London It is always refreshing to view ones own society from a different perspective, which helps us understand how we fit into the larger scheme of things in the world. The view of Jordan, Palestine, and the wider Arab world from Western Europe is slightly depressing, but also instructive, should we make the effort to see where we stand in relation to larger issues that preoccupy the political and economic powers of the world (especially the United States and Western Europe).
The reality is that, in the mass media and most corridors of political power, we in the Arab World continue to be judged heavily on the basis of our attitudes and policies towards Israel and the modern Jewish experience. This is irritating and even offensive to most people in the Arab World, but it remains an inescapable fact that we are better advised to address than simply to curse.
For example, when the mass media, including internet-based media, mention Jordan and Syria at all these days, they tend to mention these countries only in relation to three specific events — Jordans prevention of anti-Israeli demonstrations, a planned gathering in Amman about Holocaust revisionist history, and Syrian President Bashar Assads recent public criticisms of Israel and the Jewish people (today and in the past).
These are all controversial issues, and I am deliberately not taking a position here on the right-or-wrong of each one. The point I make is that other important and interesting things are happening in Jordan and Syria, but these countries tend to get mentioned in the Western mass media primarily on the basis of their attitudes and policies towards Israel and Judaism. This, in turn, feeds a cycle of Arab anger because people in our countries feel doubly degraded — first because we feel that Western powers tend to ignore our political complaints about Western acquiescence in Israels illegal or predatory actions, and second because the Western world then tends to notice us mainly when some in our societies do something critical of Israel, i.e., we matter mainly, or only, because of our proximity to Israel.
A key element of this cycle has nothing to do with the modern Arab-Israeli conflict, but rather relates to modern European and Jewish history. For the other thing that one notices in the Western European mass media is the persistence of articles about the many dimensions of the Holocaust, the Nazis, German use of Jewish and other slave labor, and related issues. The latest such news last week was about a regional cabinet minister in Belgium who resigned under pressure after he was filmed attending a meeting of SS veterans and Nazi sympathizers, and the news that compensation payments for former Nazi slaves and forced laborers were likely to begin this summer, following the end of some court proceedings in the United States.
The glaring contradiction we face is this: while the horrific treatment of the Jews half a century ago remains a central moral and political issue in the Western psyche, the trend among public opinion in the Arab world today is to question the veracity of the accepted wisdom about the extent of the killing of Jews by the Nazis. Both of these trends are the work of rather small minorities, in that the majority of Arabs and Western Europeans get on with their lives without thinking about these issues. But the small minorities of people on both sides who do bring these matters into the public eye via the mass media and the political systems tend to perpetuate these opposing views.
The resulting bitter cycle of anger and enmity on both sides includes dangerous overtones of racial stereotyping and anti-Semitism that targets both Arab and Israeli Semites (both of whom are the Semitic descendants of Shem, Noahs son).
In the current war conditions in Palestine/Israel, little can be done about this destructive mutual demonization by people who choose to make the Jewish experience in modern Europe and Roman Palestine one of the battlegrounds of the current Arab-Israeli conflict. I mention this for two reasons: first, it is so striking when viewed from a European perspective, with negative impacts on both Israelis and Arabs; and second, it indicates the capacity of the current conflict in Israel and Palestine to expand to wider dimensions.