Monday, May 21, 2007

Protocols of Zion

A rather disappointing documentary on an increasingly important topic. It has enough that will alarm even the most indifferent of viewers but ultimately it is just too rambling and scattershot to make any genuine contribution to the debate surrounding the resurgence of anti-semitism (also called New Anti-semitism) in most parts of the world, specially in the middle east, after 9-11. The rumour that the world trade center attacks were orchestrated by Israelis and that no jews died in the attacks is common in the arab world. Even the mainstream media believes and propagates this propaganda in the muslim world. Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a classic conspiracy theory text of anti-semitic propaganda, is a bestseller in Iran. The president himself presides on a conference of lunatics specialising in holocaust-denial.

Most of the footage and interviews shown in the film are truly frightening and to ignore them as works of a lunatic fringe will be a serious mistake. Having said that, the film doesn't really get into really troubled waters, i.e. in what ways the radical left wing critics of American foreign policy and Zionism are contributing to the rise of anti-semitism and how the paranoia of Israel and jewish groups in America isn't helping matters either. There was a major controversy recently when the talk of the reputed historian Tony Judt was cancelled after some backstage heavy handed manipulation by the anti-defamation league. In this age of multiculturalism, nothing could be more anachronistic than the political ideology of Zionism. Nobody with a sense of history will deny its historical justification and the right of Israel to exist but the question is how should we see it now. There is also this bizarre and persistent claim of the ubiquitous and omnipotent nature of the so called "Jewish Lobby" in american foreign policy. Now I am not calling these people anti-semites, this is perhaps just a careless use of language.

What I find personally problematic is the thin line that separates rational criticism of a belief system (poitical or religious or both) and a slander against a people i.e racism. For example when I put one of the Danish cartoons on the blog, was I being a racist or just ridiculing people who believe they are going to get virgins in heaven if they blow themselves up. Similarly when I call Hindus superstitious idiots and idolaters am I criticising the essentially reactionary nature of organized Hinduism or actually slandering the Hindu community or the great tolerant and enlightened Hindu tradition? I personally think I did all this in good faith, based on the simple assumption that all organized religions are founts of hatred and irrationality and religious belief is by its very nature a political act and so there is every reason to link racism and fascism to religion.

The case of the critics of Israel is similar. Most of them are definitely not racists but their careless use of language only gives fodder to the real racists and bigots. Wikipedia has a fantastic article on new antisemitism. I myself don't know much on the subject of Israel-Palestine or even the history of Zionism. In fact only a couple of days back I was reading about Theodor Herzl and the founding of the international Zionist movement in the wonderful book Wittgenstein's Vienna. It is a very fascinating and interesting subject. It sheds a lot of light on contemporary debates about cultural assimilation too. The most straightforward conclusion is also the most pessimistic one, that true cultural assimilation will remain a pipe-dream. I will post about it later.


Szerelem said...

I am not anti semetic but there is a lot of anger at what Israel has been doing (and still does) in Palestine. I think a distinction is necessary between the two.
The more I read about the Isaeli - Palestine issue and about the Middle East the kind of anger that one sees in that part of the world does make some sense. So it's always veru shocking and disturbing for me when people support Israeli action and also the links that are (too simplisticly) drawn between radical Islam (and Al Qaeda) and the Palestinian struggle (as has been the case with all the news coverage on the conflict in Lebanon).
Slightly off tangent comment....but have been thinking about this for a while...your post brought it out.

Alok said...

not off tangent at all. i was thinking about the same thing. I just wanted to highlight the way media in the arab world is appropriating anti-semitic propaganda for its own political purposes. also this problem of criticising a belief system, political ideology and policy and still able to not be perceived as racist. so now if you criticise america you are an "anti-american" or criticise Islam you are an "islamophobe".... this kind of mutual labelling always stalls any discussion on these matters.

Szerelem said...

this kind of mutual labelling always stalls any discussion on these matters
Hmmm....that's true. Though I've also seen the other side of the coin over the last couple of days. Had been engaged in a couple of arguments over the mass generalisation of muslims...but then I am accused of turning a blind eye to the treatment of women and violence...which is completely not the case...

tom said...

"the question is how should we see it now" - as usual, an interesting and thought-provoking post. when the otherwise idiotic Ron Paul suggested that 9/11 might have been somehow related to other actual events in history, he was ridiculed and shot down immediately. Most people are never "seeing it now" - they get locked into their mythologies and stay locked in.

Alok said...

tom: "getting locked in mythologies" is a wonderful phrase and a very apt one in this context. by thinking about i meant precisely this -- to be able break these old mythologies.

szerelem: I find it very hard to argue and discuss about these things too. All these "isms" always crop up and you can never get past the impasse.