‘The Muslim world is fighting back against the West’

Forward: Rawls, Oren



Strait Talk I: The Muslim world is fighting back against the West, one

Mecca Cola at time. The French-produced, ethnically conscious soft drink

was the beverage of choice at last week’s Organization of the Islamic

Conference, the gathering of world Muslim leaders at which Malaysian Prime

Minister Mahathir Mohamad charged Jews with ruling the world.

Like the outspoken, outgoing prime minister, writes columnist Shamsul Akmar

in the October 18 issue of the venerable Malaysian daily New Straits Times,

Mecca Cola refreshes the Muslim thirst for a response to Western — and

Jewish — domination.

“Apart from the fact that Muslims do seem easily swayed by anything that

carries an Islamic label,” Akmar writes of Mecca Cola, “it can also be a

reflection of how `proud’ they are to see their brethren doing well in the

global market, generally accepted to be controlled by the West and Jews.”

It was against the perceived world Jewish conspiracy that Mahathir lashed

out on October 16, arguing that Jews “get others to fight and die for

them.” The subsequent condemnations that rained down from Western capitals

on the Malaysian prime minister, Akmar argues, simply fly in the face of

common sense — after all, how could so many be so wrong?

“Lest the West forgets, the perception that Jews control the world is

entrenched in Third World nations, Muslims and non-Muslims alike,” he

writes. “Is the rest of the world wrong to believe that Jews control the

White House, meaning they control the most powerful force in the world?”

Strait Talk II: Meanwhile, in the tiny city-state of Singapore, off the

southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, the political editor of The Straits

Times — arguably the most well-respected English-language daily in Asia —

was offering a decidedly different take on Mahathir’s message.

“To give it the kindest spin possible, one could say that he was only

trying to rally Muslims to learn from the Jews as they seek to slough off

the humiliation and oppression of centuries. That he was lauding the Jews

for setting a positive example: they responded to persecution by using their brains, not just their brawn,” Zuraidah Ibrahim writes in the Singaporean daily’s October 18 issue. “But to

leave it at that would be to gloss over his dangerous and irresponsible portrayal of Muslims as being in

an epic confrontation against the Jews.”

The differences in editorial opinion between the New Straits Times and The

Straits Times — both of which claim common journalistic roots, dating back

to 1845 — can be chalked up to the divergent geopolitical positions

Singapore and Malaysia have assumed since the island separated in 1965 from

its peninsular neighbor to the north.

Since gaining independence from Malaysia, the overwhelmingly ethnically

Chinese Singapore has been a staunch ally of the West. Israel was

instrumental in building the nascent state’s military during the 1960s, and

the two economic powerhouses have found common ground as tiny, highly

educated states surrounded by much poorer and often-hostile Muslim states.

By contrast, the sympathies of Kuala Lumpur — the center of all things

Malaysian, including politics, until the recent naming of Putrajaya as the

administrative capital — increasingly tilted toward Malaysia’s

co-religionists. During his 22 years as prime minister, Mahathir has been a

key proponent of unity among Islam’s 1.5 billion adherents, positioning

Malaysia as a moderate Muslim state, albeit one firmly engaged in the clash

of civilizations.

“Unfortunately, Dr. Mahathir has unwittingly lent support to the theory

that Muslims are engaged in a religious war,” laments The Straits Times’

Ibrahim. “Fortunately, terrorists and politicians are not the only public

faces of Islam.”

The Ever-Popular `Unthinkable’: “It is almost an iron law of intellectual

life that any idea that is advertised as unthinkable has been thought many

times before,” Leon Wieseltier writes in the October 27 issue of The New


The depressingly thinkable idea that Wieseltier refers to is the end of the

Jewish state. Respected historian Tony Judt, head of the Remarque Institute

at New York University, raises it approvingly in an article in the October

23 issue of the New York Review of Books, titled “Israel: The Alternative.”

“The very idea of a `Jewish state’– a state in which Jews and the Jewish

religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are

forever excluded — is rooted in another time and place.” Judt writes.

“Israel, in short, is an anachronism.”

Judt cites Israeli Labor leader Avraham Burg to back him up, quoting an

article Burg wrote this summer in Yediot Aharonot, republished in English

in the Forward, in which Burg wrote that Israel was becoming “a colonial

state, run by a corrupt clique.” Burg was criticizing Israel’s current

policies, warning that without a change Israel would find — tragically —

that it was no longer a Jewish state. Judt, by contrast, doesn’t see that

as tragic. He sees a bi-national Arab-Jewish state as Israel’s best

alternative. “The depressing truth,” Judt writes, “is that Israel today is

bad for the Jews.”

Wieseltier is having none of it. “A bi-national state is not the

alternative for Israel. It is the alternative to Israel,” Wieseltier writes

in his reply to Judt, titled “What Is Not To Be Done.”

Judt isn’t the only person thinking these thoughts these days, though. A

massive exposition appears in the November 3 issue of The Nation, in a

review-essay by Daniel Lazare that is titled, simply enough, “The One-State

Solution.” Lazare looks at five recent books on Israel, by Arthur

Hertzberg, Tom Segev and others. Some question Israel’s policies, others

discuss inner Israeli conflicts, but all lead, at least in Lazare’s mind,

to the conclusion that Israel isn’t working.

“A long-standing taboo has finally begun to fall,” Lazare writes. “[B]efore

it was all but impossible to have an honest conversation about Zionism,” by

which he means questioning Israel’s existence. Now it is “becoming

impossible not to.” True, most of the authors he reviews are deeply

committed to Israel, whatever its flaws. Hertzberg, for example, is quoted

as declaring that “even the doves and the liberals in the Jewish community

… will never make common cause with those who want to put an end to the

Zionist state.”

But Lazare has’t given up. “Jewish opinion may not be as rock-solid in

support of a Jewish state as Hertzberg think,” he writes. As proof he cites

Marc Ellis, an anti-Zionist critic who now teaches American and Jewish

studies at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Ellis argues that the Jewish

state “makes a mockery of the very concept” of Jewish ethics, and all would

be better off without it.

But what comes after? Wieseltier, in his reply to Judt, says binationalism

would merely recreate Jewish homelessness, establishing “a Palestinian

state with a Jewish minority.”

“Is the restoration of Jewish homelessness, and the vindication of

Palestinian radicalism, and the intensification of inter-communal violence,

really preferable to the creation of two states for two nations?”

Wieseltier concludes. “Only if good people, thoughtful people, do not keep

their heads. But these are deranging days.”

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