Monthly Archives: December 2012

On the weaponizing of Lethal Narratives: An analysis of Bin Laden’s Recruiting Video

Working again on the Al Durah affair (which goes to court again on January 16, 2013, I came across this article which I had saved but forgotten. It offers a fascinating insight into the skill displayed by al Qaeda in turning Palestinian lethal narratives into weapons of Jihad. I’ll bet that all the key footage (including, according to most, but not all those who have viewed the available evidence, the al Durah footage) belongs to the “Staged” category of Pallywood.

His grasp of spin is chilling . . .
(Filed: 16/11/2001)

Few Westerners have seen Osama bin Laden’s recruitment video in full. So what did Julia Magnet, a young Jewish New Yorker, make of it?

THE Third Reich may have honed a formidable propaganda machine, but even Hitler might have drawn the line at flashy music videos. In that respect, at least, Osama bin Laden has topped the Fuhrer.

Until I sat down to watch a two-hour Al Qa’eda recruitment video, made just six months before the September 11 attacks, I had no idea that the champion of anti-Americanism had hijacked our Hollywood gimmicks and television tricks. Far more likely, I thought, that he’d produce a dreary display of militant fundamentalism: lots of ranting against America and Saudi Arabia, with some macho gun-play thrown in for show.

What I actually saw was far more worrying: Osama bin Laden beating us at our own media game. With devilish cunning, he has plugged into the MTV generation – and it’s clear he knows how to reach us. I have spent all day humming militant Islamic songs. And I am a Jewish twenty-something from New York.

For the best part of a week, I have been watching his video over and over again, trying to match every syllable with a translation of the Arabic that Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, has just completed. Long before I understood each phrase in its context, I realised that words are only a small part of bin Laden’s propaganda arsenal. Like Hitler, his speeches are more concerned with creating an emotional effect than expounding a concrete message.

Let me give you a 30-second example of how he creates terrorist MTV. The screen darkens. We are in a room, playing a virtual reality game: assassinate the American leader of your choice. Light pulses from a movie screen, hanging eerily in space, as a song pounds over the speakers: “We defy with our Koran/ with blood, we wipe out our dishonour and shame.”

Zoom in from a figure watching the screen to the still image of a Taliban fighter straddling a corpse. The music rises. Then, the image changes, as if the hands of a clock are erasing it. We are still in the dark room, but our anonymous alter-ego is now in Taliban dress. Bush Snr and Colin Powell appear on the screen. With cowboy timing, our watching figure reaches into his robe to grab a gun. He crouches and fires at the screen, in time to the martial rhythm. Smoke obliterates the face of Colin Powell.

Cut to Warren Christopher and President Clinton. Boom! Cut to a close-up of Clinton, wearing his habitual self-satisfied smirk. The gunman’s shadow blocks out Clinton’s face. Kerpow! Now, in a parody of the American flag, a puzzle of horizontal stripes emerges from each side of the screen, finally connecting to reveal two fighters facing down Warren Christopher. Bang, bang! Whoosh – the images disappear and the screen spins to reveal Osama bin Laden.

He knows his audience. His most impressionable recruits are of the same age and sex as MTV’s loyal following: alienated teenage boys, full of the resentment, hyperactivity and maddening sense of impotence that typify that age group – in any country. In the video, the oppressor is not parental authority, but the West, which can be blamed for everything.

This is a great propaganda film – the kind that you can’t get out of your head. Bin Laden’s story of Muslim subjugation turning to resistance is so effective that I barely need my transcripts. He uses the most sophisticated western film-making techniques: it’s as if Guy Ritchie, Sylvester Stallone and Spielberg have banded together to make jihad, the movie.

Despite all this flashiness, bin Laden seems hardly flamboyant as an orator – certainly not modern. Yet his grasp of spin, of product-packaging, is chilling. If you did not understand his hateful and ugly words, you could easily believe he is simply a preacher. His body language is gentle and controlled: only his right hand moves, and then never farther than six inches from his body. Rarely does he shake his fist, a gesture familiar in all propaganda. When he does, it is with weary anger: his cause is so self-evident that he does not need an indignant mime show.

But it is those eyes that grab you – otherworldly, luminous eyes that remind me of Charles Manson’s. They never meet the camera. It is as if he doesn’t see this world – only the spiritual dimension.

I had half-expected some of Hitler’s propaganda tactics: highly choreographed mass events, flanks of elite soldiers, booming speeches. Bin Laden employs none of those. When he is on screen, the camera stays on him, making the viewer imagine that he is being addressed personally.

Initially, I wondered: where’s the theatre in all this? But then I started noticing the costumes. Welcome to the Osama bin Laden fashion show. First, the holy teacher: robed in white, with covered head, standing before a map of Arabia. Tucked in his belt is a Yemenite dagger, just in case we forget that he’s half Yemenite – the same blood as the bombers of the USS Cole. In this outfit, he takes credit for the Cole atrocity: “We incited, they responded.”

In another scene, he switches to a hooded cape and stands immobile in a vaulted niche, filmed from below, so that he looks like a living statue of an ancient prophet. Then, we get a snatch of the open-air rally, but there are children laughing, birds twittering and a clear blue sky. Only Disney could be gentler.

But bin Laden is also a man of action. Or so we are meant to believe, as we see him lounging in a military tent, wearing his natty camouflage jacket and a Pashtun turban.

Later, as parallels are drawn between his Islamic war on the west and the medieval Crusades, we see him as a romantic figure in the desert, mounted on an Arabian pure-bred and swathed in white.

But, hey, let’s not alienate the teenager with the short attention span: bin Laden wisely crams his direct preaching into brief segments, which he intercuts with scenes of the Taliban in training, of Israelis attacking Palestinians, of the Cole in flames. Like any broadcaster on the evening news, he does the voice-over as the images flash past. He even uses CNN footage of foreign dignitaries, and French television clips of the death of Mohammed al-Durra, the Palestinian boy shot dead in his father’s arms.

Here is the emotional and ideological centre of the film: the justification for jihad. How else can Arab men end this slaughter of innocents?

Bin Laden’s film crew must have studied Schindler’s List, because a five-minute orgy of Israelis brutalising women and children is like a replay of scenes from the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto. In Spielberg’s film, the camera panned to the body of a little girl in red; in this, the climax is the murder of Mohammed al-Durra. As in Schindler’s List, children and women sing slowly and movingly.

And this is the point at which I burst into tears. I hardly realise that I have been visually and aurally manipulated until I study the clip in detail. In slow motion, and in time to the music, Israeli soldiers beat two women with sticks, until one falls to ground. The soldiers carry off screaming men, as if they are so much rubbish. Then, they strike a little boy with such force that he crumples to the ground. These images, and similar ones, are repeated over and over, until the violence seems unending.

But, hang on aren’t these the same three incidents, shot from different angles? Bin Laden has simply cut up full-length “news” sequences and scattered them about, fooling me with the frenzied graphics and sound effects.

Throughout, he is screaming tearfully over the music: “Your sister goes to bed honourable and wakes up violated, raped by the Jews.” As we see images of beatings for the umpteenth time, all he can do is wail – a curiously effective cry of impotence and grief.

Then comes Mohammed al-Durra. Cue: machine-gun fire. Diagonal lines rend the screen to reveal a father’s stricken face. “Mohammed,” intones a deep, robotic voice, as the image of Mohammed al-Durra, mouth open in terror, flashes before us. Cut to Israelis bombarding a building, on to which Osama has superimposed the pitiful image of the boy huddling against his father – an image flashed a dozen times during the two-minute duration of this scene.

Pictures appear of Clinton, of the King of Jordan and of the Saudi king presenting Clinton with a medal, only to be obliterated by that of the Palestinian boy. Suddenly, Mohammed splits into four smaller images, then nine, which cover the screen to imply that this murder is universal. The images surge forward faster and faster while a voice chants: “Mohammed, Mohammed,” and bin Laden raises his voice: “Do not count, Mohammed, on Arabs, for they are no different than your assassins, the Jews.”

Cut to the boy’s lifeless body, held by his wounded father. The camera goes wild, repeatedly zooming in and retreating, as the father cries: “I have failed you, Mohammed; I have tried to protect you in vain. Four shots hit my child, who fell dead.” Every parent’s worst nightmare.

I wish I had never watched this film. I wish it weren’t so good. I have never before woken up terrified every hour of the night, or felt such moral nausea. I feel invaded by a crazed man’s violence and rage.

Fawaz Gerges, the scholar who has spent weeks translating the film, tells me that he can no longer sleep.

Muhammad Cartoons Seven Years On: Danish Cartoons and the (Un)Reciprocity of Hate Speech

(In keeping with Daniel Pipes’ suggestion of a Muhammad Cartoon a Day, I’m both publishing Muhammad Cartoons and republishing the series of posts I put up at the time of the scandal, when I first started blogging.)

For over a decade now a growing chorus of voices has pleaded with the MSM to expose the larger public to the demonization of Jews and Israel in the Arab world. This seemed particularly important in helping people understand the vital role this hate-mongering played in the production of violence in the Middle East (e.g., it’s role in suicide bombing), especially since 2000 and the outbreak of what the MSM (mistakenly?) call the al-Aqsa intifada. (It was really the opening round of a new phase of global Jihad.)

The effort ran up against the wall of a PCP commitment to the “cycle of violence” framework of tit-for-tat with which the MSM preferred to present the conflict. Shoe-string organizations people should consult at least every week, like PMW and MEMRI, try to give just a taste of the avalanche of hatred that permeates the media of the Muslim world, alongside which, the Danish cartoons pale in their “disrespect” for the “other.”

But little has made it through to the public, and now, apparently, we have convincing evidence that little of it has made it through to the political and media elites in this country (we’ll leave Europe out for the moment). How else to explain their current behavior, faced with the Danish cartoon scandal. The obvious response here is:

“Are you kidding? You demonize everyone in sight, including us all the time. Indeed much in the violent demonstrations in your streets comes precisely from this kind of demonization. These cartoons you object to so violently, are mild not only in comparison with your own “political cartoons” about us, but even by our standards. This is part and parcel of a free and reliable press: you make public claims… expect to get criticized. (And oh, do you make claims!) Clean up your own deeply disrespectful act and then come talk to us about our showing respect for the religious “other.”

do you know how offensive that is?
(Thanks to Filibuster cartoons, hat tip Josh Katzen)

Notes from a Reader: Documenting the (Unofficial) Sharia Zone in Tower Hamlets and Other London Sites

In a previous post about Sharia Zones in London, one of my readers, who claims to have lived in Tower Hamlets, insisted there was no such problem. Another reader, also a resident (now former resident) sent these links to illustrate a different “take” on reality.

Spot the Fag at East London Mosque

Religion Teacher Attacked

Asian women threatened with death for not wearing headscarf

Community activist who took down Gay Free Zone stickers threatened with death on previous occasions:

Tower Hamlets declared sharia zone

Eid celebration Stepney Park (you can find these for other years on you tube too).

Maps showing how east london was full of gay people 20 years ago

Video of a man who was at the George & Dragon when it has been attacked

These  attacks have never been reported by gay media in Britain at the time they happen.  Here is a report that mentions an attack that happened several years earlier.

That attack came after one of the gang was imprisoned for his part in their brutal attack on Oliver Hemsley.  You can see how bad the attack was from this description.  He spent 134 days in intensive care.

Here’s the story of another gay man attacked in the centre of Tower Hamlets.  (These attacks on gay people & gay bars get so little coverage, even in the gay media, that that is the only report I can find of that attack).

Here’s the story of the man attacked by 30 racist muslims with machetes.

Here’s a story of a man in Tower Hamlets pushed in front of a train by another gang of muslims.

The European Muslim Research Centre put out a report about how much “cultural terrorism” there was against muslims.  It was refuted in this analysis (showing there are far more attacks against gay people than against not just muslims, but all religious people). Exeter University withdrew the report after this, and re-issued it with changes.

The mayor of Tower Hamlets is supported by the islamist Islamic Forum of Europe.

Anwar Al Awlaki spoke at East London Mosque, even after he was identified as someone who advised muslim terrorists.

Each gay pride marcher has 1 police officer for security (plus helicopter) following Gay Free Zone campaign.  Compare the numbers and the level of security, with the numbers and lack of security at the Eid celebration.

Hizb ut Tahrir frequently hold their annual conferences in Tower Hamlets.

At election time, Muslims stand outside the Tube stations handing out cards telling Muslims that if they vote they are apostates.  They also paste them on walls and lamp-posts.

The black, female, Jewish, socialist MP was ousted in 2005.  She was subjected to jew-hatred during the campaign, from the party that was aligned with Muslims.

I have been told by different people (some liberal, Guardian readers) in different parts of Tower Hamlets, that they have been stopped from going into public parks by gangs of Muslim men, who told them “this park is for Muslims only”.  I can’t find any corroborating reports for their stories.  But these were people (one Jewish) whose families had lived in Tower Hamlets for generations, long before any Muslims were there.

Here’s a report about weapons being hidden around the area.

The muslim dominated council banned biscuits from council meetings during Ramadan (thus imposing muslim restrictions onto non-Muslims, another feature of Sharia for Dhimmi).

Homophobic abuse shouted at gay councillors during council meetings, and nothing being done about it.

Alcohol is banned from the streets of Tower Hamlets.

Tower Hamlets council to ban lap-dancing, strippers.

Those restrictions on alcohol and licentiousness might not seem so bad.  However, bear in mind, that in the so-called puritanical Victorian age, east London was a den of sin and vice: masses of prostitution, drinking, and drug-taking.  Yet Tower Hamlets council is even more puritanical than the Victorians.  The Salvation Army was founded in Whitechapel in 1878,  East London is far less boozy and licentious now than it was in the19th century, but they did not ban drinking on the streets until a couple of years ago.

The 2001 census says that the proportion of muslims in Tower Hamlets is 36%.  Yet 66% of the councillors are muslims.  This means that the census underestimates the number of muslims, or that muslims only vote for muslims, or that the at the selection meetings of the political parties only Muslims are being selected.  Under sharia, non-Muslims cannot have positions of authority above Muslims (see the Hizb ut Tahrir manifesto).

The Painful Paradoxes of the Left: Stupefaction, Round 242,469 (Updated)

I just recently attended a conference in London on Anti-Semitism (see here for the talk I gave). I spoke on a panel with Bat Ye’or, and we both talked about the role of anti-Semitism in global Jihad, she in terms of its place in the Jihadi discourse, me in terms of the way that European/Western tolerance if not encouragement of it among Muslims (they drink wine while keeping an open bar of high grain alcohol for the Islamists), is actually one of the West’s greatest vulnerabilities in the Jihad against them (Anti-Zionism as the soft underbelly of the West in Jihadi cognitive warfare).

The first question was posed by a young man from the CST (who later spoke), pointing out that in Henden there are dozens (he actually ticked off specific numbers suggesting this was something of a shtick) of kosher butchers, Jewish stores, synagogues, etc., and no one is talking about Halacha zones and the Jewish take-over of London, so why talk about Sharia zones and the Muslim take-over. He more or less repeated verbatim the classic trope: “we didn’t like it when they said it about us (Protocols), so we shouldn’t say it about them,” as if it didn’t matter that we Jews had no intention of enslaving mankind, and the Islamists openly declare their desire. He also chided me and Bat-Ye’or for our “essentialising” Muslims.

I admit to a certain surprise. I didn’t expect to deal with people in such denial at such an event. But when a number of people murmured their assent to his challenge, I realized it was important to respond.

My answer to him was necessarily short, an abbreviation of the discussion here. But I’ll take advantage of this post to go farther. This is a really good example of how political correctness lands us on rekaB street. Numbers don’t matter; intent doesn’t matter; the impact on the sociability of the neighborhood (e.g., what happens to women who don’t cover their hair in Henden vs. Tower Hamlets) doesn’t matter. I’ve got my parallels, no matter how superficial, to hell with the rest of the evidence. Any undergraduate in history making such an analogy about a (non-charged topic) would fail.

But because making this point feels good, because it makes it possible to dismiss uncomfortable warnings about nefarious doings, because it permits us to close the fairy tale book with the comforting thought that the monsters in the closet are just our imagination, it satisfies its speaker and (apparently) many of his listeners.

But this exchange was only warm-up for what happened subsequently. In the second panel, Manfred Gerstenfeld, a man who has no patience for what he terms “verbal vegetarians” spoke rather bluntly about the problem of Muslims in Europe. (Apparently one of the cardinal sins that Gerstenfeld, Bat-Ye’or and I committed was referring too often to Muslims, not Islamists. This is crucial, and as one of the group objecting made clear later on, the Islamists are a “tiny minority” and “the vast majority are moderate.” So even considering the two as part of the same population — as in “anti-Semitism among Muslims” — is an insult to Muslims despite polls indicating a majority of European Muslims share these prejudices against Jews.)

In any case, while having a PPP slide up that referred to Muslim criminality (i.e. the high percentage of violent crimes and rape among Muslims in European countries), Gerstenfeld stated that, around the world today, Islamic culture is “inferior” to Western culture. At this point, about six people got up and walked out, and one of them stated loudly that they were walking out as a protest. I went outside to find out what they were thinking, and heard the following remarks: “You can’t say that!” (referring to the inferiority of Muslim culture today around the world). And, of course, “essentialising” (British spelling) came up repeatedly.

“But,” I responded, “what if the generalizations that Gerstenfeld made are true?”

“No,” I was informed, ” they’re not true, and he repeatedly said he had no evidence.” (Actually he said, “I have no time to give the evidence.” I know Gerstenfeld too well to think he’d say anything without empirical evidence.) Again: “YOU CAN’T SAY THAT!”

Now there is a depressing and pungent irony here that completely escaped those who walked out. In so doing, they illustrated Manfred’s point. As Manfred explained: by our standards, Islam is an inferior culture; were we to treat Muslims the way they treat infidels the world over, we would consider that our culture had failed to live up to its standards. Specifically on the issue of speech, these people were insisting that (even if it’s true) it’s just unacceptable to make negative generalizations about another group.

Now by that standard, the Muslim “public sphere” – newspapers, books, radio, TV, sermons in Mosques – resounds with the most horrendous demonization, not just of Jews (the subject of our symposium), but Christians, other infidels, heretics, apostates, even other Muslims. This isn’t to say that every Muslim, or even most Muslims are like this, but Gerstenfeld’s point was about culture, about the tone that’s set in a society. And while I tend to focus on the elites, the sad truth is that in matters of honor-killing and various other forms of violence designed to preserve or restore honor, current Arab culture is, by modern civic standards – a fortiori by progressive standards — woefully base.

So when the delegation of indignant liberals stormed out of the room and audibly sought to humiliate the speaker, they illustrated the speaker’s point. They have a very high standard. And it’s not something with much of a footprint in the culture whose honor they were protecting from the speaker’s blunt assessment of reality.

What’s interesting here is a further issue. Surely these folks have been to meetings with Muslim, even Islamists. Did they storm out when they heard others being maligned, as did Tony Avella from the podium of the Muslim Day parade in NYC? Or do they only speak truth to power when it’s fellow Jews? Do they tell Muslims (or Islamists), “YOU CAN’T SAY THAT! You can’t essentialise Jews, or even Zionists? Are Islamic activists exposed to (much less dominated by) the “variegated” argument, in which (actually true) Jews are a very complex population with widely divergent views? Or are they another version of the Human Rights Complex, loudly indignant when white people behave badly, but when people of color do so, they are embarrassed into silence?

In any case, they’re very aggressive about their beliefs with Jews. My guess is they’re considerably less so with “Others.”

When one of the protestors summed up his objections with the comment, “A minority of speakers said things about Britain, Europe and Muslims that we found to be incorrect, unacceptable and self-defeating,” he was confusing political correctness (“unacceptable”) and therapeutic truth (“self-defeating”) with empirical truth (“incorrect”).

Welcome to rekaB street, the place where you check your critical intelligence at the road block.

UPDATE: Manfred Gerstenfeld sends the following comments:

As I pointed out in my lecture in London, Western media largely avoid investigating the issue of the disproportionately high anti-Semitism among Muslim immigrants and their descendants. I also said that it is not politically correct to tell the truth. Furthermore, I said, “So we have only a few data on hatred of Jews of among European Muslims. They all point in the same direction. Anti-Semitism is more widely spread among Muslim immigrants than among the authochtonous population.”

I also said, “Shouts of ‘Death to the Jews’ have returned to European streets. They are often complemented by shouts of ‘Hamas Hamas, Jews to the Gas.’ Those who shout it during demonstrations are mainly Muslims. Anecdotal evidence of the disproportionate importance of Muslim anti-Semitism is huge.”

Still, there are some studies – one example is here:

In 2011, a detailed study on youth in Brussels edited by Nicole Vettenburg, Mark Elchardus, and Johan Put was published: Nicole Vettenburg, Mark Elchardus, and Johan Put, eds., Jong in Brussel (Leuven, The Hague: Acco, 2011) [Dutch]. It devotes a chapter by Elchardus to anti-Semitism in Dutch-language schools in Brussels. It was based on the attitudes of second- and third-grade students. (Note a similar study by Emmanuel Brenner (pseudonym) for French schools with high Arab immigrant populations: Les territoires perdus de la République (Paris: Mille et une nuits, 2003 – rl.)

The author concluded that about 50% of the Muslim pupils could be considered anti-Semites, and about 10% of the others. He also concluded that practicing and believing Christians are more anti-Semitic than nonbelievers (Jong in Brussel, p. 278).

Among non-Muslims, the main stereotype of the Jew is an arrogant, clever, and not very honest businessman. Among Muslims, the main stereotype is that of the warmongering, dominating Jew. Elchardus concluded that this was secondary, however, compared to the large difference in anti-Semitism between Muslims and non-Muslims (ibid.)

On another matter, I referred to Muslim ideological criminality. I said that Jewish communities should decide “to what extent they wish to expose the widespread anti-Semitic ideological criminality of Muslims in the Islamic world? There is no other religion out of part of which so much crime and violence comes, as from segments of Islamic society. Their main victims are other Muslims.”

As I mentioned, I was only giving headlines, having not more than 20 minutes. The issues touched upon will have to be elaborated in much more detail.

Finally, for one reason or the other, some seem to think that I was embarrassed or humiliated by the walk-out of some people. I just went on with my lecture and was gratified by the major applause and the tens of people who came over who said it was finally time that these things were said in the U.K. Some of them expressed regret that it had to be done by a foreigner.

The next issue will probably have to be the exposure of the racists in the Anti-Racism community. These are racists of a little-known type – humanitarian racists. They deny the responsibility for their crimes of the weak and people of color. By that they de-humanize them (who else is not responsible for his own acts besides children: retarded people and animals.) Once the notion “humanitarian racism” becomes more popular, the mask of these racists in the Anti-Racism community, will eventually slip off.


Salim Mansour on Islam vs. Islamism

There is a major distinction that people like to make between Islam and Islamism, one which protects people from the accusation of Islamophobia. It’s alright to denounce Islamists since they espouse so many values and causes that are antithetical to everything that modern civil polities stand for. It’s not okay to “essentialise” all Muslims in the same way. It generally comes with the generalization – completely unsupported but nonetheless asserted as a “truth” – that the “vast majority of Muslims” are moderate and only a “tiny minority” are extremist/Islamists.

In his remarkable book, Delectable Lie: a liberal repudiation of multiculturalism, Salim Mansour addresses the point directly:

The Islamist zealots are a minority within the world of Islam, but the politics of Islamism resonate widely among Muslims and it can be said that most of the Muslim majority countries accept in principle the fundamental Islamist demand of adopting shari’ah as the basis of legislation. This “unofficial” or tacit acceptance of the Islamist demand was illustrated at the Cairo conference in August 1990 of the Organization of Islamic Conference where member states issued the “Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam.” The Cairo Declaration spelled out the OIC view on human rights as a parallel and complementary “official” statement to stand alongside the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights. But for OIC members, hence the world of Islam, the Cairo Declaration─ article 25 of the Declaration stated the “Islamic Shari’ah is the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification to any of the articles of this Declaration” ─ takes precedence. This meant Muslim immigrants in the West were under advice by their religious leaders that in situations of conflict between the principles enunciated in the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the Cairo Declaration they adhere to the latter; and from this it followed that Muslims engage politically to bring their host Western governments recognize shari’ah and make allowance for them to live in accordance with its provisions. The push for shari’ah recognition in family law as part of the multicultural arrangement in the West has become one of the key objectives of immigrant Muslim activists, and as the Muslim immigrant population grows in numbers the mainstream political parties have also become increasingly receptive to the idea.

My guess is that if we were to map Islamic opinion not according to some (wishful) distinction between “moderates” and “extremists”, that if we were to consider it as a series of concentric circles, emanating from a pre-modern consensus that Islam should dominate, that Sharia should be the law of the land, that infidels should be subjected dhimmis, and moved outwards towards Muslims who, even if they don’t approve and wouldn’t become involved in terror attacks on civilian infidels, nevertheless swelled with pride at the blow that Bin Laden struck at the American hegemon (heck even infidels felt that way), that the picture one had of the map of Islam would be quite a bit more disturbing. (I remember going to a Muslim-Jewish dialogue, replete with all the kinds of remarks that would lead us non-Muslims to feel that we were talking with moderates. After the speeches, in the socializing time, my friend Steve spoke with one of the people there, and mentioned the Rushdie Affair, assuming that this moderate would denounce the fatwa against Rushdie’s life. “Oh,” responded his interlocutor, “you have to understand, we Muslims feel very strongly about blasphemy. You can’t disrespect the Prophet with impunity.”

What we mean by “moderate,” and what Muslims mean by “moderate” are not necessarily the same thing. Indeed, there’s a whole lexicon of words that have different meanings to us and to them: respect, occupation, moderation, human rights, freedom… Only someone on rekaB street could miss the differences.


Anti-Semitism and Moral Schadenfreude: Reflections from a Medievalist

I just attended a one-day symposium organized by the Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism, co-organized by Steven Baum, Neal Rosenberg, and Winston Pickett, held at the Wiener Library on Russell Square (right down the street from the notorious SOAS, and a Palestinian Fair). The program is appended below.

Here are the remarks I made on the first panel about defining anti-Semitism. The remarks were based on a longer essay, written in 2002 on anti-Semitism.

Anti-Semitism and Moral Schadenfreude:

Reflections from a Medievalist

Medieval historians who follow the argument made by Gavin Langmuir on the subject agree to distinguish between anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism. Here is my version of the distinction.

Anti-Judaism: zero-sum – I’m up because you’re down, I’m right cause you’re wrong, I’m good cause you’re bad. We make ourselves look bigger by making other look smaller.

Produces phenomena like the Dhimma, Easter ceremonies where Jews have to kiss a pigs ass, Augustine’s doctrine of the Jews’ dispossession from the Land of Israel as testament to/proof of Christian truth. Theologically speaking, these are all forms of supersessionism, the zero-sum theology par excellence in which “we” the new chosen people erase, displace “you” the old and now discarded chosen people. Culturally/psyschologically speaking, these are honor-shame versions of monotheism: what appears on the surface of things is what’s true. If we dominate, we’re right.

Anti-semitism: negative-sum – exterminate or be exterminated; your very existence threatens my existence; delirious paranoia.

Apocalyptic dualism: Nazis, Protocols, current Jihadi apocalyptic Judeophobia. The link between the two derives from the fact that the (fragile) ego that depends on the subjection of the other, feels threatened with annihilation when it loses that dominion. Thus, the fear of loss of honor when faced with independence of the despised other becomes literally a fear of the extinction of the self.

This is the challenge to Europe after the Holocaust: Christians and post-Christians have to live with non-dhimmi Jews, independent, judged by the same standards. This has been extremely valuable for Europe, and for the first time in its millennial-long existence, Europeans repentant from their anti-Semitism have managed the EU and the Euro, two forms of cooperation literally unthinkable before mid-20th century. As Michel Gurfienkel said in response to the question, on what day should we celebrate the European Union? Holocaust Day.

Denied anti-Semitism, however, Europeans have engaged in a proxy form in their support for Arab anti-Zionism: let the Arabs harry Israel since we can’t. As a result the vicious policy of Arabs keeping Palestinian refugees in miserable conditions so that they could blame Israel has found widespread support among Europeans – both in intellectual and political/diplomatic circles.

In significant part, this has been because the new, proxy anti-Semitism has appeared on the left; it is a progressive, “human rights” based anti-Semitism – pluralism, multi-culturalism. And it’s an anti-Semitism in denial: the vast majority of the people who empower Muslim anti-Semitism don’t think that they’re in any way anti-Semitic.

Retrospectively this susceptibility to pro-Palestinian Jew hatred has been catastrophic for the world.

If we think of Jew-hatred as an addiction to an alcoholic substance, then anti-Judaism is like wine and beer while anti-Semitism is like high grain alcohol. Then the following statement can be made: since 2000, the Europeans have been hitting their wine and beer, while keeping an open bar for their Muslim resident aliens.

Moral Schadenfreude and the European Cholesterol Count

My experience is that the post-Holocaust mutations of anti-Semitism are particularly hardy breeds, which can resist the appeals to sympathy for the Holocaust since these new forms now clothe themselves in a progressive “human rights” garb and invoke Nurnberg and Geneva to attack Israel.

As someone who’s worked for over a decade on these problems, I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re not going to succeed by appealing to the sympathy of people so armed with this new, resistant, “progressive” brand of anti-Semitism by arguing that it’s bad for Jews. My sense is that only by alerting people to the dangers to them of embracing anti-Semitism, consciously or unconsciously do we stand a chance of reaching most people. After all, the consistent pattern of Anti-Semitism, pre-Holocaust and post-Holocaust has been that the Jews are only the first target of the anti-Semites. Six million Jews were murdered in WW II, but over 40 million gentiles also died.

In post-modern, proxy anti-Semitism, this aspect of the problem is even greater than it has been in the past, where it would take an historian looking retrospectively to realize that there was a cost of Jew-baiting, that not long after the attacks on the Jews, the Inquisition came to town, that the fires that burned the Jews soon after burned Christian dissidents. But today, when one selects as one’s proxy for anti-Semitism, a group like the Jihadis, who hate Christian and post-Christian infidels almost as much as they hate the Jews, it’s safe to say that the indulgence and encouragement of anti-Semitism among Muslims is nothing short of suicidal. In terms of the cognitive warfare that the Islamists are waging against the West, Israel is the soft underbelly.

Take the case of Muhammad al Durah, the nuclear bomb of Jihadi cognitive warfare, the first blood libel of the 21st century, the first spread by an identified Jew, the first post-modern blood libel. Europeans loved this story: “This picture erases, replaces the image of the boy in the ghetto.” From a moral point of view, it’s hard to imagine a more deranged statement. Only when one realizes that al Durah was Europe’s get-out-of-Holocaust-guilt-free card does such “logic” make sense.

But even as they showed it endlessly on their TV screens, soothing their own unrepentant breasts, Europeans were waving the flag of Jihad in front of their Muslim population, awakening a radical Muslim Street in Europe.

So one of the things that I’m working on is the seeming endless appetite that Europeans have for what Nidra Poller calls “lethal narratives” about Israel (and David Hirsh calls “the Livingstone formulation”). If pictures of dead babies were trading cards, then the latest conflict illustrates clearly that a baby killed by Syrians has very low value, but when the child is identified as killed by Israelis, the value shoots up.

Hence let me introduce the term Moral Schadenfreude: it is the core of the anti-Judaism I discussed above. It designates the thrill (frisson) that accompanies the ability to accuse Israel, to knock it off its moral pedestal, to announce (as one of my friends did repeatedly in the years after al Durah) “this time Israel’s lost the moral high ground.” Somehow there is a great pleasure that accompanies inflicting moral pain on the Jews. Somehow one gets great pleasure from being able to say, “You Jews, two thousand years you suffered persecution and no sooner do you get power, but you turn around and do it to the poor Palestinians. You’re just as bad as everyone else (off the pedestal), you’re as bad or worse than the Nazis (sadistic version).”

I think this pleasure derives from a form of supersessionism that has spread to non- (or post-) Christian circles in the post-war period. Despite what a sad reflection it represents of the moral self-confidence of the agent, there seems to be a kind of moral bullying at work: I make myself look bigger by making you look smaller. Every time I degrade you, I elevate myself.

One of the implications of this analysis is that the Western secular Left is also supersessionist, as in the case of Jostein Gaarder. In order to pose as the moral cutting edge of global consciousness, the Left seems to feel that putting Israel down makes them look good. Few cases make a stronger case that, imagining one can be a better person without believing in God, can lead one to disastrous moral immodesty. After all, all those Christians and Muslims who beat up on the Jews invoked their belief in God to justify their contempt and sense of moral superiority. So, having tossed aside God, we secular, atheist, progressives… beat up on Jews, thinking we’re morally superior.

Lethal Narratives are like rich truffles, so tasty that there seems an almost bottomless appetite for them, and the European intelligentsia are like a fat man with a 300+ cholesterol count who just can’t stop popping those yummy truffles of moral Schadenfreude. Jon Donnison tweets a picture of a dead Syrian baby as a dead Gaza baby. WTF? What business does a BBC correspondent have in participating in dead baby porn? Does he realize he’s playing the role of a picador, trying to spur the Arab bull into a rage so he’ll attack Israel? And does he not understand that, as an infidel, he’s next?

Can an intelligentsia commit civilizational suicide? Apparently yes. Can we stop it from doing this? We cannot refuse to try.

Perhaps if we Jews and Israelis show some sense of self-preservation rather than rushing to self-immolate to prove what “good” Jews we are, we will serve as examples to those Europeans who, even if they won’t admit it, nevertheless their dogged attraction to moral Schadenfreude about us reveals, have an insecurity complex about Jews, and, in deeply twisted and suppressed ways, admire us.

JSA Sunday Symposium Program

8:30am Introductory Remarks David Hirsh, Neal E. Rosenberg, Steven K. Baum

9am Panel 1 Defining the New Antisemitism

Chair: Kenneth Marcus: Bat Ye’or, Winston Pickett, Richard Landes

10am Panel 2 Mapping the Rise of Contemporary Antisemitism

Chair: Manfred Gerstenfeld: Mark Gardner, Robert Wistrich

11am Panel 3 Antisemitism on Campus

Chair: Kenneth Lasson : Clemens Heni, Dave Rich, Ronnie Fraser

Noon Lunch Break

Screening of the documentary film Unmasked Judeophobia followed by Q&A

Gloria Z. Greenfield and Shimon T. Samuels

2pm Panel 4 Assessing Current Approaches

Chair: Lesley Klaff:| Gunther Jikeli, Hagai van der Horst, David Feldman

3pm Panel 5 The Politics of Fighting Antisemitism

Chair: Irwin Cotler: Rt. Hon Denis MacShane, Ben Cohen, Paul Iganski

4pm Panel 6 What Can Be Done? Strategic Interventions

Chair: Ruth Klein: Francisco de Almeida Garrett, Julian Hunt, Philip Spencer

5pm JSA Closing Remarks Robert S. Wistrich

Awards & Honors: Steven K. Baum, Lesley Klaff, JSA Editorial Staff

(Wine) & Cheese

Yvonne Green’s Poem: Jews

I attended a conference in London yesterday (about which I will post further) and had the privilege of sitting next to Yvonne Green, the British poetess who, among other things, visited Gaza after Operation Cast Lead four years ago (when I first met her). She just sent me her most recent (as yet unpublished) poem which she has given me permission to post.



(I.M. of Czesław Miłosz)

We’re neither poems for you to fetishise

nor emblems of the murdered of the twentieth century,

we don’t hold all possibilities in Talmudic minds

live burdened with the grief you want us to.

We’re not the monsters of the Middle East,

the devils of the diaspora, nor do we know

the selves we recognise in one another.

We’re in danger in your midst

and where you don’t know us,

a barometer of your pasts and futures

that you never consult,

and yet we ourselves live

by the tremble of mercury

which we always ask ourselves to shape,

for which we’re quoted against ourselves.

There’s no monopoly of suffering

what did the first victims know

who’s parents sent them with wobbly legs

gaped mouths, vacant grins, rage, the evidence

of the trial they were to heart, hands, purse;

yes look I’m a Jew and I’ve said purse,

judge me if you want; the first victims

were piped away like Hamlyn’s children,

only before the rats and other vermin.

Yvonne Green’s Publications:

After Semyon Izrailevich Lipkin,  (Smith/Doorstop 2011), Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation

The Assay, (Smith/Doorstop 2010)

Boukhara, (Smith/Doorstop 2009), Smith/Doorstop Prizewinner

Response to Norman Gellman on Empathy for the Palestinian People

A recent post of mine elicited from Norman I. Gellman the following response which, after a short remark on the post, became a coherent argument which, I think, deserves a serious response:

Like Daniel Gordis, Richard Landes makes entirely too much of an expression of sympathy for the people of Gaza.

I read Gordis’s critique of Rabbi Sharon Brous’s remarks. Where he saw moral equivalency and therefore the elevation of universalism as a greater value than solidarity with fellow Jews, I saw a recognition — which I believe is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY — that there are “rights” on both sides. Raining missiles on Israel is not any kind of right. Ordinary Palestinians should, however, enjoy the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (in our peculiarly American formulation).

So why should it apply to them? There is no country in the Arab world that comes anywhere near these rights. Indeed, many places in the world, most prominently in the Arab world, find the effort to assure these rights for everyone as a direct threat to their notion of their rights (which are those of dominators).

Both the people of Israel and the ordinary Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank deserve to live and to seek to prosper under their own flag.

You’ve now used this term twice. What does “ordinary Palestinians” mean? The people who voted for Hamas? The people who regret that they (or their neighbors) voted for Hamas, but don’t have the courage to admit it to our (largely clueless) reporters? The people that sincerely tell reporters they like Hamas?

Is “ordinary Palestinians” your abstract category of folks on the “other side” on whom you feel comfortable projecting liberal mindsets, people who are “just like you and me?” Is this a version of “the vast majority of Palestinians want peace, it’s just the extremists who don’t?

Hamas is the enemy, not the people who become collateral damage when Israel retaliates.

If you have read any of my previous posts on these matters, you’ll know that I think that their damage is not collateral but intended and sought after by Hamas, a strategy that can only work if the West accepts their narrative in which Israel gets blamed. Your formulation, especially in the context of the Gazan’s “rights” focuses way too much on the Israelis. The impediment to their “deserv[ing] to live and seek[ing] to prosper under their own flag” is not Israel, which would like nothing better than to have a neighbor similarly in pursuit of such mutually beneficial prosperity. Hamas is as responsible for the inability of Palestinians to exercise/enjoy their rights as it is for the “collateral” damage caused to their own people.

There will never be peace between Israel and the Palestinians until each side tries to understand the narrative of the other.