Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 1, 2007

Jews, “Progressives,” and the New York Times

The New York Times took notice yesterday of a pamphlet-sized essay posted on the website of the American Jewish Committee. Written by Alvin Rosenfeld of Indiana University and titled “‘Progressive’ Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism,” the essay describes the mounting assault on Israel by Jews on the Left. Rosenfeld cites, among others, the two Tonys—Kushner and Judt—and Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, each of whom was in turn duly quoted in the Times story as protesting Rosenfeld’s characterization of them. The paper’s reporter, Patricia Cohen, seems to side with them in this dispute, slyly suggesting that the AJC has overstated the problem of anti-Semitism on the Jewish Left. Thereby, she neutralizes or buries the very problem the AJC was trying to expose.

No surprise there. In this matter, as it happens, the Times has long been not merely a reporting agency but a major player. For the past sixty years the newspaper has denied the Arab war against the Jewish state, just as in World War II it denied the German war against the Jewish people. Rather than telling its readers about Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism and describing how it shapes the societies in which it flourishes, rather than documenting the growing infiltration of Europe and America by this same poison, it speaks of anti-Semitism as if it were merely a figment, an occasion for fratricidal conflict among Jews themselves with no objective correlative in the real world. In this internal slugfest of accusation and counter-accusation, the offense itself disappears, and with it any serious discussion of its source, its gravity, or its spread.

Even more than those cited by Alvin Rosenfeld, it is the newspaper of record that has long displaced onto Israel’s moral ledger the misery that Arabs cause themselves. This morning’s edition carries a three-column story about a former Israeli government minister convicted of French-kissing a female soldier. This is evidently what the Times considers news. Not news, evidently, are the dozens of mutual kidnappings and murders committed by Fatah and Hamas. Dead Palestinians appear to interest the Times only insofar as their deaths can be laid at the feet of Israel.

Similarly, real existing anti-Semitism seems to interest the Times far less than does the drama of Jew-against-Jew in which the Times gets to name aggressors and victims. In this offhand, underhanded manner the paper’s editors and reporters abet the anti-Semitic lie that the existence of Israel “explains” the misery and rage of the people yelling for its destruction and for the destruction of all Jews everywhere.

The New York Times took notice yesterday of a pamphlet-sized essay posted on the website of the American Jewish Committee. Written by Alvin Rosenfeld of Indiana University and titled “‘Progressive’ Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism,” the essay describes the mounting assault on Israel by Jews on the Left. Rosenfeld cites, among others, the two Tonys—Kushner and Judt—and Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, each of whom was in turn duly quoted in the Times story as protesting Rosenfeld’s characterization of them. The paper’s reporter, Patricia Cohen, seems to side with them in this dispute, slyly suggesting that the AJC has overstated the problem of anti-Semitism on the Jewish Left. Thereby, she neutralizes or buries the very problem the AJC was trying to expose.

No surprise there. In this matter, as it happens, the Times has long been not merely a reporting agency but a major player. For the past sixty years the newspaper has denied the Arab war against the Jewish state, just as in World War II it denied the German war against the Jewish people. Rather than telling its readers about Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism and describing how it shapes the societies in which it flourishes, rather than documenting the growing infiltration of Europe and America by this same poison, it speaks of anti-Semitism as if it were merely a figment, an occasion for fratricidal conflict among Jews themselves with no objective correlative in the real world. In this internal slugfest of accusation and counter-accusation, the offense itself disappears, and with it any serious discussion of its source, its gravity, or its spread.

Even more than those cited by Alvin Rosenfeld, it is the newspaper of record that has long displaced onto Israel’s moral ledger the misery that Arabs cause themselves. This morning’s edition carries a three-column story about a former Israeli government minister convicted of French-kissing a female soldier. This is evidently what the Times considers news. Not news, evidently, are the dozens of mutual kidnappings and murders committed by Fatah and Hamas. Dead Palestinians appear to interest the Times only insofar as their deaths can be laid at the feet of Israel.

Similarly, real existing anti-Semitism seems to interest the Times far less than does the drama of Jew-against-Jew in which the Times gets to name aggressors and victims. In this offhand, underhanded manner the paper’s editors and reporters abet the anti-Semitic lie that the existence of Israel “explains” the misery and rage of the people yelling for its destruction and for the destruction of all Jews everywhere.

Read Less

Boot and Hanson, Final Round: Smart Aggression

Dear Victor,

My reaction to your call for more aggressive tactics can best be summed up with that classic phrase beloved of Supreme Court justices: concur in part, dissent in part.

I am all in favor of aggressive action to stamp out the insurgency. But we need smart aggression. Dumb aggression can do more harm than good. That’s what we saw in 2003-04 when many U.S. units employed large-unit sweeps supported by heavy firepower. Those kinds of conventional tactics never work against a counterinsurgency—they failed for the Americans in Vietnam and for the Russians in Afghanistan and were failing for the British in Malaya in the late 1940’s, before Britain adopted more appropriate tactics in the early 1950’s.

The difficulty lies in the fact that insurgents are seldom obliging enough to mass their forces and then wait patiently to be destroyed by superior firepower. Guerrillas almost always melt away before large opposing forces, snipe at their flanks, and return in force only when the army has gone back to its bases.

The only way to defeat this tactic is to garrison the area with small outposts of soldiers who interact with locals and develop the intelligence needed to identify insurgents. Once identified, that’s where the good kind of aggression comes in—anyone taking up arms against the government needs to be killed or captured. The problem is that Western militaries, including our own, have a surfeit of aggression but usually lack the patience and know-how to figure out whom to focus their aggression on. Unfocused displays of brutality only serve to alienate the population and recruit more manpower for the insurgency.

It’s a delicate balancing act, and I’m afraid we haven’t gotten it right. Our soldiers (and also contractors) have displayed too much casual brutality toward the populace of Iraq, often (understandably) motivated by “force protection” considerations. I’m thinking of Humvees or armored Chevy Suburbans careening through traffic, causing accidents, their occupants shooting at vehicles that get too close; soldiers opening fire at checkpoints and riddling cars full of confused civilians with bullets; or soldiers cordoning off neighborhoods and breaking into houses in the middle of the night.

When it comes to dealing with actual insurgents, our troops have had their hands tied, especially after the Abu Ghraib scandal in the spring of 2004. Aggressive interrogations are out. Detainees in American custody have the option of remaining silent, and they have an excellent chance of being released through one of the multiple layers of legal review, Iraqi and American. That needs to change if we are to have any chance of success.

Of course there are limits to how brutal American—or any other Western—troops can be without causing a backlash on the home front, as the French learned in Algeria. The Iraqis have much more freedom of action; nobody would be terribly shocked if they behaved the way the Algerian or Egyptian security forces did in putting down Islamist uprisings in the 1990’s. The problem is not so much that the Iraqi Security Forces are too brutal; it’s that they are stupidly brutal—or rather that their brutality is too often designed to advance a sectarian, not a national, agenda. They are murdering and torturing Sunnis indiscriminately, not reserving their venom for actual insurgents. Again, there has to be a balancing act, and the Iraqis aren’t getting it right—perhaps can’t get it right.

I should add the obvious: it’s much easier to describe the balancing act while sitting in the safety of one’s study than to actually figure out how to act while under fire. That’s why counterinsurgency has been described as the graduate level of warfare. Our troops are slowly acquiring the skills they need but, as we both agree, the big question is whether they will have the time and support needed to apply what they’ve learned.

Cordially,
MB

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson III

Dear Victor,

My reaction to your call for more aggressive tactics can best be summed up with that classic phrase beloved of Supreme Court justices: concur in part, dissent in part.

I am all in favor of aggressive action to stamp out the insurgency. But we need smart aggression. Dumb aggression can do more harm than good. That’s what we saw in 2003-04 when many U.S. units employed large-unit sweeps supported by heavy firepower. Those kinds of conventional tactics never work against a counterinsurgency—they failed for the Americans in Vietnam and for the Russians in Afghanistan and were failing for the British in Malaya in the late 1940’s, before Britain adopted more appropriate tactics in the early 1950’s.

The difficulty lies in the fact that insurgents are seldom obliging enough to mass their forces and then wait patiently to be destroyed by superior firepower. Guerrillas almost always melt away before large opposing forces, snipe at their flanks, and return in force only when the army has gone back to its bases.

The only way to defeat this tactic is to garrison the area with small outposts of soldiers who interact with locals and develop the intelligence needed to identify insurgents. Once identified, that’s where the good kind of aggression comes in—anyone taking up arms against the government needs to be killed or captured. The problem is that Western militaries, including our own, have a surfeit of aggression but usually lack the patience and know-how to figure out whom to focus their aggression on. Unfocused displays of brutality only serve to alienate the population and recruit more manpower for the insurgency.

It’s a delicate balancing act, and I’m afraid we haven’t gotten it right. Our soldiers (and also contractors) have displayed too much casual brutality toward the populace of Iraq, often (understandably) motivated by “force protection” considerations. I’m thinking of Humvees or armored Chevy Suburbans careening through traffic, causing accidents, their occupants shooting at vehicles that get too close; soldiers opening fire at checkpoints and riddling cars full of confused civilians with bullets; or soldiers cordoning off neighborhoods and breaking into houses in the middle of the night.

When it comes to dealing with actual insurgents, our troops have had their hands tied, especially after the Abu Ghraib scandal in the spring of 2004. Aggressive interrogations are out. Detainees in American custody have the option of remaining silent, and they have an excellent chance of being released through one of the multiple layers of legal review, Iraqi and American. That needs to change if we are to have any chance of success.

Of course there are limits to how brutal American—or any other Western—troops can be without causing a backlash on the home front, as the French learned in Algeria. The Iraqis have much more freedom of action; nobody would be terribly shocked if they behaved the way the Algerian or Egyptian security forces did in putting down Islamist uprisings in the 1990’s. The problem is not so much that the Iraqi Security Forces are too brutal; it’s that they are stupidly brutal—or rather that their brutality is too often designed to advance a sectarian, not a national, agenda. They are murdering and torturing Sunnis indiscriminately, not reserving their venom for actual insurgents. Again, there has to be a balancing act, and the Iraqis aren’t getting it right—perhaps can’t get it right.

I should add the obvious: it’s much easier to describe the balancing act while sitting in the safety of one’s study than to actually figure out how to act while under fire. That’s why counterinsurgency has been described as the graduate level of warfare. Our troops are slowly acquiring the skills they need but, as we both agree, the big question is whether they will have the time and support needed to apply what they’ve learned.

Cordially,
MB

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson III

Read Less

Why Not an Extra 210,000?

On December 7, 1941, Japan largely destroyed the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, killing 2,400 Americans. The next day, President Franklin Roosevelt addressed the country. December 7, he said, was “a date which will live in infamy.” Then he continued:

“Unfortunately, there is little we can do about it. A war with Japan will necessarily mean fighting her allies, notably Germany, as well. This would require an American military force on the order of 12 million men and women. Today our military numbers fewer than 2 million. I cannot see where the extra 10 million will come from. Therefore, I will attempt to negotiate to see if we can reach a peaceful settlement. If not, I will surrender.”

As you know, this is not what FDR said. His actual words were: “the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.”

But my imaginary reconstruction of FDR’s speech comes to mind when I hear the complaint that we simply do not have enough soldiers to win the war in Iraq. In his State of the Union address, President Bush once again described eloquently and accurately what is at stake in Iraq. Allowing ourselves to lose will be like administering a course of steroids to jihadists everywhere. It will not only create yet more chaos in Iraq and in the Middle East, but will inspire new attacks on America itself.

Will an extra 21,000 troops forestall that outcome? Who knows. But given the stakes, why are we not sending an extra 210,000? That would bring our forces almost to the numbers that General Eric Shinseki said we needed in the first place. The population of the U.S. is more than double what it was in 1941. If we found an extra 10 million troops then, why can’t we find an extra 210,000 now?

True, we had a draft then, something that no one, and especially no politician, wants now. But the number I am proposing for Iraq is, proportional to our current population, less than 1 percent of the added forces we raised between 1941 and 1945.

Bush’s surge proposal is far preferable to the Democrats’ proposed policy of withdrawal. But, as Victor Davis Hanson and Max Boot have argued in their exchange on this blog, it has only a chance of success. That is not good enough.

I wouldn’t try to match military knowledge with either of these two experts, and Victor may well be right that smart tactics “transcend” numbers. But I’m inclined to side with Max: we’ve already tried winning this war by going “light,” and it hasn’t worked. It simply cannot be the case that pacifying Iraq is beyond our capacity. The question is whether we have the will to do it.

On December 7, 1941, Japan largely destroyed the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, killing 2,400 Americans. The next day, President Franklin Roosevelt addressed the country. December 7, he said, was “a date which will live in infamy.” Then he continued:

“Unfortunately, there is little we can do about it. A war with Japan will necessarily mean fighting her allies, notably Germany, as well. This would require an American military force on the order of 12 million men and women. Today our military numbers fewer than 2 million. I cannot see where the extra 10 million will come from. Therefore, I will attempt to negotiate to see if we can reach a peaceful settlement. If not, I will surrender.”

As you know, this is not what FDR said. His actual words were: “the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.”

But my imaginary reconstruction of FDR’s speech comes to mind when I hear the complaint that we simply do not have enough soldiers to win the war in Iraq. In his State of the Union address, President Bush once again described eloquently and accurately what is at stake in Iraq. Allowing ourselves to lose will be like administering a course of steroids to jihadists everywhere. It will not only create yet more chaos in Iraq and in the Middle East, but will inspire new attacks on America itself.

Will an extra 21,000 troops forestall that outcome? Who knows. But given the stakes, why are we not sending an extra 210,000? That would bring our forces almost to the numbers that General Eric Shinseki said we needed in the first place. The population of the U.S. is more than double what it was in 1941. If we found an extra 10 million troops then, why can’t we find an extra 210,000 now?

True, we had a draft then, something that no one, and especially no politician, wants now. But the number I am proposing for Iraq is, proportional to our current population, less than 1 percent of the added forces we raised between 1941 and 1945.

Bush’s surge proposal is far preferable to the Democrats’ proposed policy of withdrawal. But, as Victor Davis Hanson and Max Boot have argued in their exchange on this blog, it has only a chance of success. That is not good enough.

I wouldn’t try to match military knowledge with either of these two experts, and Victor may well be right that smart tactics “transcend” numbers. But I’m inclined to side with Max: we’ve already tried winning this war by going “light,” and it hasn’t worked. It simply cannot be the case that pacifying Iraq is beyond our capacity. The question is whether we have the will to do it.

Read Less

From Baghdad to Birmingham

Any doubts that Britain has become a major theater in the war on terror should have been dispelled by the arrest in Birmingham of a jihadist cell that was plotting to kidnap, torture, and behead Muslim soldiers or other “collaborators” involved in Iraq or Afghanistan. Nine suspects were apprehended in a series of dawn raids on Wednesday, after police—who had been watching them for months—decided that the abduction of a Muslim soldier living nearby was imminent. Prime Minister Tony Blair was kept informed about this operation, which required some 700 officers, presumably because of the possibility of protests by the local Muslim population.

A heavy responsibility for creating the climate in which this hideous plot could be hatched is borne by Muslim community leaders in Britain. After Lance-Corporal Jabron Hashmi, a British Muslim and resident of Birmingham, was killed in Afghanistan last year, the Muslim Council of Britain could barely disguise its contempt. MCB spokesman Inayat Bunglawala commented: “It would be entirely wrong . . . to smear him [Hashmi] as being a supporter of the war. When you are a soldier, you have no choice about where you are sent.” Bunglawala made no mention of Hashmi’s courage, patriotism, or sense of duty.

After London, Birmingham is home to Britain’s largest Muslim community, and it has become a bastion of Islamism. Green Lane Mosque, one of the most prominent in Birmingham, has fallen under Wahhabist influence. It was recently revealed by the BBC’s Channel Four that the mosque is providing Islamists with a platform to preach hatred against the West. Salma Yaqoob, the most prominent Muslim woman politician in Britain, represents Birmingham Central Mosque and was elected to the city council for the Respect party, which promotes an extremist anti-Western Islamist agenda and polls ahead of the mainstream parties in Muslim districts of Birmingham. (Speaking in London a fortnight ago, Ms. Yaqoob described the 7/7 terrorist attacks on the London subway as “reprisal events.”)

Earlier this week, the think tank Policy Exchange published a poll showing that 40 percent of British Muslims age sixteen to twenty-four say they want to live under shari’a law, and that one in eight admires al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations that “fight against the West.” It seems that in Birmingham they don’t intend to leave it at that: admiration of al Qaeda is giving way to emulation.

A century ago Joseph Chamberlain, Birmingham’s greatest statesman, gave a speech there in which he declared: “The day of small nations has long passed away. The day of Empires has come.” What would he have said to the people of his beloved “Brummagem” today, when the empire so many of them dream of is a caliphate?

Any doubts that Britain has become a major theater in the war on terror should have been dispelled by the arrest in Birmingham of a jihadist cell that was plotting to kidnap, torture, and behead Muslim soldiers or other “collaborators” involved in Iraq or Afghanistan. Nine suspects were apprehended in a series of dawn raids on Wednesday, after police—who had been watching them for months—decided that the abduction of a Muslim soldier living nearby was imminent. Prime Minister Tony Blair was kept informed about this operation, which required some 700 officers, presumably because of the possibility of protests by the local Muslim population.

A heavy responsibility for creating the climate in which this hideous plot could be hatched is borne by Muslim community leaders in Britain. After Lance-Corporal Jabron Hashmi, a British Muslim and resident of Birmingham, was killed in Afghanistan last year, the Muslim Council of Britain could barely disguise its contempt. MCB spokesman Inayat Bunglawala commented: “It would be entirely wrong . . . to smear him [Hashmi] as being a supporter of the war. When you are a soldier, you have no choice about where you are sent.” Bunglawala made no mention of Hashmi’s courage, patriotism, or sense of duty.

After London, Birmingham is home to Britain’s largest Muslim community, and it has become a bastion of Islamism. Green Lane Mosque, one of the most prominent in Birmingham, has fallen under Wahhabist influence. It was recently revealed by the BBC’s Channel Four that the mosque is providing Islamists with a platform to preach hatred against the West. Salma Yaqoob, the most prominent Muslim woman politician in Britain, represents Birmingham Central Mosque and was elected to the city council for the Respect party, which promotes an extremist anti-Western Islamist agenda and polls ahead of the mainstream parties in Muslim districts of Birmingham. (Speaking in London a fortnight ago, Ms. Yaqoob described the 7/7 terrorist attacks on the London subway as “reprisal events.”)

Earlier this week, the think tank Policy Exchange published a poll showing that 40 percent of British Muslims age sixteen to twenty-four say they want to live under shari’a law, and that one in eight admires al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations that “fight against the West.” It seems that in Birmingham they don’t intend to leave it at that: admiration of al Qaeda is giving way to emulation.

A century ago Joseph Chamberlain, Birmingham’s greatest statesman, gave a speech there in which he declared: “The day of small nations has long passed away. The day of Empires has come.” What would he have said to the people of his beloved “Brummagem” today, when the empire so many of them dream of is a caliphate?

Read Less

Boot and Hanson, Round Three: Taking Our Gloves Off

Dear Max,

I agree that we should have more forces in Iraq and more in reserve. But there are considerations that transcend numbers. Remember Vietnam: 530,000 Americans on the ground in 1968 didn’t make Saigon any safer than in 1973, when our military presence numbered 50 personnel. Also consider the Second Boer War. The British began to win (after nearly 250,000 troops failed to secure the disputed territories) only when they changed tactics and began to make use of aggressive, small-party raiding, relocation of insurgents, and rules of engagement specifically loosened for asymmetrical warfare. They began to win, in other words, when they took their tactical gloves off.

Our problems in Iraq can be ameliorated, but not solved, by more manpower. Part of the West’s commitment to Enlightenment ideas proclaiming the value and dignity of human life is a belief that inflicting casualties on the enemy is, in moral terms, not all that different from outright murder. We are fighting a war in which a few seconds of tape on al-Jazeera, showing the effects of our campaign, can be lethal to morale at home.

With the surge, the existing U.S. forces, other coalition troops, and the Iraqis, there will be nearly 500,000 allied soldiers in the field. Even if half of this force is of questionable quality, it is no more ill-equipped or ill-trained than the insurgents. So the questions remain: why and how is a relatively small force holding such a large one at bay?

We discussed possible answers previously, but, as you imply, better leadership and better communication are essential. Our political leadership at home must explain, clearly and forcefully, why asymmetrical warfare intrinsically favors the enemy, why there will continue to be collateral damage, and why the media will continue to report the war the way they do.

All this will serve as a means of preparing the American people for the considerable struggle yet to come, if we are to win. It will also serve a larger purpose: apprising the global audience that whatever downside a greater use of force on our part entails, it is far, far outweighed by the specter of a jihadist victory.

One of our serious mistakes has been trying to fight the war with one eye on the 70 percent approval rating our first actions in Iraq garnered. By keeping troop levels low, granting Moqtada al-Sadr a reprieve, and a whole host of other actions, we’ve attempted to pacify our increasingly vocal critics at home and in Iraq and keep the war’s violence at “tolerable” levels, thereby maintaining much-needed public support.

But the effect of these half-measures was to erode public support for the war anyway. More aggressive tactics would have had a better chance of defeating the insurgency and creating the necessary window for economic and political reforms to take effect, and for Iraq’s nascent democracy to flower.

Yours,

Victor

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

Dear Max,

I agree that we should have more forces in Iraq and more in reserve. But there are considerations that transcend numbers. Remember Vietnam: 530,000 Americans on the ground in 1968 didn’t make Saigon any safer than in 1973, when our military presence numbered 50 personnel. Also consider the Second Boer War. The British began to win (after nearly 250,000 troops failed to secure the disputed territories) only when they changed tactics and began to make use of aggressive, small-party raiding, relocation of insurgents, and rules of engagement specifically loosened for asymmetrical warfare. They began to win, in other words, when they took their tactical gloves off.

Our problems in Iraq can be ameliorated, but not solved, by more manpower. Part of the West’s commitment to Enlightenment ideas proclaiming the value and dignity of human life is a belief that inflicting casualties on the enemy is, in moral terms, not all that different from outright murder. We are fighting a war in which a few seconds of tape on al-Jazeera, showing the effects of our campaign, can be lethal to morale at home.

With the surge, the existing U.S. forces, other coalition troops, and the Iraqis, there will be nearly 500,000 allied soldiers in the field. Even if half of this force is of questionable quality, it is no more ill-equipped or ill-trained than the insurgents. So the questions remain: why and how is a relatively small force holding such a large one at bay?

We discussed possible answers previously, but, as you imply, better leadership and better communication are essential. Our political leadership at home must explain, clearly and forcefully, why asymmetrical warfare intrinsically favors the enemy, why there will continue to be collateral damage, and why the media will continue to report the war the way they do.

All this will serve as a means of preparing the American people for the considerable struggle yet to come, if we are to win. It will also serve a larger purpose: apprising the global audience that whatever downside a greater use of force on our part entails, it is far, far outweighed by the specter of a jihadist victory.

One of our serious mistakes has been trying to fight the war with one eye on the 70 percent approval rating our first actions in Iraq garnered. By keeping troop levels low, granting Moqtada al-Sadr a reprieve, and a whole host of other actions, we’ve attempted to pacify our increasingly vocal critics at home and in Iraq and keep the war’s violence at “tolerable” levels, thereby maintaining much-needed public support.

But the effect of these half-measures was to erode public support for the war anyway. More aggressive tactics would have had a better chance of defeating the insurgency and creating the necessary window for economic and political reforms to take effect, and for Iraq’s nascent democracy to flower.

Yours,

Victor

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

Read Less

News from the Continent: Never Again?

In the midst of Europe’s week of official mourning for the Holocaust, the question of how the continent should preserve that terrible memory and transmit it to future generations was the focus of a great controversy. The boycotting of Holocaust Memorial Day by prominent Muslim organizations has by now become an annual ritual. With the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) first among them, these groups believe that a “more inclusive” event should replace the “selective” ceremonies devoted to remembering the Nazi war against the Jews.

What organizations like the MCB have in mind is plain: a “Genocide Memorial Day” focusing on allegedly “ongoing” genocides like that of Israel against the Palestinians. And the MCB’s argument to replace the day with a different sort of commemoration is making headway—so much so that, this year, the city council of Bolton decided not to mark Holocaust Memorial Day and to replace its usual event with an observance more to the MCB’s liking. According to the city council, the decision to move the commemoration to June and to call it Genocide Memorial Day was reached in consultation with an interfaith council, although several prominent Jewish leaders were not consulted. Bolton has a rapidly growing Muslim population. With Europe’s shifting demographics, one might wonder how long it will be before such changes sweep the continent, from Sweden’s Malmö—where one-quarter of the population is Muslim—to Sicily’s Mazara del Vallo.

Read More

In the midst of Europe’s week of official mourning for the Holocaust, the question of how the continent should preserve that terrible memory and transmit it to future generations was the focus of a great controversy. The boycotting of Holocaust Memorial Day by prominent Muslim organizations has by now become an annual ritual. With the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) first among them, these groups believe that a “more inclusive” event should replace the “selective” ceremonies devoted to remembering the Nazi war against the Jews.

What organizations like the MCB have in mind is plain: a “Genocide Memorial Day” focusing on allegedly “ongoing” genocides like that of Israel against the Palestinians. And the MCB’s argument to replace the day with a different sort of commemoration is making headway—so much so that, this year, the city council of Bolton decided not to mark Holocaust Memorial Day and to replace its usual event with an observance more to the MCB’s liking. According to the city council, the decision to move the commemoration to June and to call it Genocide Memorial Day was reached in consultation with an interfaith council, although several prominent Jewish leaders were not consulted. Bolton has a rapidly growing Muslim population. With Europe’s shifting demographics, one might wonder how long it will be before such changes sweep the continent, from Sweden’s Malmö—where one-quarter of the population is Muslim—to Sicily’s Mazara del Vallo.

When the MCB pressed for the abolition of Holocaust Memorial Day in 2005, “Home Office officials. . .told the [group], which represents more than 350 Muslim organisations, that they [were] considering the request. But officials have no plans to broaden the remit of the occasion because they fear it would infuriate the Jewish community.” Not principle, then, but sheer political expediency safeguards the day in Britain. And with only political arguments keeping Holocaust Memorial Day in place, how long can it be before voters convince the government that it is time for Britain to be more “inclusive”?

It is, therefore, doubly important to watch how Europe responds to the initiative, recently launched under the new German presidency of the EU, to introduce continent-wide legislation banning Holocaust denial. Strictly speaking, the MCB is not denying the Holocaust. But its comparison of the murder of Europe’s Jews to the plight of the Palestinians is a clear attempt to demonize Israel, with the not-so-unintended side-effect of trivializing the Holocaust. In Palestine, fewer than 4,000 people have been killed by the Israeli military in the last six years, all in an effort to disrupt the activities of terrorists and armed militants. In Auschwitz, 30,000 defenseless Jews were slaughtered every day. The analogy, in other words, is a patent untruth.

This kind of gross distortion has already gone a step further in Spain, where the city council of a small town near Madrid tried to mandate the commemoration of the “Palestinian Holocaust.” In the end, luckily, the council backed down. But making the case that history can defend itself rings hollow in the face of such episodes.

Even with such moral stupidity abounding, the subject of banning Holocaust denial remains a highly contested one across Europe. On January 24, Joan Bakewell commented in the Independent that “Freedom of speech commits us to hearing things with which we profoundly disagree. But unless we hear them, we have no chance to refute and correct them.” Timothy Garton Ash, writing in the Guardian a few days earlier, concurred, arguing, in essence, that free speech must be protected, memory must be defended through education, shutting them up would turn them into celebrities, etc.

This argument holds sway in much of the continent. Angelo D’Orsi wrote a similar column in Italy’s La Stampa, claiming that “history can defend itself” without being helped by legislation. In Italy, however, there are opposing voices. The justice minister Clemente Mastella has tried to beat the Germans to the punch, introducing his own legislation against Holocaust denial, which the Italian cabinet approved on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day.

Most Americans consider it both and silly and dangerous to punish people for their opinions. But Europe is not America. It is a continent where the dark shadow of the past requires striking a fine balance between freedom of speech and the protection of memory. Is Holocaust denial truly something that we should defend, à la Voltaire, despite its odiousness, its motives, and its sometimes seductive power? Is truth, in a world submerged in the cacophony of cultural relativism, so compelling that we can always confidently rely on evidence and education to rebuke the charlatans and their sinister denials?

Regulating such hate speech may well endow the David Irvings of the world with the halos of martyrs. But it could also deprive them of a platform, discourage others from providing them with one, silence thousands of hate-spewing websites, shut down publishing houses that still print the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and in general make it more difficult to spread the “opinion” that the Holocaust did not happen. For to say such a thing is not just an opinion: it is a libel against the six million Jews who died—as well as those who survived and their descendants.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.