Friday, April 01, 2011

Are Libyans against tyrants or Jews?

Do Libyans want to get rid of Colonel Gaddafi as a tyrant - or a Jew ? Will the next regime be equally bigoted? Will it replace Gaddafi's Goebbels-type Jew-hatred with the more traditional Islamic variety? Roger Kaplan writing in The American Spectator wants to know :

One of the questions I would put to Moussa Koussa, Libyan defector, if I were one of his British handlers, would not be whether he had any information regarding Moammar Gaddafi's alleged Jewish origins, but whether he thought it mattered to the folks in Benghazi. Are they fighting a tyrant, or they are fighting a Jew?

Gaddafi's family background sometimes comes up when biographers or researchers are looking for ways of attracting attention. He was raised by Muslims, Bedouins of the Quaddafiya tribe, whose base city is Sirte, more or less halfway between Tripolitania and Cyrenaica.

Though he justified some of his policies by reference to Islam and Islamic unity (for example, his hatred of Israel and his intervention in Uganda on the side of the Muslim dictator Idi Amin) Gaddafi did not support the traditional Muslim lines of authority, nor the politicized fundamentalism that is called Salafism or Islamism. He hates the Saudi royal family, a bastion of fundamentalism. His claim that in the civil war in Libya he is fighting al Qaeda is not entirely fanciful.

When he and a few other young military men overthrew the pro-American King Idris in 1969, they also were in revolt against the Sennoussi religious networks, which are profoundly conservative. They are somewhat like the Muslim Brotherhood, without its militant trans-Islamic program. There are networks and confraternities like this throughout the Arab-Islamic world. They are, functionally, somewhat comparable to religious networks in advanced societies -- the Rabbinical Council of America, the Southern Baptists. We ought to know more about them. Given the state of our trillion dollar intelligence apparatus, we, I mean we as a nation, ought to. Maybe we do.

One of the first things Gaddafi and the other young colonels did in the early 1970s was to wage a Kulturkampf against the conservative mosques. There was a whiff of Maoism, in the way they went and humiliated aged, learned (in the ways of the Koran) men and "cleaned up the mosques." Fresh air, fresh ideas, let women in, all that sort of thing, the radical young colonels -- it was in the, since we are speaking German here, Zeitgeist. The anti-colonial Third World was on the march. The Sennoussi never forgave the one who eventually became the Guide (author of The Green Book), and it is no accident the revolt began in the east, where they are, or were, strong. You can purge a lot of cultural memory in 40 years, but then again, some ways endure.

So one of the things you would want to know is whether the anti-Judaism that used to be, still is, intrinsic to much -- not all, much -- conservative Islam is still on the brains of the people of the Libyan east. It would be interesting to know. Gaddafi, like many other fascists, adopted a more modern version of this ancient hatred, imported from totalitarian Europe. Modern anti-Semitism was eagerly seized upon by Arab nationalists, even before the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948, to attack the Zionist project. Zionism, of course, is the only successful national liberation movement in the history of the Middle East, which is one reason, let it be said in passing, why non-Arab and anti-fundamentalist minorities, such as Berbers and Kurds, often are sympathetic toward Israel. Christian minorities, notably in the Levant, tended toward ultra-anti-Zionism to burnish their Arab nationalist credentials. It did not get them much, but people are weird.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia are, with Iran, the world centers of anti-Semitic propaganda. They mix centuries-old Muslim anti-Judaism with the fantastic racial paranoia that used to be spewed out by Goebbels in Germany and Zhdanov in the Soviet Union. It is not at all unusual to meet Arabs, including quite young ones, who appear to have memorized editorials from the Stürmer. This is true also among Muslim immigrants in Europe.

The Jewish origins canard about Gaddafi -- the same "fact" surfaces from time to time about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- is significant only if it is taken seriously. The personal side of it may be of some interest to armchair psychologists or biographers, as have been hateful speculations about Adolf Hitler, but politically and strategically what matters is whether we are dealing with a mass anti-Semitic phenomenon. If we are, it will turn against us, no matter what help we proffer to people whose immediate target is the tyrant in place.

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