Jewish World Review April 16, 2003 / 14 Nisan, 5763
A happy paradox
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | In my American jubilation over the long-awaited scenes from last week's liberation of Baghdad-which will hopefully plant the seed for an eventual domino effect throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds-I forgot that Iraqis might not like Jews.
As an American, I would classify such ponderings at this point as immaterial, premature and in poor taste. But being irreparably Jewish at the same time, I can't contain my curiosity--that is, my Jewish complex. With a nod to those whose dual-loyalty radars may be going off right now, I must point out that the subject did surface last week when the decision to appoint a reputedly pro-Israel general to oversee Iraq's rebuilding was roundly criticized by Muslim and Arab groups.
Let me first emphasize that I was as touched as any freedom-loving American by the events and images of the past week, just as I was by the story of the Iraqi man who risked his and his family's lives repeatedly to help save American POW Jessica Lynch. Conversely, I recall my heart aching when a woman on an Iranian street risked her life to tell an American journalist that 90 percent of Iranians want U.S. help to get out from under the Islamist thumb, and I still cringe at the memory of the Iraqis we abandoned in 1991. My non-bleeding conservative heart bleeds for Palestinians like the handyman occasionally hired by my distant relatives who live in a "settlement" located a few minutes' drive from the as yet undisputedly Israeli city of Tel Aviv. This handyman apologized to his Jewish clients in advance for attending the next day's "death to Israel" rally, where he was expected or else things would be bad for his family. Reading pro-American letters-to-the-editor by Iraqi expatriates and hearing about a Muslim-American college student defending ethnic profiling at airports for the safety of Americans also warms my American heart.
But I must ask to be forgiven for noticing an AP photograph on the second day of the war, of a distinctly Jewish-looking (but possibly Italian) American soldier giving candy to Iraqi children. It made me wonder whether these kids will grow up liking America, or if they will one day say what one Middle Eastern teen answered when asked if there was anything at all good about America: "Candy." In these missions, we always face the possibility of thanklessness, as has been the case with Kuwait ("Osama didn't do it") and Saudi Arabia. Such a soldier risks similar ingratitude-on two counts: if not as an American, then as a Jew.
My optimistic side sees the Iraqi people-and the reform-craving Iranian people-as the best hope for Judeo-Muslim relations. Of course, Iranians and Iraqis hate each other, and hating Jews may be the one thing they can agree on. However, if the famously pro-Israel U.S. were to do in Iran what it's doing in Iraq, perhaps these two countries could further distinguish themselves from the rest of the Muslim world by switching to Jew love as the one thing they can agree on. (And jubilation could give way to Jew-bilation?) Since, until now, it has been impossible to know how Iraqis really feel about Israel and Jews in general-to know how much of the anti-Israelism was a regime thing and how much was a culture thing-it's best not to jump to conclusions. But if there is one common ground that binds an otherwise divided Arab world, it is a hatred of Israel-which under the more repressive governments gives people their only reason for getting up in the morning. (Kuwait, for example, was glad to be getting rid of Saddam, but at the same time its officials instructed journalists that any communication with the state of Israel would result in their lawful arrest.)
Even in light of human shredders, as much as Arab and Muslim people hate their dictatorships and oligarchies, they hate Israel more. The contempt that should be reserved wholly for their rulers is projected to the Jewish state. Indeed, this shared contempt by a dictator is often his only redeeming quality.
More optimistic is the hope that Jew hatred is merely a symptom of a more fundamental common thread binding the Arab world-the void of democracy-and that the downing of dictatorships like Saddam Hussein's could spell the beginning of the end to this abiding hatred of Israel.
Queen Noor of Jordan last week said that the Iraq war will deepen the cultural divide between the U.S. and the Muslim world. Actually, it will do something much more dramatic. It will begin to unglue what mortar there is that unifies the Arab world.
That retired pro-Israel general, Lt. General Jay Garner, is a good way to start. If there is one thing that can get an already bickering Arab world shaking in its boots, it's that some Arabs will see that it is possible to do right by Israel and right by Arabs if one simply does what is right.
So far, it is not the Iraqis but other parts of the Middle East that are saying Iraqis won't like the appointment once they find out that General Garner signed a letter in 2000 supporting Israel for exercising "remarkable restraint" and blaming the violence on Palestinian leaders. But given that it is a largely Jew-loving country that has come to the Iraqis' rescue, that there were Jewish soldiers who helped, and that Palestinians protested the Iraqis' liberation from their oppressor, how much sympathy, as The Wall St. Journal's James Taranto asks, should Iraqis ultimately have for the Middle East's one binding cause? Such a theory, of course, assumes rational thinking.
Already the discord among the Arab world is audible, as parts of it are loving the U.S. right now. This could mean the first nail in the coffin of Muslim solidarity. A democratic freedom to think is the next, and it has the potential to lead to the third-a differing opinion as regards Israel. Once a ripple effect takes hold, and resistance to democratizing starts to seem futile, it should all be very embarrassing to the Arab and Muslim Diaspora, who have been living in the free world, free to think differently and speak up all along but choosing instead to tow the party line of an enslaved mentality.
It is a welcome paradox, being Jewish in these times. For it is no paradox at all. It presents not a dilemma of
dual loyalty, but a dual challenge for one's humanity. It will take time and require patience, but this challenge
should be answered with a Jewish selflessness and generosity of spirit so American that it reminds us why the
principles upon which this country is founded are called "Judeo-Christian."
Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.