The Dead's Envy for the Living
Iran has no common border with Israel. No Iranian soldier has killed an Israeli soldier in combat since the founding of the Jewish State. Yet hatred and fear of the Jews is a palpable presence in the minds of Iran’s rulers. Some days the mullahs make the Nazis look rational by comparison. I cited a lecture given by an advisor to Iran’s culture minister insisting that the cartoon “Tom and Jerry” was part of a plot by Jewish studio executives in Hollywood to rehabilitate the image of Jews.
Iran’s theocrats hate and fear the Jews for the same reason that Hitler did. The “Master Race” delusion of the Nazis twisted the Chosenness of Israel into a doctrine of racial election; for the “Master Race” to be secure in its dominion, the original “paragon and exemplar of a nation” (Rosenzweig) had to be exterminated. Islam is by construction a supercessionist religion. It claims that the Jewish and Christian Scriptures perverted the original prophecy of Islam, and that Mohammed restored the true religion through the Koran. Mohammed is the “seal of the prophets,” the final and definitive exponent of God’s word, replacing the falsified version of Christians and Jews.
Muslims may believe this and peaceably await the day when its competitor religions will crumble and the whole world will acknowledge its prophet, just as Jews pray thrice daily for the Messianic era when all the world will acknowledge one God by one name. But it is difficult for Iran to be patient when its self-conceived guardians of God’s message are staring into an inescapable abyss at the horizon of a single generation. This is a culture inherently incapable of reflection on its own deficiencies, one that has nourished itself for 1,200 years on morbid rancor against the Sunni Muslim majority and more recently against the West. Patience in this case is a poison.
Israel thus faces a new Hitler and the threat of a new Holocaust. There is no way to portray the situation in a less alarming light. That is one parallel to 1938; another is the response of the world’s powers to the emergence of this monster.
To the declining nations of Western Europe, Israel’s national self-assertion is a moral outrage. Since St. Isidore of Seville persuaded the Visigoth kings of Spain to adopt Christianity with the promise that they would become the leaders of a chosen nation in emulation of King David, the national consciousness of the European nations has taken the form of national election. I argued in a 2008 essay for the religious monthly First Things:
As Franz Rosenzweig observed, once the Gentile nations embraced Christianity, they abandoned their ancient fatalism regarding the inevitable extinction of their tribe. It is the God of Israel who first offers eternal life to humankind, and Christianity extended Israel's promise to all. But the nations that adhered to Christendom as tribes rather than as individuals never forswore their love for their own ethnicity. On the contrary, they longed for eternal life in their own Gentile skin rather than in the Kingdom of God promised by Jesus Christ. After Christianity taught them the election of Israel, the Gentiles coveted election for themselves and desired their own people to be the chosen people. That set ethnocentric nationalism in conflict both with the Jews—the descendents of Abraham in the flesh—and with the Church, which holds itself to be the new People of God.
As Rosenzweig put it, “Precisely through Christianity the idea of Election has gone out amongst the individual nations, and along with it a concomitant claim upon eternity. It is not that the case that such a claim upon eternity conditioned the entire life of these peoples; one hardly can speak of this. The idea of Election, upon which such a claim [upon eternity] uniquely can be based, becomes conscious for the peoples only in certain exalted moments, and in any case is more of a festive costume than their workaday dress. . . . Still, there sleeps upon the foundation of one's love for one's own people the presentiment that someday in the distant future it no longer will be, and this gives this love a sweetly painful gravity.”
The European elite cannot distinguish its own past parody of Israel’s election from the self-understanding of the Jewish people as a blessing to all nations by virtue of its unique national life. Israeli nationalism only brings to mind Europe’s failed nationalisms and their horrendous denouement in the world wars of the past century. Europe is enervated, exhausted by past wars, aging, hedonistic and cynical. It is not surprising that the nations of Europe once again would avert their eyes to the threat of another Holocaust.