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Dr. Walid Phares



Dr. Walid Phares

Walid Phares answers as posted by FPM today in a Symposium. For the other participants, you can connect to FPM site

Symposium: Islamic Anti-Semitism
By Jamie Glazov | October 31, 2003

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir's recent comments at the Organization of the Islamic Conference, in which he claimed Jews run the world, powerfully crystallized the issue of Islamic anti-Semitism. So did the fact that 57 leaders from the Muslim world applauded Mahathir's Nazi lie. Is there something inherently anti-Semitic within the Islamic religion itself? Can Muslims shed themselves of anti-Semitism and remain devout Muslims?

To discuss these and other questions relating to Islamic anti-Semitism with Frontpage Symposium today, we are joined by Walid Phares, Professor of Middle East Studies and Religious Conflict at Florida Atlantic University and a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. He serves as an Analyst on Terrorism and Conflicts with MSNBC

Interlocutor: Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Frontpage Symposium. Let's begin with the crucial question: is anti-Semitism rooted in the Qur'an and Islamic tradition? Is it possible to be a devout Muslim and not to be anti-Semitic?

Phares: Let me redefine anti-Semitism within the Arab-Islamic context. The right concept would be anti-Judaism. For Arabs are Semites too but rarely identify as such.  In Arabic it would come as Mua'di lil Yahood (anti-Jewish) instead of Mu'adi lil Samiya (anti-Semite). It is not about pure faith (Judaism) as much as it is about the carriers of that faith (Jews). As far as texts goes, including the Qur'an, most experts would refer to two types of verses. The Meccan ones, which came when Mohammed was struggling against the Pagan establishment. The Jewish tribes were sympathetic to his struggle. The verses of that era were tolerant towards the Jews, defined as people of the Book.

Then came the Medina verses which corresponded to the Hijra (emigration) of early Muslims out of Mecca. As the Muslim state developed and sought conversion of others, including Jews, to the new religion, tensions grew between the two groups. The Medina verses had a number of paragraphs negative towards the Jews. Those particular ones are part of Muslim theology and could be used by Fundamentalists to mobilize against Jewish entities in modern times. A devout Muslim theoretically can reject anti-Semitism as a form of Human abuse. But for that to happen, a reform must take place, so that devout Muslim can exist without being Fundamentalist. That's the challenge. In a sum, Islamic Fundamentalists can trigger anti-Jewish reactions from religious Muslims as long as religious authorities within Islam haven't developed a historic reformation.   

Interlocutor: In terms of this issue, what I could never figure out was that Muslims acknowledge Abraham as one of the great fathers of their tradition. They acknowledge the prophets of the Old Testament as the founders of their own religion. They say they have great respect for Jesus. But Abraham, the prophets, Jesus etc. were all Jews. How do Muslims reconcile their supposed great respect for the Jewish origins of their religion with their anti-Semitism?

Phares: Muslim scholars, both mainstream and Fundamentalists ironically have one common argument with regards to the relationship to Judaism. They draw a line between the Judaic faith as descended by God on them, and Jews as a people. While they assert that the first is a component of the Islamic faith, they maintain that the  people who carried it have strayed away from the right path. According to Islamic Fundamentalist thinkers, one of whom is Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, the Jews have subverted the sense of Judaism. In other words, the Islamists argue that Islam and Judaism are basically one, the latter being an early form of the new religion. They accuse the Jews of rebelling against God and his Prophets, including Mohammed. Hence, to be anti-Jewish is not in contradiction with Islam's self perceived roots in Judaism. Besides, and for the sake of clarifying the debate on the issue, Muslim theology does not "acknowledge the Prophets" of others religions as the founders of Islam, rather it consider these particular Prophets as Muslims and therefore consider those other groups as non-capable of understanding that perception. For example Abraham is considered as a Muslim Prophet, and Jesus is considered as a Prophet not as a Messiah. So, it is not about accepting the beliefs of   other communities through honoring their Prophets in as much as it is claiming those Prophets for Islam itself. The nuances seem to be minimal but an iota of difference in theology could bring about dramatic differences in History. But here again, a reformation can end this saga to the advantage of religious coexistence. Till then, the theology of Islam can be easily used by Islamic Fundamentalists against Jews.       

Interlocutor: What impact does Islamic anti-Semitism have on relations between Israel and the neighboring Arab states?

Phares: Islamist anti-Semitism, or technically anti-Jewish trends within the Muslim world are a major reason for the decline of the Peace Process between Israel and a number of Arab countries. Although realist leaders such as Sadate were able to sign the Camp David agreement with Israel, strong anti-Jewish ideologies within Egypt froze those agreements and reduced their ability to normalize, hence endangering their future. Similar doctrinal trends within the larger Wahabi-Salafi movement worldwide made it impossible for the Islamist-based movements to accept the principle of a Jewish state in the Middle East.

While secular Arabs and Muslims were (and would be) able to accommodate to the concept of coexistence with Israel, the Jihadist paradigm cannot by essence accept that idea. Hence forces as diverse as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizbollah, the Khumainists and the two Baath parties had the anti-Jewish doctrine in common. Ant agreement regulating Peace and normalization between Israel and its Arab neighbors is constantly jeopardized by this doctrine. Even after a full withdrawal from the 1967 territories, it is expected that the so-called anti-Semitism would continue to thrive. Here again, only a historic reformation can undue this doctrine.

Interlocutor: How come there are Jews who work to perpetrate anti-Israeli policies and cry out in defense of the Palestinians, but you never hear about Muslims crying out in defense of Israel? How come there is no organization Muslims for Israel?

Phares: When such organizations would develop in the Arab world , anti-Semitism would have receded. It is a chicken and the egg. Who would come first?  Jews who are critical of Israel are not so different from Americans who are critical of the United States or Westerners who are critical of the West. Because of the social and intellectual revolutions in the West, such criticism is possible and accepted within these societies. Many Israelis took that right to support the claims of the Palestinians. Some of them went as far as supporting Hizbollah.

The stretching of freedom of expression reached as far as the crushing of the freedoms of others, that is when many in the Israeli media refused to acknowledge the suffering of Lebanese communities in south Lebanon, just because those Israeli intellectuals hated their own state and wished victory to Hizbollah. That is an end product of legitimate freedom on the one hand and of loss of identity on the other hand. But such phenomenon doesn't exist -or wasn't allowed to exist on the other side. Not one demonstration for Peace was ever registered in the Arab-Islamic Middle East. No "Salaam Now" movement ever existed, or was allowed to exist. Reasons abound. 1) The dominant ideologies (Baathism, Jihadism, Khumainism) have suppressed the basic freedoms to start with.  2) The dominant political culture still rejected the idea of a non-Arab and non-Muslim state therefore nullifying the idea of Peace with such non legitimate entities. 3) It is to note that the anti-Peace attitude was also predominant vis a vis other minorities. For example, not one single expression of solidarity was ever noted with regards the sufferings of the Kurds, Berbers, Southern Sudanese and Lebanese Christians when under attack by regimes. However, there are spasms of change taking place in the underground. One can see it on some revolutionary web sites in Arabic. Very limited though.

Interlocutor: The Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir's recent speech brought back memories of some of Hitler's basic themes. What common denominators do Islamic and Nazi anti-Semitism share?

Bat Ye'or:  Both have a racist pathological obsession with Jews, which they see as the embodiment of evil. For both, Jews focus hatred, envy and frustrations. Both share the same inhumanity and contempt for life, human rights and dignity. They spread lies and defamations that subvert the truth.   

Phares: One, they both claim that the main problems of their nations are produced by the Jews. Two, that the Jews are a world problem. Three that Jews have diverted from Judaism . And four that a solution must be found to that problem. While under Nazism, Jews were to vanish, in the context of the Jihadist ideology, the Jewish state is the one to vanish.

Interlocutor: Walid Phares, thank you, we are out of time. It was an honor to have you here and to listen to your wisdom. We hope to see you again soon. Take care

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