Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Jonathan Freedland can't be an apologist anymore.

Iran: The comment piece holds everything that is wrong with leftist who is slapped by reality. Ripping off the five stages of grief, this would be the four stages of apologists. First comes the rationalizing.

There were few memorable moments in the election campaign of 2005, but there's one I won't forget. It came when I was interviewing a group of Muslim voters in Edinburgh, asking how the Iraq war had unsettled their political allegiances. One older man began telling me that he did not blame Tony Blair or even George Bush for the way things had turned out, because they were mere dupes of a more powerful force. The calamity of 9/11 was not all it seemed: the authors of that event were not the 19 hijackers, but more shadowy players, unknown even to Bush. Later, as he gave me a lift to the station, I asked who these secret powers might be. The answer was "rich Jewish people". I told him that just as there were plenty of lies told about Muslims, so there were lies told about Jews - and that neither of us should accept either. I put the comments to one side, dismissing them as the ramblings of one man. Again and again in recent years, I've made the same move. I've read the reports of sermons in the Arab world, denouncing Judaism and Jews, and tried to see a wider context.
Then comes the doubts.
I shuddered to read such a thing. But it was translated and distributed by the Middle East Media Research Institute, and, like others, I wondered about the group's motives: Memri was founded by a veteran of Israeli military intelligence. (On the other hand, few challenge the accuracy of Memri's translations: unpalatable though they are, the texts Memri finds are all too real.) Such has been my standard operating procedure, constantly trying to see if there's a way to contextualise these incidents, to see them in proportion. My motivation was not complicated: I prefer my Jewish identity to be positive, rather than defined by a perennial defence against anti-semitism.
Then comes the epiphany after Ahmadinejad casts doubts on the holocaust
In this light, Ahmadinejad's previous musings look rather different. When, in October, he stood beneath a banner that promised "A world without Zionism" and called for Israel to be "wiped off the map", many Jews felt a chill at what seemed an annihilationist fantasy. Cooler heads said no, this was merely the hyperbolic style of the region, deployed to press a robust anti-Zionist rather than anti-semitic case. What he wanted, they explained patiently, was a world without Zionism, not a world without Jews. Well, now I'm done with the charitable explanations. A man who refuses to believe the historic truth is capable of anything. This is not an Arabic cable TV station or an obscure Egyptian newspaper. This is a head of government, the leader of a nation of 70 million - a country that aspires to lead the Muslim world. And, lest we forget, Iran has nuclear ambitions. So now it's not paranoid to worry about a president with annihilationist dreams - it's smart. Unfortunately, it doesn't end with Ahmadinejad, a man with no experience outside Iran, a hick who, Iranian analyst Dr Ali Ansari concedes, is a "monumental embarrassment". For he has given voice to a sentiment that runs deep in Iran and in the wider Muslim world.
Then comes the fourth stage which is self loathing.
We can deny it no longer: the virus of anti-semitism has infected the Muslim world. And virus it is, for Jew-hatred on this scale, as Christian Europe can testify, is a kind of sickness. This is one of the grossest legacies bequeathed by the west: that Muslims have taken to heart a form of anti-semitism alien to their own lands, borrowing a language and iconography that was made in Christendom. Blood libels and the Protocols were dreamed up in Norwich, Mainz or Moscow - yet now they breathe anew in Cairo, Riyadh and Damascus. This represents a menace to Jews, of course, but also a tragedy for Muslims. Theirs is a tradition that historically valued learning, and when an ignoramus like Ahmadinejad denies the overwhelming weight of historical evidence he makes a mockery of that tradition. In a period Jews still look back on as a golden age, Muslims were the people of scholarship, of science, of tolerance and coexistence - a contrast with the Crusader barbarians. Yet now many lap up the myths and lies that were once fed to the peasants of Europe, lies which endured through to the last century - and which led all the way to Treblinka.

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