The Balkan powder keg of today’s world, the Middle East, has seemingly inched closer to boom time recently. Iraq shows no signs of quieting down, Iran has become quite the fashionably rogue state under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s watch, and the radical Islamic group Hamas was recently given a mandate by the Palestinian people to rule their territories. Damascus, Gaza, Tehran and Kabul, among other places, have hosted virulent protests over some cartoons parodying Prophet Muhammad and Israeli politics are swirling with the incapacitation of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, with a national election approaching in just over two months.
Prima facie, these developments appear very bad, even ominous, for Israelis and their allies worldwide. Somewhat paradoxically though, I would argue that they are, to use a loaded term, a godsend.
That’s because now, with perhaps greater clarity of vision than at any time since the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, observers worldwide are forced to seriously confront how dangerous the unique Middle Eastern blend of anti-Semitic politics, religion-infused hatred and paramilitary forces really is. Israel has long had to defend itself against mortal enemies who cleverly masked their true intentions in the kind of schizophrenic rhetoric pioneered by Yasser Arafat, but not any longer.
Iran has been committed to the destruction of Israel since the installation of theocratic rule by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979, and has long been considered to be the world’s greatest state sponsor of terrorism, but only recently has Iran made its goal – and the way it plans to achieve it – so embarrassingly obvious. President Ahmadinejad’s call for Israel to be “wiped off the map” at a conference in which the keynote banner read – notably in English – “A World Without Zionism,” adds tinder to the fire by calling the Holocaust a “fairy tale,” all the while smugly pledging to continue his country’s drive to nuclear capability. It’s hard to miss the point he’s making.
The Hamas organization has similarly promised to annihilate Israel and the Jews living there since its founding in 1987, but its popular support among the Palestinian people has long been downplayed by the opportunistic Palestinian National Authority and U.S. officials. Not any longer. Ever since Hamas won a landslide victory in the Palestinian elections a few weeks ago, the worldwide community – especially the many countries that send monetary aid to the Palestinian government – must grapple with the reality that a group whose primary objective is the destruction of its neighbor state, and whose favored modus operandi is the suicide bombing, was democratically elected by the Palestinian people.
And what about those pesky cartoons and the crazed reaction to them? One of the most “offensive” depicts the venerated Prophet Muhammad with a ticking-bomb turban, which certainly makes quite a controversial statement. No halfway decent pundit would dare say that Islam is a terrorist religion, but it is worth considering that the two governments above wrap their destructionist goals in the language of Islam and in the practice of terrorist attacks. It is worth putting the cartoons in the context of today’s world, where there are such things as intellectual freedom and Islamic terrorism. Further, when these caricatures are viewed in comparison with the depictions of evil, Protocols of the Elders of Zion-style Jews that are published almost daily in Arabic language newspapers – to no protest – one must wonder if a dangerous double standard exists.
When anti-Semitism is normalized in a region where one theocratic state is working to develop a nuclear arsenal and another has recently elected a guerilla terrorist group to lead it, where embassies are burned and people killed over an intellectual insult to Islam by people who publish cartoons of Adolf Hitler in bed with Anne Frank and where Islamic sectional strife threatens to rip apart a new, albeit forcibly imposed, democracy, it’s hard to blame the whole mess on Israel. In a hotspot packed with rotting regimes, radical religion, and apocalyptic terrorist groups, the latest developments are not surprising – but they are clarifying. It now appears that the U.S. cried “wolf” in its push towards war with Iraq, but we should not neglect the predatory forces of evil that are clearly apparent, and increasingly mobilized, in the new Middle East.
Joel Furman is a senior law & society major.