No matter how many prizes Professor Robert Wistrich's massive tome A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad garners the book still deserves more attention than it has received. Indeed no amount of attention would be sufficient.
Its packed 938 pages of text reflect neither authorial grandiosity nor editorial lassitude. The copious detail amassed is required in order that Wistrich's central arguments not be dismissed as cherry-picked quotes used to exaggerate the seriousness of the phenomena under discussion. Random House, a commercial publisher, did not request him to cut a single sentence.
A Lethal Obsession stands as a refutation of three widespread misconceptions fostered in the West, partly out of ignorance and partly out of fear. The first is that radical Islam is a relatively minor phenomenon in the Muslim world. The second is that the Palestinian-Israeli dispute is primarily about borders, and amenable to solutions on that basis. And the third is that a nuclear Iran can be deterred in the same manner as the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
On his recent visit to India, President Obama provided a good example of Western ignorance or dissembling with regard to radical Islam. Asked about jihad, he began his reply, by insisting that jihad has several meanings in Islamic thought. Wrong. In contemporary Muslim discourse, jihad invariably refers to conquest to establish the domain of Islam.
The president went on to state, "Islam is one of the world's great religions, which has been distorted in the hands of a few extremists." As Wistrich makes clear, however, Islamofascism, with its death cult and cosmology of civilizational struggle between the forces of righteousness and demonic evil (with the Jews or Israel always at the center), holds in thrall millions of Muslims, from alienated Muslim youth in Europe across the 57 Muslim states.
Nazi race ideology found fertile soil in the Middle East. Hitler was a hero to the founder of Syrian and Iraqi Baathism, Michel Aflaq. Haj-Amin al-Husseini, the founding father of Palestinian nationalism, recruited Bosnian Muslims for Hitler's extermination of Balkan Jewry. In wartime broadcasts from Berlin, he extolled Hitler for having fully grasped the nature of the "Jewish peril" and for "having resolved to find a Final Solution to liberate the world from this danger." Haj-Amin synthesized Nazism with the teachings of "the Prophet" on the perfidy of the Jews in all times and all places – "bloodsuckers of the nations and corrupters of morality, incapable of loyalty or genuine assimilation."
Sayyid Qutb, theorist of the Moslem Brotherhood, of which Hamas and Al Qaeda are but two of the more unsavoury offshoots, wrote in his Our Struggle with the Jews (an echo of Mein Kampf) of "the liberating struggle of jihad" that can never cease, and threatened any Muslim regime that should contemplate any form of accommodation with Israel. (He was executed by Nasser.) For him, as for so many Muslim thinkers after him, the very existence of the state of Israel represented the measure of Muslim world's degradation and moral bankruptcy.
Virulent anti-Semitism, Wistrich quotes the dean of Middle East scholars Bernard Lewis, "is an essential part of Arab intellectual life." The Protocols of the Elders of Zion has been reprinted in countless editions in almost every Muslim country. It climbed to number two on the Turkish best-sellers lists in 2005, at a time when Turkey was still a strategic ally of Israel. Egypt, a nation nominally at peace with Israel, recently broadcast a 24-part TV dramatization of The Protocols.
Conspiracy theories about Jews are readily believed throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Jews are the all-purpose explanation for the Islamic world's weakness and failure vis-à-vis the West, and a metaphor for all the disorienting aspects of modernity and globalization. Iranian-sponsored Holocaust denial is but the most repugnant of those conspiracy theories. In Pakistan, like Iran a Muslin nation with no border or national dispute with Israel, two-thirds of the population did not discredit the claim that Jews were behind 9/11 and were told in advance not to show up for work that day.
The Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979 – a revolution without borders, according to its leader Ayatollah Khomeini – raised the pride and hopes of downtrodden Muslims around the globe. And with the Soviet expulsion from Afghanistan, the fall of the godless Soviet Union, and most recently the emergence of a nuclear Iran, a narrative of Islam ascendant and ready to confront the corrupt, Jew-controlled West has inflamed millions of Muslims. Determination to extirpate the cancer of Israel is the key element allowing Shiite Iran to gather the Sunni Muslim street to its banner. Not surprisingly, a 1999 poll by American University of Beirut of the Arab world found: 87% support Islamic terror attacks on Israel; 70% opposed peace with Israel; and 54% advocated a war of annihilation against Israel.
WISTRICH TAKES AIM at the idea that Palestinian nationalism has come to see the struggle with Israel as primarily one over borders. Just the opposite: Islamic theological elements play an ever larger role among Palestinians, and not just among followers of Hamas. Arafat proclaimed in Venezeula in 1980, "We shall not rest until we return to our home, and until we destroy Israel." He never veered from that goal in front of his own people. Speaking in Arabic in Johannesburg in 1993, after the signing of the Oslo Accords, he assured his audience that Jerusalem is exclusively Moslem, that the only permanent state in present-day Israel would be the state of Palestine, and that the peace process would end in a complete Palestinian takeover.
From the outset of Oslo, as Wistrich documents in copious detail, the PA media has been permeated with the most naked religious and racial hatred of Jews. Sermons urging believers, "[H]ave no mercy on the Jews, no matter where they are, in any country. Fight them. Whenever you meet them, kill them," are broadcast live on the PA's official TV channel. When Jews are discussed in PA textbooks, it is only to recite the same litany of their immutable, negative traits from the days of the Prophet to the present. Zionism is portrayed as a modern expression of the Jews' essential evil. And finally, suicide bombers are endlessly glorified in the official Palestinian media as holy martyrs, with sports tournaments, streets, and town squares named in their honor.
Whatever points of ideology divide the PA and Hamas, writes Wistrich, they fully agree that: Zionism is a "criminal conspiracy" against the Palestinian people, Israel's creation was a satanic, imperialist plot, and Palestine is an Islamic land, one and indivisible. How, Wistrich wonders, will generations raised on such beliefs make a stable, long-lasting peace with Israel in any borders?
MOST CHILLING is Wistrich's lengthy unraveling of the theology of the Iranian Revolution. From early in his career, Khomeini applied to Israel Hitler's description of Jews as "cancer" that must be exterminated. He was obsessed with conspiracies of the "shrewd" Jews for world dominion.
Every Iranian leader since 1979 has followed suit. Former president Khatami, the "liberal" reformer, spoke of Israel as "an old wound in the body of Islam that cannot be healed." And Ahamadinejad's "moderate" rival, former president Rafsanjani, mused in a public sermon at Teheran University that "one atomic bomb would wipe out Israel." Long-range missiles are paraded in Teheran bedecked in signs proclaiming, "Israel must be wiped off the face of the earth."
Ahmadinejad and his sponsor Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei combine the desire to wipe out Israel with an apocalyptic eschatology. Ahmadinejad's spiritual mentor Ayatollah Mezbah-Yazdi taught that human agency can speed the return of the Hidden Imam or Mahdi, the Shi'ite messiah, through sufficiently cataclysmic events. The final jihad, in Yazdi's teaching is that against the "Great Satan" and his smaller brother. Ominously, Ahmadinejad refers frequently, even in public, to communications he receives from the Mahdi.
The millions of Iranians who would die in the conflagration are no concern. In one of his first TV addresses after his first election, Ahmadinejad praised suicide bombers: "Is there an art more beautiful, more divine, more eternal than the art of the martyr's death?" he asked. Ahmadinejad served as a volunteer in the Iraq-Iran War in the Basij Mostazafan. The Basij sent thousands of young children marching to their deaths clearing Iraqi minefields with their exploding bodies.
To ignore Ahmadinejad's rhetoric today, Wistrich comments, is tantamount to ignoring Hitler's threats against world Jewry prior to the Holocaust. Worse, since Ahmadinejad's pursuit of eschatological conflagration, not subject to rational calculation of the balance of forces, will soon be linked to the power to release nuclear weapons at the push of a button.
Is hope that sanctions will do the trick adequate in face of the magnitude of that danger?