Sunday, October 08, 2006

John Burgess on Antisemitism in KSA

This man knows whereof he speaks. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, like most of the Arab world, has been spoon-fed antisemitsm for so long that it is part of the fabric of society. My own observation is that the trait is so deeply ingrained that it often survives what can be in most other respects an excellent (usually technical) college, even post-graduate education. This is one trait that I have encountered myself in many, if not most of the people I have met from Bangladesh, Pakistan and other places in the Middle East. He is commenting on an article, but his take on the issue is more informed than most.

It is a sad fact that Saudi Arabs remain noxiously anti-Semitic. The lack of knowledge about Judaism and the history of the Jews, the result of abysmal education and the official blocking of outside information concerning the Jews and Israel, leads inevitably to ignorant conclusions.

As distressing as this is, there is still hope. In March, 2002 Al-Riyadh published another series of articles that claimed that the "Blood Libel" (see Part II of this MEMRI report) against the Jews was fact. As head of the Public Affairs section of the US Embassy, I undertook a strong protest to the Saudi government over this. My protest led to the editor of the paper offering a former apology and the government's direction to newspapers to not report such stories as fact again. It also led to the writer's being banned from writing for several years. But anti-Semitism is hydra-headed; when one head is cut off, another two pop up. Other fictions, like the perennially popular "Protocols" and the so-called "Franklin Prophecy" still have great currency in the country and throughout the region.

Attempts to refute such stories are very difficult as they seem to have become part of the cloud of forgeries that inform the general public. It is going to take years of effort to change "conventional wisdom". It's also going to take a future state of being in which Israel is not seen as the personification of evil. That is going to require a permanent peace settlement in the region first.

Before we start casting stones (excuse me, bad metaphor in light of current events) being too critical, it would be wise to remember that antisemitism is also very much alive and well in our own society.


Anonymous said...

The sad fact of anti-semitism in the Arab world is somewhat more nuanced than mere regurgigation of the Protocols (recall: they're Russian anti-semitism only recently transplanted here). Just a decade ago, one would find many who would attempt to distinguish "Jews" from "Zionists," and even a few who perceived a meaningful existence between "Labor," "Likud," "Israelis," and "people who shoot innocent Palestinians/Lebanese and pretend to be justified."

Such distinctions have faded rapidly in the Arab world.

Hoots said...

Thanks for your comment.
I am idealistic enough to hope that one day there can be meaningful exchanges of young people between Israel and her Arab neighbors. Only then can the wall start to crack. It's hard to remain prejudiced against someone whom you have learned about.
I don't expect to live to see such a development, but I have been privileged to witness in person the end of segregation in the American South. We have a long way to go, but the core evils I saw in my younger years are now against the law and have been replaced by others far more benign. It's like watching trees grow. Many years come and go before big changes become apparent.