Archive for the ‘Academia’ Category

Irshad Manji, a Muslim, taking on narrow thinking in her religion…

January 22, 2008

…the author of The Trouble with Islam…

Impure Islam

By Irshad Manji
At the World Economic Forum in January, I observed something revealing. In a session about the U.S. religious right, a cartoonist satirized one of America’s most influential Christian ministers, Pat Robertson. In the audience, chuckling with the rest of us, was a prominent British Muslim. But his smile disappeared the moment we were shown a cartoon that made fun of Muslim clerics. Since then, a fierce fight has erupted between the European Union and the Muslim world over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. Months ago, the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, published cartoons that showed Islam’s messenger wearing, among other things, a turban-turned-time bomb. Although the paper has apologized, the controversy has metastasized: A Norwegian magazine and French paper recently re-printed the drawings, as have other broadcasters and publications while covering this story. In response, Muslim rioters torched Scandinavian missions in Syria, Lebanon and Iran. An Italian priest was murdered in Turkey. Bomb threats have hit the offices of more than one European newspaper. Various Arab countries have recalled their ambassadors from Copenhagen. Boycotts of Danish products are sweeping across supermarkets in the Arab world, and Muslims as far away as India and Indonesia are pouring into the streets to burn Danish flags – which feature the cross, among the holiest of Christian symbols.

Last week, thousands of Palestinians shouted “Death to Denmark!” Copenhagen has evacuated Danish citizens from the Gaza Strip and has sternly warned nationals in the West Bank to get out as well. Muslims themselves are getting pummeled in the riots: four died in Afghanistan on Monday alone. Arab elites love such controversies, for they provide convenient opportunities to channel anger away from local injustices. No wonder President Lahoud of Lebanon insisted that his country “cannot accept any insult to any religion.” That’s rich. Since the late 1970s, the Lebanese government has licensed Hezbollah-run satellite television station al-Manar, among the most viciously anti-Semitic broadcasters on earth. Similarly, the Justice Minister of the United Arab Emirates has said that the Danish cartoons represent “cultural terrorism, not freedom of expression.” This from a country that promotes its capital as the “Las Vegas of the Gulf,” yet blocks my Web site – – for being “inconsistent with the moral values” of the UAE. Presumably, my site should be an online casino.

Muslims have little integrity demanding respect for our faith if they don’t show it for others. When have we demonstrated against Saudi Arabia’s policy to prevent Christians and Jews from stepping on the soil of Mecca? They may come for rare business trips, but nothing more. As long as Rome welcomes non-Christians and Jerusalem embraces non-Jews, we Muslims have more to protest than cartoons.

None of this is to dismiss the need to take my religion seriously. Hell, Muslims even take seriously the need to be serious: Islam has a teaching against “excessive laughter.” I’m not joking. But does this mean that we should cry “blasphemy” over less-than-flattering depictions of the Prophet Muhammad? God no.

For one thing, the Koran itself points out that there will always be non-believers, and that it’s for Allah, not Muslims, to deal with them. More than that, the Koran says there is “no compulsion in religion.” Which suggests that nobody should be forced to treat Islamic norms as sacred.

Fine, many Muslims will retort, but we’re talking about the Prophet Muhammad – Allah’s final and therefore perfect messenger. However, Islamic tradition holds that the Prophet was a human being who made mistakes. It’s precisely because he wasn’t perfect that we know of the so-called Satanic Verses: a collection of passages that the Prophet reportedly included in the Koran. Only later did he realize that those verses glorified heathen idols rather than God. According to Islamic legend, he retracted the idolatrous passages, blaming them on a trick played by Satan.

When Muslims put the Prophet on a pedestal, we’re engaging in idolatry of our own. The point of monotheism is to worship one God, not one of God’s emissaries. Which is why humility requires people of faith to mock themselves – and each other – every once in a while.

Here’s my attempt: A priest, a rabbi, and a mullah meet at a conference about religion, and afterward are sitting around discussing their different faiths. The conversation turns to the topic of taboos.

The priest says to the rabbi and the mullah, “You guys can’t tell me that you’ve never eaten pork.”

“Never!” intones the rabbi. “Absolutely not!” insists the mullah.

But the priest is skeptical. “Come on, not even once? Maybe in a fit of rebellion when you were younger?”

“Okay,” confesses the rabbi. “When I was young, I once nibbled on bacon.”

“I admit it,” the mullah laughs (not excessively). “In a fit of youthful arrogance, I sampled a pork chop.”

Then the conversation turns to the priest’s religious observances.

“You can’t tell me you’ve never had sex,” says the mullah.

“Of course not!” the priest protests. “I took a vow of chastity.”

The mullah and the rabbi roll their eyes.

“Maybe after a few drinks?” the rabbi teases.

“Perhaps, in a moment of temptation, your faith waned?” the mullah wonders.

“Okay,” the priest confesses. “Once, when I was drunk in seminary school, I had sexual relations with a woman.”

“Beats pork, huh?” say the rabbi and the mullah.

Clearly, I’m as impure a feminist as I am a Muslim. The difference is, offended feminists won’t threaten to kill me. The same can’t be said for many of my fellow Muslims.

What part of “no compulsion” don’t they understand?

The writer is a Visiting Fellow at Yale University and the author of The Trouble with Islam. Reprinted with permission of The Wall Street Journal.

Filled with his own grandiosity (about Lee Bollinger of Columbia Univ.)…

January 21, 2008

From a 9/24/07 email I sent around:

No, I’m not talking about Ahmadinejad, though that could apply to him.  I’m talking about this self-aggrandizing idiot, Lee Bollinger, President of Columbia University.  See article below.  He has taken it upon himself to take on this little evil man from Iran, armed with a poorly written, vitriolic speech that made him and Columbia (and America, for that matter) look like whining weaklings.  Ahmadinejad was right.  It was insulting what Bollinger said.  Sophomoric and insulting.  Using the introduction to spew at the man and absolve himself of a bad decision.  Just be a big boy and ignore the man and don’t give him a platform for his vitriol.  He should never have invited him to Columbia University.  But instead Bollinger has to set it up like it’s Bollinger vs. Ahmadinejad, as if it’s the Ali/Fraser fight in Madison Square Garden in 1971.  As if he is Winston Churchill facing down the man in the moustache with no help from anybody else in 1940.  Come off it, buddy.  Have a little class and a little sense.  Better to behave like Rudy Giuliani did when Arafat came to town and tried to get into a UN bash at Lincoln Center while Rudy was mayor.  He didn’t let him in, bounced him out in fact, saying something like, this is my party and the likes of you are not invited. 

NEW YORK (CNN) — Columbia University president Lee Bollinger took Iran’s president to task Monday, bluntly criticizing his record and saying he exhibits “all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator.”

Columbia University president, Lee Bollinger, excoriated Iran’s leader Monday.

Bollinger’s assessment came as he introduced Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to an audience of students and faculty.

As he read a long list of documented actions and remarks by the firebrand Iranian leader and his government, the crowd of 600 applauded.

Ahmadinejad was at the university to give a speech and take part in a question-and-answer session.

During the introduction, Bollinger cited the Iranian government’s “brutal crackdown” on dissidents, public executions, executions of minors and other actions.

He assailed Ahmadinejad’s denial of the Holocaust as “ridiculous.”

“For the illiterate and ignorant, this is dangerous propaganda,” he said. He called the Iranian leader “either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated.”

“The truth is that the Holocaust is the most documented event in human history,” he said.

“Will you cease this outrage?” he demanded.

Bollinger said he doubted Ahmadinejad would show the intellectual courage to answer questions posed to him.

Ahmadinejad opened his remarks by saying Bollinger’s introduction was discourteous, intellectually dishonest and inaccurate.

He said academic freedom should prohibit the “vaccination” of the audience with negative comments about a guest speaker and his ideas.

“I think the text read by the dear gentleman here, more than addressing me, was an insult to information and the knowledge of the audience here, present here,” Ahmadinejad said through a translator.

“In a university environment we must allow people to speak their mind, to allow everyone to talk so that the truth is eventually revealed by all,” he said.

During his introductory remarks, Bollinger said Columbia would offer a faculty position to Kian Tajbakhsh, an Iranian-American social scientist who was released last week after having been held in Iran since May.

Tajbakhsh, a Columbia graduate, will be offered a position as visiting professor of urban planning as soon as Iran lets him leave the country, he said.

Bollinger asked Ahmadinejad to allow Tajbakhsh to lead a university delegation to address collegiate audiences in Iran on the subject of freedom of speech.

During a question-and-answer period after his remarks, Ahmadinejad invited Columbia students to visit Iran and promised to provide a list of universities for them. The audience applauded.

“I am only a professor who is also a university president, and today I feel the weight of all the civilized world yearning to express the revulsion at what you stand for,” Bollinger told Ahmadinejad. “I only wish I could do better.”

After the session, Bollinger said Ahmadinejad left without properly answering many of the questions that were posed to him.

Walt & Mearsheimer: Jews control US Foreign Policy…

January 20, 2008

From a 2006 article:

Study: U.S. Mideast policy motivated by pro-Israel lobby

By Shmuel Rosner
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Middle East policy is not in America’s national interest and is motivated primarily by the country’s pro-Israel lobby, according to a study published yesterday by researchers from Harvard University and the University of Chicago. Observers in Washington said yesterday that the study was liable to stir up a tempest and spur renewed debate about the function of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobby. The Fatah office in Washington distributed the article to an extensive mailing list.


“No lobby has managed to divert U.S. foreign policy as far from what the American national interest would otherwise suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that U.S. and Israeli interests are essentially identical,” write the authors of the study. John J. Mearsheimer from the University of Chicago’s political science department and Stephen M. Walt from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government do not present new facts. They rely mainly on an analysis of Israeli and American newspaper reports and studies, along with the findings of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. The study also documents accusations that American supporters of Israel pushed the United States into war with Iraq. It lists senior Bush administration officials who supported the war and are also known to support Israel, such as Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith and David Wurmser. The authors say the influence of the pro-Israel lobby is a source of serious concern and write that it has even caused damage to Israel by preventing it from reaching a compromise with its neighbors.

Jewish population trends…

January 17, 2008

From a 2006 article:

The demographic predicament


In recent years, two demographic issues have captured headlines: whether and how demographic trends between Israelis, Palestinians and the neighboring countries affect the strategic balance; and whether demographic trends, perhaps a little differently, influence the existence of Jewish communities in the world and the nature of Israel-Diaspora relations, thereby again affecting Israel’s strategic balance.

Interestingly, the deeper the demographic processes have been investigated, and the better recent research reports have provided insights on the causes and consequences of population change, the more disagreements and polemics have emerged about the substantive thrust of Jewish demography.

It has been maintained, for example, that serious mistakes have led to significant overestimates of the Palestinian population, so that the percentage of Jews in Israel and Palestine is significantly higher than previously thought. It has also been suggested that the number of US Jews has been significantly underestimated, so that the position of the Jewish Diaspora is far more rosy than usually believed.

These discussions, besides normal and legitimate perceptional differences, often unveil a personal tone of denial of the other’s opinion, or even of the other’s professional integrity, if not loyalty, to Jewish or Israeli identity.

WHY SUCH passion? Who is right and who is wrong? Is it possible at all to provide answers to questions concerning Jewish demography and identity? And is it important at all?

At least part of the answers will come during the next few days from the international conference on the future of world Jewry convened by the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, with the participation of president-elect Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, ministers, the heads of world Jewish organizations, as well as rabbis, intellectuals and researchers from Israel and the world.

Central in the debates will be the assessment of trends in the Jewish family in Israel and in the Diaspora, new patterns of aliya and Jewish migration, the changing nature of Jewish identification, defining the boundaries of the Jewish collective and the rules for joining.

The link between demography, identity and identification will be examined with the aim of developing an array of policy suggestions to be brought to the attention of decision-makers in Israel and across world Jewry.

THE COMMON thread of all of these issues is a diffused sense that facing the growing challenges from outside and from inside, while world Jewry stagnates at zero population growth, there is a need for new ideas – here and now. As against the current trends, time is working against us.

Quite a hot debate exists on whether the Jewish majority over the whole territory of the State of Israel and the West Bank – the area dominated by Israel since the disengagement from Gaza – is 62%, as maintained by the pessimists, or 67%, according to the optimists. But everyone would agree that the current rate of population increase is nearly double among the Palestinians in Israel and in the territories than among Israeli Jews.

Over this whole territory in question, the percentage of Jews out of total inhabitants is declining year by year. This trend increasingly raises the question of the ability of the State of Israel to provide Jewish identity and civilizational experience to its citizens, without compromising democratic principles and of civil rights. The volume of Jewish immigration – currently close to its minimum historical levels – does not contribute much to the Israeli population balance. As against this, Jews in Israel still aim at an ideal family size of four children. This uniquely Israeli ideal goal will not be attained unless active steps are taken in the economic sphere concerning facilities for moving to larger housing, developing the existing early childhood infrastructure, and carefully monitoring the implications of motherhood for women’s personal achievement.

AMONG DIASPORA Jewry, another stormy debate has developed over the real rate of out-marriage among American Jews – whether it is 45% or 55%. But few would question that based on the available evidence and under the present circumstances, out-marriage is a factor of erosion of the younger Jewish generation and thus contributes to the ongoing Jewish population aging and decline. Diaspora Jews are far from even approaching the level of generational replacement that still prevails in Israel. Judaism, quite obviously, does not begin or end with numbers.

However, one should be careful about expecting the growth of quality while totally disregarding quantity. An adequate critical mass constitutes one among other significant existential prerequisites – in the realm of security in the tense environment of the Middle East, and in the cultural realm in the open and forthcoming environment of the Western countries which host the vast majority of world Jewry. The question of conversion of the non-Jewish members of out-married families has been pushed to the margins of the national agenda by an elite which coherently pursues lofty spiritual norms, but seems less attentive to the need to nurture the broader Jewish collective inclusive of all of its nuances, in the spirit of klal Yisrael.

Population is the human capital upon which rests the future of Israeli society as a sovereign political entity and the ethnic core of worldwide Jewry. These days, globalization deeply delves into security, economy, communications, cultures and identities of world society in general, and of the Jewish collective in particular.

UNDER THE dynamic conditions of the present and the foreseeable future, different environments challenge Jewish existence to the limits of the possible – through distinctly different provocations in Israel and in the Diaspora. In Israel, questions of physical security still bother and demand creative solutions, where the human demographic component occupies a central place. Elsewhere, the critical question is how to preserve the spark of Jewish collective pride among a youth increasingly exposed to the seductions of individual self-realization and personal freedom. At the intersection of the individual with the collective, and of the biology of birth and death with the cultural symbolism of continuity and creativity, the demographic predicament is going to be part of any future policy planning aimed at a better Jewish future.

The writer, a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, holds the Shlomo Argov Chair on Israel-Diaspora Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Saudi teacher to get 750 lashes…

January 17, 2008

From a November 2005 article:

In a ruling that human rights activists have condemned, a Saudi teacher who allegedly discussed religion with his students has been sentenced to 750 lashes and 40 months in prison for blasphemy. Mohammed Salamah al-Harbi, a high school chemistry teacher, was convicted of questioning and ridiculing Islam, discussing the Bible and defending Jews, judicial officials said Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. Human Rights Watch says al-Harbi had been “talking to his pupils about his views on a number of current topics, such as Christianity, Judaism and the causes of terrorism.”

Martin Gilbert, Churchill biographer, Jewish historian…

January 14, 2008

One on One with Sir Martin Gilbert: Hindsight and aforethought
‘This isn’t the time of the Israelite prophets, when disaster struck in spite of their warnings, because the people didn’t wake up. I think Europe has woken up’

‘A seed won’t germinate on infertile soil,” says acclaimed British-Jewish historian Sir Martin Gilbert about the ease with which anti-Semitic sentiment seems to be spreading. He then quotes a passage from a letter written to Winston Churchill by a concerned colleague who refers to the “hereditary antipathy against the Jewish race.”

This passage appears in his upcoming book, Churchill and the Jews – the latest of several dozen major works, among them: The Holocaust: A History of the Jews of Europe During the Second World War; Churchill: A Life; The First World War; The Second World War; A Comprehensive History of Israel; and A History of the Twentieth Century. A regular visitor to Israel (“I try to come two or three times a year”), Churchill’s official biographer – who just turned 70 – is here this time to attend Jerusalem’s annual International Book Fair, where he delivered a talk Wednesday on “What Jews can learn from history.”

What, indeed, can anyone learn from history, when it appears to repeat itself in such full force – or at least in new forms, like that of the threat to Western civilization being posed by the current “barbarism” of radical Islam and its apologists?

The answer, it turns out, is at once utterly simple and completely complex. On the one hand, asserts Sir Martin over breakfast at the King David Hotel, “Each nation has to know what it stands for… The weakness in many [Western] countries is the lack of clarity about the bedrock of their existence. And it is that bedrock which has to be defended.” On the other hand, he insists, nothing is at it appears while it is going on. “What you see when you [examine archives opened only 30 years after an event] is that the people you imagined had been strong were weak; the people you thought weak were strong; and things you thought couldn’t possibly be taking place were taking place.” Hmmm. If so, one can only wait with anticipation to see whether Sir Martin will take up the offer – which he says he’s “mulling” – to write a biography of former prime minister Ariel Sharon.

Would you assess the current discourse on Israel as anti-Semitic?
Anti-Semitism certainly plays a major part. People don’t like Jews. It’s legitimate to dislike people. But anti-Semitism is liking Jews even less than is permissible in sane discourse.

Do you think that criticism of Israel is a way of using permissible discourse to express dislike of Jews?
When one goes to debates, such as [London Mayor Ken] Livingstone’s [event last month, titled “A World Civilization or a Clash of Civilizations?” – at which he debated Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes], the difference between legitimate criticism, based on rational arguments, and anti-Semitic criticism, not based on answerable facts, but rather on nonsense, becomes clear quite quickly.

What do you mean by “nonsense”?
The theme of the Livingstone event was multiculturalism. Its subtext was that the only intolerance one ever finds in
London is that against Muslims. Livingstone spoke very mellifluously. The only time he began to rant was when he was talking about Israel. The point he made was that Israel had no legitimacy – he even called its existence a “travesty.” When, in response, somebody asked him about the November 1947 UN vote for a Jewish state, he said: “Ah, the United Nations then was dominated and controlled by the United States, which didn’t want the 100,000 Jewish survivors of the Holocaust to go to America, so it voted to establish the State of Israel to keep the Jews out.”

Is there a connection between anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism?
At the moment, anti-Americanism is very strong in
Western Europe and in Britain. America‘s perceived unconditional support for Israel – which is one of these things upon which an incredible amount of myth is built – is a black mark. Then there is the belief of Jewish dominance over America, an example of which can be seen in the recent report about AIPAC and in former US president Jimmy Carter’s book.

How much of this is mere “nonsense,” accepted by ignorant people who don’t know the facts, and how much an intellectual tool anti-Semites are happy to use as justification?
I think it is more the latter. A seed won’t germinate on infertile soil. I just finished a book, which is being published in June, on Churchill’s relationship with the Jews and the Zionists. On one occasion when Churchill was arguing the case for a Jewish state, one of his conservative colleagues wrote him: “You don’t understand that you are going to stir up the hereditary antipathy against the Jewish race.”

What would Churchill have said about the Israeli government’s response to attack over the last few years?
He always quoted the French saying, “Cet animal est mechant.” This animal is dangerous; when you attack him, he defends himself.
A nation has to defend itself. In the 1930s, when the whole fabric of Western civilization was under attack by Nazism – even before a single shot had been fired, or a single German soldier had crossed a border – Churchill said, “We’re under attack and we have to defend ourselves; we have to know what it is we stand for.”

Do you see a parallel between Churchill’s attitude and that of George Bush after 9/11?
The war against the Taliban and al-Qaida was an example of defending yourself, even when your borders weren’t being breached by armies.

Is there not a greater problem today than during World War II identifying the enemy?
The real problem is that each nation has to know what it stands for – what ideology it adheres to. The weakness in many [Western] countries is the lack of clarity about the bedrock of their existence. And it is that bedrock which has to be defended. More than borders, because borders are less and less under attack.
Prime Minister Tony Blair has touted British values that are central to our society: democracy, rule of law, free speech. Not based on hatred. When you have, within that society, people for whom hatred seems to be a dominant force, you have to say to them, as cruel as it may sound: “If you come here to be part of our society, and don’t like our basic norms, please go find a society more amenable to your own way of life.”

Why is the concept of freedom so elusive, particularly among the people who most enjoy it?
The hardest thing to enjoy is freedom. One takes it for granted when it’s not something he’s had to struggle for. In
Israel, there is a whole generation who had to struggle for the very existence of the state. Britain has been in existence for hundreds of years; Israel is merely 59. So, Israelis may be more attuned to what it is they are struggling for and seeking to maintain. In England, Western Europe and the United States, that’s much less true. In Eastern Europe, on the other hand, it’s only been 15 years since they’ve thrown off communism – so there, it is a bit different. Still, I was recently talking to a Pole in her mid-20s, who has no memory of the communist period. So, there’s already a new generation in Eastern Europe for whom the struggle against communism and to establish independent national identities is not part of their memory. They, too, have to be reminded – whether by their parents or by reading – that “this is what we stand for, and that is what we struggled for; and now we have it.”

How is it, then, that the younger generation in the West, which doesn’t know what it’s like to fight for freedom, nevertheless talks a lot about freedom for women, gays and minorities?
I wouldn’t say this is universal, and depends on the youth themselves: their upbringing, environment, organizations with which they are affiliated. Education plays a major part.

But in the West today, liberal education educates to liberalism.
That may be the case, but there are also trends in education.
At his debate, Livingstone posited multiculturalism as a universal good and the status quo indicating that the only conflict in the world was between multiculturalism and its enemies. Daniel Pipes said something very different: that the conflict in the world is between culture and barbarism – that there is civilized behavior, and there is also a barbaric instinct. This barbaric instinct has to be recognized and understood. It may be much harder to see, because it’s not a very comforting thought.

Why isn’t it comforting?
Because it involves struggle. Danger. Having to respond to danger.
The other day, the British police raided one of the major mosques in London, much to the indignation of the Muslim community, which said it was a violation of its freedom. The police raided that mosque, in fact, in order to enter its adjacent bookshop and remove inflammatory material – the sort that’s on the barbarism side of Daniel Pipes’s equation. The debate among liberal people about whether it’s right to break into a mosque’s premises or a bookshop is clear: Wait a minute – a bookshop! That’s freedom of speech. After all, Hitler burned books outside the Opera House in 1933. That’s what makes this all very difficult to conceptualize. Are there really circumstances under which we have to seize or make certain books unavailable? The answer, in my view, is yes. Because this barbarism is a reality; it’s not just some enemy facing you with a gun. It is an ideological and surreptitious enemy that works through the educational system of the adversary.  

Speaking of books, let’s talk about the Koran. There’s is an ongoing debate about whether the holy book of Islam is inherently violent or has been hijacked by extremists. What is your view?
That it’s in the interpretation. All religions have had their zealots interpret their holy texts in a way that has led to bloodshed and war. For many hundreds of years, the New Testament led to the most terrifying violence. But then, new interpretations came forward, and continued to come forward, so now we have a situation in which the Christian theologians and the Catholic Church have turned their back on anything in the scriptures that implies the Jews were responsible for the murder of Jesus.
Islam has always had extremist movements. In the Middle Ages, for example. Now we have Wahhabism and its various derivatives. This is a phase we’re in. In the current crisis over the Mughrabi Gate ramp – something with which I’ve been familiar over the last 35 years in my work on Jerusalem – the head of the Arab League called [the renovations] an attempt to create a synagogue in the area and an insult to Muslims that has to be fought. It was equally open to him to say that it is an absurd storm in a teacup – that this thing is 60 meters from the wall; not slated for a synagogue, but actually just a dangerous structure. In other words, in the end, it’s up to each individual – in this case Muslim leader – to decide how he wants to interpret and present his scriptures.

But doesn’t this bring us to the connection between religion and politics? If you use the goings-on in the Palestinian Authority right now as an example, you can see the way religion is used as a tool to rally the people around a common enemy. If so, it would not serve any leader’s interest to interpret the texts differently. Nor would it have served the purposes of the head of the Arab League you mentioned to have called the Mughrabi ramp crisis an “absurd storm in a teacup.”
Religious leaders have a tremendous responsibility not to distort their religious texts. My wife and I happened to be walking in the
Old City on Friday just after lunch, and we heard the imam of the mosque blasting out hatred. Well, this is certainly political, in the sense that it has a political agenda. But it is based on religion. There is a phenomenon in the current Muslim world, which has arisen before, but which has rearisen in a bizarre form – thanks, mainly to Osama bin Laden: the restoration of the caliphate. This is a combined political-religious force which Islam created in the past, but which most modern societies long ago turned their back on. The idea that anyone – least of all young Muslims in Britain – should dream of restoring a powerful medieval tool of Islamic conquest and rule is incredible.

Historian Bernard Lewis refers to Western Europe‘s capitulation; Eurabia author Bat Yeor warns of its demographic Islamization. Is barbarism indeed winning?
I’m a great believer in people’s waking up. Sometimes, they wake up rather late.
Britain in 1938 was capitulating; in 1939 it woke up – much, incidentally, to Hitler’s surprise. When he was told the British were now going to actually stand up against him, he said, “Oh, no. I saw these worms at Munich, and they’re not going to do anything now that I’m about to attack Poland.” But he was wrong. I think that’s true now of Britain, as well. Britain has woken up.

But what about the demography problem?
I’ve read Bat Yeor’s book. I know her and have a great respect for her sense of anguish. She has studied the way in which the European Parliament and European institutions have become infiltrated by thoughts and legislation which are essentially seeking to appease fundamentalist Islamic activity – the ultimate dominance of the caliphate and Sharia law in
Europe. But we’re a long, long way from that.

Are you saying that the presentation of her findings is too alarmist?
No. I’m saying that her book – which is 100 percent accurate – is an alarm call that will ultimately prevent what she’s warning about from taking place. The same applies to Bernard Lewis. Because he is the greatest mind of our time in this whole area, people will take his warnings seriously. This isn’t the time of the Israelite prophets, when disaster struck in spite of their warnings, because the people didn’t wake up. I think
Europe has woken up.

If so, will Europeans view the United States more positively – as an ally in the struggle against barbarism?
The relationship between
Europe and the United States has always been complicated. Every sane British person knows that we only won the two world wars of the 20th century because of American intervention and commitment. But there are levels of grievance, the first being that this intervention and commitment came rather late, which caused a lot of unnecessary suffering. The greater level of grievance comes precisely from the sense that we were dependent on the US during those wars.Anti-Americanism has its surges and probably always will. As a school boy after World War II – when the Marshall Plan was enabling us finally to have fresh eggs instead of powdered ones – I remember people reducing American culture to Coca-Cola and Hollywood. It’s the jealousy of smaller nations and lesser minds. Still, there are many Britons – myself included – who regard America‘s contribution to both world wars, and massively to the Marshall Plan after World War II, as the defining contribution in the survival of Western values and democracy. Today, the British government, at some considerable loss of popularity, stood by the US in Afghanistan and Iraq. More importantly, it doesn’t belittle American civilization. As for Europe, if, on a deeper level, it feels itself in danger from the Islamist threat, there will be a greater understanding of the American position. Ironically, the United States is not at the moment threatened in the way that Europe is. There isn’t a great extremist Islamist movement within the US.

According to American Center for Democracy director Rachel Ehrenfeld, there is a wider network in the US than is immediately apparent.
It may become so five or 10 years from now. But right now, Americans do not perceive a threat from Islamic fundamentalism from within.

Americans not perceiving such a threat could land Hillary Clinton in the White House.
Perhaps that’ll be a good thing. If she becomes president and the threat materializes, she will feel all the more cheated and betrayed, and will become a tough, feisty opponent.

Name another leader who felt betrayed and as a result became a tough opponent.
Neville Chamberlain. He had wanted to make concessions to Hitler because he believed there was no ultimate quarrel between
Britain and Germany. When the war came, he became the toughest supporter of drastic action against Germany.

How much of a role does Iran play in this discussion?
Iran, by its own actions, has alerted Europe, and the European Union is taking an increasingly strong stand. People no longer dismiss extremist statements as mere verbiage. This is one lesson which has been learned from history. When Hitler said in 1939, “The war will not end with the Bolshevization of Europe, but with the destruction of the Jews,” people said, “Well, that’s just a way of speaking.” When Ahmadinejad said he wanted to wipe Israel off the map, people sat up and took notice.

If what you say about alarm bells and learning from history is true, how do you explain that in Israel there is still a view that appeasing the Palestinians is a better course than defeating them, or that siding with Fatah is a way of weakening Hamas?
As a historian, I’m very cautious about anyone’s claiming to know what any government is doing at the present time.
Israel elected this government. It’s an amalgam – one might say a sludgy amalgam – of political forces. Though some of its leaders appear to have minor blemishes, they were chosen by the electoral process. And we do not really know what they’re actually doing in their conclaves. As we’re sitting here in the lobby of the King David Hotel, we don’t know whether, in another room in the hotel, some Israeli official is sitting with someone from Hamas. Just as in the old days, when you couldn’t sit with the PLO, meetings were held with them. If the leaders have decided that Abu Mazen [PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas] is the one they want to support, let’s say they have a reason for it, though it may be a reason we don’t know. We don’t know what the actual relationship between the Israeli leaders and the Fatah leaders is. Certainly, if you read the newspapers, the situation looks bizarre. Commenting on the Mughrabi Gate ramp, Abu Mazen made an extremely hostile and uncompromising statement from Mecca. It certainly didn’t smack either of statesmanship or of trying to find a peaceful way forward.I study archives as soon as they are open – normally 30 years after an event; sometimes a bit less. What you see when you do this is that the people you imagined had been strong were weak; the people you thought weak were strong; and things you thought couldn’t possibly be taking place were taking place.

If 30 years later, you discover that nothing is the way you’d perceived it at the time, isn’t it ridiculous to form any opinions while you’re living through something?
[He laughs] Well, you have to form opinions. One of the bases of democratic government is that each elected leader promises open government, no secret deals, etc.
And it may be that before coming to power, candidates think that’s actually how they’re going to behave. But they can’t. The very nature of international relations – even domestic politics, to some extent – is that there are so many factors a prime minister is confronted with in the first dossier he opens that are unknown to him and the public. So, right at the outset he finds himself having to withhold information. But you can’t say to the public, “Look, things don’t seem right. You heard a bit of shooting here, and there’s bit of trouble over there, but it’s not going to be for another 30 years before you’ll know what we’re doing.” You have to hope your governments will be more open rather than less, but you shouldn’t be under any illusions that what you’re told is 100% of the truth. It’s an approximation to the truth, and you hope it’s not lies.

What was your most surprising archival revelation – one that completely contradicted your previous assumptions?
I wouldn’t have gone on writing history if it hadn’t been for the fact that nothing is what it seems when you go into the archives. But the most interesting thing, from an Israeli perspective, is about Lawrence of Arabia. The great Arabist, right? The man who supported the Arabs, and who pushed for Arab nationhood in the 1920s. He’s always pictured wearing Arab robes.
What is so astonishing – which you’ll see in my next book, Churchill and the Jews – is that he was a serious Zionist. He believed that the only hope for the Arabs of Palestine and the rest of the region was Jewish statehood – that if the Jews had a state here, they would provide the modernity, the “leaven,” as he put it, with which to enable the Arabs to move into the 20th century. He had a sort of contempt for the Arabs, actually. He felt that only with a Jewish presence and state would the Arabs ever make anything of themselves. And, by a Jewish state, he meant a Jewish state from the Mediterranean shore to the River Jordan – something [he says, smiling] which will never come to pass.

Toynbee’s history…

January 2, 2008

Toynbee wrote an impressive history of civilizations, similar to Spengler’s, an anethema to Fukuyama’s end of history approach (which is an outgrowth of Hegel), which instead of seeing cycles like Toynbee and Spengler did, saw progress.  In his history, Toynbee called Jewish civilization, not a civilization, but a “fossil.”  Pissed off some Jews.  Read on…

This is how we ruined Toynbee’s theory

By Yair Sheleg
Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) was an important British historian, who through his controversial theory on civilizations found a place in Israeli and Jewish awareness as an “anti-Semite.” According to his theory, civilizations, like human beings, have life cycles that are marked by rises and falls. But the story of the Jewish people, who were determined to survive 2,000 years in the Diaspora only to rise again as a modern nation, did not suit his theory. Thus Toynbee described the Jews as a historic “fossil” – not dead, true, but also not really alive. When he published his theory at the beginning of the 1960s, he was invited to a debate. The person who invited him was Dr. Yaakov Herzog, at the time Israel‘s ambassador to Canada, son of the former chief rabbi Yitzhak Herzog and the younger brother of Chaim Herzog, a brilliant scholar and diplomat. Many of Foreign Ministry officials were wary of this debate, which was reminiscent of the mythological word battles in the Middle Ages between Jews and Christians. In the end, however, all those who were present at the debate that took place in January 1961 in Montreal were convinced that Herzog had won. Michael Bar-Zohar, who was Herzog’s biographer, related that Pnina Herzog, the ambassador’s wife, who sat next to Toynbee’s wife, heard her saying to her husband right: “I told you not to take part in this debate!”

In the wake of that failure, Toynbee indeed moderated the sharpness of his statements about the Jews. However, two articles in which he refers to Israel and the Jews have recently been uncovered. The articles, which had been stored away, were written a short time after the well-known confrontation and have been published in the most recent edition of the magazine Kivunim Hadashim (New Directions). The way in which these two articles arrived at the doorstep of a publication of the World Zionist Organization is no less interesting than the articles themselves. This is how it came about: Yaakov Ba’al-Teshuva, an Israeli living in New York, received an offer from an American publisher in 1961 to edit an anthology of articles to mark the “bar mitzvah” of the State of Israel. He commissioned articles from numerous important personalities, among them Toynbee. When the article reached the publisher, he decided it would not be fitting for a festive publication about Israel to include an article from an “anti-Semite” – and subsequently ordered that the article be rejected. But even before the decision was made, Ba’al-Teshuva purchased another article from Toynbee for a book, which would deal directly with “Toynbee, the Jews and Israel.” Ba’al-Teshuva decided not to use the idea for the book but was then left with the two articles by Toynbee. A few months ago, Eli Eyal, the editor of Kivunim Hadashim, visited Ba’al-Teshuva and discussed the articles; he was immediately riveted and asked for permission to publish them. Eyal, who formerly worked as a journalist at Haaretz, says that he did not hesitate for a second. “Once a journalist, always a journalist,” he said. “The story was too good to give up. I also feel that today we could hold a debate on his claims.” In the first article, “The Mission of the State of Israel,” Toynbee makes it clear that he indeed objects to the establishment of the State of Israel, but since it has been established, Israel has a mission – a triple mission to be more exact: not to take advantage of the sympathy of the Jews of the West and thus put them in a position of dual loyalty; to correct the injustices done to the Palestinians, and to make a contribution to worldwide efforts to prevent the outbreak of nuclear world war. (The article was written at the height of the Cold War, and a year later the missile crisis between the U.S. and Cuba broke out.) Toynbee also claims that one of the reasons for Arab enmity toward Israel is the fact that it is wedged between the Asian and the African parts of the Arab world. Therefore, he contends in the article, Israel should find ways of allowing the Arabs to move through its territory. The fear of nuclear war is also the basis for the second article whose title now seems most pertinent: “The Jews’ Choice in the Atom Age.” In effect, this is a choice which he puts to mankind in general: Do away with nationalistic states, which serve to increase world hostility and could bring about the destruction of humankind through nuclear weapons. The diversity of mankind can be maintained, he proposes, in the field of culture and religion and not in states. (Toynbee apparently had not heard then about “the clash of civilizations” and the dangers of religious confrontations.) He explains his special call on the Jews through two arguments: On the one hand, the Israeli-Arab conflict increases the chances for a nuclear war, and on the other hand, the Jews are closer than others to a solution – they have already created a “universal” religion and all that is required of them is to “open it up” to other nations. Even though he had no qualms about publishing them, Eyal felt the need to add a response to Toynbee’s articles, written by the historian Aviad Kleinberg. Kleinberg, an expert on the history of Christianity, sees Toynbee’s way of thinking as a secular variation on the old Christian perception of the Jewish Diaspora as a punishment for rejecting the messianism of Jesus. Toynbee’s proposal for universal brotherhood is also viewed by Kleinberg as a variation on the proposal to do away with nations, as mentioned in the New Testament. In his opinion, Toynbee’s attack on the Jews simply stemmed from the fact that “we annoyed him” and ruined his theory.

Before the next intifada

At a time when different Arab-Israeli organizations are competing to determine the wording of documents, whose aim is to eliminate the state’s Jewish character, it is refreshing to hear Nazir Majali’s views. Majali is a former Communist party activist who today works as the newspaper Sharq al-Awsat’s Israeli affairs analyst. Majali is spearheading the opposite move – not only does he recognize the Jewish state, he does not seek minority status. He even does not have a problem with participating in civilian national service. All he asks for is that the state be faithful to its definition as “a Jewish and democratic state” and provide the Arab public with equal rights and resources.

This is not merely a political matter. Majali would also like to study Jewish history and culture in order to understand the fears and pain of the Jews. Majali heads an organization called Nass, an Arabic acronym for “Remember the Pain on Behalf of Peace.”

He made the move toward reconciliation during the turbulent October 2000 events. Majali sat down with some friends “to think how to prevent a deterioration [of the situation]. We mulled over a couple of ideas and all the time we were wrestling with what the reaction would be on the part of the Jews. And then, we said: ‘That is precisely the problem, we have to study the Jews and Judaism.'”

This conclusion led to a Jewish-Arab trip to Auschwitz in May 2003, after a year in which the Arab participants studied the history of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. The political conclusion was clear: “I understand that the Jewish people want to have a state of their own, and it won’t be in another place, and I want to honor this wish just as I want them to honor my wish for a state for my people.” Majali views the radicalization expressed in some of the documents (drafted by Arab-Israeli organizations), not as a substantive ideological change, but rather as an expression of despondency at the chance of achieving equality: “People simply don’t see a real change in government policy. On the contrary, it seems like the confrontation is merely getting worse.” He identifies a dangerous cycle of radicalization in which every side makes its position more extreme vis-a-vis the threat it feels from the other side. “It is a dangerous situation which could both lead to an intifada on the part of Israeli Arabs and to a Jewish intifada against us.” In order to break the vicious cycle, he is offering his program to get to know the Jewish state without asking for anything in return, as a confidence-building move. “This is not weakness. If someone comes to ‘transfer’ me, I will know very well how to fight back. I’m also not doing this for the Jews but for us, the Arabs. Only a few hundred years ago, we were at the top of the pyramid of human culture. It is important to me that we take our place there again; that our children be scientists, computer experts, film and sports stars – and not just fighters.” His group, which includes several hundred members, does not plan on becoming a political party, but rather will strive to change the mood of the Arab sector and its political representatives. He is aware that right now this is an approach that goes contrary to the dominant mood, “but that is also because our points of view have not received serious media coverage. Anyway, every majority in history started off as a minority.” His dream is to turn the woes of the Arab population into an optimistic situation, a bridge between their nation and their country. “If that is the direction, I believe we will turn into the majority among the Arab public,” he says.