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Beyond the fourth wave: contemporary anti-Semitism and radical Islam.

THE TERM "ANTI-SEMITISM," AS MANY OF US REALIZE, is the wrong term for what we try to describe and analyze. It is inane nonsense, because there is no "Semitism" one can be "anti" to. There are Semitic languages, and you can hardly be against Semitic languages. We have come to use "anti-Semitism" to describe dislike of Jews--and worse.

In reality, the term fits only Jew-hatred, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (sinat yisrael) from about the middle of the 19th century onward. Even then, the mixture of Christian and Muslim theological opposition to Jews, traditional economic jealousy and competitiveness, and racial-biological and nationalistic ideological motives make it difficult to encompass all that with this essentially erroneous term. It makes a mess of research projects, as it interferes with the task of differentiation. Yet we all use it, simply because we have not come up with the proper terminology. So, knowing we are talking nonsense when we use it, let us use it, faute de mieux.

Since 1945, there have been three waves of anti-Semitism (I prefer to spell it as one word, a translation of the original Antisemitismus, but that is not the style here) and we are now experiencing a fourth. The approximate dates are 1958-1960, 1968-1972, and 1987-1992, with the fourth wave beginning in 1999 or 2000. An analysis done in Jerusalem by Simcha Epstein has shown that the motivations were different in each case and, in the third, the one beginning in 1987, no economic motivation has been shown. That means that our traditional explanations that modern anti-Semitism always has something to do with economic downturns are inaccurate. It seems that cultural, political, economic or theological crises can all be causes, or part causes, of a phenomenon that cannot be explained monocausally.

At the basis is the fact that the Jews produced a civilization that differed in some central aspects from the civilizations around them. Jews were certainly no better or worse than others, but they were different in the way they conducted their lives. Had they stayed in their hilly land, they would have been another interesting and peculiar tribe; but they spread, more by conversion than expulsion. (1) The Jews carried their distinctive civilization with them everywhere they went, and it marked them off against their environment.

Crises of whatever source could, and sometimes did, cause this basically defenseless, well-known yet strange minority to be seen as the reason for the crisis and, therefore, Jews were subject to discrimination or attack. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is the oldest group hatred that exists; it precedes racism, because as we know, blacks who acknowledged Roman gods and were free men could--and did-become Roman citizens of equal status. Jews were intensely disliked: They refused to acknowledge the gods; they would not share meals with their neighbors; and on the whole they kept themselves separate. This solidified in the theological power dispute with Christianity and, later, Islam. The economic stresses came later and, contrary to Marxist interpretations, they were the result of the theological tensions, not the other way round.

This Christian theological basis is today slowly being eroded. Christian churches are gradually developing the idea that there may be several ways to serve God, and that theirs may not be the only one. In the struggle against contemporary anti-Semitism, the Christian churches are often allies, not opponents.

However, many hundreds of years of an anti-Semitic culture have had their result in the formation of an underlying latency of anti-Semitism that waits to explode when aroused by some outside crisis. In the post-Holocaust era, this has been complicated by two major events of a political and cultural nature: the Shoah (2) and the establishment of the State of Israel.

The Holocaust created an unease about the Jews, especially in Europe, where people have to live with nearly Six Million ghosts, created by a deadly mutation of European culture. As the famous saying goes--the Europeans, and not necessarily only the Germans, cannot forgive the Jews for Auschwitz. Periods of self-accusation and beating of breasts alternate with periods in which everything is done to turn the Jews into perpetrators--nowadays, even into Nazis--in order to liberate the heirs of European culture from the burden of the genocide.

The establishment of Israel caused a widespread feeling of relief for the Europeans on the one hand: "We do not have to bother about the Jews anymore, they have made good, they are wonderful, they will create a new Christianity for us, or a new socialism--a humanistic, idealistic society that will bring salvation to a sick world." On the other hand, Israel turned the victims into perpetrators; David became Goliath and, when occasion arose, everything was--and is--done to identify Israel with evil. Either way, Israel is singled out, a collective deity or an evil force.

The Arab-Israeli conflict, and now the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation, provide ample material for an anti-Semitism that sees itself as anti-Zionist, rather than anti-Jewish. Indeed, in theory at least, one can be anti-Zionist without being anti-Semitic, but only if one believes that all national movements are evil and that all national states should be abolished. If one argues, however, that the Fijians have a right to independence, and so do the Malays and the Bolivians, but not the Jews, then one is anti-Jewish. As one singles out the Jews for nationalistic reasons, one is anti-Semitic, with an attendant strong suspicion of being racist.

There is just cause to criticize Israel at times. It is, after all, locked in a bitter struggle with a Palestinian nationalism that is no less legitimate than its own. It often must react to Palestinian terrorism in ways that cause serious violations of human rights and terrible suffering to human beings. However, anti-Semitic latency in the West latches on to that tragic dispute so as to brand the Jews as mass murderers and Nazis, in order to solve the social psychological problem caused by the Holocaust. (3)

It appears that the current fourth wave of anti-Semitism since 1945 is a basically upper middle class, intellectual phenomenon in the West. It is widespread in the media, in universities and in well-manicured circles. Its manifestations are not important; what matters are that it exists and where it exists.

One should not generalize, however. Many Europeans, and most Americans--especially of the working and middle classes, but also among the elites--are opposed to the re-emerging anti-Semitism. I believe this wave will pass in time.

On the whole, it is not Western anti-Semitism, with all its dangers, that causes me to worry, but something else: Islamic radicalism.

Radical Islam is a developing ideology and it fuels international terrorism. Rarely do people ask what are the aims of that ideology, where it comes from, what is the historical context that made it grow, and how widespread it is. The usual response to it is that it should be rooted out and destroyed. Is force, however, the only correct answer?

Most people refer to radical Islam as being fundamentalist, yet its outstanding features go far beyond fundamentalism.

One has to say, first of all, that Islam and radical Islam are not necessarily the same thing--although many experts of Islam will disagree with this statement. What does radical Islam believe in, and what is the difference between it and non-radical Islam? The crucial, central element in radical Islam is the conviction that Western civilization has passed its peak, that it is declining into corruption and weakness, and that the future lies with radical Islam. The aim, says radical Islamic ideology, must be the conquest of the whole world and the acceptance of Islam by the conquered.

The second element is the desire to abolish politics as such. God-Allah has told the world, through His prophet, how men should govern themselves and what laws they should follow. Any human intervention, whether through parliamentary democracy or through any type of autocracy, is blasphemy. The world will be run by men trained in Islamic law, and national and territorial boundaries will be simply a matter of convenience.

Hence also comes the third point: Radical Islam aspires to the abolition of national states, first and foremost Arab national states. Thus, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza and on the West Bank do not demand a Palestinian national state, but an Islamic state of Palestine, which will be almost as anti-Christian as it will be anti-Jewish

Finally, radical Islam is at the same time a utopian and an apocalyptic ideology. It promises a wonderful, peaceful world, ruled by God Himself, through Islam, and thus aspires to the end of history as we know it-because obviously, there can be no history after the establishment of the rule of God. I have said it many times, with an apology to Lord Acton of blessed memory, all utopias kill, and radical, universalistic and apocalyptic utopias kill radically and massively.

We have seen three major ideologies emerging during the 20th century, and in many ways continuing into the present: Soviet Communism, National Socialism and radical Islam. There are vast differences among them, of course, but there also are some parallels. Of interest here, all three ideologies saw or see the Jews as the main enemy, or at least a main enemy. We all know about National Socialism. Stalin's Communism saw the Jews as the spearhead of Western imperialism. Radical Islam basically says the same thing: The Jews are the spearhead of Western civilization and they are traditionally the enemies of Islam.

This anti-Jewish ideology has been a part of the development of radical Islam since the late 1920s. The chief ideologue of the movement was the Egyptian Sayid Qutb, an Egyptian official who spent some years in New York and became convinced that the West is decadent and dying.

In 1950 and the years following, he wrote a number of brochures that are the guiding texts of radical Islam to this day. One of them was devoted to the Jews--two years after the establishment of Israel. Traditional Quranic elements intermingled with the legacy of European anti-Semitism, very much influenced by Nazi anti-Semitism. In the Quran, Jews are called apes and swine, because they did not obey their own traditions and their God. They are also branded as the most determined opponents of the spreading Muslim faith, an accusation that is essentially true, because apparently the Jewish tribes of the Arabian desert saw Islam, rightly, as an existential danger to themselves. (4)

In the contemporary world, the Jews are seen, as I have already said, as the spearhead of the West. However, they are seen also as more than that-in line with modem European anti-Semitism, Jews are seen as the actual rulers of the West, especially of the United States, through the media controlled by them, and through direct political influence. Thus, Islamistic anti-Semitism sees the fight against the Jews as the first and central piece in their program, and it is preceded, or paralleled, only by their desire to eliminate the present corrupt Arab and Muslim governments, and replace them with Islamic states.

The language used by Muslim media, increasingly under Islamicist influence, is clearly and unmistakably genocidal. Radical Islam wants to annihilate the Jews, contrary to the medieval Islamic principle of seeing them as the People of the Book, who were granted an inferior, but guaranteed, status in Islam. Whether the Holocaust is seen as an inspiration and, if so, whether this is done consciously or unconsciously, I cannot tell. All I can see is that the ideology of Nazism, which led to the Holocaust, is repeated here, albeit in a different dress.

How far is this anti-Semitic ideology influenced by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Sayid Qutb wrote his anti-Semitic brochure 17 years before the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, so obviously this is not a cause of the rise of this ideology. He wrote it two years after Israel was established, however, and from his point of view the occupation of a piece of land liberated for Islam by its original conquest in the seventh century, and its successful defense against the Crusaders later on, was an outrage and a blasphemy made even more by the fact that the despised Jews accomplished it.

In 1967, with the occupation of Jerusalem and the rest of the territories, this became the sign of a further terrible defeat that could only be reversed by a total annihilation of the offending people and forces, for theirs was a rebellion against God himself. A compromise reached with the Palestinians, and accepted by them, undoubtedly will reduce the rhetoric and with it the danger, but it will not eliminate it.

This, then, is the major danger that confronts us. We are faced with a genocidal threat to the Jewish people and then to others, as part of another attempt at a universal totalitarian dictatorship, under religious auspices.

What can be done? You cannot defeat an ideology only by force alone. Even in World War II, propaganda on the part of the Allies was a crucial part of the war waged against the Nazis. So the first step must be a mass effort at propaganda to the Muslim world by radio, TV, cassettes, newspapers--and non-radical Muslims must be persuaded to lead that effort.

The second step should be a well thought-out program of economic investments. The Marshall Plan cannot be repeated here, because that was a plan making use of the nascent democratic governments of post-World War II Europe. In the Muslim world, the existing governments must be avoided, because any investment through them would land in the pockets of the ruling. Rather, help should come in the form of pinpointed investments in projects that would develop an infrastructure and encourage local entrepreneur-ship. These investments should be made through an international agency directly, without being channeled through local governments.

The third step should be a series of formal political alliances throughout the world against radical Islam, involving not only developed countries, but also third-world nations, and especially the non-radical Muslim states of the former Soviet Union.

Finally, force must be used only when it is inevitable, and only when there are concrete targets of direct terrorist activity based on radical Islamist ideology.

These are interdependent suggestions and one will probably not work without the others. The guiding thought should be that we are faced with a genocidal ideology that produces genocidal programs and genocidal forces. They are directed toward the Jews, but only initially; ultimately, and quite explicitly, they will be directed against the rest of the non-Islamic world.

One of the characteristics that differentiates radical Islam from Nazism and Communism is the lack of a centralized structure and, Bin Laden apart, the absence of a uniting charismatic figure that would combine ideological leadership with political authority. Radical Islamic movements are many and varied--there are at least 17 in Algeria, and a larger number in Kashmir, two in Palestine, and so on. The differences among them are minuscule; they aid and support each other, quarreling over local leadership and tactics, but united in purpose. It is much more difficult to combat a movement like that than it was to face a centralized hostile bureaucracy.

Finally, there is a threatening background to confront. Sayid Qutb was not totally mistaken--the West is faced with problems of decadence and regression. The populations of Europe and North America are not growing, or growing only through massive immigration, as in the United States. In the latter case, there may be some reason to assume that the Hispanics coming to the United States will become part of the civilization developed over the past couple of hundreds of years.

The 18 million Muslims who emigrated into Western and Central Europe over the past decades are another story. There are different groups among them, and most of them are not radical Islamists--yet. They do not integrate culturally, however, and the local nationalities are decreasing. In Eastern and Southern Europe, there is a regression of local populations--in Russia and Italy, for example. The number of Jews in the world is static, below the 13 million mark, and is destined to decline markedly in the next half-century.

Radical Islam does have a chance, and world civilization must defend itself against that threat. To repeat--that threat is genocidal. We have been in that scenario before. We must not repeat past mistakes.


(1) There was never a mass expulsion of Jews from Palestine, either by the Babylonians or by the Romans. There was, however, increase, in Palestine and outside it. At the beginning of the first century, for example, there were about 4 million Jews in the Roman Empire; at its end, there were an estimated 8 million to 10 million, despite the destruction of the Second Temple and the later Bar Kochba rebellion against Rome. That was not the result of natural increase, but of a wave of conversions.

(2) As I have stressed at other times, the terms Holocaust and Shoah are the wrong terms for the genocide of the Jews, but, as with "anti-Semitism," let us use this wrong terminology for the lack of something better.

(3) A realistic approach, in my view, would sharply criticize Israel in the context of its justified defense against terrorist suicidal homicide, and seek a compromise between two national movements fighting over a very small piece of real estate. We are not talking about a realistic approach, however; we are talking about a realistic approach, however; we are talking about anti-Semitism.

(4) There are also more friendly statements in the Islamic holy texts, so that one can choose; the radical Islamists choose the more vitriolic ones.

YEHUDA BAUER, Ph.D, was chair of the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem and is now its academic advisor. Among other accomplishments, he is professor emeritus of Holocaust studies at the Hebrew University and the founding chairman of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism. This article is based on a lecture he delivered in May 2003 at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The text of the lecture itself is available at and at
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Author:Bauer, Yehuda
Publication:Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2006
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