Fighting the Extremists; as an Islamic Cleric Spreads His Gospel of Hate in London, One Jewish Writer Considers His Response

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Byline: NORMAN LEBRECHT

PROFESSOR Yusuf a l - Q a r a d a w i , presently in London, is a mainstream figure in the Muslim world.

He has a weekly show on al-Jazeera, the Arab equivalent of CNN, and a chair in Sunni studies at the University of Qatar. Banned from the US and his native Egypt, the good sheikh is described by the Muslim Council of Great Britain as "a voice of reason and understanding".

He is, beyond contradiction, a considerable scholar who memorised the Koran aged 10 and obtained his doctorate at the august Al-Azhar University. When he speaks of Islam, he speaks with authority.

Al-Qaradawi decrees that peace talks with Israel are "treason". He blesses child suicide bombers and calls on God to "destroy the usurper Jews, the vile crusaders and infidels". The Arabic word "Islam" may mean peace, but that peace will only come once Islam reigns on earth. Al-Qaradawi is fond of quoting the Koran: "When you meet those who disbelieve, smite their necks until you have killed and wounded many."

These fundamentalisms are resisted by the kings of Jordan and Morocco and ignored by moderate British Muslims, but across the Arab world hatred has become the driving rhetoric, allied to the allure of al-Qaeda. A vicious circle has set in since 9/11.

The more the West fears terrorism, the more Arabs feel threatened, the more they seek comfort in fundamental hatreds - hatred of America, of Christianity, of Jews. Arab school textbooks are stuffed with Nazi cartoons.

The Old and New Testaments are derided as "distortions".

Saudi envoys refer to Jews as dogs, snakes and pigs, the ultimate pejoratives. Racism is rampant, and consensually ignored. The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, bids the racist al-Qaradawi "truly welcome".

I can hardly believe my eyes.

It suggests to me that Zionism, the right of Jews to their own land, is as important today as it was when Theodor Herzl formulated the idea in his pamphlet Der Judenstaat, in 1896. A working journalist, square-bearded and rationalist, Herzl importuned heads of state to permit a return to Zion.

At his funeral in Vienna, 100 years ago this week, mourners thronged from all over Europe. "A tumult ensued," reported Stefan Zweig. "Many stormed his coffin, crying, sobbing, screaming in a wild explosion of despair."

Herzl had put political flesh on a 2,000-year-old dream. The British offered him space in Uganda but the Holy Land proved irresistible, though he knew it was not empty.

WHEN he set out to waylay the German Kaiser at the gates of Jerusalem in 1898, the journalist Herzl took note of all he saw - the populous towns, the acres of land untended by absentee owners, the terrible poverty. Far from ignoring the Arab population, he assured the mayor of Jerusalem that "it is their wellbeing, their individual wealth, that we will increase by bringing in our own".

That was pure Zionism: the renewal of a region through Jewish capital, energy and ethics. Thousands surged to work the stubborn soil. They revived Hebrew as a living language, invented the kibbutz as a model village and practised socialism and art with a fervour that would have delighted William Morris. …