Daniel Pipes is an historian, and author of several books and numerous press articles on the Middle East. He's Director of Middle East Forum, and his message to the Melbourne conference on anti-Semitism was chilling. I spoke to him about it.
Daniel Pipes: Daniel Pipes, many people have intoned the mantra ‘Never again', and cannot imagine Holocaust happening once again. But you sounded a warning this morning saying that it's not unthinkable. What are the reasons for that view, which some might regard as overly pessimistic?
Daniel Pipes: Well the main source of antagonism to Jews comes these days from Muslims, and looking at the population numbers, some Muslims have concluded, including one major Iranian politician on the record, have concluded that that it might be a good idea to have an exchange of nuclear weapons. It would leave no Israel, but the Muslim world would be only damaged. This is the kind of thinking that is both appalling and also something that we should be paying close attention to.
Rachael Kohn: Is that just an anti-Israel sentiment? Or does it have deeper implications for anti-Semitism? Does it have expressions that are classically anti-Semitic?
Daniel Pipes: It does have such expressions. I think that to ponder the notion of an exchange of nuclear weapons with the intent of destroying Israel requires an exterminationist mentality. That is to say, requires the idea that Jews are not human beings, and can be, should be killed, massacred on a large scale. And that in turn requires a conditioning. And so I see what's happened in the last 15 years in the Muslim world as roughly analogous to what happened between 1933 and 1939 in Germany. The potential of setting the stage for mass murder.
Rachael Kohn: But that raises the question, what has the experience of the Holocaust taught the rest of the world. Where are those who are not Jewish, who are not Israelis, who have learned about the Holocaust and who themselves regard it as abominable. Are they coming to the aid of Jews who are the targets of this kind of anti-Semitic propaganda?
Daniel Pipes: I think there's a tendency, the short answer would be No. I think there's a tendency to dismiss this kind of worry as alarmist, and inconceivable, and so no real preparation has been taken. Now that's it. There is a very serious concern in the US government these days with the nuclear program in Iran, and it could be that it is eliminated one way or another. It wouldn't be primarily for this reason, but certainly Iranian potential aggression against Israel is one factor of alarm about the Iranians building up a nuclear capability.
Rachael Kohn: I encounter regularly people who regard Israel as the aggressor and note that it probably has nuclear weapons. What is the response to that, I suppose justification, for this kind of anti-Semitic outpouring in the Muslim world.
Daniel Pipes: The Muslim world has had a difficult time in the last two centuries. It's not been good. Muslims say a millennium ago, were at the top in terms of literacy, political power and military power, technological prowess and so forth. Today, to put matters simply, Muslims are at the bottom. And this slide from God's grace to this difficult position, is one that Muslims are having a very difficult time contending with. It lies at the root of the turn towards radical Islam that has been so noticeable in recent decades. And one expression of this difficulty in coming to terms with modernity has been deep resentment of those who are most modern, including Jews. Jews have had a good run the last couple of centuries, have had a very major part of the modern experience, and Muslims are inclined to see Jews as the symbol of their problem.
Rachael Kohn: You say Jews have had a good run for the last two centuries, excepting the Holocaust of course.
Daniel Pipes: Well I didn't mean it in Holocaust or pogrom terms, I meant in terms of adapting to modernity, and participating in it, and having a major role in it. There are all these statistics of what the percentage of the world population of Jews is, which is well under 1%, and then the number of Nobel Prizes that have been won by Jews. In that sense, it's been a good run.
Rachael Kohn: As an historian, you would know that Jews had comparatively better time under Muslim rule than they did under Christian rule. When did it change so radically?
Daniel Pipes: It was very radical and quick. The Jewish experience from the origins of Islam in the 7th century, until rather specifically in 1945, was better under Muslim rule than under Christian rule. And since 1945, it's been better under Christian rule than Muslim rule. One can see it for example by exchange of populations. Jews fled the Christian countries for the Muslim countries, until 1945.
As late as the 1930s, when Jews fled Germany to go to Turkey. Since then, it's been the reverse. I think this points to the fact that things change. You know, what looked like it was a permanent thing, the fact that Jews were better off in Muslim countries, just changed on a dime, in a moment, just changed. It also points to the fact that the Muslim world is going through a very difficult stage now, and it's presumably a temporary one. It's comparable again to Germany in the middle of the last century. It was a horrible, horrible period, did a lot of damage to Germany and to the outside world, but the Germans came out of it. And so the key now is to figure out how the Muslim world can come out of this particularly difficult time that it's in.
Rachael Kohn: Well talking about radical historical change, can attitudes in America to Jews change radically? How much evidence is there that Muslim attitudes that one sees in the Middle East, are affecting North American attitudes to Jews?
Daniel Pipes: One can see a considerable impact in Canada, where for example, for a while, donations to Hamas were legal and donations to the Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross was not legal. It's much less strong, that impact, in the United States. It's hard at this early date to predict which way it's going to go, but in Canada it certainly is distinctly present. Let us say the importation of attitudes from the Middle East and affecting Canadian life.
Rachael Kohn: Finally Daniel Pipes, I think most people regard the existence of Israel as the problem, and therefore the solution to the Israel-Palestinian problem will spell the end of this kind of anti-Semitism. What do you say to that kind of argument?
Daniel Pipes: Well first I don't think that the existence of Israel is the source of the problem, it was there before. It aggravated it, to be sure, and Israel's disappearance would diminish it, but it would not eliminate it. But still, I find it very curious that one should think that a flourishing State should be simply destroyed because some people don't like it. Israel's there, and the goal that we must all work for is that the Palestinians and others come to accept it. And build a decent life for themselves.
What you see today is the Palestinian population that's so devoted to the destruction of Israel that it ignores its own welfare. You have a political system, an economy, a society and a culture that are doing very poorly, because the brunt of Palestinian interest is in destroying Israel. Time to focus on that, to change that, and to encourage the Palestinians to tend their own garden, to develop their own lives and leave the Israelis alone.
Rachael Kohn: Are you optimistic about that with the leadership change amongst the Palestinians?
Daniel Pipes: I think there are significant changes with the death of Arafat, but I think that Mahmoud Abbas is simply somebody who is more clever in his efforts to destroy Israel. He's more perceptive. I don't see a fundamental change of heart, I think a fundamental change of heart, getting the Palestinian body politic to accept Israel is something that we all, inside and outside the conflict, must strive for.
Rachael Kohn: Would you agree with Itamar Marcus that this is a kind of deep existential hatred of Jews that doesn't owe a lot to particular political positions?
Daniel Pipes: Yes, I would. There is a simplistic and inaccurate tendency to see Jews as a political group, whereas in fact Jews are very wide-ranging in their political views, and there's a tendency to see all Jews of one mind, where that is not the case. And there's a tendency to want to destroy Israel and not to accept it, that Itamar Marcus has done a magnificent job in documenting.
Rachael Kohn: Daniel Pipes, thank you so much for speaking to me.
Daniel Pipes: Thank you for the chance.
Rachael Kohn: Daniel Pipes' latest book is Miniatures: Views of Islamic and Middle Eastern Policies. His website DanielPipes.org is the single most accessed English website on the Middle East and Islam.