July 26, 2011
Norway tragedy: A new twist on hate
In 1980, for the umpteenth time, someone asked the Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal whether “it could happen again” — “it” being the Holocaust.
“You take hatred and technology and you add in a crisis, and anything can happen,” Wiesenthal replied.
Last week, something tragic, horrific, almost beyond words happened.
A man filled with hate, empowered by Internet technology, took out his rage on innocent men, women and, especially, children in Norway. The death toll as of this writing has reached 76, with an untold number still missing.
If there are 1,000 faces of God, it turns out there also are at least that many of hate. The murderer, Anders Behring Breivik, this time around is a self-proclaimed Zionist, someone whose 1,300-page online manifesto praises Israel, the Jews, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and even Theodor Herzl, the founding father of Zionism.
And so this 32-year-old man has redefined the stereotype of the European right-wing fundamentalist. We are confronting now a murdering, minority-hating, Jew-loving, Israel-supporting, fascist, Christian, neo-Nazi — the head spins.
I don’t want to make too much of the fact that Breivik in his diatribe aligned himself with Israel and the Jews. I don’t want to pull focus from the victims or their anguished survivors, nor give him credit for having a coherent “ideology.”
“He’s a cut-and-paste Internet weirdo,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said to me on Monday. “You take a guy who’s meshugge and you empower him through the Web. You give him a sense of community.”
True. But Breivik is also the extreme embodiment of those whose approach to the very serious problem of Muslim integration into Western liberal societies is to denigrate all of Islam, to spread fear and to turn the inevitable demographic changes in Europe into a clash of civilizations.
There are many Web sites where adherents of this particular brand of racism connect, stew and brew with one another. Islamversuseurope.blogspot.com (“Where Islam Spreads, Freedom Dies”) even now posts an apologia for the child killer, essentially blaming Muslims for Breivik’s massacre of Christian children.
These people may think they have an ally in the Jews and Israel. They think they have our back. But our job is to inform them, loudly and clearly, that they don’t. The Jewish reaction to all this should be this: Take your hate elsewhere. To paraphrase our prophet Groucho Marx, we don’t want to be part of any club like this that would have us as a member.
Last February, a delegation of leaders from extreme right European parties toured Israel as a sign of solidarity and support. The trip went all but unnoticed except in a Newsweek article, which pointed out that an Israeli businessman, Chaim Muehlstein, subsidized the journey.
They visited Yad Vashem and the West Bank settlement of Har Bracha. They met with some leaders of the Likud.
According to Newsweek, they included “a Belgian politician known for his contacts with SS veterans, an Austrian with neo-Nazi ties, and a Swede whose political party has deep roots in Swedish fascism,” but the Israelis excused the anti-Semitic roots of their guests by pointing out that they had proclaimed their solidarity with Israel against the Muslims.
Most Israeli politicians shunned the delegation, as they should have. Anyone not blinded by Islamo-fear could see through the ploy.
“If you are against Muslims, then there is a certain reason to position yourself with Israel, because it is the single greatest irritant to the Muslims, therefore they’re to be admired,” Michael Berenbaum, a leading Holocaust scholar and professor of history at American Jewish University, told me.
“They use Israel because they are anti-Semitic enough to believe that Jews control things.”
Cooper, an expert on European neo-fascism, believes Israel’s support from these groups is skin-deep, if that.
“They think my enemy’s enemy is my friend,” he said. “But we’re really talking about people who are anti-Muslim, not pro-Jewish.”
The ironies and fallacies of recruiting Jews to this cause are many.
The hatred is partly a reaction to radical Islamic violence and increased Muslim population in Europe.
It is also, as Ravi Shankar, executive editor of the New India Express, has pointed out, a kind of Jew hatred without Jews — an extension, I suppose, of the true meaning of “anti-Semite.”
“Europe’s Muslim population of 15 million will become 30 million by 2015, while Europeans will shrink by 4 per cent,” Shankar writes at al-Arabiya.com. “Princeton academic and Islamic scholar Bernard Lewis famously said, ‘Europe will be Islamic by the end of the century.’ If Friday’s bombings in Oslo [are] a dark harbinger of troubled times, soon Muslims will be the new Jews of Europe. For all the old Jews are dead: murdered by fellow Europeans …
“Now the reverse is happening in Europe. It is the presence of Muslims in Europe that is the source of social panic and anger. The fear of being overwhelmed and alienated in their own country by outsiders who they think will breed terrorists. All this makes a fertile breeding ground for anti-Islamic neo-Nazism.”
And in this argument lies yet another fallacy, that Israel is against Arabs.
Israel’s population is about 15 percent Muslim, and their rights, like everyone else’s, are protected in the country’s Basic Laws. Israel’s leaders recognize in fact, if not always in deed, the importance of coexistence, equal rights and integration.
And that is why a person like Breivik would find his head spinning if he looked at the fact that Muslims in Israel have greater rights to free speech than they do in most Muslim countries, as well as the freedom to practice their religion. Israel’s record on Arab minority rights isn’t perfect, but it reflects the values of Judaism that supersede those of pure tribalism.
The natural alignment here isn’t of Breivik and the Islamophobes being in accord with Israel and the Jews. The true alliance must be for people of all faiths in all nations to join together to fight against fanaticism. With the tragedy in Norway, we once again see we are essentially living in one world divided into two nations: The great majority of us — and Fanatistan.
The ultimate goal of right-wing extremists and Islamic extremists is to undermine tolerant and open societies.
This new crop of fanatics may see Judaism as a tribe with which they can make a strategic anti-Islam alliance. But that is a misconception. Judaism has a tribal aspect, but it is more than just a tribe. It is a set of laws and values that Jews believe God set before that tribe, and which they must adhere to (with room for argumentation and interpretation, thank God).
Those values pretty much preclude the murder of innocents, baseless hatred and the death penalty for people guilty of nothing more than that you fear them for being different.
The pragmatic solution to the real problems of European immigration and integration is first to confront those issues — Europe has a poor track record on this.
“You need an intelligent debate from the center,” Cooper said.
“Otherwise it’s a gold-plated invitation to extremists to walk into the mainstream of society.”
And while we hope for that debate to happen, we need to make clear to the extremists that we share no common cause, that the enemy of our enemy can be our biggest nightmare.