The virulence of hatred, and its uses

January 18, 2010

I just watched this excellent PBS show on anti-semitism, called “Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence.” It gives a historical sweep, showing that the violent prejudice that we see against jewish people in the Middle East today came historically from European attitudes about Jews, and that though it’s easy to get distracted by the complaints that Islamic radicals spout on about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, the real problem is the oppression of Islamic peoples by despotic rulers.

The sense I get from this is that some Muslims place Israel in their minds as a proxy for the oppression that they feel in their own lives, wherever they are. The show focused particular attention on a document called The Protocols of the Wise Elders of Zion, which has been shown to be a forgery based on several theatrical plays. Yet one gets the impression from this show that it carries legitimacy in much of the Islamic world. I don’t entirely blame them for being convinced by it. I read “The Protocols” once many years ago, and with the exception of the slurs that were used, it seemed convincing, mainly because it referred to behaviors on the part of certain officials in modern society that matched what I heard on the news sometimes. But then I learned a bit about the document’s history, and gave it no credence.

I am not excusing the policy decisions of Israel. I’m not trying to say that Israel is always right. However I am saying that some Muslims exaggerate the power that Israel has over their lives, and/or the magnitude of the injustices they commit. In the Middle East, governments, or radical imams that are allowed on television, focus the attentions of their people on the Israeli-Palestinian situation so that they don’t direct their anger and frustration at their own government. Israel became the scapegoat that groups of Jews used to be. It has served as a useful distraction that the leaders of many Middle Eastern countries have used to protect their power.

The show doesn’t talk about it, but this “setup” has created a fertile environment for terrorist groups. Since Middle Eastern leaders have allowed Israel (and the U.S.) to be blamed for the injustices in their world, jihadist leaders have been able to come along and convert that anger into action.

This was one reason the invasion of Iraq was important. The hope was that one of the benefits would be a thriving democracy in the midst of the Middle East, which would stand as an example, and focus people’s attention back on their own governments. The gamble was that people would say, “They have democracy, and they are doing well. We don’t have democracy, and we are not. Let’s change our situation so that we can have what they have.” It would seem that Iraq has been having that effect. We can see it in the democratic movement that sprouted in Lebanon several years ago, which last I checked did not succeed (though I hope I’m wrong about that). We can see it in the unrest in Iran today. It was a gamble, and from my analysis of history, it was one in which we grossly underestimated the odds of success. Thankfully we have managed some amount of success in Iraq, but we cannot declare victory there yet.