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It is hard to escape the burden of the present. Others like to speak of the burden of history, but it is truly the present that burdens our vision of the past. A recent book by a British woman, Eva Figes, another 'Holocaust survivor' turned rabid Israel hater, has written that the U.S "cleared Europe of its unwanted Jewish refugees" and that America created the "mess" that is the Middle East. Hindsight is 20/20 for every currently weak forgetful European. America cleared Europe of her Jews? Not the Nazis to be sure. America 'created' the Modern Middle East? Not the white haired men of Versailles who drew the modern borders. Not the European colonial officers, the Ottomans or the Arabs, surely not them. Not King Faisal and Abdullah and Lawrence and Lloyd George and Churchill. No. It was America. The Burden of the present paints us a picture of a strong America 'clearing' Europe of her Jews and drawing the borders of the Middle East, all so another person can bash America and claim Israel ruins the world.
There is a common need by those viewing history to imagine it like the present. This has always been the case. During the Middle Ages King David was depicted in European armour, as a knight. Later the Crusader knights and their enemies were also imagined assaulting European style castles. The Old City of Jerusalem and its Temple often looked like more European than foreign in depictions. This isn't always the fault of the historian or artist. How can someone imagine architecture that they have never seen? How can they imagine costumes and garb they have never witnessed? Aliens too seem to replicate only the most extreme imaginations we have. Thus computers in the movie Alien are large and clunky, indicative of the time that they were imagined, in the 1980s. Thus the future and past must in some way reflect those who imagine them. This idea is taken by post-modernists and others to believe that therefore nations are merely 'imagined communities' and that all history is 'narrative'. But in fact what we increasingly see is not the way the right wing uses modernity to justify imagining history as truth, but the way the left distorts history based on its own modern ideology.
Let's take the issue of human rights and values such as 'tolerance'. Societies in the past are condemned, especially if they are seen as 'western', to the dustbin if they are not tolerant. Meanwhile 'good' societies in the past such as Athens are raised up as former incarnations of our modern selves. Those 'bad' societies are heaped with hatred and referred to as 'proto-fascist' or 'proto-nazi'. The Spartans are but one example of this. There is no nuance that recognizes that Athenian democracy is no more a utopian homosexual proto-San Fransisco than Sparta was a previous version of Nazi Germany. Slavery and 'racism' are forever twisted and fabricated in order to suit our modern era. Thus western slavery is seen as the greatest evil while Muslim slavery, which began earlier and murdered more people, is seen as positive and tolerant, all because we have a common view of the Old South as evil and Modern Islam as tolerant and diverse. We are unable to see Hamas as the KKK, both terrorist organization who wear white hoods, because we need white western slavery to be a unique institution.
Think of the history of the PLO. It is inevitably seen not as its original self but as a former version of its modern self. Thus its 'moderation' is projected backward. People forget its role in Lebanon and Jordan, its mass murder of Olympic Athletes or its bombing of synagogues in Europe. People even forget that it was founded long before 1967, along with Fatah, and that its original goal was not the liberation of Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, but the opposite, only the destruction of Israel inside the Green Line. These things are easily forgotten because it's hard to imagine the rhetoric of the Palestinians without their insistence on Jerusalem and without their 'occupation'. Likewise the 'proto-PLO' of the 1930s is seen as having been 'prescient' for imagining that the Arabs would be 'dispossessed'. While books discuss 'violence in the history of Zionism' there is no discussion of 'violence in Arab nationalism' as if such violence was not endemic to the movement. This mistaken idea that the Arab terror of the 1930s was merely predicting the occupation of the 1990s excuses the former terror.
There may be no greater example of the fabrication of history through imagining the present than Eva Figes' Journey to Nowhere: One woman looks for the promised land, a futile solution. A 'Holocaust survivor' she has a deep hated for Israel, which is why her book was published and widely read in the UK. "As a Jew she felt the need" to say that the creation of Israel was a 'catastrophic mistake' and 'unpardonable' and 'ugly' and 'inherently racist'. Like so many self-described 'holocaust survivors' from Europe Israel didn't live up to her expectations and therefore must be destroyed. But what is unique is that Figes "reserves her real fury for the Americans."
The next sentences are extraordinarsh refugees, but did not care to have them in America. Thus Israel was born, not out of global remorse, but of 'continuing anti-Semitism'. America, writes Figes, is a country 'which has made a habit of dictating to countries of which it is profoundly ignorant ... Rather than engage with people, it prefers to bomb them from a great height.' It is to America, she argues, that we must look for the true culprit for the wretched mess that the Middle East has become."
This claim must be parsed and explored for it shows the degree to which people, even older people like Figes who recall the 1940s, can have their memories distorted. They are unable to think outside of the current period of American power. Listen to how they imagine the past. America in 1945 was "determined to clear Europe of unwanted Jewish refugees." In fact it was the Nazis and the European collaborators who wanted to clear Europe of its Jews. But these are now forgotten because the imagination cannot even imagine European Nazis and their collaborators in the modern metrosexual Europe of flaccid men. A British citizen, Figes cannot recall that it was actually the UK that played a great role in all this because she cannot imagine the UK of 1945, the British empire that spanned the globe at the time. She speaks of the US not wishing "to have them [Jews] in America." But did the UK want them? Did the UK take them? No. No.
But note that in the present need to hate America there is no soul searching among the European, or the Jewish 'holocaust survivor.' But which country was it that treated the Jews humanely in 1945 and carried out the Nuremburg trials? The UK? France? No. No. It was the UK that actually arrested the surviving German and Italian Jews found in Germany in their occupation zone and placed them in POW camps as 'enemy nationals'. It was only when the U.S and its JDC found out about this treatment, where Jews were housed next to their former jailors, that they were placed in their own Displaced Persons camps. These Displaced Persons, some 300,000 of them, could not be repatriated to Eastern Europe where most had come from because they were not wanted and they themselves did not want to return. Outbreaks of anti-semitism and pogroms in 1946 in Kielce Poland sent another 100,000 Jews pouring into the allied occupation zone of Germany. For Figes this cannot be imagined. She wants to see the U.S ethnically cleansing Europe of Jews and creating Israel. In fact the U.S JDC helped bring Jews to Australia and didn't originally funnel them to Palestine, which at the time was run by the British who, in 1939, had made Jewish immigration all but illegal, ensuring that Jews could not flee Europe. But there is no recollection of the role England played in all this. England is imagined and small and weak, as she is today, not as she was.
It is amazing to read that the U.S should be condemned for dictating to countries of which it is ignorant and bombing countries when the UK has been equally guilty of this. But there is, once again, no recollection. UK citizens can't even imagine that they participated in all the Gulf Wars and Operation Desert Fox in 1998 and the bombing of Kosovo and Serbia twice. Nope. No recollection. Like some sort of Orwellian world the British and their adopted citizens such as Figes simply cannot recall. There is a hole in their memory. The hole extends to wanting to believe that it was the U.S that was a close ally of Israel in 1948, based on the modern knowledge that the U.S and Israel are allies. This is an astounding act of historical denial, for the U.S was no friend of Israel until the 1960s. Where is the recollection of the UK's role in creating Israel, the Balfour declaration, the Mandate, the handover to the UN, the partition plan, the Soviet recognition of Israel?
The past is fabricated to meet the standards and stereotypes and current rages of the present. Other ideologies have perverted history to their own ends. The Communists subverted it to economics. The Nazis found secret Aryan tribes inhabiting Tibet and founded 'research institutes' to study them. But our destruction of history is just as bad. We subvert it to liberalism. Think of the abuse and misuse of the Holocaust. It is used to describe other massacres, such as when Avraham Burg describes the 'Heroro Holocaust' in his latest book. The Jews are said to 'monopolize and manipulate' the Holocaust, daring to emphasize that they were its central victims. Then people say the Holocaust is an 'excuse' for creating Israel and that Jews 'use the Holocaust' to shield Israel from criticism. And leftists can't criticize anything without calling it a 'Holocaust' or using the word 'nazi' so beholden are they to this imagery. The abuse of America is even worse. People want to find the 'sources' of American 'empire' in the 19th century, finding it in the colonization of some Guano islands in the pacific. This in a time when the entire world was carved up by empires, America should be condemned for invading an uninhabited atoll?
The height of the blinding arrogance is the supposition that America was responsible for all sorts of things that have nothing to do with her. Listen to the UK Holocaust survivor Figes "It is to America, she argues, that we must look for the true culprit for the wretched mess that the Middle East has become." Really? It couldn't possibly be the Arabs or the Ottomans or the Europeans who successively carved up the Middle East and colonized it? It is America? It couldn't be Islamism and Arab nationalism? It couldn't be Nasser or Saddam Hussein? It couldn't be the post World War one settlement? It couldn't be the Soviet role? No. We can't imagine that the Soviets and Russians even had a role in the Middle East because the current weak state of Russia won't even allow us to imagine it. That's the false memory. It views history from the present rather than the present from the point of view of history. This is why everything is so distorted. We can't understand conflicts or human history because it's never in perspective. We see millions of refugees today and we project their status into history so that their entire history becomes 'dispossessed'. We see racism today and we can't imagine a society that imagined race differently.
Two recent books originally penned in the 1920s and put out by Paul Rich detail Iraq in that period. What is interesting is the story of the minority Jewish, Mandean and Christian communities. We learn that their wives were carried off, their daughters forcibly married to Muslims and that, from time to time, they suffered attacks and massacres. Such was the stuff of the 'world of tolerance' that was Islam. Such is the stuff of today, whether it is another bulldozer rampage in Jerusalem or the stabbing of a Jew in Yemen, or another bombing of a Yezedi community in Iraq. Drip, drip, drip...the minorities disappear. One by one.
On March 5th a Palestinian Bedouin from Beit Hanina drove his bulldozer into a police car, flipping it over. Then he pushed the police car, with policeman in it, into a bus. He was shot dead at the scene. This could be determined 'temporary insanity' or some act of hatred for the police were it not for the fact that this was the fourth such attack in a year in Jerusalem. The first two in 2008 killed four people in two separate attacks by Palestinians driving bulldozers in West Jerusalem. The third involved an Arab who drove his car into a group of soldiers. Each attack appears to have been uncoordinated and basically unplanned. They were 'sudden acts' of 'rage'. Hamas praised the attacks, noting that either restrictions on movement of Palestinians or potential home demolitions cause 'repercussions'. The EU, in an unrelated report, also seems to have excused this behavior by noting Israel activities, "illegal under international law, serve no obvious purpose, have severe humanitarian effects, and fuel bitterness and extremism."
But a look at the accounts of early 20th century travelers in Iraq, and an attack on a Jew in Yemen may shed light on some nuances. Robert Hay, a British officer who resided in Kurdistan in the 1920s wrote extensively on the ethnography of the region. On the Jews he noted that "girls are sometimes carried off and made to change their religion" by neighboring Muslims. On Christians he noted "Christians are in demand as servants in Muhammadan houses...Muhammadans may take Christian girls to wife, though they may not give their daughters away to members of the other religion...the Turkish government ordered a massacre in Ainkawa [a Christian Chaldean village]...they live in a constant state of suspicion and terror...in Shaqlawah and Koi the Christians are occupied in weaving...[which is] considered a degrading occupation and it is probably on this account that the Christians have survived." In Gertrude Bell's account of Iraq at the same time, describing the low lying country, she spoke of the Mandeans, a group of people with Christian-Zaroastrian beliefs, and noted that "of late many of their women have been married to Muslims and they are facing extinction." These two accounts are mirrored by accounts of Jews and Christians throughout the Muslim world at this time. Although not generally massacred they suffered a slow degradation, raping of their women and destruction of their communities through a slow boa constrictor like policy.
The recent murder of a Jew by a knife wielding former air force officer in Yemen is not unique. He was acquitted of manslaughter for reasons of insanity. The connection between him, the Mandeans and Chaldeans and Jews in West Jerusalem today is very clear. When Muslims decide to 'go crazy' they murder non-Muslims. Muslims don't have bulldozer rampages in East Jerusalem. In truth what is happening is not really people 'going crazy'. It is instead people who are raised from birth on books that teach only hatred and intolerance. When people decide to murder others it is more likely that they murder those people they have cursed their entire lives as 'swine'. Robert Hay noted it in among the Kurds; "If a Kurd wishes to express contempt for an official he will say 'even a Jew is better than he' or if he wishes to show how will behaved his tribe is he remarks 'even a Jew could keep us in order."
When people speak like this in normal every day life, as if to say in the U.S in the 1960 "even a Nigger is better than he", we come to understand how Islam works to destroy minorities. Recall that 'scholars' have long described the Kurds as being 'tolerant' towards Jews and popular imagination among Jews even conjures this up. This is a mistake. There was not a place in the Muslim world where the 'tolerance' was not as it was in Kurdistan. There was 'tolerance' in the sense that people survived. But they survived like the Samaritans in Nablus. They didn't survive. They slowly died out, each person's life and each generation a private hell of insults, degradation, raping of women and suppression. No different than the plight of slaves in the U.S, the plight of minorities was one neverending evil. It is an evil, alas, that still exists today.
Roxana Saberi was recently reported by her father to have been wrongly imprisoned by the Iranian regime. She was charged with buying alcohol but her real reason for detention was 'illegal reporting'. On the face of this it seems like another reason to protest the Iranian regime's treatment of journalists. However it is time to start asking 'why are the journalists there in the first place'. Roxanna was no longer a reporter, her press credentials had been revoked a year ago by the regime. She was instead getting in touch with her heritage and learning Farsi. The truth is that there is a great deal of collaboration by journalists and scholars and others with Iran. The same people that would have boycotted South Africa or some other place are all too happy to fraternize with this regime and that is why it is important to have less sympathy for them.
Pictures of journalist Roxana Saberi show her enjoying her time with ayatollahs. She covers her head in a tight fitting headscarf, tightly stapling it below her chin in order to follow and "respect the dress code." She "loved Iran" and "loved the place." She was "finding her roots" and studying Farsi. She was a minor celebrity, "filing reports for press all over the world." She helped the world understand and love Iran. In order to make them love it she, like all journalists in the country, made sure to paint a good picture of it. There was no discussion of human rights violations, of extremism, of terrorism, of anti-semitism. There was the typical, could-have-been-produced-by-the -government, reports of wonderful exotic Iran. No controversy. No investigation. Not criticism. No judging. When the government revoked her credentials she blindly followed orders and stopped reporting. Then she was arrested for buying wine, which is illegal in Iran. No protest followed. Her parents preferred to keep quiet and hoped the arrest would be resolved. Had Roxanna been released she would have gone back to loving Iran and telling the world how great it and its president, Ahmadinjed, were. But she wasn't released. And now the media is telling us all about this prisoner of conscience and how she may be in danger.
But there is something problematic about all this. The journalists who go to Iran never do their duty in subjecting the country to the kind of criticism they subject other, usually freer societies to. They collaborate with the regime. They never mention the regimes radicalism and Antisemitism and racism. They march in lockstep with the ayatollahs. They never report on dissidents. They follow the official line of describing Iran as a Persian Shia paradise. There are no minorities in their reports, no talk about the blacks in Southern Iran, or the Arabs in the southwest, or the Baluchis in the southeast or the Azeris and Kurds in the north. Nope. They even weave stories about how the "Jews love Iran", reporting as if they are working for the government's information ministry. They never dare to look behind the curtain.
The same journalists in the west who can't wait for another version of 'Brokeback Mountain' or 'Milk', two movies about homosexuals, to be released, are the same ones who would never dare ask what becomes of homosexuals arrested for their 'immoral and indecent behavior' in Iran. There is no discussion of the minors hung in Iran for various offenses. In fact there is no discussion of the death penalty. There is no discussion of the discriminatory divorce laws or the rampant legal prostitution that takes place under the guise of 'temporary marriage' in Iran. The wine swilling westerners who probably can't go a day without a drink in the West don't report about laws that make it illegal to buy wine. In fact we only found out about this extremist law when Saberi was arrested. There is no discussion about the discriminatory dress 'code' that forced women to cover their hair while men wear what they please.
The western media collaborates with the Iranian regime. There is not one media outlet that is not guilty. The BBC is the worst with its month long 'Taste of Iran' program, a hagiography of the country. But Fox news and other networks are no better. And yet every once in a while the public is supposed to believe that some arrested journalist deserves to be felt sorry for.
Let's just recall the sheer numbers who have been arrested, without undue complaints or repercussions for Iran. Akbar Ganji was jailed in 2001 and was still in prison in 2005 when he got sick from prison conditions. Ali Farahbakhsh was sent to prison in 2007 for three years for going to a conference in Bangkok. He was held in solitary confinement for 40 days. In the same year three female members of a 15 member Iranian female Journalists delegation about to travel abroad were arrested and taken to the infamous Evin prison. Emadeddin Baqi, who ironically wrote on prisoners rights, was arrested in October of 2007 and released in September of 2008 from Evin. Like Ganji he had become sick and required medical treatment for his time in prison. Soheil Assefi, Fashad Gorbanpour and Masoud Farshad of the Sharq newspaper were arrested after their newspaper gave an interview to a poet who wrote about homosexuals. Sina Motallebi was arrested for blogging. Iranian Kurdish journalist Mohamed Sadiq Kabudvand was arrested in 2007 after his daily paper was banned. He suffered a stroke at Evin prison in May of 2008 and is still sick. Asr Iran and Mohamed Khadeghi-Nejad, both journalists who had reported dissident protests, were attacked by anonymous men on motorcycle in December of 2008. Omid Memarin was another blogger arrested. Iranian-American journalist Parnaz Azima was prevented from leaving the country. An Arab journalist in Iran, Yousif Aziz-Banitaraf from Khuzestan who wrote about nomads was arrested in 2005 for "fomenting revolt" among Arabs in Iran. He was sentenced to five years in prison.
But no matter how many they arrest, how many they torture and beat and rape in Evin prison and how many are released almost at the point of death or with other serious health problems, the journalists will keep pouring in, usually female journalists from the West dutifully covering their hair and following the regime's party line. But its only part of a larger collaboration. When the former Iranian president, Mohammed Khatami, was invited to Spain in 2002 the Spanish agreed to not serve wine at the host banquet, lest the Iranian delegation be offended, but the Spanish did request that women attendees not be forced to wear headscarves. In the end the wife of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Aznar and Queen Sofia neglected to come lest their hair offend the Iranians (this is in line with the western liberal post-human idea that in our countries we must respect their culture and in their countries we must respect their culture). The collaboration runs deep.
No. There can be no sympathy for collaborators with such a regime.
If Saberi had reported on just one of the issues discussed above
perhaps then we could have sympathy. But until western journalists
subject Iran to the same harsh critique, the same obsession with
minorities and 'human rights' that western nations are subjected to,
then there can be no sympathy for them. They collaborated, much the
way the New York Times did with Stalin and numerous French
journalists did with Pol Pot and the Hutu genocidaires. Collaboration
must be punished. Since we can't punish it in the west we must not
shed tears when, in an odd and ironic way, the Iranian regime does it.
Roxana wanted to find her roots. She loved Farsi and Iran. Now she is
hearing plenty of Farsi in her interrogation cell. She is learning
about her roots. But when she is released she will secure that
headscarf tightly around her neck and keep her eyes down and
propagandize for Iran once again. There must never be sympathy for the
collaborators, whether it is Emma Goldman, who came to America and
then preached anarchism and was deported only to find her Soviet
utopia was not as she thought, or the Americans who went to Stalin's
utopia in the 1930s or Rachel Corrie who aided and abetted Palestinian
terrorists or the British charitable workers helping the Arab
genocidaires in Khartoum today (recall the women who was sentenced to
be whipped for comparing a teddy bear to Mohammed). No sympathy for
collaboration. We must judge them as harshly as if journalists had
gone to give us a 'taste of Germany' in 1939 and neglected to mention
the concentration camps. No sympathy. No empathy. Stubborn cold
heartedness must be our face when confronted by the bleeding heart
ignorance of the left and its abysmal fraternization with Islamism and
Seth J. Frantzman is a graduate student in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, living in Jerusalem. Contact him at email@example.com and visit his website: http://journalterraincognita.blogspot.com
This article was posted on Frantzman's website as three separate essays in Issue 76: Part 1 was posted March 2, 2009; Part II March 6, 2009; Part III March 1, 2009.
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