19 October 2003
Two Fanatics And An Old Fool
By Gwynne Dyer
“We want all Christians and Jews to go out from our Islamic countries and release our brothers from jail and stop killing Muslims or we will kill you,” said a Saudi member of al-Qaeda in a videotape released last week which he made before carrying out a suicide attack on a foreign compound in Riyadh in May. In an accompanying audiotape al-Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden urged all Muslims to defend their faith from the attacks of the evil Christians and Jews: “You should know that this war is a new crusade against Islam and is a fateful war for the whole (Muslim) nation.” No surprise there: you already knew there were Islamist fanatics on the loose.
Then we have Christian fanatics like Lieutenant-General William G. ‘Jerry’ Boykin of the US Army, who believes that “George Bush was not elected by a majority of voters in the United States; he was appointed by God.” (Half right there, Jerry.) Speaking in uniform at the Good Shepherd Church in Sandy, Oregon in June, General Boykin asked: “Why do they hate us so much? Ladies and gentlemen, the answer to that is because we’re a Christian nation, because our foundations and our roots are Judaeo-Christian….Our religion came from Judaism, and therefore these radicals will hate us forever.”
General Boykin was outed by defence analyst William Arkin in the Los Angeles Times shortly after taking up his new job as deputy undersecretary of defence for intelligence at the Pentagon, which is not exactly where you want to find a fanatic in charge. Speaking of a Muslim militia leader he captured in Somalia in 1993, Boykin has boasted: “I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.” The United States has more than its fair share of religious nuts, and quite a few of them have ended up in the current administration.
What is one to make, however, of Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed? In his opening speech to the Islamic Summit Conference last Thursday (16 October), he told the leaders and representatives of 57 Muslim or part-Muslim countries assembled in Putrajaya, Malaysia’s new administrative capital, that “the Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million. But today the Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them.”
Muslims have to curb their fury against Israel and start thinking, Mahathir told his audience: “We are up against a people who think. They survived 2,000 years of pogroms not by hitting back but by thinking. They invented Socialism, Communism, human rights and democracy so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong, so that they can enjoy equal rights with others. With these they have now gained control of the most powerful countries and they, this tiny community, have become a world power.” And then the audience gave Dr. Mahathir a standing ovation.
Dr. Mahathir is not a religious extremist. He spent his long political career (which ends with his retirement this month) finding ways to unite Malaysia’s spectacularly diverse ethnic and religious communities in building a prosperous and peaceful society, and he has been remarkably successful. So why did he sound so much like Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the master Nazi propagandist, and why did so many other Muslim leaders applaud his sentiments?
Anti-Semitism used to be a Christian disease, not a Muslim one. The ‘2,000 years of pogroms’ happened in Christian Europe, while Jewish communities in Muslim countries mostly lived in peace until the creation of Israel in 1948. After three centuries of defeat and colonial rule by the Europeans followed by fifty years of Arab defeats at the hands of Israel, Muslims everywhere understandably feel a bit battered — “We are all Muslims. We are all oppressed. We are all being humiliated,” Mahathir told his audience — but for a long time they have resisted demonising Jews.
For much of his speech, Mahathir managed to remember that paranoia and prejudice are not the answer: “We also know that not all non-Muslims are against us….Even among the Jews there are many who do not approve of what the Israelis are doing. We must not antagonise everyone.” The real thrust of his speech was that anger and blind violence are doing Muslims no good at all, and indeed play into the hands of their (Israeli and/or Western) enemies. There should be no more suicide attacks on the innocent, but a thoughtful and patient long-term strategy that plays to the Muslim world’s strengths.
A wise Muslim leader offering his parting thoughts to other Muslim leaders — and then he blows it with his stupid remarks about Jews controlling the world’s most powerful countries. The Western media go into a feeding frenzy, and next thing you know it’s as if Mahathir had been addressing a Nazi rally at Nuremberg. The sad truth is that classic European-style anti-Semitism is becoming so commonplace in the Muslim world that both Mahathir and many in his audience may actually believe that Jews secretly control the American, Russian, British and French governments.
Combine this with the eagerness of jihadis like bin Laden and would-be crusaders like General Boykin to get a full-scale ;clash of civilisations’ going, and you will understand why people in the know are looking very worried these days.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 6 and 7. (“Dr. Mahathir…Jews”)