This is somewhat off-topic, but, the reaction to it touches on a theme that I find crucial in our contemporary world, the suppression of free speech. Truly, we must stand against “political correctness” and “speech codes”. Otherwise, our right of free expression shall be destroyed by the radical-leftist “chattering classes” in the name of “fighting hate speech”. It is one of the most important issues of our time, in my view.
Michael Backman, an Australian writer now living in London, was effectively booted from the pages of The Age, a Melbourne paper, for supposedly penning an “anti-Semitic” column. Below is the column in question. Is the truth anti-Semitic?
Israel Living High On the Back of the USA
There’s a memorable scene in the Stephen Spielberg film Munich. After the 1972 Munich Olympic Games killings of Israeli athletes, Prime Minister Golda Meir tells confidants she wants to show the plotters that killing Jews “is expensive”. She then organises for the assassination of each of the plotters. Today, it is Israel itself that has become expensive. Most directly, it is very expensive to the US, which subsidises and arms it. But, Israel’s utter inability to transform the Palestinians from enemies into friends has imposed big costs on us all. We have paid for Israel’s failure with bombs on London public transport, bombs in bars in Bali, and even the loss of the World Trade Centre towers in New York.
It is not true that these outrages have occurred because certain Islamic fundamentalists don’t like Western lifestyles and so plant bombs in response. Rather, it is Israel, or more correctly the treatment of the Palestinians, that is at the nub of these events. The world’s Muslims have no head, no overarching caliph or pope equivalent exists, no single power source with whom to negotiate. Instead, Islam is remarkably decentralised. So, how extraordinary that Israel and the West have managed to unite this headless, diverse, dispersed grouping without any institutional framework, around just one issue, anger at the treatment of the Palestinians.
Otherwise-dispersed groups of Muslims do seem to feel for one another in a way that Christians and others do not. In this respect, the international Islamic community is like a body, kick it in the leg and the rest of the body feels it. Kick it hard enough and the entire body will be energised to defend itself. Pictures of distraught Gazan mothers beside the mutilated bodies of their children are circulating right now among Muslim communities worldwide. It is pictures like these that make them want to do something. Consider Malaysia. Every citizen of this outpost of Islam has printed in his or her passport that the passport is not valid for Israel. Given that Malaysians are not allowed to hold dual citizenship, this essentially means that every Malaysian citizen, including the 40 per cent who are not Muslims, is banned from visiting Israel. “When will Malaysia recognise Israel?” I once asked the then-Finance Minister. “Once Israel treats the Palestinians better”, was his reply. How would he determine that? “When the Palestinians tell us”, he said. It is not Israel’s right to exist that is at issue.
The enmity many Muslims now feel for Israel has nothing to do with religion. The historical persecutors of the Jews have been Christians, their punishment for the death of Jesus. Jews and Muslims have lived in peace for hundreds of years in many parts of the Islamic world. When Catholic Spain and Portugal expelled its Jews, the Ottoman sultan in Istanbul invited them in. It is the Palestinian issue that has ruined all this. Of course, today, Israel must defend itself. If the residents of Bendigo started firing rockets into Melbourne you would expect Melbourne to retaliate. But, what must Melbourne have done to Bendigo to make them do such a thing? Constantly slapping an opponent in the face, kicking it down to its knees, and watching it struggle in the dirt will not teach the opponent to love or respect you. It teaches only hatred.
Persecuting people does not weaken them. Israel should know that. The Jews have been persecuted for centuries. It didn’t destroy them, but, gave them the impetus to survive. One characteristic that is common among persecuted groups is a strong investment in education, when people’s physical wealth is in danger of destruction from war and persecution, one store of wealth that stays with individuals even when they must flee as refugees is education. It explains why such groups often insist on their own schools, education is too important to be entrusted to others. Hamas did not enjoy the support of all the people of Gaza. It does now. Why does Israel keep getting it wrong?
Trekking in Nepal is fashionable among young Israelis. So much so that many shops in Kathmandu and Pokhara have signs in Hebrew. But, once you get on the trekking circuit and speak with local Nepalese guides and guesthouse operators you soon discover how disliked the Israelis are. Many guesthouses in this poor country will even tell Israeli trekking groups that they are full rather than accept them. This has nothing to do with religion or politics, Nepalese people are some of the warmest, most hospitable in the world. Rather, they say that the young Israelis are rude, arrogant, and argue over trifling amounts of money, even though they clearly have means.
Israel needs to change. The Parsees of India might provide a model. The Parsees are a very tiny, very rich, ethnic and religious minority. They own, perhaps, most of the land in central Mumbai, as well as the country’s largest conglomerate. Yet, ordinary Indians admire and respect them. Violence against them is unthinkable. How have they achieved this? They are not flashy or arrogant. Their overriding characteristic is a deep interest in the welfare of others. They have established hospitals, libraries, schools, museums, and many other institutions and, most importantly, not for the Parsee community exclusively, but, for everyone. So, the Parsees have peace and the Israelis do not.
7 February 2009
Originally published on 17 January 2009
As quoted in Blogocrity
After reading this piece carefully three times, I found absolutely no trace of anti-Semitism in it whatsoever. There was no incitement of hatred of Jews nor were there any attacks on Judaism per se. Indeed, Mr Backman states that Israel has a right to defend itself and that the Jews have overcome persecution to survive.What Mr Backman expresses is a disagreement with the policies of the State of Israel, not the fanning of hatred against Jews, quite a different thing altogether. Therefore, is disagreement with the State of Israel “hate speech”? Is disagreeing with a Jew anti-Semitism?
I state, for the record, that I have no anti-Semitic feelings whatsoever. To hate someone on the basis of race or national origin alone is reprehensible. However, I have experienced some of what Mr Backman has gone through, albeit on a smaller scale (for I am not a public figure). At one time, in a university lecture, I said to the professor, “I don’t like the term Holocaust, I prefer the starker Jüdenmord (German for “Murder of the Jews”). In any case, a ‘holocaust’ is an expiation of sin by sacrificing a spotless victim. That isn’t what happened. What happened is that millions of people were wrongfully put to death, and that is wicked”.
Well, to make a long story short, the professor was livid that I did not accept his exact terminology and definition. The fact that I labeled the action ‘evil’ was not good enough for him. Either I accepted his wording verbatim, or I was a “hateful neo-Nazi” (his words). This happened in the 70s, so, I was able to appeal to the school administration and I won support. Why shouldn’t I? I stated quite clearly that the massacre of the Jews by the Nazis was evil, a position I hold to this day. However, in contemporary academe, free speech on campus is muzzled by draconian speech codes. Today, I would be sentenced to “sensitivity training” (what bilious rot) at the least or expelled at the worst.
This is the most dangerous threat to our liberty today. In fact, Russian friends tell me that they are freer to express themselves than people in the West. Indeed, they tell me that contemporary Westerners must guard their speech as carefully as they did in Soviet times. Something to ponder…