My word, is it a turning point?

April 17, 2015 16:12

I confess to being a pessimist. Optimists believe that everything is for the best. Often this is far from the case, so optimists are sad people. We pessimists believe that things have a habit of turning out for the worst. Often they don't, which makes us very happy.

With that in mind, let's turn our attention to the Koran. Every Jew should read the Koran. Why? Not simply because this book is read by every devout Moslem. Not simply because the reading of it forms the foundation of Muslim religious education. Not simply because its teachings are pivotal to the upbringing of Anglo-Muslim children throughout the land. But because of what the Koran has to say about the Jews.

Ideally, the Koran should be read in its original Arabic. But there are a number of translations available; the one I use is published by Oxford University Press. "O believers," my translation runs in Sura (chapter) 5, "take not Jews and Christians as friends … O believers, take not as your friends those of them, who were given the Book before you … Whomsoever God has cursed ... and made some of them apes and swine, and worshippers of idols… The Jews … are cursed for what they have said."

Pretty strong stuff, eh? But just in case you're tempted to take comfort from the fact that only some of us Jews were turned into apes and swine, let me direct you also to Sura 7, wherein it is implied that the Almighty routinely took to punishing Jews by turning them into apes, and to Sura 2, where this fate – to have been turned into apes and pigs – is repeated. And just in case you are tempted to interpret these verses in an allegorical rather than a literal sense, let me assure you that not only did early Muslim commentators agree that God did turn Jews into apes and pigs, but that modern Islamic scholars agree wholeheartedly with this interpretation. The south Asian philosopher Abul Maududi (1903-79), who might be regarded as a founding father of modern Islamist thought and whose philosophy is being fully implemented by the so-called Islamic State, had no doubt that the metamorphosis – from humans into apes – was inflicted upon the Jews of the Koran in a literal sense.

This view of the modern Jew as a descendant of pigs and apes has – naturally – found its way into the Palestinian narrative. It forms a staple ingredient of that tale of victimhood, and is fully integrated into the educational curriculum taught in the Palestinian territories. Last September, for example, Palestinian TV featured a young activist reciting a poem exhorting, "O, you who were brought up on spilling blood … You have been condemned to humiliation and hardship O Sons of Zion, O most evil among creations O barbaric apes, O wretched pigs..."

The Arabs now want to outlaw this kind of hate speech

Imagine my shock, therefore – my pleasant shock – on turning earlier this month to that excellent website Palestinian Media Watch and downloading a clip from a TV station controlled by Fatah (the party of Mahmoud Abbas) in which a leading member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, one Muwaffaq Matar, explicitly rejected the use of that sort of antisemitic hate speech.

True, Matar had an ulterior motive. As a Christian he claimed he had been insulted by Hamas, who had accused him (in line with Sura 5) of being "a descendant of apes and pigs, physically and mentally". Matar was having none of this. "This is racism," he told his TV audience. "Naturally, they use this expression about the Jews. This is unfortunate. We also reject these expressions, because they are not part of our values, absolutely not."

A colleague to whom I mentioned this then drew my attention to a statement made earlier this month by none other than Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Speaking on Syrian television, Nasrallah emphasised that Hezbollah had "no problem" with Jews, only with Zionists. This statement is remarkable not least because Nasrallah has an unenviable track record of denouncing and denigrating Jews, "the murderers of the prophets" (he announced in 2005), "the grandsons of apes and pigs."

Am I being unduly cynical? Are we witnessing a genuine change of heart within the Arab world? Or just a change of tactic that leaves the strategy – the destruction of the Jewish state – as entrenched as ever?

April 17, 2015 16:12

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