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New books probe reality of Muslim anti-Semitism

By Leon Cohen
of The Chronicle staff

July 17th, 2008

There is a mantra I have read in many of the anti-Israel writings coming from representatives of the Palestinian cause and from their generally left-wing “fellow travelers.” It states in effect:

Why should innocent Palestinian/Arab/Muslim people have been made to pay for crimes inflicted upon Jews by Christian Europe by having European Jews invade and create a Jewish state in their midst?

This rhetorical question is grounded on a lie. As I have stated before and will keep repeating, the Palestinian/Arab/Muslim world is not and never was innocent of anti-Semitism.

The state of Israel exists every bit as much in response to Muslim civilization’s prejudices and crimes against the Jewish people and Judaism as because of anything that happened in Christian Europe.

Unfortunately, the Jewish and pro-Israel world has not really grappled with this issue and gathered and broadcast that information. In fact, many Jews seem to have accepted the commonplace myth that Muslim civilization was tolerant of other religions, that it allowed Jewish and Christian communities to flourish freely and that only Israel’s “imposition” upon it has sparked modern Arab/Muslim anti-Semitism.

The authors of two books that have recently come to The Chronicle’s offices are helping contribute to that myth’s demise; and one can be grateful for their efforts while wishing both books were better written.

Exhaustive, exhausting

Most useful will be “The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn History” written and edited by Andrew G. Bostom (Prometheus Books, $39.95).

(Note: There is some disagreement over the spelling of “anti-Semitism” vs. “antisemitism”; some claim the choice of spelling carries ideological/factual presumptions. The authorities we follow — The Associated Press Stylebook and the American Heritage Dictionary — use hyphen-capital-S; but Bostom and others use no-hyphen-small-s.)

Bostom’s book is both exhaustive and exhausting, a tome of some 766 tall pages with small print. Clearly he intended it to be a reference work.
Bostom’s almost 200-page first chapter, “A Survey of Its [i.e., Islamic anti-Semitism’s] Theological-Juridical Origins and Historical Manifestations,” is oppressive reading, and not only because of its grim and depressing content.

The text is dryly written and poorly organized. Reading it is like trying to read an encyclopedia. Readers seeking a clear and easy-to-read summary of the subject are advised to examine instead the chapter “Islamic Antisemitism” in the Dennis Prager and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin book “Why the Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism.”

But as a reference tool, Bostom’s book is overwhelmingly successful. His own chapter marshals quotations and documentation – bolstered by nearly 1,000 footnotes – that should remove all doubt about how central anti-Semitism has been and still is to Islam and to the civilization built around it.

And if that isn’t enough, the rest of the book is an anthology of sources and documents that clinch the case. Bostom provides:

• Anti-Semitic passages from the Koran, the hadith (collected anecdotes about the Muslim prophet Mohammed’s life), the sira (early biographies of Mohammed).

• Anti-Semitic essays, speeches and excerpted book passages by Muslim scholars, theologians and thinkers from the Middle Ages to the present.

• Scholarly, witness and journalistic accounts of Muslim persecutions of and discrimination against Jews over more than 1,000 years.

Hitler’s mufti

Bostom’s work helps provide context for another new book, “Icon of Evil: Hitler’s Mufti and the Rise of Radical Islam” by David G. Dalin and John F. Rothmann. This is a biography of Haj Amin al-Husseini (1895-1974), the British-appointed Mufti of Jerusalem.

A member of a prominent Arab family in Ottoman Palestine, al-Husseini was a ferocious anti-Semite in the Arab/Muslim tradition; and he helped infuse that tradition with the racist and “world Jewish conspiracy” anti-Semitism of early 20th century Europe, thereby aiding the creation of modern Islamic anti-Semitism.

He not only fought the effort to create Israel, but also spent World War II in Germany helping and encouraging the Nazi genocide effort. After Germany’s defeat, he escaped trial as a war criminal, returned to the Arab world and continued to seek Israel’s destruction.

Palestinian terrorist leader Yasser Arafat was a relative and admirer of al-Husseini, and the authors contend that al-Husseini inspires the leaders of the Hamas terror organization that rules Gaza.

Clearly, al-Husseini was one of history’s great anti-Semites, and he deserves an in-depth study. Unfortunately, “Icon of Evil” is not it.

The authors are academicians — Dalin is a research fellow at Stanford University, Rothmann is on the faculty at the University of San Francisco — and they write that they spent some 40 years working on this book.

However, the result reads like a padded article or term paper. The book is long on generalities, short on specifics and leaves many basic questions unanswered.

For example, the authors assert that al-Husseini incited Arab anti-Jewish violence in 1928-29 and 1936-38. But they don’t describe how he did it (sermons? leaflets? radio broadcasts?), much less analyze why anybody would have listened to him.

The authors even include a science-fiction-like chapter of “counterfactual history” imagining what al-Husseini’s life and the Middle East would have been like had Germany won World War II.

The authors perform a valuable service in reminding us of this nearly forgotten figure who still influences current events. But readers who want to understand al-Husseini need more information than this book provides.