As readers of these Chronicles know, I consider the Holocaust to be the inaugural moment of the victimary era from which we are now emerging. But what we are emerging into is not so clear. The decline of the victimary model by no means implies that the resentments of the postmodern era have been laid to rest. On the contrary, the virulence of these resentments obliges us to rethink the indulgence with which the postmodern era has viewed them.
One feature of the transition to a new era is the emergence not merely of “Islamism” but of a global Islamic antisemitism as the chief conduit for resentment against the global market system. Just as the victimary model arose in reaction to radical antisemitism, so the model’s decline is accompanied by radical antisemitism’s reappearance. One encounters today in the public press statements of Jew-hatred that not long ago were exclusive to the swastika-strutting lunatic fringe. A single issue of my daily newspaper, the Los Angeles Times of Saturday, October 18, 2003, suffices to illustrate this point.
- The following article is reproduced in full.
Malaysian Premier Stands by Remarks
From Associated Press
PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia — Malaysia’s outspoken prime minister refused Friday to apologize for a speech in which he said Jews ruled the world, and he accused Western countries of using a double standard for criticizing Jews and Muslims.
“Lots of people make nasty statements about us, about Muslims,” Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said. “People call Muslims terrorists, they even say Muhammad the prophet was a terrorist.
“People make such statements, and they seem to get away with it. But if you say anything at all against the Jews, you are accused of being anti-Semitic,” Mahathir said at a news conference after the close of a summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the world’s largest Muslim body.
Mahathir was reacting to a wave of condemnation over his speech to the summit Thursday, in which he said: “The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million. But today Jews rule this world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them.”
In his speech, Mahathir used allegations of Jewish dominance to underscore his chief point: that Muslims need to embrace modern knowledge and technology and overcome divisions over religious dogma that have left them weakened globally.
Mahathir said Muslims had achieved nothing in more than 50 years of fighting Israel. He also said the world’s more than 1 billion Muslims “cannot be defeated by a few million Jews.”
Mahathir, 77, a senior statesman in the developing world who will retire Oct. 31 after 22 years in power, has long taken pride in calling things the way he sees them. He is a staunch advocate of the Palestinians and strongly opposed the war in Iraq. He has also jailed terrorism suspects from the Al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah group.
The U.S., Canada, the European Union, Israel, Germany, Britain and Australia all condemned Mahathir’s remarks about Jews. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli called the speech offensive and inflammatory.
But Mahathir was unapologetic and said at the news conference that he opposed terrorism, suicide bombings and Israel’s policy of massive retaliation in response to Palestinian violence. “What I said in my speech is that we should stop all this violence,” he said, noting that historically, Jews had sought refuge in Muslim lands to escape persecution in Europe.
But since Israel was established half a century ago, he said, “there seems to be no more peace in the Middle East.”
Mahathir was simply telling it like it is, Arab leaders said.
“I don’t think [the comments] are anti-Semitic at all. I think he was stating the facts,” Yemeni Foreign Minister Abubakr al Qerbi said.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher added: “There are people wanting to create trouble, invent problems that do not exist. I would advise them to read the whole speech.”
The logic with which Mahathir and his allies accuse their accusers is typical of the sacrificial discourse of antisemitism: every criticism of the antisemite is but another proof of the extent of Jewish power. How scandalous that Moslems are accused of terrorism with impunity (one wonders if Mahathir thinks the Mossad was responsible for 9/11), whereas stating the simple truth that “today Jews rule this world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them” subjects one to opprobrium.
(As an illustration of how easily Americans get away with insulting Islam, three pages further on we find, “General Apologizes for Remarks on Islam,” where it is reported that Lt. General William Boykin, in reaction to adverse comments, stated that “for those who have been offended, I offer a sincere apology.” Nonetheless, a senior Saudi official is quoted as calling “outrageous” Boykin’s remarks, in which he assimilated the enemies of the US–but not Moslems as such–to Satan and referred to “his [a Somali warlord’s] God” as an “idol.”)
Mahathir is not an Al Qaeda militant or a Wahhabi cleric. If anything deserves to be called Moslem public opinion it is a position articulated at “a summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the world’s largest Muslim body” and supported by the entirety of its membership–there is no sign of a single dissenting voice. Whatever we think of Islam as a religion, we must face the fact that as a political community, mainstream Islam today is the vector of a renewed global antisemitism with which resenters of the market system increasingly identify. The humiliation inflicted by Israel on the Moslem nations that have been trying for two generations to “drive the Jews into the sea” has given rise to an “Islamic” world-view that is in fact pieced together from the tawdriest scraps of Western thought. Mahathir presents as empirical truth, and his fellow Moslems hasten to confirm by their own experience (“telling it like it is”), the hoary mythology of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Along the same lines, a few months ago the New Republic published excerpts from a “scholarly” article by a professor at a major Egyptian university explaining how Jews use the blood of non-Jewish children in the fabrication of their Passover matzoth. Vicious Western idiocy is presented as Islamic fact–as the Associated Press informs us, its “outspoken” promulgator “has long taken pride in calling things the way he sees them.”
- My second example is closer to home. The front page of the same newspaper that conveyed the Indonesian indictment of Jewry carried a story about Joseph Lieberman’s visit, one hopes more foolhardy than cynical, to the Arab American Institute conference at Dearborn, Michigan. Unlike Howard Dean, whose pandering denunciations of the “religious right” elicited a standing ovation from the group on the following day, Lieberman was booed for denying that bulldozing the homes of terrorists and building a protective wall to keep them out–policies he hastened to condemn–was itself a form of terrorism. Israel is the only country in the world whose policies, good, bad, and debatable, are scrutinized in this manner; but let that pass. What is of interest is the language, reported without comment by the Times, in which the membership of the Arab American Institute expressed their opposition: “Go home to Tel Aviv!” And from a “Palestinian activist from Danville, Calif.”: “He should be running for the prime minister of Israel… He is such a Jew.” It is appropriate for Arabs to be Arabs, but for Jews to be Jews is contemptible indeed. Not that anti-Zionism has anything to do with antisemitism.
- On a lighter note, Saturday’s “Letters to the Times” section contains this little gem:
The 1st Amendment provides: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Only lawyers can read this language as condemning the use of the words “under God” [in the Pledge of Allegiance] while concurrently allowing the expenditure of billions of dollars maintaining the religious state of Israel.
This offhand crack from a presumed Christian is as frightening as the predictable hostility of Moslem activists. What separates us most radically from the era of my childhood is the legitimacy then accorded to expressions of racial superiority. Today the mainstream press considers racist statements unacceptable, but publishes without comment gratuitous references to “the religious state of Israel.”
- A final example, this time from a senior editor of the New Republic, America’s leading weekly journal of ideas–one whose publisher is Jewish and a strong defender of Israel. In his “blog” (I hate that term) of October 13, Greg Easterbrook writes the following about the new Tarantino film, Kill Bill:
Set aside what it says about Hollywood that today even Disney thinks what the public needs is ever-more-graphic depictions of killing the innocent as cool amusement. Disney’s CEO, Michael Eisner, is Jewish; the chief of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein, is Jewish. Yes, there are plenty of Christian and other Hollywood executives who worship money above all else, promoting for profit the adulation of violence. Does that make it right for Jewish executives to worship money above all else, by promoting for profit the adulation of violence? Recent European history alone ought to cause Jewish executives to experience second thoughts about glorifying the killing of the helpless as a fun lifestyle choice.
Three days later, Easterbrook made the following apology:
Easterbrook said he is prepared to defend the thoughts of his essay, but he regrets the way he expressed himself.
In accusing a Jewish person of worshipping money, Easterbrook said, “you invoke a thousand years of stereotypes about that which Jews have specific historical reasons to fear.”
“What I wrote here was simply wrong, and for being wrong, I apologize,” he said.
Whether or not we accept Easterbrook’s apology–which was closely followed by that of the New Republic itself–it would be difficult to find a clearer confirmation of the growing acceptability of antisemitism than the presence of this kind of language, which even in the prewar era would have been used only by professed antisemites, in the discourse of a senior editor of the New Republic. In the guise of reproaching Jews with forgetting the genocide of which they were victims (“recent European history”), Easterbrook reproduces its premise: that Jews who “worship money above all else” are undermining social values by “promoting for profit the adulation of violence”: entartete Kunst, Goebbels called it. No doubt Christians are involved too; as Marx put it in his essay On the Jewish Question, today the Christians have become Jews.
What is wrong with the victimary paradigm is not its defense of victims, but its means of identifying them. We should not forget that unlike garden-variety racism, which bases a claim of privilege on the superior abilities of the favored race, antisemitism has always presented the Jews as the victimizers; what is new today is that the Jews are credited with explicit as well as implicit power. For the traditional anti-Semite à la Edouard Drumont, The Jew is all-powerful only because the Aryan is too naively good-natured to suspect his adversary’s malevolence. The antisemite works to bring The Jew’s true nature to light, knowing that once revealed for what he is, he can be crushed with little effort. Nietzsche was no antisemite, but he supplied the model of this interaction in his description of the Christian, and originally Jewish, manipulation of the strong by the resentful weak so that the former are shamed out of enforcing their superiority over the latter.
Postwar victimary thinking rejects the Nietzschean paradigm. The implicit “strength of the weak,” whose success Nietzsche himself could explain only by the resentful cleverness of the Judeo-Christian priesthood, no longer suffices as a pretext for persecution; in its place, the victimary thinker denounces the explicit strength of the strong. The Palestinians supply postmodern antisemitism with its alibi: they are the Jews and the Israelis are the Nazis. (Were this true, of course, there would be no Palestinians.) The diabolically clever Jew is no longer objectively weak; he has become the military Jew of Israel. The nature of Jewish “control” has also changed; in the past the Jews were accused of dominating the world by setting the great powers against each other (e.g., in WWI); now, they are the great power, the principal agents of Western domination of the “Orient.” (The 10/30 Times tells us that many Iraquis blame the recent rash of suicide bombings on… the Israelis.)
To accredit the fanatical hatred that reveals itself in suicide bombings as a legitimate form of political expression is to abandon the distinction between rational discourse and sacrificial myth that is the foundation of “Western” ethics, or, more precisely, to profit from its protection in order better to deny it to others. I will never forget the horrible incident in Ramallah in 2000: two Israeli soldiers who took a wrong turn were lynched by a Palestinian mob and their bodies displayed to an enthusiastic crowd who dipped hands in their blood. “Taking the side of the victim” means combating such behavior and the attitude behind it, not expressing “understanding” for it.
It is a red herring to accuse those who denounce Moslem antisemitism of denigrating Islam as a religion. Islamic theology is one thing; the state of official and unofficial Moslem opinion is another. The atmosphere that encourages remarks like “He’s such a Jew” or “The Jews rule this world by proxy” must not be tolerated. Nor does the refusal to condemn them exemplify the Christian charity that underlies Western democracy. (French President Jacques Chirac, backed by the prime minister of Greece, stopped the EU from ending a summit meeting with a statement deploring Mahathir’s speech; while Chirac–encore heureux!–disagreed with the latter’s views, he considered that an EU summit declaration “would not have been appropriate.” Mahathir thanked him for his “understanding.”)
There is no simple way to absorb into the exchange system the resentments that have resuscitated The Jew as the hidden center of the now global centerless marketplace. But this task can be carried out effectively only if resentment is deprived of the a priori moral value accorded it in the postmodern era, when it was the only attitude that was never “deconstructed.” Whatever the difficulties attendant on such real or potential phenomena as cloning and genetic engineering, the greatest challenge of twenty-first century ethics will be to remain attentive to the needfulness of which resentment is a symptom while denying the legitimacy of resentment itself.