Islamist Historiography

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Last week, I was privileged to attend a lecture by Bernard Lewis at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The audience greeted the nonagenarian scholar with a degree of reverence and adulation that probably no other academic in the world commands. Many stood at the end of his presentation, and I fully expected to hear cries of “Bravo! Bravo!” Younger members of the audience will one day tell their children how they heard Lewis, still in full command of his subject, in much the way that aging baby-boomers regale their offspring with memories of Grateful Dead concerts.

Lewis was part of a double feature that began with the screening of Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West, a powerful documentary that has been widely shown on American TV, but for some inexplicable reason has yet to appear on Israel TV. One of the film’s great merits is the prominence given to the testimony of Arabs and Muslims. Nonie Darwish, daughter of the Egyptian military commander of Gaza in the ’50s, killed in battle with Israeli forces; Walid Shoehat (an alias), a former PLO member and Israeli security prisoner, Brigitte Gabriel, a black Lebanese Christian, raised to hate Jews, and The Jerusalem Post‘s own Khaled Abu Toameh, whose courage and reporting it would be impossible to praise too highly, all appear frequently.

Equally powerful is the late Alfons Heck, a commander in the Hitler Youth, who compares the indoctrination of Muslim youth to that of Nazi Germany, and wonders at the world’s inability to see the parallel. Martin Gilbert, Churchill’s official biographer, recounts how Churchill saw himself as a failure for his inability to make his countrymen see the looming danger posed by Hitler.

Gilbert clearly feels the same sense of frustration today at the Western world’s refusal “to connect the dots” and see radical Islam as a global problem. Recognizing radical Islam as a single problem, Gilbert archly observed, would obligate the West to do something – and that it has no more interest in doing than Chamberlain had in confronting Hitler. (Incidentally, the film contains clips of the smugly smiling Chamberlain on his return from Munich, as he proclaims “peace in our time” to a roaring throng.)

The pairing of Obsession and Bernard Lewis proved a happy one. No one is better positioned to comment on the deformations that have seized the Muslim world than he. He has been studying the Muslim world for 70 years, and writes with great affection and respect for the historical achievements of Muslim civilization and religion. At the same time, he has become the leading student of what went wrong with the Muslim world and led to the radical Islam, seeking world dominion, so horrifyingly portrayed in Obsession.

Lewis noted, for instance, that classical anti-Semitism, in the sense of attributing cosmic evil to Jews, has no historical antecedents in the Muslim world. The Ottoman sultans were adamant in rejecting the blood libel. European anti-Semitism is a late import into Islam, fostered by the close association of the Nazis with the Mufti of Jerusalem and Ba’athist groups in Iraq and Syria.

ONE OF the most important points made by Lewis concerned the historiography of the Islamists. Most in the West view the fall of the Soviet Union as a consequence of the Reagan administration’s decision to confront it and engage it in an arms race that proved ruinous to the Soviet economy, but that is not how the Islamists see things. In their view, the Soviet Union was destroyed by mujahideen in Afghanistan, who drove the mighty Soviet army from the country. And that view, says Lewis, is not entirely implausible.

Osama bin Laden wrote at the time that Muslims had defeated the more dangerous of their two main enemies, and that defeating the effeminate Americans would prove easier. The appetite of the Islamists in Teheran to expand the area under their control has been similarly whetted by ongoing Western fecklessness.

“Iran is a mortal threat,” says Lewis. And he does not believe Ahmadinejad will be deterred from using nuclear weapons by the fear of retaliation. Mutual assured destruction does not work – indeed it may even be an incentive – to those who view a nuclear conflagration as hastening the advent of the hidden 12th imam. If they martyr their own people in the process, Lewis commented, they have only done them a favor by providing them a quick pass to the great brothel in the sky.

THE DAY after the Lewis lecture, I had lunch with a senior American official in the country for the Herzliya Conference, and mentioned Lewis’s point about jihadist historiography. The need to avoid providing further credence to that narrative, he replied, is precisely why the United States cannot allow Iran to go nuclear or be perceived as fleeing Iraq. Either event would only confirm the narrative of Islam’s advance and Western weakness. Iranian possession of the Bomb would cause to skyrocket the status of a state with an explicitly expansionist agenda under the banner of Islam. Every anti-Western terror group in the world would seek protection under Iran’s nuclear umbrella.

To stress the point, the official emphasized one of Obsession’s main points – appeasement of expansionist powers only leads to a far more destructive confrontation later on – and referred me to a nearly 20-year-old Commentary article on the Munich agreements. Had France and England adopted a tough stance at Munich, Hitler’s generals were prepared to unseat him. Instead, Czechoslovakia was stripped of its main defense line in the treacherous Sudeten mountains. It was, in Hitler’s words, “served up to me,” and a clear path to Eastern Europe provided for the Germans. Czechoslovakia’s wealth and well-developed military industries thereafter played a major role in powering the Nazi war machine.

Unfortunately, the West still remains divided between America and a Europe unwilling to acknowledge the threat at its doorsteps, and in many cases within its gates. That same divide exists within America itself. As Jeff Jacoby points out, every Republican presidential hopeful lists the battle against the jihadists/global jihad/radical Islam/totalitarian Islam at the top of their priorities for the years to come. That battle barely rates a mention on the Web sites of any of the eight declared Democratic candidates.

The future depends on who wins the debate in the West no less than it did at Munich.

Originally appeared in The Jerusalem Post.

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13 Responses

  1. Raymond says:

    The problem here is the same one that causes so many other problems: ignorance. Sadly yet true, the overwhelming majority of American Jews know nothing about their own Jewish heritage. The more ignorant the Jew, the more likely he is to vote against the interests of his own people and the Jewish Land of Israel. It frustrates me to no end that supposedly educated Jews, who of course are educated in seemingly everything except Judaism, oppose our current President, who is probably the most pro-Israel President in American history, while turning a blind eye to such left-wing antisemites as Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, Cindy Sheehan, Norman Finkelstein, Jimmy Carter, Teresa Hines Kerry, and so on. Even the Islamofascist terrorists themselves were rooting for the Democrats to take back the Congress in these past November elections! More Jews need to wake up to the freightening reality that nobody will help us if we are not willing to help ourselves first.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    As in the 60’s and 70’s, there are Americans who work for America’s defeat by any available enemy. and there are other Americans that they have duped into supporting them. This is what it amounts to, all fancy rhetoric aside.

  3. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Loberstein: Jonathan and his fellow Republicans are tarring intelligent people with foresight with the brush of cowardice for opposing a failed policy. We should not side with people who deny global warning, think the solution is to take more oil out of protected areas and whose agenda is basicly contrary to the American Dream .

    Ori: Whether Iraq is failed policy or not remains to be seen – the news implies that it is, bloggers on the ground usually imply that it isn’t. Of course, those bloggers are usually in the military, and you could claim that having placed their lives at risk to implement those policies, it would be hard for them to reject the same policies later.

    However, I am yet to get a clear picture of what is the short to medium term Democratic solution. Can we withdraw from Iraq without being perceived as retreating, which would encourage the radicals and discourage the moderates?

  4. Tal Benschar says:

    The amazing thing is that in our case the West HAS suffered from Islamo-fascist attacks: the 9/11 attack, the London and Madrid bombings.

    Imagine in 1936 Hitler, y”msh, had ordered the Luftwaffe to bomb London, killing 3,000 people. Would Churchill have then had such a difficult time convincing the British of the looming Nazi menace?

  5. Ahron says:

    “…that began with the screening of Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West, a powerful documentary that has been widely shown on American TV, but for some inexplicable reason has yet to appear on Israel TV.”

    Israel is a nation not only in denial, but in full-steam avoidance of the maelstrom surrounding it. A perusal of the Israeli media, and a modest number of conversations with “men on the street” makes that disturbingly clear. The reality of a coalescing geopolitical onslaught backed by weapons of mass destruction, and manned by at least several tens of millions of motivated, equipped and disciplined volunteers, is just too much to face right now. Israeli society’s current visionless, leaderless condition adds a thread of dread to the situation. Israel cannot even acknowledge the reality of the Palestinian Arab onslaught right across the street! But I think ultimately you must wake up. You just choose whether you’ll woken up by the alarm clock…or by a bucket of ice-water tossed into your bed.

    “That battle barely rates a mention on the Web sites of any of the eight declared Democratic candidates…”

    …most of whose campaign platforms want Americans to tackle those really critical issues like…global warming…cheap health insurance…and cheap gas prices. (sigh…) Israel’s not the only major population in full-steam avoidance. The interesting element in America is that the media’s lurid coverage of the Islamist-wrought horror in Iraq seems to only be encouraging many people’s avoidance instincts further. It sure says something when a political party’s leading proclaimed concern is about “controlling” a permanently unstable and chaotic system (the biosphere and climate) whose supposed “doom” is not even due for several thousand years…. as we fight an enemy only too ready to return the front line to the American homeland right now. Reality’s tough, it would seem.

    And people accuse the right wing in America of “faith-based” policymaking!? Goodness.

    “The current minority of Jews who are frum and/or politically conservative have very little influence on the political process compared to their liberal brethren…”

    That’s not quite true. Chabad has long had a great deal of political respect and influence, but much of their energy has been dissipated in recent years in both promoting and fighting against the meshichist madness.

  6. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    It is extremely distressing that the American Jews, 75-80% knee-jerk liberal Democrats, are not pressing their party of choice on this issue. Jews historically should know better. The current minority of Jews who are frum and/or politically conservative have very little influence on the political process compared to their liberal brethren who are trying soooo hard to imitate Episcopalians and fail at it miserably. The tragedy is of course that the Christian right, which agrees with Jews on the Israel/Wahhabi issue, is completely at odds with the liberal Jews, i.e. the Democratic Jewish money, on all social issues and both are wholly owned by their respective parties. Hence the two groups will not have any collective leverage on this issue. More’s the pity.

  7. Charles B. Hall says:

    I think Sen. Moynihan z’tz’l predicted the collapse of the former Soviet Union even before Reagan took office. He and Prof. Lewis both exemplify the reason for the “shnatan mikvodo l’vasar vadam” blessing.

  8. Loberstein says:

    Since Jonathan is as usual very insightful and as this is indeed an existential threat to Israel, I hesitate to find fault. However, Jonathan as most of his peers is a Conservative Republican and sees the Democratic Party as the problem. This blind spot is not his alone. So, I must point out that he problem is not the War In Iraq or the War against Terrorism but the conduct of these wars. The incompetence of the current regime in the White House is the problem, not the fact that it is Republican. Another President and a different Republican admi nistration could have done a much better job. Don’t confuse the issue.

    Europe’s problems are well known, aging population, Moslem population, unwillingness to fight. Other countries are also unwilling to giveup their business profits by trading with the enemy. The American people have refused to practice conservation and invest in alternative fuels, so we are slaves to the Wahabis. This isn’t a Democratic vs republican issue. Both sides can be bought off by lobbyests for oil interests.

    Jonathan and his fellow Republicans are tarring intelligent people with foresight with the brush of cowardice for opposing a failed policy. We should not side with people who deny global warning, think the solution is to take more oil out of protected areas and whose agenda is basicly contrary to the American Dream . Thee is much wrotng with American society but I don’t want to live under the Christian Conservatives and their soul mates in other lands, including Israel.

  9. Al says:

    President Ahmadinejad’s real views are summarized on this website: ahmadinejadquotes.blogspot.com

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