Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Readers revolt as Tariq Ali scrapes the barrel

The old communist Tariq Ali is wheeled out by The Guardian to write an elegiac review of SOAS Professor Gilbert Achcar's latest attempt to minimise Arab complicity with the Holocaust. But even the readers are not impressed. Read my critique on CiFWatch:

When Georgina Henry moved from the Comment is Free Middle East desk to edit the Culture Section at the Guardian, CIF Watch predicted that Henry would turn her new fiefdom into a cesspool of antisemitism masquerading as anti-Zionism. And so it has come to pass. Henry’s latest commission: Tariq Ali’s review of “The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives” by Gilbert Achcar scrapes the barrel of malevolent ignorance and Orwellian misrepresentation. But wonder of wonders, the readership aren’t having it.

The book in question, is itself a scurrilous work of revisionism, intended by a ‘professor of International Relations at SOAS’ partly to demolish the sacred cow of Arab complicity with the Nazi Holocaust. Like all anti-Israel propaganda, it tries to turn fact into controversy – declaring, as the book’s subtitle denotes, a ‘war of narratives’. Downplaying Arab antisemitism and support for the Holocaust exonerates Arabs from any responsibility for Israel’s establishment.

Tariq Ali, venerable Pakistani Marxist anti-Zionist and warrior against US imperialism, applauds Gilbert Achcar’s ‘systematic and scholarly refutation of the simplistic myths that have arisen from the formation of Israel’. The book, which is being published in an Arab edition, is a ‘valuable corrective’, drawing on such ‘objective’ sources as Tony Judt, Norman Finkelstein, Gabriel Piterberg and Amira Hass. But Ali’s review does not make clear where Achcar’s opinions begin and Ali’s views end.

From the outset Ali (or is it Achcar?) spouts a few myths of his own: Jewish-Muslim ‘civilisation’; the Spanish Golden Age. Most jaw-dropping of all is Ali’s statement: ‘it was not until after the first world war that relations between the communities began to deteriorate seriously. The reason for this was the Balfour Declaration…’

So Tariq Ali, despite coming from the Indian sub-continent, has learnt nothing from the subjugation and forced conversion of Hindus to Islam. He has seemingly never heard of ‘dhimmi’ non-Muslims. He seems blissfully unaware of the ‘untouchable’ Jews of Persia, who could be executed if they brushed up against a Muslim in the rain.

In Ali’s looking-glass world, the Arabs with whom the Israelis chose to ‘mate’ (curious choice of word, that), like Anwar Sadat and Abu Mazen, are crude antisemites. Egyptian President Sadat was indeed a pro-Nazi in his youth, but enough of a pragmatist to sign a peace treaty with Israel, before being gunned down by bigger antisemites than he. As for Abu Mazen, his ‘mating’ dance with Israel is not yet over: this ‘antisemite’ has still not agreed to peace or renounced the sine qua non of a Palestinian ‘right of return’ .

If these two were antisemites, Nasser, whom everyone believes was an antisemite (and Anthony Eden called an Arab Hitler), was not. Tariq Ali (or is it Achcar ?) sees Nasser as first and foremost as a socialist anti-imperialist, ‘whose principle critique of Israel was not ethnic, but political.’And so Ali recycles the old canard that Israel ‘orchestrated’ the exodus of Jews from Egypt and Iraq.

The Arab alliance with Nazism is explained away by Ali as a pragmatic, nationalist ‘the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend’ policy, similar to the example of Subhash Chandra Bose in India, who started an Indian National Army to fight alongside the Japanese. But the Mufti of Jerusalem’s anti-Jewish activity spread well beyond Palestine. (As commenter Armaros remarks: The methods of the Mufti’s army of Nazi Jihadis in Bosnia/Croatia shocked even the Nazis.)

Nasser was a member of the pro-Nazi Young Egypt. Hard to argue Nasser was not an antisemite, when he institutionalised Nazi-style antisemitism by publishing the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ and enlisting the services of thousands of fleeing Nazi war criminals to whom Egypt gave safe haven.

For once, however, the CiF readership is in revolt at such a shoddy review. All but one or two of the 20 comments below Ali’s review are critical. “I should feel insulted that he takes us for such fools, but it’s par for the course unfortunately”, writes whichiswhich.

MiniApolis reflects that Tariq Ali is a singularly inappropriate choice to write about Achcar’s book.” What’s next – a Turkish reviewer of a book explaining why Armenians make too much of the genocide inflicted upon them at the turn of the century? A Hutu explaining why Tutsis should shrug off the Rwandan genocide?”

Adds RayHumm: we come to CiF threads not to be informed, but to be entertained.

Georgina Henry take note: your Culture Section is fast becoming a laughing stock.

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