Wise words from Steven Harper on Anti-Semitism
By SALIM MANSUR
Last Updated: 21st March 2009, 3:48am
The recent words of Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed to a gathering of Jews, members of Chabad Lubavitch, on Parliament Hill need wide circulation.
He said, "Anti-Semitism is a pernicious evil that must be exposed, that must be confronted, that must be repudiated, whenever and wherever it appears. Fuelled by lies and paranoia we have learned from history it is an evil so profound, indeed as we saw in Mumbai, that it is ultimately a threat to us all."
In speaking forcefully as he did, Harper reminded Canadians how in troubled times such as the present -- the perils of global economic downturn converging with regional conflicts, Islamist terrorism, and the defiant push by Iran for nuclear power -- the exclusive race-hatred against Jews, as witnessed in the hunt for killing them by Pakistani terrorists in Mumbai, can precipitate disaster for many.
Anti-Semitism is perhaps the hottest and most prickly subject to discuss. Though it is deeply irrational, morbid and soaked in vile conspiracy theories, Jew hatred has a long, checkered history.
But the term anti-Semitism is of relatively recent coinage introduced by Wilhelm Marr (1819-1904) in his 1873 pamphlet "The Victory of Judaism over Germanism." Marr intended to make the ancient Jew hatred in Europe respectable through pseudo-scientific racial theories in vogue during the 19th century.
The eventual inferno anti-Semitism made of Europe pushed anti-Semites into the sewers of western democracies. However, unadulterated anti-Semitism was imported into the Middle East and fused with the long-standing anti-Jew bigotry within the Arab-Muslim world.
Though Jews did not receive the treatment among Muslims accorded them in Europe, culminating in the Holocaust, bigotry against Jews was abundant in Muslim society. Jews, for instance, were blamed by both Sunni and Shiite polemicists for the great schism that split asunder the followers of Muhammad soon after his demise. (A Jew named Abdullah Ibn Saba from the seventh century, as a convert to Islam but more likely a fictitious character, is mentioned in these polemics.)
Blaming Jews for the ills of Arabs and Muslims is an echo of Christian history over a much longer period. Yet there are differences as the Qur'an narrates the story of Jews and confirms their rights in the Holy Land.
Following the Spanish Inquisition and before the effects of the Enlightenment brought relief, Jews found shelter in the Ottoman Empire.
In recent times, since 1945 Arab-Muslim bigotry towards Jews is increasingly indistinguishable from the full-blown anti-Semitism in Europe during the first half of last century.
The twist in the story of anti-Semitism in modern Europe and the Middle East is in the trajectory of two different histories -- one as colonizing power, and the other under colonial rule.
This difference provides cover to Arab-Muslim anti-Semitism, for in this history the anti-Semites of the Middle East appear as victims and the persecuted Jews are represented ironically as colonizing victimizers.
This revised anti-Semitism denies Jews legitimacy to their historic national claims in Palestine, and gives cover for European and Christian anti-Semites crawling out of sewers once more to spread their slime.
The world seems fiendishly backing into the future and the good people in the West, to prevent another inferno, urgently need more leaders with Stephen Harper's resolve.
Salim Mansur is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Western Ontario in Canada. He is a columnist for the London Free Press, the Toronto Sun and ProudToBeCanadian.ca
He is an Ismaili Muslim.
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