Thursday, March 18, 2010

You, Too, Zahi? If Egypt's "Greatest" Archaeologist Believes Antisemitic Conspiracy Theories What Hope Is There For Anyone?

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By Barry Rubin

In an era when Islamophobia has become a sin punishable by death or mere career ruination—depending on who’s doing the punishing—it is remarkably hard to get people to understand how widespread is antisemitism in the Arabic-speaking world and in the Muslim-majority world in general. One always wants to believe that there are many exceptions, which is why I find the case of Zahi Hawass so discouraging.

I’ve often seen Hawass on television shows about ancient Egypt or antiquities’ smuggling. He is secretary-general of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities and gave President Barack Obama a tour of the Pyramids when the president visited Cairo in June 2009. I presume that Hawass was an honored guest when Obama gave his famous speech in Cairo, which included a discussion of antisemitism.

But here he is four months earlier on official Egyptian television, which gives his remarks the air of government endorsement. And note how what the interviewer says reinforces the idea that these are official positions. Presumably, Obama's speech didn’t change his mind. The irony here is palpable: One of Obama's main hosts had just shown that his views are poisoned by an extreme form of systematic antisemitism that no one can pretend was merely dislike for Israel.

If one thinks of the conflict as merely a normal one over boundaries or the need for confidence-building measures understanding this profound hatred coming from one side--and not matched at all by the Israeli world view--makes a real resolution of the issue extraordinarily
The translation is by MEMRI:

Zahi Hawass: "For 18 centuries, [the Jews] were dispersed throughout the world. They went to America and took control of its economy. They have a plan. Although they are few in number, they control the entire world."

Interviewer: "With regard to Israel and Zionism we are talking about 7 or 8 million. How is it possible that these 7 or 8 million have taken control of the entire world, and have convinced the world of their cause, while we, over one billion Muslims, cannot convince the world of our cause? How would you explain this from a historical perspective?"

Zahi Hawass: "The reason is that they are always united over a single view. They always move together, even if in the wrong direction. We, on the other hand, are divided. If even two Arab countries could be in agreement, our voice would be stronger. Look at the control they have over America and the media."

Interviewer: "So in your opinion, the secret lies in unity?"

Zahi Hawass: "Yes. It was unity that gave them this power..."

Note that his main theme is precisely the main theme of historical antisemitism (Jews control the world nd use this power for their own benefit, thus they are the humanity of humanity and should be--what?--wiped out?). His secondary theme—Jews always working together—is that of the Russian text I analyzed as typical of how antisemitism so often passes unnoticed in the West.

Of course, regarding Israel the Arabic-speaking world has been about as united as anyone can be over as long a period as anyone could imagine on this issue. Hawass is dead wrong from the standpoint of historical accuracy on both sides of the equation. Or perhaps the obvious implication is that Egypt should end its peace with Israel and join in a war to exterminate that country?

Equally, regarding alleged Jewish control of the media, given coverage of Israel, this charge must be seen as amusing as well as sinister.

As a bonus, note the third theme which is so essential in Arab nationalism: Arab unity is the key to success. Even in 2010, after about 60 years of experience regarding both the failure and disaster of this idea, it is still tremendously powerful in shaping thinking in the region.

That these notions can be taken for granted by a man who is seen as a great scholar in a country which has been at peace with Israel for over two decades is very telling. But then not long ago Egypt's candidate to be the world's cultural "czar" (head of UNESCO) said that he would burn Israeli-authored books found in any library he supervised.

To put it another way, if Hawass and official Egyptian television can be openly antisemitic in this way (and, of course, this characterizes their attitude toward Israel) what hope can there be for more than a handful of others in that vast Arabic-speaking area to think otherwise?

Optional notes: I would have made the title: Et tu, Zahi? As in Julius Caesar's words to Brutus when he was assassinated (at least according to legend) but worried that some readers wouldn't get it. Not you, of course but some of the others.

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). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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