What’s the easiest way for a liberal to make himself look like a tin-foil-hatted far-right lunatic?
Writing a book about Muslim-Jewish relations. That would do it.
Or at least that’s been Dr. Neil Kressel’s experience.
|Neil J. Kressel|
Kressel is a well-credentialed academic – his doctorate is from Harvard, his teaching experienced gained at Harvard, NYU, and Yale – who lives in northern New Jersey and now, as a full professor, directs the honors program in the social sciences at William Paterson University. The most recent of his four books is “The Sons of Pigs and Apes: Muslim Antisemitism and the Conspiracy of Silence.” He is Jewish.
Kressel wrote the book, a dense, heavily researched academic work blurbed by Alan Dershowitz, among others, “because the West has been ignoring a very dangerous Muslim anti-Semitism, and I don’t believe we can continue to ignore it,” he said.
“Obviously this is a Jewish issue in that there is a virulence to the hostility that has emerged over the last few decades. It is a virulence that is very hard to believe if you don’t read it yourself.
“We don’t see it anywhere in the Western media, or hear it very frequently in English, and so a lot of people don’t know what’s going on,” Kressel continued. “But even when the evidence is put in front of people, there is a great reluctance to discuss it.”
Moreover, he added, anti-Americanism is closely related to anti-Semitism, because of the widespread belief in parts of the Muslim world that “America is in the hands of the Jews. Even when American officials are acknowledged not to be Jewish, the idea is that the Jews are puppeteers, who are manipulating these leaders.
“This theme grew out of the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion'” – the late 19th-century nakedly anti-Semitic forgery that had such a powerfully destructive effect on Jewish life in the desperate decades that followed. “It was translated into many of the languages spoken in the Muslim world.
“The message of the ‘Protocols’ doesn’t come out of Islam, but it was brought there largely during and after World War II,” Kressel continued. “Part of the ‘Protocols’ was incorporated verbatim into the Hamas charter.”
This strand of European anti-Semitism, imported into the Islamic world for political reasons, met “an indigenous anti-Jewish tradition in Islam. That tradition often is played down by historians, even Jewish historians.”
Certainly not all of Islam is anti-Jewish, Kressel said. “It is not at all a clear voice in the Islamic sacred books that is hostile to Jews, but you see statements and elements that have been seized upon during the last 20 years or so, more than ever before.”
Take the famous derogatory term, “sons of pigs and apes,” that Mohammad is said to have used to refer to Jews in the Quran. “Mohammad didn’t really say that,” Kressel said. “The Quran tells a story about where some Jews were turned into pigs and apes because they didn’t follow God’s rules. That could have been interpreted to mean that God will punish those who do not obey his rules, but now it’s used as a nasty epithet by people who say that it isn’t what the Quran says, but it is what the Quran means. Now even little kids will say that Jews are pigs and apes.
“Sometimes that’s applied to Christians too,” he added.
“There are many instances of phrases in the Quran that could be seized upon by someone who wanted to use them derogatively,” Kressel continued. “Khaleel Mohammad” – who teaches at the Center for Islamic and Arabic Studies at San Diego State University – “is a very thoughtful guy, very sympathetic to the predicament of the Jews. He looks at the same texts and takes away a different message. There are other academics who say similar things.”
But no one listens to such people, Kressel said.
Kressel knows that all religions’ sacred texts include materials that could be very offensive to outsiders. The question is how those texts are treated. “Mainstream elements in Judaism – and mainly in Christianity, as well – try to control that use,” he said. “But in Islam, what’s happened is that some of the bigoted interpretations have made it into the mainstream.
“That’s really where the threat comes from.”
The question, of course, is why Muslim anti-Semitism has developed as it has – but such a simple question has a very complex set of answers.
One answer, perhaps the most obvious, is that it is an outgrowth of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Kressel says that although that is a true statement, it is incomplete. It seems as if the conflict is over land, “but reasonable people should be able to resolve such a dispute over this much time,” he said. The conflict, he emphasized, is much deeper.
“Throughout much of Muslim history, Jews were regarded as second-class, even though they could live reasonably well,” Kressel said. Muslims were comfortably on top. But for the last few centuries, Islam has suffered military and political defeats.
“You had people whose identity was being threatened by the modern world,” Kressel said. They had not spent much time thinking about the Jews, who were not the source of their problems and whose status had been settled back in the seventh century. So all of a sudden, “when Jews started to emerge from the subordinate role Islam had prescribed for them and demanded to be treated as equals in the world of nations, and then when they defeated Arab armies, it was seen as a huge threat to Muslim self-esteem – probably particularly Arab self-esteem. It came as a terrible shock.
“So to deal with it, they had to create a picture of the Jews as somehow more evil and nefarious than they’d ever thought to have been before.”
The “Protocols,” already imported to Muslim lands, offered a ready-made explanation.
“That made the conflict not just over land,” Kressel said. “The Jews were devils.” Logically, it followed that the fight over Palestine and Israel was “a divine cosmic battle between good and evil. Those kinds of battles are difficult to resolve.
“All the major religions contained the basis for evil and for good,” Kressel summed up. “The key is to be able to analyze religions and speak about it with some degree of intellectual seriousness.
“I’m not hostile to religion. The only way you can make headway is to encourage the good and jettison the bad. You have to approach it with a certain degree of intellectual honesty.
“I think of myself as a liberal. I am against bigotry. But because I’m willing to look at religion dispassionately, people think I must be some kind of reactionary.”