Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir's recent comments at the Organization of the Islamic Conference, in which he claimed Jews run the world, powerfully crystallized the issue of Islamic anti-Semitism. So did the fact that 57 leaders from the Muslim world applauded Mahathir's Nazi lie. Is there something inherently anti-Semitic within the Islamic religion itself? Can Muslims shed themselves of anti-Semitism and remain devout Muslims?
To discuss these and other questions relating to Islamic anti-Semitism with Frontpage Symposium today, we are joined by:
Kenneth R. Timmerman, an investigative reporter and author who has spent twenty years reporting on Europe and the Middle East. His latest book, Preachers of Hate: Islam and the War on America, raises serious questions about Saudi government funding of terror and Saudi funding of radical Wahhabi preachers and schools that are training new generations of Muslims to hate Jews and hate America. He is also the author of Shakedown: Exposing the Real Jesse Jackson, and The Death Lobby: How the West Armed Iraq, and writes regularly for Insight Magazine. Information on his latest book and recent articles are available at preachersofhate.com;
Bat Ye’or, the author of three major books on dhimmis, jihad, and dhimmitude (www.dhimmitude.org and www.dhimmi.org). On May 1, 1997-- after the publication of The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam. from Jihad to Dhimmitude (1996) -- she testified at a Hearing of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs on 'Religious Persecution in the Middle East' ("An Historical Overview of the Persecution of Christians under Islam. PAST IS PROLOGUE: The Challenge of Islamism Today"). Her latest study is Islam and Dhimmitude. Where Civilizations Collide (2002); see “Eurabia: The Road to Munich.” National Review Online, October 9, 2002; "European Fears of the Gathering Jihad." FPM, Feb. 21 2003;
Walid Phares, Professor of Middle East Studies and Religious Conflict at Florida Atlantic University and a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. He serves as an Analyst on Terrorism and Conflicts with MSNBC;
and Robert Spencer, the director of Jihad Watch and the author of Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West (new from Regnery Publishing), and Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith (Encounter Books).
Interlocutor: Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Frontpage Symposium. Let's begin with the crucial question: is anti-Semitism rooted in the Qur'an and Islamic tradition? Is it possible to be a devout Muslim and not to be anti-Semitic?
Bat Ye'or: If one reads the Qur'an and the Islamic tradition literally, it is clear that they contain very severe judgements on Jews, but not only on them, but also on Christians and others. There are two periods in the Qur'an, the verses pronounced in Mecca and those recited in Medina from 622. The first period is characterized by a deep religious feeling, a call to justice and for recognition of Allah's supreme power. The second part is linked with Muhammad battles in Medina to impose his new religion on the pagans, the Jews living in Medina who refused conversion, and on the Christians. The Qur'an is very much linked to Muhammad's life and it contains several contradictory verses, hence the principle that later verses abrogate the previous ones. The verses abrogated are uncertain even for scholars.
As the Qur'an speaks abundantly of Jews, Christians and pagans, it is important for these people to know what is said about them. Today a few Muslim scholars try to contextualise the Qur'an in order to eliminate theological hatred. The Islamist war against the West, against Israel and Hindus in Kashmir, is based on this traditional reading of Islamic religious scriptures. Whether a devout Muslim can avoid Judeophobia will depend on the person and how he interprets the texts.
Spencer: Muslim anti-Semites often appeal to several Qur’anic verses castigating Jews. In Suras 2:65 and 7:166 Allah says to a group of Jews, “Be ye apes, despised and rejected.” Muslim anti-Semites worldwide today refer to Jews as “apes” and “pigs” because of this verse and 5:60. Also, in authentic Islamic tradition there is much grounds for antagonism, such as these notorious hadiths: “Allah’s Apostle said, ‘The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say, ‘O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him’” (Sahih Bukhari, vol. 4, book 56, no. 2926, and many other places). Another hadith also strikes a chilling note: “When judgment day arrives, Allah will give every Muslim a Jew or Christian to kill so that the Muslim will not enter into hell fire” (Mishkat Al-Messabih, vol. 2, no. 5552.).
Phares: Let me redefine anti-Semitism within the Arab-Islamic context. The right concept would be anti-Judaism. For Arabs are Semites too but rarely identify as such. In Arabic it would come as Mua'di lil Yahood (anti-Jewish) instead of Mu'adi lil Samiya (anti-Semite). It is not about pure faith (Judaism) as much as it is about the carriers of that faith (Jews). As far as texts goes, including the Qur'an, most experts would refer to two types of verses. The Meccan ones, which came when Mohammed was struggling against the Pagan establishment. The Jewish tribes were sympathetic to his struggle. The verses of that era were tolerant towards the Jews, defined as people of the Book.
Then came the Medina verses which corresponded to the Hijra (emigration) of early Muslims out of Mecca. As the Muslim state developed and sought conversion of others, including Jews, to the new religion, tensions grew between the two groups. The Medina verses had a number of paragraphs negative towards the Jews. Those particular ones are part of Muslim theology and could be used by Fundamentalists to mobilize against Jewish entities in modern times. A devout Muslim theoretically can reject anti-Semitism as a form of Human abuse. But for that to happen, a reform must take place, so that devout Muslim can exist without being Fundamentalist. That's the challenge. In a sum, Islamic Fundamentalists can trigger anti-Jewish reactions from religious Muslims as long as religious authorities within Islam haven't developed a historic reformation.
Timmerman: I dedicated my latest book, Preachers of Hate, to a dissident Iranian Shiite muslim cleric, Ayatollah Mehdi Rouhani, who no one could accuse of not being a devout Muslim. Ayatollah Rouhani met repeatedly and open with Jewish leaders in Europe and America, and was received by Pope Paul VI in the Vatican. What we’re seeing is a region-wide frenzy, backed by governments in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and elsewhere, to transform reverence of the Qu’ran into hatred of Jews and Americans. Just one example: the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Ikrama Sabri, went to great pains to explain to me in an interview that Jews were the “sons of monkeys and pigs” – an outrageous insult that is being repeated throughout the Arab Muslim world as if it were Holy writ.
Interlocutor: In terms of this issue, what I could never figure out was that Muslims acknowledge Abraham as one of the great fathers of their tradition. They acknowledge the prophets of the Old Testament as the founders of their own religion. They say they have great respect for Jesus. But Abraham, the prophets, Jesus etc. were all Jews. How do Muslims reconcile their supposed great respect for the Jewish origins of their religion with their anti-Semitism?
Bat Ye'or: According to the Qur'an, Ibrahim (Abraham), the biblical figures, the prophet and Jesus were all Muslims prophets who preached Muhammad message, Islam (i.e. "submission to Allah"). They were not Jews and they are respected as Muslims, not as Jews. Here is the source of conflict. Muslims do not accept the Judeo-Christian interpretation of history. They do not see their religion as the third, but as the first, the religion of Adam and Eve. This is why they do not recognise the historical legitimacy of Israel today. Israel has no roots in the Holy Land because its biblical history is considered to be a Muslim history. David and Salomon were Muslim kings, and the Israelite prophets Muslims, as well as Jesus. It follows that Jews and Christians have no history and their beliefs are wrong. The only true version of biblical events is the qur'anic one - which is very different from the Bible - because the Qur'an is declared to be verbatim the word of Allah. This is the interpretation of Islamists, but not all Muslims share this view.
Spencer: In the traditional Muslim view, everyone is born a Muslim. Said Muhammad: “The mother of every person gives him birth according to his true nature. It is subsequently his parents who make him a Jew or a Christian or a Magian” (Sahih Muslim, Book 033, Number 6429). The prophets were not Jews, but Muslims: “Abraham was not a Jew nor a Christian but he was an upright man, a Muslim, and he was not one of the polytheists” (Sura 3:67). Muslim anti-Semites exploit such passages to deny any Jewish origin for their religion; rather than considering Jews and Christians their Abrahamic brethren, they claim to be the only legitimate children of Abraham. The teachings of the prophets, in this view, were perverted by Christians and Jews to form the teachings of those religions, but the real, untwisted teachings of Moses, Jesus, etc., were identical to the teachings of the Qur'an.
Phares: Muslim scholars, both mainstream and Fundamentalists ironically have one common argument with regards to the relationship to Judaism. They draw a line between the Judaic faith as descended by God on them, and Jews as a people. While they assert that the first is a component of the Islamic faith, they maintain that the people who carried it have strayed away from the right path. According to Islamic Fundamentalist thinkers, one of whom is Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, the Jews have subverted the sense of Judaism. In other words, the Islamists argue that Islam and Judaism are basically one, the latter being an early form of the new religion. They accuse the Jews of rebelling against God and his Prophets, including Mohammed. Hence, to be anti-Jewish is not in contradiction with Islam's self perceived roots in Judaism. Besides, and for the sake of clarifying the debate on the issue, Muslim theology does not "acknowledge the Prophets" of others religions as the founders of Islam, rather it consider these particular Prophets as Muslims and therefore consider those other groups as non-capable of understanding that perception. For example Abraham is considered as a Muslim Prophet, and Jesus is considered as a Prophet not as a Messiah. So, it is not about accepting the beliefs of other communities through honoring their Prophets in as much as it is claiming those Prophets for Islam itself. The nuances seem to be minimal but an iota of difference in theology could bring about dramatic differences in History. But here again, a reformation can end this saga to the advantage of religious coexistence. Till then, the theology of Islam can be easily used by Islamic Fundamentalists against Jews.
Timmerman: I’d love to believe the notion, spread by the Wahhabi lobby and other apologists of radical Islam, that Islam has “nothing against the Jews” and accepts them as “people of the Book.” The reality, on the ground, is quite different. Here is what Abdelaziz Rantissi, a top Hamas leader, told me in Gaza: “There is no room for Jews and Muslims in Palestine… Let the Jews go to America and make Israel there.”
Interlocutor: What impact does Islamic anti-Semitism have on relations between Israel and the neighboring Arab states?
Bat Ye'or: Islamism represents a majority trend in Arab states and it determined their policy which is influenced by: (1) the negative opinion of Jews expressed in the Qur'an and the tradition (Sunnah); (2) the Islamization of the biblical history; and (3) the jihad ideology toward non-Muslim people among whom Jews are only a very small minority. For the Islamists, the position of Israel is the same as that of China, Russia, India, and the Christian countries. Israel is just more vulnerable. Judeophobia in Islam is not like anti-Semitism in Christianity. It is not one separate element but a component of a whole. It is those three elements mentioned above that determine Arab policy toward Israel. The PLO should never have been imposed by the Arab League and the EU upon Israel as a partner for peace negotiations because the PLO is a terrorist organization fighting for Israel destruction.
Spencer: Along with the jihad ideology that I explain in my new book Onward Muslim Soldiers (Regnery), Muslim anti-Semitism poisons possibilities for a negotiated peace between Israel and the neighboring Arab states. Not only is Israel an illegitimate government, but as explained above, the Jewish people themselves are renegades who have denied and falsified Allah’s words and thereby earned his curse: “Allah's curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!” (Sura 9:30). Bashir Assad has spoken of “guilty” Jews who killed Jesus, tried to murder Muhammad, and kill Palestinian children now. The foremost authority in Sunni Islam, Sheik Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, relies on Suras 5:59-60 to refer to Jews as “the enemies of Allah, descendants of pigs and apes.” It is hard for any Muslim government to negotiate an equitable peace with the “enemies of Allah” and simultaneously save face with its people.
Phares: Islamist anti-Semitism, or technically anti-Jewish trends within the Muslim world are a major reason for the decline of the Peace Process between Israel and a number of Arab countries. Although realist leaders such as Sadate were able to sign the Camp David agreement with Israel, strong anti-Jewish ideologies within Egypt froze those agreements and reduced their ability to normalize, hence endangering their future. Similar doctrinal trends within the larger Wahabi-Salafi movement worldwide made it impossible for the Islamist-based movements to accept the principle of a Jewish state in the Middle East.
While secular Arabs and Muslims were (and would be) able to accommodate to the concept of coexistence with Israel, the Jihadist paradigm cannot by essence accept that idea. Hence forces as diverse as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizbollah, the Khumainists and the two Baath parties had the anti-Jewish doctrine in common. An agreement regulating Peace and normalization between Israel and its Arab neighbors is constantly jeopardized by this doctrine. Even after a full withdrawal from the 1967 territories, it is expected that the so-called anti-Semitism would continue to thrive. Here again, only a historic reformation can undue this doctrine.
Timmerman: Despite hundreds of billions of dollars of income from oil, the Arab oil Kingdoms have yet to create a single monument to civilization. So what is their answer to the backwardness of their societies, the inexplicable unemployment and lack of industry and culture? “It’s the Jews.”
Anti-Semitism is the single greatest threat facing America today. It is the swamp from which Osama Bin Laden emerged.
Interlocutor: How come there are Jews who work to perpetrate anti-Israeli policies and cry out in defense of the Palestinians, but you never hear about Muslims crying out in defense of Israel? How come there is no organization Muslims for Israel?
Bat Ye'or: It goes against the Islamic religion that Muslims side with non-Muslims against other Muslims. Moreover it is dangerous. There are Muslims who are not anti-Israelis but very few will have the courage to say it. Muslim societies tend to have monolithic totalitarian mass opinion. There is no political debates where different opinions are democratically accepted. As for the anti-Israelis pro-Palestinian Jews, there can be many reasons for their behavior. Many just follow the general trend because it is easier and professionally more rewarding, others are just ignorant or they hope that by defending their enemies they will win their tolerance. One can notice the same attitude among Christians.
Spencer: There are many reasons why Jews might support the Palestinians, including a simple desire that Israel live in peace with its neighbors. This is not often reciprocated because what ultimately counts for many Muslims is that Israel is the Jewish State. Radical Muslims want to restore Islamic law in Israel. They consider that since Israel occupies part of the Dar al-Islam the House of Islam then it cannot by rights be home to a non-Muslim government. It is not enough for Israel to set aside land for a Palestinian state; Israel must be subsumed within and the Jews subjugated to an Islamic state. The Hamas charter asserts that “Islam, Christianity and Judaism to coexist in safety and security” but adds that “safety and security can only prevail under the shadow of Islam.” Hamas wants to enforce the stipulations of Islamic law that mandate second-class status for Jews and other non-Muslims.
Phares: When such organizations would develop in the Arab world , anti-Semitism would have receded. It is a chicken and the egg. Who would come first? Jews who are critical of Israel are not so different from Americans who are critical of the United States or Westerners who are critical of the West. Because of the social and intellectual revolutions in the West, such criticism is possible and accepted within these societies. Many Israelis took that right to support the claims of the Palestinians. Some of them went as far as supporting Hizbollah.
The stretching of freedom of expression reached as far as the crushing of the freedoms of others, that is when many in the Israeli media refused to acknowledge the suffering of Lebanese communities in south Lebanon, just because those Israeli intellectuals hated their own state and wished victory to Hizbollah. That is an end product of legitimate freedom on the one hand and of loss of identity on the other hand. But such phenomenon doesn't exist - or wasn't allowed to exist on the other side. Not one demonstration for Peace was ever registered in the Arab-Islamic Middle East. No "Salaam Now" movement ever existed, or was allowed to exist. Reasons abound. 1) The dominant ideologies (Baathism, Jihadism, Khumainism) have suppressed the basic freedoms to start with. 2) The dominant political culture still rejected the idea of a non-Arab and non-Muslim state therefore nullifying the idea of Peace with such non legitimate entities. 3) It is to note that the anti-Peace attitude was also predominant vis a vis other minorities. For example, not one single expression of solidarity was ever noted with regards the sufferings of the Kurds, Berbers, Southern Sudanese and Lebanese Christians when under attack by regimes. However, there are spasms of change taking place in the underground. One can see it on some revolutionary web sites in Arabic. Very limited though.
Timmerman: This question begs the question: Does anyone in the Muslim Arab world truly want peace with Israel? As I examine the behavior of the governments in region, who continue to teach their children in schools and in the mosques to hate Jews and to hate Americans, I can only conclude that there must be no rush to peace. We cannot force two peoples to make peace when one side has never accepted the very existence of the other. Arab leaders, even today, are telling their peoples that they can re-fight the 1948 war and that this time they can win and eradicate the state of Israel.
Interlocutor: The Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir's recent speech brought back memories of some of Hitler's basic themes. What common denominators do Islamic and Nazi anti-Semitism share?
Bat Ye'or: Both have a racist pathological obsession with Jews, which they see as the embodiment of evil. For both, Jews focus hatred, envy and frustrations. Both share the same inhumanity and contempt for life, human rights and dignity. They spread lies and defamations that subvert the truth.
Spencer: Nazi anti-Semitism was, of course, a farrago of fanciful conspiracy theories and racist mythology, while Muslim anti-Semitism has a theological basis. But the two groups share a taste for those fanciful conspiracy theories; Muslim anti-Semites today buttress their positions with a great deal of material that the Nazis also used. The notorious forgery about the Jewish plot to rule the world, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, is a prime example: it circulated widely both in Nazi Germany and in the Muslim world today. Its influence may be seen in the recent remarks of Malaysia’s Mahathir Muhammad. Mein Kampf also circulates in the Muslim world, and it must be remembered that during World War II, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, met with Hitler to ask for German help in exterminating the Jews of the Muslim world.
Phares: One, they both claim that the main problems of their nations are produced by the Jews. Two, that the Jews are a world problem. Three that Jews have diverted from Judaism . And four that a solution must be found to that problem. While under Nazism, Jews were to vanish, in the context of the Jihadist ideology, the Jewish state is the one to vanish.
Timmerman: I was stunned to learn the story of Haj Mohammad Amin al-Hussein, which I tell at great length in Preachers of Hate. Not only did he meet with Hitler in Berlin in 1941: he became the Arabic voice of Nazi Germany in all their broadcasts to the Arab world, exhorting Muslims to murder Jews and enact Hitler’s final solution. Not by coincidence, one of his greatest students is Yasser Arafat, who in moments of weakness claims (wrongly, I believe) that he is Haj Mohammad Amin’s nephew.
Interlocutor: Robert Spencer, Kenneth Timmerman, Bat Ye'or and Walid Phares, thank you, we are out of time. It was an honor to have you here and to listen to your wisdom. We hope to see you again soon. Take care.
I welcome all of our readers to get in touch with me if they have a good idea for a symposium. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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