Monday, May 24, 2010

Ibish on Berman on al-Husseini

If you don't know, Amin al-Husseini was the Mufti of Jerusalem for a time. Promoted by the British, he was the strongest Palestinian leader (though not uncontested) during the Mandate period. He preached vicious antisemitism and gleefully collaborated with the Nazis. Hussein Ibbish continues his review of Paul Berman's latest here. Earlier, he had said it was "important and frequently brilliant, but also seriously flawed." This post is more critical than the last (which I criticized here).

I'm not as familiar as I'd like to be with the subject matter here. I do know Mizrahi Jews often view the role of Amin al-Husseini in their Nakba as being greater than Ibish allows. I also wonder if Berman is making greater use of German historians, mainly Matthias K√ľntzel, who begin with the Nazi account of German/Arab collaboration.

Ibish does not address the role of the Mufti in antisemitic violence prior to 1948 and the role this had on the development of the conflict. That's not to criticize Ibish, since this is not the major topic of the post, but to point out that there are important points that would be integrated into a wider discussion.

In any case, the discussion is an interesting and important one, and I'm grateful for the following passage from Ibish. Arabs and Muslims are often leery of any discussion of antisemitism in their communities. To some degree, it's understandable, but it's also counterproductive and damned frustrating. At times, it can be profoundly patronizing to refuse to take groups like Hamas and Hezbollah seriously when they spout antisemitic crap, but many defenders will outright refuse to even read the Hamas charter. Anyway, Ibish:
Berman asks, "Will someone argue that in my presentation of these developments in the Middle East, I am making too much of the Nazi contribution?" Yes, indeed I will, and I think the passage cited above is a good example of that. There is no doubt whatsoever that much of the present Islamist movement is infected with a very virulent form of anti-Semitic paranoia, largely imported from the West and that was promoted by many forces, including the Nazis, but which has a complex and overdetermined political and cultural history. It is at very best a reductive caricature to imagine that at the center of this wretched turn of events were laughable and totally ineffective Nazi propaganda efforts, particularly radio broadcasts that very few people listened to and no one appears to have heeded, and that certainly produced none of their intended effects, made by a man who was partly discredited at the time and completely discredited within three years after the end of the war, and has been almost entirely forgotten by Arab political culture except as an embarrassment and the author of a gigantic defeat. There have been plenty of other very significant, and indeed much more powerful, sources of these terrible ideas, not least of them anti-Semitic Western Christian missionaries in late 19th and early 20th centuries. One might observe, very plausibly, that it really doesn't matter what the trajectory of the growth of the Islamist movement and the development of its anti-Semitic strain that combines certain Muslim traditions and anti-Israel fanaticism with modern European anti-Semitic political paranoia might be, but the fact remains that it exists and it is a huge problem. But I do think it's important to understand what phenomena really combined produced this effect and not to get sucked into false leads and incorrect analyses that will only complicate the process of developing the necessary correctives. History matters.
Also, I'd like to point out a very interesting point Ibish makes:
Had he paid attention to Achcar, Berman wouldn't have gotten so badly wrong the central role of Rashid Rida, one of the key founders of the Salafist revival movement and publisher of the hugely influential journal al-Manar, who Burman cites as "express[ing ] sympathy for the Zionist settlers" in the 1920s. This is correct, but it misses, rather badly, Rida's subsequent introduction of the very Nazi-like anti-Semitic ideas that Berman associates most strongly with al-Husseini, and probably in a much more lasting and influential manner. And, Rida was not the only such influential voice. Indeed, Achcar provides a far better, more sophisticated, and much better informed, roadmap to the development of Nazi-like anti-Semitism among Islamists and sympathy among them for the Nazism generally, than Berman's somewhat ham-handed attempt at this.
Rida died in 1935. Just one more thing that makes it ridiculous to dismiss Arab antisemitism as purely a reaction to Zionism, which is a too frequent way of ending discussion. (And, especially, consider the role of Jews and Arabs at the time. The present power of Jews in Israel cannot be projected onto the past.) Rather, it was only natural that Arab nationalism would draw some influence from European nationalism and even European fascism.

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