In these contentious times, debate about the Middle East and Islam is easily stifled. All it takes is for some disgruntled Arabs, preferably Palestinians, or a handful of western leftists to level a charge of "racism.” Then the alleged offender, whether he is a Jewish author, a Christian professor, or a Muslim dissident, is silenced and shunned. In this way, today’s charge of "racism" is similar to the Stalin-era accusation that one was a "bourgeois capitalist."
The crime alleged is one of essence. It is meant to cancel out the humanity of the accused as well as the actual facts in the case — and it does. Thus, the fear that one might be accused of being a "racist," either by Muslims or by western leftists is so great that most people either join the Orwellian jackal-chorus or refuse to "get involved." Here are the Alice-in-Wonderland rules: No one, especially westerners, particularly Jews, is allowed to accuse Muslims of being "racists.” This dictum holds even when Muslim governments refuse citizenship rights to Jews, wage genocide against Christian or black-skinned citizens, spew the filthiest hate propaganda about infidels and threaten to "eliminate" Israel with nuclear weapons. Neither politically correct western leftists nor Muslim leaders call this "racism.
The slander is instead reserved for those who document and challenge racist barbarities carried out in the name of Islam. As a result, two of Europe's most brilliant and passionate thinkers, France's Alain Finkielkraut, and Italy's Oriana Fallaci, have both recently been condemned as "racists" for telling the truth about Islam and about Israel. But, there are many other examples. Here are three in North America.
Consider first the case of Howard Rotberg. In 2003, Rotberg, a Canadian lawyer and author, published his debut novel, a charming and heartbreaking pro-Israel story entitled The Second Catastrophe: A Novel About a Book and Its Author. Life often imitates art and Rotberg himself soon partially experienced the fate of his fictional protagonist, Professor Norman Rosenfeld. Rotberg delivered his first lecture in a Chapters bookstore in Waterloo, Ontario. Suddenly, two Muslims interrupted his speech. The first disrupter, who identified himself as a Palestinian, accused Rotberg of saying or perhaps thinking that “all Muslims are terrorists.” The disrupter admitted that he had not read the book. A second man, who identified himself as an Iraqi Kurd, began “ranting about how Americans and Israelis are the real terrorists and that democracy is really fascist.” They did not allow Rotberg to speak. According to Rotberg, they used “Gestapo tactics to completely disrupt (my) lecture.” One called Rotberg, the son of a Holocaust survivor, "a f*** Jew.”
No bookstore staff person stopped them—that is, until Rotberg responded that he would “not be called a f*** Jew.” At that point, a store manager came over to tell Rotberg to stop swearing. Rotberg demanded that the store call the police. According to Rotberg, they finally did so, but very reluctantly. The police in turn refused to arrest anyone for disturbing the peace, merely asking Rotberg’s hecklers to stay away from the store. The police refused to escort Rotberg to his car. Rotberg’s publisher, Mantua Books (which Rotberg owns), issued a press release to cancel his future lectures at Chapters/Indigo bookstores since the security was not appropriate. According to Rotberg, the publicity director at Chapters “went ballistic.” She claimed that she had heard Rotberg say that “all Muslims are terrorists.” She even issued a press release wherein she “apologized for any inappropriate behavior and racist comments both from the guest author and some of the attendees at the event.” To set the story straight, Rotberg compiled affidavits from audience members confirming his version of the events. He also filed a lawsuit asking that the store to retract their characterization of Rotberg as a "racist." In mounting a defense of his reputation, he is waging a lonely battle: Rotberg told me that no Canadian-Jewish or Canadian-author's organization was willing to take up his cause.
What was Rotberg's crime? First, he did not demonize Israel. Second, he did not choose a "neutral" position, somewhere between Hamas' and that of the settlers ejected from Gaza. He dared speak about Israel positively, truthfully, and soulfully. But most of all, he also dared speak the truth about Palestinian and Islamic terrorism against Israel. He did not deserve to be labeled a "racist" for any of this nor did he deserve to be called "a *** Jew." That he was demonstrates the determination of radical Islamists and their apologists to silence their critics.
There is also a double standard at work here. Rotberg was reading aloud from a work of fiction. Normally, this means that his protagonist should have been allowed to say and do anything. For instance, Western critics still proudly insist that the views of Palestinian suicide killers depicted in the film Paradise Now cannot be confused with those of the film's Palestinian creator who has, after all, engaged in a "fictionalized' depiction of psychological reality. Pro-Israel Jews and their allies are not afforded the same distinction. Thus Howard Rotberg can be verbally attacked and called a "racist" for creating a fictional character who dares to question the motives and actions of Palestinian and Muslim terrorists.
Then there is the 2004 case of De Paul university professor Thomas Klocek. Professor Klocek, who had taught at De Paul University for fifteen years, visited a student fair on campus and engaged in dialogue with some Muslim student supporters of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. He defended Israel. He questioned whether Rachel Corrie had indeed been murdered in cold blood and whether Israelis were really treating Palestinians in the same way that Hitler treated the Jews — as the Muslim students’ literature and posters claimed. He insisted that “the Israeli Armed Forces have exercised very careful restraint in their responses to what has been almost daily suicide bombings.” Whereupon eight students descended on the single professor. A verbal melee ensued. Despite their clear superiority in numbers, the students donned the garb of victims, complaining that they were “harassed” and "threatened.” They further alleged that Klocek had made “racist remarks.” The students met with their advisors who alerted various administrative deans. The deans wasted no time capitulating to the student agitators. They apologized to the offended students and suspended Professor Klocek. As of this writing, a lawsuit is under way.
Lastly, there are my own experiences. On October 14, 2005, I spoke at the CUNY Graduate Center for the National Organization for Women of New York State (NOW-NYC). To protest my appearance, prominent leftwing feminists, including Katha Pollitt of Nation magazine, and NOW-NYC agitator Pam Martens, wrote a series of letters to intimidate and humiliate both NOW and the Graduate Center. Their crime was inviting a "pro-Bush, pro-war, neo-conservative" speaker (that's me, folks). Next they or their minions arranged for WBAI, a listener-sponsored hate radio station, to come and tape the evening. In December of 2005, WBAI’s "The Joy of Resistance," broadcast a one hour "feminist" program which aired a spliced-and-diced version of my talk mainly for the purpose of denouncing me as a "racist."
These critics correctly characterized me as "the Christopher Hitchens of the women's movement," but incorrectly interpreted my opposition to multi-cultural relativism as "racism." My denunciation of the atrocities being perpetrated against Muslim, Jewish, and Christian women and men of any color was offered as proof that I am a "racist,” offering yet another illustration that one cannot speak the truth about Muslim racism (or sexism, or homophobia) without being branded with the tag of racism.
These left feminists or their pawns continued their vendetta. Someone actually managed to cancel an interview that I had done a year ago on another subject on the grounds that a NOW-New Jersey interviewer should not be giving someone who is known as a "racist" and a "homophobe" (again, presumably that's me!) such credibility. The television interviewer is fighting back and hopes to air this program in the future. Finally, a supporter of my work tried very hard to interest a particular NPR program to interview me in December. After several conversations, she was finally told that "they could not afford the serious trouble and punishment they would have to endure if they allowed me access to their airwaves."
My work has received a very different kind of reception among Muslim reformers. When I testified before the Senate earlier in December about Islamic gender apartheid, one Iranian feminist said: "Finally! An American feminist leader who is not willing to abandon us to her theories of cultural relativity." She gets it. My leftist feminist detractors do not.
One can understand why many (but not all) Muslims often hotly allege racism even where it may not exist. Caucasian Christian westerners have held "racist" views of people who were neither Christian nor Caucasian and they have, in the past, colonized the immediate known world. Some leftists have also argued that France has caused her own intifada by continuing to hold "racist" views of their Muslim immigrant population.
But other sources of Muslim hostility are more difficult to justify. From a cultural and religious point of view, many Muslims have been relentlessly brainwashed against all non-Muslims and empowered to express themselves, often violently, when they feel shamed or dishonored. Systematic, normalized, but strenuously denied child abuse within Muslim and Arab families may also lead to a "paranoid" world view in which The Other is always blamed for one's own suffering. From a psychological point of view, most Muslims have been raised in shame-and-honor societies in which they have learned to blame others, preferably outsiders—never themselves. Consequently, their cultural skins are very thin; they lack the habit of introspection; and they are disinclined to take individual responsibility for their own mistakes. Above all, they have been trained never to criticize their own leaders, but to scapegoat the Jews and westerners for Arab and Muslim suffering.
This tendency makes many Muslims and Arabs uneager to hear—or, for that matter, tell—the truth. The blessed exceptions are usually imprisoned, tortured, and murdered either by their own families or by the state. Finally, too many Muslims have been deeply "Palestinianized,” i.e. empowered to unleash verbal and psychological intifadas, as well as actual riots and suicide terrorism on behalf of a presumably noble cause. Thus, they respond to honest criticism by baselessly interrogating the motives of the critics. Typical was a Muslim (former) friend of mine. After glancing at the names of those who endorsed my new book—a list that included Robert Spencer, Daniel Pipes, Alan Dershowitz, David Horowitz, Amir Taheri, Ibn Warraq, Bat Ye'or—she exclaimed, “I don't want to read this. You are working with known racists.”
If the reactions of some Muslims and Arabs can be so explained, what are we to make of the leftists, including feminists, who also allege "racism" where it does not exist? I recently had a wonderful talk with two pioneer second-wave feminists that may shed some light on the matter. Both had dropped out of the movement in the early 1970s, after observing and experiencing the abusive and destructive ways in which feminists treated each other. One remains a leftist, the other does not. One woman said: "I have a good friend who is a left feminist. She is an innocent, not malevolent in any way, but she is simply incapable of changing her point of view–not even after 9/11. It is psychologically too much for her to begin to think 'out of the box'. She is so used to blaming America for everything that she needs to keep blaming America, even for 9/11. To this day, she has not been able to blame the jihadists.” The other woman offered the following analysis of the thinking of leftist feminists: “Some people can't live with ambiguity, doubt, competing claims, the unknown. They need Total Answers, even when that particular boilerplate doesn't fit reality anyway." I think they are both right.
The terrorists who flew airplanes into the World Trade Center on 9/11 were all Arab Muslims. Saying so does not make one a "racist" but an objective reporter of the facts. Al-Qaeda’s terrorist network is composed only of Muslims. Saying so does not make one a "racist." Blaming 9/11 on the Mossad or the CIA, which many Islamists and radical leftists do is an example of culturally licensed "paranoid" thinking. Saying that the Palestinians systematically engage in barbaric behavior such as lynching, honor-murdering, dancing in the streets, and handing out cakes and candies on both 9/11 and, more recently, when they heard that Prime Minister Sharon had suffered a stroke, does not make one a "racist." The apologists who contend otherwise subscribe to a disparate array of political ideologies and religious beliefs, but they all have this in common: They are all determined to hold the truth hostage to the charge of "racism."
Phyllis Chesler Dr. Phyllis Chesler is the well known author of classic works, including the bestseller Women and Madness (1972) and The New Anti-Semitism (2003). She has just published The Death of Feminism: What’s Next in the Struggle for Women’s Freedom (Palgrave Macmillan), as well as an updated and revised edition of Women and Madness. She is an Emerita Professor of psychology and women's studies, the co-founder of the Association for Women in Psychology (1969) and the National Women's Health Network (1974). She is currently on the Board of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and lives in New York City. Her website is www.phyllis-chesler.com.
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