Tuesday, December 26, 2006

On using an entire people as martyrs (your own; plus, of course, the Jews)

I've been noticing lately that two lovely impulses seem to go hand-in-hand--virulent anti-Semitism plus the willingness to use one's own people as a sacrifice to the larger goal of destroying the Jews.

Take a look at this post of Dr. Sanity's, and the Ron Rosenbaum essay on which it's based. Sobering reading, indeed.

Here's the heart of what Dr. Sanity has to say (read her essay; she offers an interesting suggestion, as well):

From [the Iranian mullahs'] warped perspective, the involuntary martyrdom of a few million muslims in Iran is a small price to pay to "wipe Israel off the map" and finish the job that Hitler started.

What a grand gesture for the muslims of the world to witness and emulate! Iran strapping on the suicide bomb around its entire population to gloriously rid Islam of the Jewish menace.

In order to "strap the suicide bomb around its entire population," it takes a remarkable lack of reverence for human life and regard for one's own people. Even the Japanese in World War II, who invented the kamikaze pilot (a specialized form of suicide bomber: military bomber, military target), a country which certainly asked its population to be willing to die for the cause, surrendered after the atomic bombs were dropped. It turns out enough sacrifice was enough.

The mullahs of today in Iran see their mission as occurring primarily in the realm of religion. Yes, it's played out on the stage of this world--the goal is control of Iran (mission accomplished) domination of the Moslem umma (in the works), and triumph over the Great and Little Satans (the US and Israel; consummation devoutly to be wished). But the eyes of the mullahs are very much on the other world, as well, and one of their goals (perhaps the most important one, in their eyes) is ascendance in that world to come. And, as such, they have far less reluctance than most regimes to facilitate the martyrdom of some segment of their own population--after all, they would achieve glory in heaven. What's not to like?

Here's how Rosenbaum puts it:

[These words have been] uttered by the leader of what the Western press has lately taken to calling the “pragmatic conservatives” in Iran, Ayatollah Hashemi Rasfanjani:

“If one day the world of Islam comes to possess the weapons currently in Israel’s possession [meaning nuclear weapons]—on that day this method of global arrogance would come to a dead end. This…is because the use of a nuclear bomb in Israel will leave nothing on the ground, whereas it will only damage the world of Islam.”

Sounds pretty pragmatic to me.

Religious motivations are not the only ones leaders can have for sacrificing their people. Pol Pot certainly wasn't averse to killing a goodly number of his own, nor was his predecessor (and no doubt, inspiration) Stalin, and they were not religious in the usual sense. Communism isn't interested in the world to come, only power in this one--but it shares with religion the strength of the belief system of its "true believers," and their possible ruthlessness.

Hitler, a leader about whom Rosenbaum has also written a book attempting to explain the origins of his evil, was the anti-Semite par excellence. Originally, he didn't ask his people to martyr themselves in the process of killing the Jews; his concentration camps were a model of efficiency, and cost few--if any--extra German lives. But, strangely enough, at the end of the war when all was lost (except, of course, the war against the Jews of Europe, which he mainly won), he wanted the German people to die.

That impulse was expressed in his last days, when he ordered the destruction of what was left of Germany. The German people had been tried and found wanting; they hadn't been up to the task, and he wanted them to go down with him. Apparently, his generals failed to cooperate, but the destructive impulse on his part was there; no surprise, actually.

Hitler's last testament is an interesting document. It calls on the German people and generals to sacrifice to the death and never surrender. It excommunicates generals such as Goehring for even considering negotiating with the enemy. And it shows, among other things, the complete domination of Hitler's anti-Semitism. From beginning to end, that's the guiding light; blaming the Jews for the war. Here is the last sentence:

Above all, I enjoin the government and the people to uphold the race laws to the limit and to resist mercilessly the poisoner of all nations, international Jewry.

Remember, these are Hitler's last words, his final attempt to influence history. And influence it he has. There is no question that the Arab and Iranian worlds have followed Hitler's rhetoric and example in their anti-Semitism (and take a look at this book for an excellent study of the details of how that happened).

Holocaust denial, the current Iranian vogue, is an ironic tribute to the master, Hitler. It simultaneously attempts to whitewash his evil history while contemplating the completion of the task he considered his most valuable. And these heirs of Hitler are so emboldened by decades of anti-Semitic propaganda round the world that they don't feel they have to keep mum about it--just as Hitler knew he could count on the cooperation of much of Europe, without whose help he could not have accomplished his glorious task.

There's a great deal of room for irony, as well, in the establishment of the modern state of Israel. Zionism predated World War II, but without the Holocaust it probably would not have gained enough support to actually influence the UN into establishing a tiny Jewish state alongside the Palestinian one (yes, the UN solution was a "two-state" one, which the Palestinians and the Arab world rejected).

Why did the Jews so desperately want and need a state? Before then, they'd been dispersed around the world for centuries (millennia, actually), and country after country had denied them citizenship and full rights, expelling them time and again. With the single exception of the US, which granted them full citizenship from the start (France was next, by the way), most of the countries of Europe gave them citizenship only in the mid-1800s.

But extreme prejudice remained, and Jews continued to be considered the "other," suspected of lack of loyalty in most countries in which they resided (this, by the way, was the essence of the Dreyfus Affair). In order to facilitate his destruction of the Jews of Europe, Hitler had to hunt them down, country by country, and gather them together in central places (the camps) to be murdered. The prescient Jews who tried to escape found the way blocked--emigration was barred to most, even by the US.

That very special horror--the closing of the doors of countries that could possibly offer refuge, except to a select few--was part of the legacy of the Holocaust. It has been given graphic representation in Art Spiegelman's highly recommended Maus, a two-book depiction (in comic/cartoon form) of his parents' sufferings and survival in the Holocaust.

Spiegelman's concept sounds odd--and indeed, it is. But read it. It's a masterpiece, building in power as the the strangeness of the concept--Jews drawn as mice, Germans as cats, and so forth--creates its own hypnotic and horrific world.

The Spiegelman book captures in literal terms the cat and mouse game of the Holocaust--the hunters and the hunted. The vast majority of the hunted--the Jews--found the trap closing in on them with no escape possible. Afterwards, the weary survivors were convinced that the only way out for the future was to finally have a country of their own again. That way, several problems would be solved: Jews could never again be expelled from a country at its whim, considered interlopers, with no place to go (the right of return guaranteed that); and they would be able to have their own defense forces and not go "as lambs to the slaughter."

There was only one catch, it turns out. Although Jews had been in the area from time immemorial, and constituted sizeable populations in both Palestine and other Arab countries as well (populations which were now "transferred" to Israel. much in the way of other such partitions and transfers such as much of the Muslim population of India going to Pakistan on partition there--a transition far more bloody, by the way, than anything that has occurred in Israel/Palestine) Israel didn't count on the lack of absorption of the Palestinian population by their Arab brethren. That the Palestinians would be kept in "camps," under UN welfare aegis, for decades, rather than being absorbed by countries such as Jordan (basically composed of other "Palestinians") was not foreseen. The enduring enmity of countries such as Iran, which had no particular dog in this race, was also not predicted.

Iran is presently the cheerleader of Muslim anti-Semitism, otherwise focused mainly in the Arab world. And Israel, as has been pointed out many times, is a "one-bomb country," so small that it wouldn't take much to wipe it out.

Thus, in a rather intense irony (sorry for the repetition, but I can't seem to stop using that word in relation to this topic) the "ingathering" of Jews that the formation of the state of Israel represented, which was supposed to have been essential for Jewish survival, has instead facilitated the work of Hitler's heirs.

A great deal of Hitler's energy was involved in rounding up a widely scattered people--one of the main Holocaust themes is the cattle car, the trains on which the Jews were transported to their doom.

But now there's no longer need for any such effort. Because of the "ingathering" that Israel already represents, one strategic bomb would destroy half of world Jewry in a moment. If the Jews are the canaries in the mine (and I believe that's an apt metaphor), half of them are now in a single mine, and it's sprung a gas leak.

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