Q: How do you explain the attraction on the part of many Westerners to the Third World-ism represented by radical Islam? Is it genuine — a la Lawrence of Arabia — or rather a piggy-back ride on an anti-Semitic movement?
A: There are a number of strands of this phenomenon. One is this Arabophile picture of the romantic and “unspoiled” East and the “glamour” of the Orient. That goes back to the days of colonial rule. Another — intertwined — element was the Lawrencian myth of the Arabs found among the British and French upper classes. I think this was a form of escape from their own societies and unresolved personal problems, among them sexual ones. There was undoubtedly an element of homosexual attraction involved. You find this with writers like Andre Gide, who wouldn’t be suspected of any political motives. But then you also find it in colonial officials. Take Sir Ronald Storrs, the first governor of Jerusalem during the British Mandate in Palestine. He was well-known for his homosexual tendencies, as were many of his advisers and other high officials in the Mandate. And they tended to be militantly anti-Zionist, considering the Jewish national home in Palestine to be a huge historic injustice to the Arabs.
Then there were great Orientalist scholars, like Louis Massignon in France, who adopted the view that turning Palestine over to the Jews was part of the really nefarious, decadent, Western influence that was spoiling the authentic and uniquely spiritual culture of Islam. Today, one reads such views with astonishment, because history has developed in such a contrary direction. But they influenced policy.
Take the case of Sir John Bagot Glubb who commanded the Jordanian-Arab Legion in the 1948 war. A conservative Englishman, he was called “Glubb Pasha” in the new Kingdom of Transjordan. He was a fully-fledged anti-Semite, not merely an anti-Zionist, as you would expect, given his mobilization for the Arab cause.
Still, there is something curious about the British case, because this Arabophile trend in the upper classes for a long time went hand-in-hand with an opposite sentiment held by pro-Zionists such as Lloyd George, Balfour, Churchill and others, who were great figures in British politics in the early 20th century. What distinguished them was that they were schooled in the Bible. So they understood the geography and the history of the Holy Land; the biblical associations meant a great deal to them; and they felt they were performing a great act of historic justice in restoring the Jews to the land from which they came. This was self-evidently true to them in a way that it is self-evidently incomprehensible to people brought up today who do not know the Bible, or dismiss it out of hand; who know nothing about Jewish history, other than the Palestinian version of it.
This narrative basically says that the Zionist movement and the people who came to settle in the Land of Israel are all alien invaders. This is an outright lie, of course, but it’s one that is widely believed by people today who have no interest in history and no respect for truth. It’s astonishing how often one reads complete dismissals of the historical connection of the Jews with Palestine. The Palestinians even deny that there was a First or a Second Temple. And they go even further in falsifying history, by claiming, for instance, that the Arabs of Palestine are descendants of the Canaanites, and therefore preceded the children of Israel in the conquest of Canaan as described in the Bible. Obviously, there’s no shred of evidence for any link whatsoever between the Canaanites and the Arabs of Palestine.
Today, people from Western countries often have not even the vaguest idea of the Jews’ link to this land. They tend to believe the kind of things that were given some credence even by President Obama in his Cairo speech, where he suggested that it was only the history of persecution, and particularly the Holocaust, that provided the source of Israel’s justification.
But anyone really familiar with Judaism and the history of the Jews would know that the tripod that makes up the core of the Jewish people — Judaism, the land of Israel and the laws of the Torah — cannot be disconnected. This is why anti-Zionists, and often anti-Semites, try so hard to separate them.
Part Two follows tomorrow.