Monday, August 24, 2009

Who Needs Nazis When We Have Arab Nationalists, Islamists, and Extreme Leftists?

By Barry Rubin

After running an article accusing Israel of murdering Palestinians to steal their organs and sell them, Jan Helin, the editor of the largest Swedish newspaper, Aftonbladet, said that it was only an opinion piece. Following criticism, though, he then published even more articles repeating this libelous accusation. In his defense, Helin explained, “I’m not a Nazi. I’m not anti-Semitic.”

I’m sure he isn’t a Nazi. Whether or not he’s an antisemite, Helin certainly has no real understanding of what that means. But the key to the problem we’re having with Helin is in the first part of the sentence.

Today, the Nazis have become the measure of evil in the world, perhaps the sole source of evil historically. If you don’t like someone for a wide variety of reasons, you call him a “Nazi.” Yet the Nazis had no monopoly one evil nor on antisemitism.

This idea of calling someone a Nazi as the ultimate political sin is used for a wide range of issues, behaviors, and opinions. Of course, the truly monstrous nature of Nazism is often wildly understated, so that if Israeli forces accidentally kill a civilian or a Palestinian family is evicted for not paying rent to a landlord, this is said to make Israel a Nazi state.

But I want to focus on the other aspect: Was anyone monstrous in the world who wasn’t a Nazi?

If you are on the left, you can claim not to be a Nazi because they were a right-wing party, albeit with populist socialist as well as nationalist overtones, correct? So if the Nazis are the sole source of evil, racism, repression, and antisemitism, you cannot be any of these things. Helin is a Swedish Social Democrat, so he isn’t a Nazi, so he can’t be an antisemite, and he can’t be responsible for doing evil, right?

We are about to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the start of World War Two in Europe. What happened? There was a deal between the USSR and Nazi Germany to partition Central Europe. Backing from the Soviet Union enabled Adolph Hitler to go to war. The two countries partitioned Poland; the USSR seized the Baltic states and other territories. Soviet raw materials flowed into Germany’s war machine.

And then, of course, there was the gulag with millions of prisoners, the tortures, the mass murders, the man-made famine in which hundreds of thousands of peasants starved to death, the round-up and killing of Polish officers, the massive deportations to Siberia of whole populations. So Stalinism was evil, too, and if it didn’t match up to Nazi Germany, it was in the same general league.

Even after Stalin’s death, while the pace of oppression declined, it was still considerable. And the various other Communist states also perpetrated atrocities on a small and large scale, most notably in Cambodia where genocide was carried out against its own people, or in contemporary North Korea, which has also starved its own people for political benefit.

Another category consists of left-wing, populist regimes, especially in the Middle East and in Africa. True, right-wing dictatorships, notably in Latin America, have also been oppressive and repressive, but usually on a smaller scale (which doesn’t make it excusable, of course). The left-wing regimes—for example, the Ba’th party in Syria and Iraq, or many examples in sub-Saharan Africa—copy the Communist model.

Of course, there are also Islamist states and movements which employ terrorism, torture, and repression on a mass scale. These can be said to be on the right, but let’s face it their appeal in the West for non-Muslims today is on the left.

Populist, anti-Western slogans make them seem “progressive” movements. They represent the oppressed Third World. At least, they don’t get the ire of the intelligentsia and of the left up. Helin isn’t campaigning against, say, mass killings in Sudan or the expulsion of Christians from Iraq or the stolen election in Iran. So if Hamas or Fatah carry out terrorist attacks deliberately designed to murder Israeli children, well they aren’t Nazis at least, so it doesn’t really count.

The point, then, is that you don’t need to wear a brown uniform, goose-step around, and raise your right arm at a sharp angle to be engaged in political evil, or to be an antisemite for that matter. The advantage of using the Nazis is that what they explicitly said—master race, wiping out inferior races, seizing control of Europe, etc.—sounds evil to our ears.

In contrast, the Stalinists, radical Arab nationalists, Islamists, and others have nice slogans—at least if you only listen to what they say in interviews with the Western media. They are for the victims, right? Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran’s revolution, stripped of theological rhetoric sounds a lot like Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, leader of Russia’s revolution.

For decades, Arab leaders and intellectuals said: the Jews are inferior, we like the Nazis, we will throw the Jews into the sea, and we will wipe them out. Now they have learned to say, when being interviewed by Aftonbladet’s reporters or writing op-eds: the Jews act like Nazis, they want to throw us into the sea, and they want to wipe us out.

It is a master stroke of public relations’ technique.

Indeed, if you talk endlessly about Western imperialism, the welfare of the masses, revolution, the evils of Zionism, and so on nowadays, being clearly non-Nazi buys you immunity from prosecution.

But it is now 2009 and Berlin’s last bunker fell in 1945. Is the world really going to continue this game for the rest of the century? Was there no antisemitism before Hitler took power in 1933? And was there no official antisemitism in the Soviet bloc or in the Arabic-speaking world after 1945?

Helin and others—all too many others in Western media and academia—are merely channeling the poison from Communist, radical Arab nationalist, Islamist, and even Czarist sources, both against their own people and against Israel and the Jews. But by failing to understand the other sources of political and ideological evil in the world, people like Helin are their apologists and even champions, promoting hatred, repression, mass murder, dictatorship, and other evil things.

When Mr. Helin says he is neither a Nazi nor an antisemite, he is half-right.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog.

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