were exactly paradise for Jews, Lewis said, but Jews were "tolerated" so long as they accepted their "inferiority." This was a pretty breezy way to dismiss centuries of violence, oppression, fear and degradation inflicted, according to Islamic law, on "dhimmi" Jews (and on "dhimmi" Christians for that matter), as copiously documented by historian Bat Yeor. But Lewis stuck to this story: "Antisemitism was introduced into the Middle East by Christians."
Even oracles get it wrong sometimes, I guess, because Lewis's explanation doesn't square with a long and vivid historical record, and that includes the Koran. The notion that Christians introduced Muslims to anti-Semitism may well be the conventional wisdom indeed, it may even be that nonagenarian Lewis is the source of that conventional wisdom but just as surely as anti-Semitism historically existed in Christianity, it also historically existed in Islam. And I can actually footnote that statement because, quite by chance, the same week the documentary aired, I happened to read the first chapter of a forthcoming book called "The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism" by Andrew G. Bostom, author of "The Legacy of Jihad."
Bostom examines the origins of anti-Semitism in the Koran (such as in 2:61, which decrees an eternal curse of humiliation and wretchedness on Jews, repeated in 3:112), in the canonical commentaries on the Koran, and in the historical record. And it all begins practically 1,000 years before, say, Queen Victoria made herself an empress. The question is, does anti-Semitism's origin in Islam, whether Christian or Islamic, become a chicken-egg question for scholars, or does it actually matter?
It matters a great deal, and here's why. The conventional wisdom, as expressed on PBS, does two things. It blames Christianity and the West for introducing anti-Semitism to a practically Edenic Islamic world, and it minimizes Islam's non-original sin of partaking of it. Indeed, this same conventional wisdom suggests that anti-Semitism is the natural, if unfortunate, response of "unempowered" Muslims to contemporary political events beyond their control namely, the essentially Christian/Western-sponsored establishment of the modern state of Israel.
If we bothered if we dared to examine anti-Semitism in its historical Islamic context (just as we have examined anti-Semitism in its historical Christian context), we would better understand Islam's hysterical rejection of Israel, which, in Islamic terms, is a state of "dhimmi" inferiors restored to equality, if not economic and military superiority, its very existence a violation of traditional Islamic code.
Failing to do this, the West overlooks and effectively absolves Islam of its animus against Jews, and, by modern extension, Israel. The West also consigns itself, and, weirdly enough, Israel also, to the role of guilty parties who must continually try to appease an aggrieved Islam.
Twisted? You bet. But there's no hope of unraveling things without first setting a grievous historical record straight.
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JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.
© 2007, Diana West