Antisemitism, Social Science, and the Muslim and Arab World

Article excerpt

SCHOLARS WHO STUDY GENOCIDE AND MASS ATROCITIES have identified considerable danger in dehumanizing rhetoric of the sort that has become common across much of the Arab world. (1) Few people, after all, would accept peaceful coexistence with a pestilence or malignancy, when they have an alternative.

Conclusive quantitative data about the extent and distribution of hostile ideology are unavoidably lacking, but it appears likely that segments of the billion-strong Arab and Muslim population--probably large segments--now endorse a full-blown antisemitism, replete with indigenous Islamic themes, new and old, as well as imported hate imagery from elements of the Western world. This often intensely-experienced hatred is not restricted to fringe elements, not a mere outgrowth of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and not constrained by the geographical confines of the Middle East.

The Muslim and Arab world during the past few years has witnessed an exponential increase in conspiracy theorizing about Jews. The most widely shared fiction, of course, blames them for perpetrating the attacks of September 11. Sometimes the villain is the Israeli secret service, sometimes a vague Jewish cabal. (2)

Consider in this light an interviewer on an Arabic television broadcast, "The Muslim Woman Magazine," who queried a three-year-old guest on the matter of Jews. The purportedly unrehearsed little girl announced that she did not like them and, upon further probing, explained that they were "apes and pigs." Asked for the source of this insight, the youngster responded, "Our God ... in the Koran." No correction, clarification, or rebuke was offered but, at the conclusion of the segment, the obviously pleased adult interviewer declared: "No [parents] could wish for Allah to give them a more believing girl than she ... May Allah bless her, her father and mother. The next generation of children must be true Muslims ..." What is, perhaps, most noteworthy about this exchange is that it took place on Iqraa, a joint Saudi-Egyptian satellite network which purportedly aims to highlight a "true and tolerant picture of Islam," to refute "the accusations directed against Islam," and to open "channels of cultural connection with the cultures of other nations." (3)

What is less noteworthy about the brief interview is its reference to Jews as apes and pigs. In recent years, such allusions--which, indeed, have roots in several (arguably misunderstood) Koranic verses--have become commonplace in many parts of the Muslim world. For example, in April 2002, about a month before the little girl offered her views on satellite television, Egyptian Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, one of the most important Sunni clerics, described Jews in his weekly sermon as "the enemies of Allah, descendants of apes and pigs." Sheikh Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sudayyis, the imam of the most important mosque in Mecca, similarly sermonized that the Jews are "the scum of the human race, the rats of the world, the violators of pacts and agreements, the murderers of the prophets, and the offspring of apes and pigs." The imam further advised Arabs to abandon all peace initiatives with the Jews and asked Allah to annihilate them. (4)

Physician Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a top leader of Hamas' non-military, "political" wing agrees with the sheikh. In June 2003, he told reporters: "I swear we will not leave one Jew in Palestine." And Ayatollah Khamenei, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran--knowingly or unknowingly--borrowed some imagery from Hitler's Mein Kampf, describing Israel as a "cancerous tumor." (5)

Similar sentiments can be found among Muslims at the grass-roots level, including those residing outside the Middle East. In Derby, England, for example, eighteen-year-old Basu Hussain, a fast food worker at Lick'n Chick'n, was asked his views concerning a Muslim from his city who had bombed a Tel Aviv nightclub. He answered: "What he's done is very good, and they won't ever find him . …