Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Tarek Fatah’s book The Jew is Not My Enemy is subtitled “Unveiling the Myths that Fuel Muslim Anti-Semitism.” It is a short but compelling read that delves into a problem that plagues both Jews and Muslims.
Fatah sets out to explode that myth that anti-Semitism is an integral part of Islam. Instead, he demonstrates that it has most recently been used as a political tool to focus attention on the Jews and on Israel rather than the problems and issues that Muslim nations face.
Fatah traces the historical roots of the Muslim-Jewish relationship. A self- described Muslim Indian himself, born in Pakistan, Fatah highlights the general absence of anti-Semitism throughout India and Pakistan until relatively recently. Early in the book, he focuses on the utter shock of the murderous attack on the Lubavitch Jewish Center in Mumbai, India in November 2008. He refers to this horrific attack by Pakistani terrorists as one of the only anti-Semitic attacks in the history of this region. Why would people living in a country like Pakistan, who have so little interaction with Jews in their lives, purposely and specifically set out to murder Jews? This question is what Tarek Fatah explores throughout the book.
Fatah traces the spread of anti-Semitism in the Muslim world since 1869, focusing in particular on the role of Sayyid Qutb, the well-known author of a thirty volume commentary on the Quran. Qutb also wrote an essay entitled “Ma’rakutuna ma’a al Yahud” (“Our Fight Against the Jews”), According to Fatah, Qutb’s work has been used by Saudi Arabia and Al Qaeda, among others, to spread ultra-conservative Islam and spread the idea that the Jews are the eternal enemy of Muslims. This view has taken hold in many parts of the Muslim world and has developed into the underpinning for modern terrorist ideology.
Fatah discusses the historical role of the Grand Mufti Haj Amin Al-Husseini in meeting with Hitler and supporting Nazism. He points out some of the little known stories of Muslims who fought against the Nazis and saved or sheltered Jews during the Holocaust. Fatah himself is well aware that Muslims would have been next on the list after Jews. It seems clear to him that the idea of Muslim leaders, such as Ahmadinejad advocating Holocaust denial is not only outrageous but it also runs against many tenets of Islam itself. Fatah discusses the powerful effect of his own journey to Poland to visit the camps.
Tackling the issue of Israel, Fatah is less convincing, though his sincerity is clear. Advocating a two state solution, even one which Israel unilaterally sets up by withdrawing from territory, Fatah nevertheless has no delusions that Israel will have a responsive peace partner. While he condemns the ostracization and demonization of Israel, and calls for the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, there is a naiveté to his suggestion that leaving the West Bank, with or without a full peace treaty, will create a sea change in Muslim opinion towards Israel and will lead to peace and acceptance of Israel by its neighbours.
Fatah faces even tougher challenges over his next few chapters in examining anti-Semitism in the Qur’an, attributed historical references to Muhammad’s anti-Jewish sentiment and in particular, the massacre of Jews at Banu Qurayza. Challenging the historical veracity of some of these accounts, Fatah also calls for a re-examination of many Hadit verses which have historically been cited to bolster anti-Semitic views. Here, the call by Fatah is for a significant reform of Islam through the reinterpretation or outright disregard of many Hadit versus.
In his final chapter, Fatah issues a clarion call towards his fellow Muslims:
“We Muslims need to reflect on our predicament. We need to understand that our hatred of the Jew or the West is an admission of our own sense of failure. We need to recognize that blaming the other for our dismal contribution to contemporary civilization is a sedative, not the cure for the disease that afflicts us all. To join the nations and peoples of this world, as brothers and sisters of a common humanity, we need to wean ourselves from our addiction to victimhood and hate.”
It is easy to imagine that if Tarek Fatah represented the majority of world Muslim sentiment, Israel could reach many bilateral peace deals and the world would be a much safer and much more tolerant place. This is in fact similar to the suggestions of Israeli leaders and politicians such as Natan Sharansky, Benjamin Netanyahu and even Avigdor Lieberman who have called for a reformation in Muslim thought and governance as a precursor to real peace. Recent events across the Middle East, from Libya to Egypt and from Syria to Iran have left little doubt that it is the scourge of poverty, inequality, and incompetent, authoritarian governance that are the really significant problems for Muslim countries in the Middle East, not the existence of Israel or worldwide Jewry.
Hopefully, over time, Fatah’s book will spread as widely as Qutb’s throughout the Muslim world and an ideology of peace and tolerance will replace the currently rampant mindsets of violence, anti-Semitism and hatred of the West.