Keith Pavlischek has an interesting meditation which begins with a discussion of a debate between Andy Bostom and Matthias Küntzel about the nature of Islamic anti-semitism. This debate has recently turned even more vituperative, alas, as a result of a book review by John Rosenthal of Klaus Gensicke’s Klaus Gensicke. Der Mufti von Jerusalem und die Nationalsozialisten: Der Mufti von Jerusalem und die Nationalsozialisten in Policy Review. Pavlischek’s opening discussion focuses on the debate’s substantive issues and highlights their significance.
Jihad, Jew-Hatred, and Evangelicals and Jews Together
By Keith Pavlischek
Thursday, March 27, 2008, 6:14 AM
An instructive and fascinating debate has erupted over what at first glance may seem an academic point. The debate is between Matthias Küntzel, the author of Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11, and Andrew Bostom, the editor of The Legacy of Jihad and author of the forthcoming book The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn History.
The debate is not over whether contemporary Islamism is vehemently anti-Jewish but over the historical roots of that Jew-hatred. Küntzel locates the current rabid Jew-hatred specifically in the influence of Nazi ideology. Bostom, alternatively, insists that the legacy of Islamic Jew-hatred is far more ancient and deeply rooted in classical Islam. Bostom assembles a wealth of historical material and concludes, “According to the full range of hadith concerning the Jews, stubborn malevolence is the Jews’ defining worldly characteristic: rejecting Muhammad and refusing to convert to Islam out of jealousy, envy and even selfish personal interest, lead them to acts of treachery, in keeping with their inveterate nature.”
Contemporary Islamic Jew-hatred, according to Bostom, cannot simply be linked to the influence of Nazi propaganda but rather with an entirely explicable reaction to the very existence of Israel. Explicable, that is, given Islam’s traditional hostility to Jews. According to Bostom, “The rise of Jewish nationalism—Zionism—posed a predictable, if completely unacceptable challenge to the Islamic order—jihad-imposed chronic dhimmitude for Jews—of apocalyptic magnitude.” He then quotes his mentor, Bat Ye’or, who explained: “Because divine will dooms Jews to wandering and misery, the Jewish state appears to Muslims as an unbearable affront and a sin against Allah. Therefore it must be destroyed by Jihad.”
One crucial implication of all this is that the Israeli-Palestinian “problem” has less to do with any particular policy pursued by Israel than with the Jew-hating ideology intrinsic to Islamist organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood (not to mention the Islamic Republic of Iran). Also, the deep-seated Jew-hatred of the Islamists should disabuse us of the notion that the threat of Islamism will wither away with the establishment of a Palestinian state.
I don’t intend to weigh in on the particulars of the Küntzel-Bostom debate, except to note that it has profound implications for how we name the enemy. Do we call them Islamofascists, which tends to suggest their current form of Jew-hatred is originally modern? Or do we call them Jihadists, suggesting a more ancient and intrinsic connection to Islamic theology and political understanding (with consequently diminished prospects for reform)? In any case, the debate is instructive, with both sides presenting plausible (and not mutually exclusive) explanations.
I agree here with Pavlischek. Not only are these issues crucial, the positions are not mutually exclusive (hence my dismay at the stridency of the debate). All of the books here discussed support the Honor-Shame Jihad Paradigm (Israel is a theological blasphemy to an honor-shame form of religiosity that can only feel good about itself when it debases its parent religion); and challenge the Western cognitive egocentrism of the Politically Correct Paradigm that insists on seeing the conflict as one of rival nationalisms that, hopefully, can be resolved by compromise. Indeed, those tempted by the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis would do well to ponder Pavlischek’s comment: “the deep-seated Jew-hatred of the Islamists should disabuse us of the notion that the threat of Islamism will wither away with the establishment of a Palestinian state.”
The rest of the article treats the matter of Jewish discomfort with Christian support for Israel. That is an entirely different issue, about which he has some interesting things to say, despite completely ignoring the major source of the discomfort — i.e., the underlying apocalyptic beliefs that fuel some of the most passionate support for Israel, beliefs that make the Zionist fervor a time-bound phenomenon, an instrument in the hastening of Jesus’ return, at which point Jews will vanish from the earth either in the battle of Armageddon or by converting to Christianity.
The debate between Küntzel and Bostom, despite the excess of heat it has generated, also sheds important light. Küntzel’s point is that although there is a long history of Jew-hatred in Islam, since Hassan al Banna, and even more, since the establishment of Israel, that hatred has shifted from what I call anti-Judaism (“we” are right and proud because you are wrong an humbled) to anti-Semitism (your very existence threatens us, we must exterminate you before you destroy us). This is the shift that the Nazis made in their turn to what Goldhagen calls “exteminationist anti-Semitism” and Friendlander calls “redemptive anti-Semitism” — i.e., salvation comes from wiping out the Jews. I think, it is correct to see the rebirth of Jihad in the 20th century as a) a virulent form of anti-Semitism that incorporated much of the European tradition — blood libels, Protocols of the Elders of Zion, etc. — even as its earlier traditions of Jew hatred provided the fertile soil for this transfer.
Bostom may well be correct in showing that even this kind of genocidal thinking existed, if not in precisely the form it now takes, throughout Islamic history. My own suggestion here is to view this exterminationist anti-Semitism as the product of apocalyptic time: that’s how it operated in Christianity (e.g., the slaughters of the First Crusade), and how it operates now in Islam. Fundamentally, as far as I can make out, Bostom and Küntzel agree on a key point: the existence of Israel has driven Muslims, long accustomed to throttling and humiiating Jews, into paroxysms of hatred. Today, for Muslims drenched in the frustration and humiliation of a tiny Israel resisting their efforts to restore the true nature of the world order and return the Jews to dhimmi status, it has morphed into a desire to kill all Jews everywhere.
So if we want to understand the dynamics, we are best advised — I think — not to look for a permanent state of genocidal Jew hatred, nor for a once-only appearance in the modern world, but for its episodic emergence in paranoid apocalyptic moments when Muslims (or Christians) think they are fighting a Jewish enemy that refuses to accept its place at the bottom of the hierarchy (as in the case of modern Zionism), and that the genocidal element takes on a particular power when Muslims and Christians believe that they are engaged in the apocalyptic battle of the Endtimes.
Hopefully this suggestion may permit us to move on to the important discussion of what is going on in Islam today, and how we can deal with it.