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Jewish World Review Feb. 18, 2003 / 16 Adar I, 5763

Barbara Amiel

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Letter from London: What you don't see is what you get | The most revealing aspect of the anti-war march in London was what you did not see. You did not see any messages to Saddam Hussein or criticism of Iraqi policy.

These earnest seekers of peace, with so many signs denouncing George W Bush and Tony Blair, had nothing to say to Saddam Hussein; no request to please co-operate with the UN inspectors. Not one small poster asking Saddam to disarm or destroy his weapons of mass destruction. Perhaps somewhere in that million people there were some bravely asking him to "Leave Iraq and prevent war", but I could not find them.

If this were a genuine anti-war demonstration, why, along with demands on the British and Americans, would there be no demands of the other party to the conflict - Iraq? Commentators on the march were taken by the good order of it. I was taken by the sheer wickedness or naivete.

All those nice middle-aged people from middle England with their children bundled up against the cold, marching for peace; did they have nothing to say to the party that had ignored 17 UN resolutions? A similar silence existed in all the anti-war marches in Europe. One either has to question the good faith of the marchers - or their brains.

Television gave us brief interviews with "ordinary" people marching. ITV's Mrs. Noon on the peace train from Stockport had never marched before, but she had work experience dealing with "challenging" children and adults, which she compared with dealing with Saddam. "The first rule," she said, "is to be non-confrontational." The TV cameras cut to the "----ing Bush" and "Stuff Your Imperialism" signs stacked in the train compartment.

A colleague I met at the march said he had counted only two or three anti-Israeli signs. "Torture, Murder, Ethnic Cleansing!!! Welcome to Israel" was the wording of a large banner from the Muslim Association of Great Britain, but that was to be expected. The MAB, co-organizer of the London march, has a number of ideological and personal links with the Muslim Brotherhood, the oldest Islamist organisation, four of whose members assassinated Anwar Sadat and whose offshoot is Hamas.

In fact, there were hundreds of anti-Israeli signs. What disguised this was the activities of the Jewish establishment. The Board of Deputies of British Jews, well-meaning but dreadfully inept, had worried about all the hate signs against Israel in the last "peace" march. Not understanding that it is best not to help your enemy disguise itself, they had written to the Committee for Nuclear Disarmament asking it about its relationship with anti-Israel groups.

The Deputies were reassured to receive a letter promising them that CND was "working hard to ensure that this march would be free from inappropriate slogans and chants". The result was that apart from a few "Boycott Israel/Boycott Murder" banners, the MAB restrained itself to hundreds of posters with the coded anti-Israel message: "Freedom for Palestine".

Freedom for Palestine, of course, could come the day the Arab world accepts the existence of a Jewish state. There could have been an independent Palestinian state as early as the Peel Commission in 1937 or the UN partition plan in 1948, if only the Arabs had said yes to co-existence with Israel. But anyone who has read the literature of the MAB knows that now, as then, "Palestinian freedom" for the MAB is achieved only at the expense of eliminating a Jewish state in the Middle East. All that the complaints of the British Board of Deputies had done was to make the MAB respectable to the ignorant.

In the end, under the guise of peace, this march was essentially an anti-America, anti-free enterprise, anti-Israel display. A similar approach appeared to have taken hold in the various other "peace" marches in Tokyo, Athens, Paris, Berlin and Madrid.

Looking at the news clips of jubilant Europeans marching behind banners saying "Death to Uncle Sam" shows how much the zeitgeist towards America has changed. I can remember the good-natured humor of the film The Mouse That Roared. America was seen then as the generous savior of Europe and the welcomed guarantor of freedom. In that 1959 film, a Ruritanian prime minister, played by Peter Sellers, declared war on the United States in order to get American aid. These days the mouse roars to scare or blackmail America.

The spirit towards Israel was different in those times too. After defeating the Arabs in the 1967 six-day war, Israel was seen as an incredible success story by virtually all observers - intellectually, morally and practically. The country was the recreation of a lost state, made all the more credible by its unique parentage - a democratic decision of the world through a UN vote.

One didn't have to be a Zionist in 1967 to list Israel's achievements. That small nation had revived a dead language for the first time in history, absorbed a million and a half people from both Europe and the Orient in 19 years and had made the desert fertile. It had no oil, its waters were insufficient and vulnerable to Arab diversion, and it had never had one day of peace.

Within five hours of its birth, it faced declarations of war by all its Arab neighbors. With no military background or weaponry to speak of, and facing the British-trained Jordanian army among others, it had defeated its enemies in 1948, 1956 and again in 1967. Israel was a classic success story.

Up to 1967, the Jews gave the impression of being the underdog against impossible odds, and the winner. Both those components are attractive to people and to nations. But the sheer weight of size and demographics on the Arab side and the willingness of Arabs to employ terrorism in the West began to eat away at this perception. Gradually, the tables turned. The sense that in the long run the Arabs would prevail gathered steam. It became the Arabs' turn to be carried on the double wings of underdog and winner status.

Israel is now seen as a surrogate for the United States and so destroying it has the added thrill of throwing sand in America's face. For centuries, the Arab world has faced the humiliation of punching below its weight. Given the value in its culture of the romantic masculine virtues of martial prowess and dominance, this realization that its culture is regarded as backward and insignificant has created much resentment.

The Islamists have come along with the message that, if Islam's large population and wealth could be fused with its mystical fundamentalism, they would create the same fanatical strength that made rising empires from Christendom to Japan pre-eminent. In this climate, America and Israel are viewed as obstacles to an Arab renaissance.

Laying out the world's changing attitudes to Israel and America so barely, makes it sound like a conscious decision - which is absurd. But changes in the spirit of the times are as difficult to explain as those immense flocks of birds you see sitting on some great African lake, hundreds of thousands of them at a time, till all of a sudden, successively, they fly up and turn in a specific direction. One can never analyse which bird started it and how it became this incredible rush. All you see is the result.

One senses that the Islamists, with a billion Muslims in the world, and access to great riches (with some partial success in Iran and Afghanistan, where they defeated the Soviets, albeit with American help), now feel that they may be able to reassert themselves - and the Caliphate.

The world waits, unsure what to do as Muslims hesitate, poised on vast lakes of oil, ready to fly in some direction. The world hedges its bets by backing the Palestinians, who may benefit by any resurgence of Islam.

And one of the reasons many people sense how important it is for America and her allies to be successful against the regime of Saddam Hussein - quite apart from all other valid reasons - is that a perception that the side with the momentum, the winning side, is the Islamist-terrorist side, must be broken.

It is a dangerous and self-fulfilling prophecy that can cause untold bloodshed and tyranny in the world. There are infinitely better, more tolerant, less bloody ways forward for the Arab people. But the West is not yet a paper tiger, even if nearly one million of its inhabitants meekly followed behind those meretricious paper slogans held high in Hyde Park on Saturday afternoon.

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JWR contributor Barbara Amiel is a columnist with London's Daily Telegraph, where this column originated. Comment by clicking here.

02/05/02: The UN is fast becoming a threat to world peace
10/29/02: When dealing with the devil, words like "dialogue" and "agreement" are comic
09/10/02: Never mind the dossier, just leaf through 'Iraq for Dummies'
08/27/02: How Kissinger the hawk was twisted into a fake dove: Lessons in liberal journalistic integrity
05/15/02: Why protecting the peace will make a mockery of justice
05/01/02: Why has it taken Le Pen to ask the awkward questions?
04/17/02: Truth about Israeli casualties is being ignored in this war
02/18/02: America's war on terrorism is a fight for all democracies: What the European elite are clueless about
01/29/02: Pity the al-Qa'eda detainees? Why is liberal 'torture' kosher?
12/18/01: What those in the London salons don't -- or won't -- see
12/04/01: We are not risking world war so women can show their ankles
11/20/01:"Anti-terrorism" has become the Western world's equivalent of the Arabian Nights' "open sesame"
11/06/01: We must rediscover a war mentality that persists through vicissitudes
10/31/01: The West is fighting to rescue Islam, not destroy it

© 2001, Barbara Amiel