Commentary Magazine


Contentions

“Qaddafi Was a Jew”

The Forward has a must-read article on pervasive anti-Semitism in the new Libya that reveals both the Arab world’s greatest problem – which isn’t anti-Semitism per se – and why the West persistently ignores it. Inter alia, reporter Andrew Engel describes how Libyan after Libyan volunteered the “information,” completely unprompted, that the hated Muammar Qaddafi was a Jew. The same theme permeated a CD he heard in a Tripoli taxi – but only in Arabic:

The first track, “Khalas ya Qaddafi” (“Finished, oh Qaddafi”), rapped in English: “Thank you Obama, thank you Jazeera, thank you Sarkozy for everything you’ve done to me.” It then moved into Arabic: “I’m sorry for Algeria because their leader is Bouteflika, who supports every Jew with his soldiers and weapons. Leave, oh Qaddafi. Every day people die, every day people suffer … Go out, you Jew!”

Another rap number, “HadHihi al-Thawra” (“This Revolution”), rapped in Arabic: “… The anger won’t die, the one who will die is Qaddafi, his supporters and the Jews.”

This is standard practice in the Arab world: Statements in English are carefully crafted to be pleasing to Western ears (“thank you Obama, thank you Sarkozy”), but statements in Arabic have no such constraints. That’s why Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas denounces terrorism in English even while lauding terrorists as heroes in Arabic (here or here, for instance).

But most Westerners don’t speak Arabic, so they take what they hear in English at face value. And even when confronted with translations by organizations like MEMRI or Palestinian Media Watch, they continue to believe what they hear in English, because that’s human nature: What you hear with your own ears carries conviction, even though people generally speak far more freely and honestly in their native tongue.

Yet the West’s ability to ignore the Arab world’s pervasive anti-Semitism means it consistently fails to understand the most basic problem facing Arab countries. As Engel perceptively noted, by deeming Qaddafi a Jew, his Libyan interlocutors “had accomplished an amazing feat of disassociation between themselves and the man who ruled them for most of their lives, as if they were saying: ‘You know, Qaddafi was not one of us. A Libyan could not have done what he did.’ It was a refusal to come to terms with Libya’s own past. Even a dictator, after all, requires popular support from some segments of society to rule for more than four decades … A country unable to come to terms with its history may find itself incapable of building the successful, inclusive democracy it has promised the world.”

Indeed, people who consistently blame an outside agency for their problems – whether it’s Jews, Western colonialism or anything else –are incapable of building any kind of decent society. You can’t fix a problem if you consider it beyond your control, and if it’s someone else’s fault, it is beyond your control. Only when people acknowledge that they have contributed to their own problems can they begin to seek solutions.

That’s why Arab anti-Semitism matters so desperately –not because of the threat it poses to Israel, though that is real, but because of the threat it poses to Arab countries’ own development. The same goes for the Arabs’ tendency to blame their troubles on Israel or the West. Evasion of responsibility for its own welfare has always been, and continues to be, the Arab world’s biggest problem.

And by pandering to it – for instance, by asserting that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is necessary for Arab development even though it patently hasn’t been necessary for Israel’s development – the West is entrenching this problem rather than helping the Arab world to confront it.