Sunday, February 13, 2011

Two Book reviews

A New Shoah, Meotti $15.95
Reviewed by Seth J. Frantzman
Tel 97-57-855-4551,
4 Baruch Ben Nariah, Jerusalem, 94502
February 2010
When I made Aliyah to Israel, at the tail end of the Second Intifada I was surprised by the lack of memorials to the victims of terror. The Palestinians and their friends in Israel call this the “presence of absence” when they describe the lack of commemoration for their former villages. However, a closer look reveals that there are a plethora of tiny signs and memorials for the all too numerous victims. Giulio Meotti, an Italian journalist, has set out to do these victims justice.
This is a tough and necessary job. There have been few books in English that chronicled the Second Intifada from this point of view. There have been even fewer that dared to examine the suffering inflicted on Israelis by the murderous attacks. This is primarily because of the content. It’s easier to write some puff piece about crying Palestinian children and their mother sheltering in a tent outside their freshly ruined house that was supposedly just demolished by a tank to make a road wider. It’s easier to write about soldiers than it is about blown up buses. And in general the supporters of Israel tend to shy away from the gore, from the semi-pornographic obsession with death and the slaughtered, preferring a different moral high ground.
Meotti’s point of departure is that there is a line that connects the victims of terror in Israel and the victims of the Holocaust. Hence the title, which many will consider over the top, A New Shoah. For him there are two reasons to draw this parallel. First is that those who carry out terrorism are often motivated by similar types of anti-semitic hatred; “Hamas and Hezbollah, two of the terrorist organizations that seek the destruction of Israel, call the Jews ‘pigs’, ‘cancer’” and other terms that conjure up a dark era. But the author also aims his argument at the West which he believes has betrayed the Israeli victims of terror; “why is Ofir’s story never held up as an example of what ethnic-religious hatred can do?” He continues, “whenever a Palestinian dies, even a suicide bomber, the newspapers fall all over themselves to publish his story and photographs…today in the West there is a faulty conscience-indifferent to the parade of young Palestinians putting on explosive belts....[this] has obliterated the fate of thousands of Israelis murdered because they were Jews.”
Meotti attempts to create a memorial for those who lost their lives in terrorism through a large number of vignettes. Many of the stories seem oddly similar in their tragedy. Take Corporal Ronald Beer who had “arrived from Russia 14 years before he was killed.” He desired to go the army because “someone has to protect them. If I don’t do it, who will?” There is Gadi Rajwan, an immigrant from Iraq, who employed seventy Arabs. And there is Nava Applebaum, daughter of an American immigrant.
The author tries to emphasize the humanity of the victims. He provides them with a story, a history and a future that was cut short. Like so many other he emphasizes how humane they were and how humane Israeli society is in general; “during the Second Intifada, Israeli hospitals continued to provide medical care to Palestinian patients.” Too many of the victims are sons and daughters or grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. Too many, it seems to the reader, are immigrants. Too many are on their way to get married.
Meotti’s book is jarring as it is a little scatterbrained. There doesn’t appear to be a great deal of organization, from one vignette to the other. But the overhanging theme never changes; Israeli Jews deserve to have their stories told and those that have ignored them under the banner of anti-Zionism are simply anti-semities in a new garb. The author isn’t always exact on his facts. He notes that there were “eighty-six Israelis [who] lost their lives during the First Gulf War, killed by Iraqi missiles, by panic, by suffocation.” This is a massive exaggeration, only 2 Israelis were killed and 230 injured. Where did he come up with 86? But this slight mistake can be overlooked, he has provided an important testament to the victims of terror. It is too bad there are not more like him.

Book Review
The Future of Islam by John L. Esposito, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 234 pages, (Hardcover), 2010 $24.95
Engaging the Muslim World by Juan Cole, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 281 pages, (Hardcover), 2010, $269.95
Reviewed by Seth J. Frantzman
Tel 97-57-855-4551,
4 Baruch Ben Nariah, Jerusalem, 94502
December 2010
Most Muslims are moderate, are lurching towards pluralism, support women’s rights and if only we in the West will take the “next step” and “recognize that the Children of Abraham are part of a rich Judeo-Christian-Islamic history”, abandoning “Islamophobia”, we can move beyond the clash of civilizations. This, in essence, is the message of John Esposito, Professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown University and founding director of the Alwaleed Bin-Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
Juan Cole, a Professor of history at the University of Michigan, argues in his lukewarm account that we need to engage with the Muslim world and dispel the myths about it which have grown up in the West where “Islam Anxiety” has become wide spread. Cole provides a laundry list of apologies for every Islamic fanatic society, from Saudi Arabia’s gender apartheid to Iran. He even goes so far as to make outlandish claims: There is “lack of good evidence for an Iranian nuclear weapons program”; “The [Muslim] Brotherhood has never been big enough [in Egypt] to count as a mass movement”; He calls the Bin Laden “a wealthy and much better organized version of Timothy McVeigh” the Oklahoma City bomber; “Lebanon and Senegal, have much better human rights records [than Saudi Arabia]”; “the [Persian] Gulf is actually among the more cosmopolitan places in the world.”
Is it worth debunking these assertions? Iran is developing nuclear weapons, the Muslim Brotherhood is a mass movement, Bin Laden is not comparable to Timothy McVeigh, Lebanon does not have a wonderful human rights record even compared with Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states can only be considered “cosmopolitan” in a 19th century slavery owning American South kind of way. After all, what other societies in the world house foreign workers, who make up a majority of the population, in work camps where their passports are confiscated and they are worked like slaves so that a tiny minority of wealthy people may enjoy the good life?
Cole, Esposito and Karen Armstrong, who writes the forward to Esposito’s book, are examples of popular Muslim apologists in the West. According to Armstrong there is an “entrenched reluctance to see Islam in a more favorable light” in the West and it is the responsibility of people in the U.S and Europe to not only view Islam in a positive light but change their foreign policies and cultures to take into account the feelings of Muslims since “western foreign policy has been one of the causes of the current malaise in the [Muslim] region.” Like Armstrong (who was a nun), Esposito burnishes his “Christian” credentials and talks about how he spent years in a “Capuchin Franciscan monastery.” The author notes in The Future of Islam that his two former books, What Everyone Needs to know about Islam and Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam, were included on a “reading list” for high ranking soldiers being deployed to Iraq. It is not clear how Future of Islam differs from his previous two books in terms of explaining “what Muslims really think” (the title of another of Esposito’s books) but he claims to introduce us to Islam, again, show how religion plays a role in Muslim politics, examine Muslim reform initiatives and discuss America’s role in the Muslim world.
The main problem with Esposito’s book is that, despite his claim that he has attempted to organize it into themes, there is almost no logic to the way in which the argument is presented. The author is careful to make use of Muslim converts who have Western names. Towards this end he discusses the case of “Dr. Ingrid Mattson”, a Canadian convert to Islam and scholar at Hartford Seminary who was involved in a controversy at the Democratic National convention in 2008. There is also Timothy Winter, a Cambridge University Professor and “prominent Muslim religious leader” who “rejects extremists” and believes Islam should return to its “classical cannons” of Islamic law. But how many Muslims have heard of Winter and Mattson?
Esposito, who is mired in the swamp of American politics, tends to believe that his reader is deeply familiar with American evangelical preachers. Thus the name John Hagee appears numerous times alongside other “preachers of hate” and “hard-line Christian Zionists” such as “Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson [and] Rob Parsley.” Cole uses a similar tactic, comparing radical Islamists to the “gun culture” in the United States. Esposito wants us to believe that Muslim fundamentalists are “like that of the radical Christian Right.” The problem here is that this gives these preachers and right wing gun owners more importance than they have in order to set up a straw man that can be compared to Islamic extremism. Let’s be honest, Islamic terrorists have killed tens of thousands of people in the last decades from India to Africa and the New World. How many people have American gun loving terrorists like McVeigh or followers of pastors like Hagee killed? Less than 200. Even compensating for the population differences from whence the radicals are drawn, 350 million Americans versus 1.3 billion Muslims, there is no comparison.
Future of Islam oddly provides a sort of how to guide on how to convert to Islam (“there is no God and Muhammad is the messenger of God”), for some reason in the chapter entitled “the many faces of Islam.” Yet both authors acknowledges that “Islamic law in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan and the Taliban’s Afghanistan has been used to restrict women’s rights and to mandate stoning of women charged with adultery (Esposito)” and other savage punishments.
In the end Esposito’s book is like blast from a shotgun. The author believes that if he lays out enough short little arguments that some of them will hit the mark. Cole prefers a more direct refutation of the West’s long held beliefs about Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan and Iran. Unfortunately for him, the West is correct, these countries are either run by nefarious regimes or are cauldrons of violent extremism.

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