Guardian

Readers Revolt as Tariq Ali Scrapes the Barrel


This is a guest post by Bataween of Point of No Return

When Georgina Henry moved from the Comment is Free Middle East desk to edit the Culture Section at the Guardian, CIF Watch predicted that Henry would turn her new fiefdom into a cesspool of antisemitism masquerading as anti-Zionism. And so it has come to pass. Henry’s latest commission: Tariq Ali’s review of “The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives” by Gilbert Achcar scrapes the barrel of malevolent ignorance and Orwellian misrepresentation. But wonder of wonders, the readership aren’t having it.

The book in question, is itself a scurrilous work of revisionism, intended by a ‘professor of International Relations at SOAS’ partly to demolish the sacred cow of Arab complicity with the Nazi Holocaust. Like all anti-Israel propaganda, it tries to turn fact into controversy – declaring, as the book’s subtitle denotes, a ‘war of narratives’. Downplaying Arab antisemitism and support for the Holocaust exonerates Arabs from any responsibility for Israel’s establishment.

Tariq Ali, venerable Pakistani Marxist anti-Zionist and warrior against US imperialism, applauds Gilbert Achcar’s ‘systematic and scholarly refutation of the simplistic myths that have arisen from the formation of Israel’. The book, which is being published in an Arab edition, is a ‘valuable corrective’, drawing on such ‘objective’ sources as Tony Judt, Norman Finkelstein, Gabriel Piterberg and Amira Hass. But Ali’s review does not make clear where Achcar’s opinions begin and Ali’s views end.

From the outset Ali (or is it Achcar?) spouts a few myths of his own: Jewish-Muslim ‘civilisation’; the Spanish Golden Age. Most jaw-dropping of all is Ali’s statement: ‘it was not until after the first world war that relations between the communities began to deteriorate seriously. The reason for that was the Balfour Declaration…’

So Tariq Ali, despite coming from the Indian sub-continent, has learnt nothing from the subjugation and forced conversion of Hindus to Islam. He has seemingly never heard of ‘dhimmi’ non-Muslims. He seems blissfully unaware of the ‘untouchable’ Jews of Persia, who could be executed if they brushed up against a Muslim in the rain.

In Ali’s looking-glass world, the Arabs with whom the Israelis chose to ‘mate’ (curious choice of word, that), like Anwar Sadat and Abu Mazen, are crude antisemites. Egyptian President Sadat was indeed a pro-Nazi in his youth, but enough of a pragmatist to sign a peace treaty with Israel, before being gunned down by bigger antisemites than he. As for Abu Mazen, his ‘mating’ dance with Israel is not yet over: this ‘antisemite’ has still not agreed to peace or renounced the sine qua non of a Palestinian ‘right of return’ .

If these two were antisemites, Nasser, whom everyone believes was an antisemite (and Anthony Eden called an Arab Hitler), was not. Tariq Ali (or is it Achcar ?) sees Nasser as first and foremost as a socialist anti-imperialist, ‘whose principle critique of Israel was not ethnic, but political.’And so Ali recycles the old canard that Israel ‘orchestrated’ the exodus of Jews from Egypt and Iraq.

The Arab alliance with Nazism is explained away by Ali as a pragmatic, nationalist ‘the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend’ policy, similar to the example of Subhash Chandra Bose in India, who started an Indian National Army to fight alongside the Japanese. But the Mufti of Jerusalem’s anti-Jewish activity spread well beyond Palestine. (As commenter Armaros remarks: The methods of the Mufti’s army of Nazi Jihadis in Bosnia/Croatia shocked even the Nazis.)

Nasser was a member of the pro-Nazi Young Egypt. Hard to argue Nasser was not an antisemite, when he institutionalised Nazi-style antisemitism by publishing the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ and enlisting the services of thousands of fleeing Nazi war criminals to whom Egypt gave safe haven.

For once, however, the CiF readership is in revolt at such a shoddy review. All but one or two of the 20 comments below Ali’s review are critical. “I should feel insulted that he takes us for such fools, but it’s par for the course unfortunately”, writes whichishwhich.

MiniApolis reflects that Tariq Ali is a singularly inappropriate choice to write about Achcar’s book.” What’s next – a Turkish reviewer of a book explaining why Armenians make too much of the genocide inflicted upon them at the turn of the century? A Hutu explaining why Tutsis should shrug off the Rwandan genocide?”

Adds RayHumm: we come to CiF threads not to be informed, but to be entertained.

Georgina Henry take note: your Culture Section is fast becoming a laughing stock.

31 replies »

  1. If these two were antisemites, Nasser, whom everyone believes was an antisemite (and Anthony Eden called an Arab Hitler), was not. Tariq Ali (or is it Achcar ?) sees Nasser as first and foremost as a socialist anti-imperialist, ‘whose principle critique of Israel was not ethnic, but political.’And so Ali recycles the old canard that Israel ‘orchestrated’ the exodus of Jews from Egypt and Iraq.

    I’m sure that Tariq Ali will have squeaky clean explanations for Nasser using poison gas in The Yemen in the 1960s too. These old communists just can’t get past the disintegration of the USSR and the clearly demonstrated failure of Socialism/Communism.

  2. “Georgina Henry take note: your Culture Section is fast becoming a laughing stock,” Duvidl contributes to the Georgina culture section laughing stock with the following new song:

    Oh Dear What Can the Matter Be
    (to the tune of “Johnny’s So Long at the Fair.” Hat tip: British tradition)

    Oh dear what can the matter be?
    Bella M thinks she has contracted dysentry.
    Rustbucket fears that it could have been HIV.
    Georgina had some to spare.

    Chorus: Oh dear what can the matter be?
    Cif’s toilet’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
    Crabs there are jumping; bugs, lice and nits wandering free.
    Georgie has caught something there.

    She finds in that toilet strong Cif-ilis doses.
    She wades to the bidet; her tuches she hoses.
    The rest of the staff put gas masks on their noses
    And don’t dare to breathe in the air.

    Matt ventures to find her with some trepidation.
    He dons a space-suit and takes air-inhalation.
    He then books a session of self-fumigation,
    Since nobody else there will dare.

    It escalates then to a full-scale emergency;
    Cops, Fire and Ambulance; also Health and Safety.
    All staff in quarantine; locked in that dank dunny.
    No Cif; who could care.

    DS Al Coda

  3. It seems to me that if the Arab-Nazi alliance can be forgiven as mere pragmatism, why not Israeli-South Africa relations? And why does CIF veto detailed pieces on the former, but relate in detail the latter?

  4. my Tariq Ali memory box

    – while peddling his pirates of the carribean/the axis of hope book he claimed in a BBC? interview that Chavez and Castro were the real true democrats

    – years ago in a piece about Kaschmir he claimed that Lawrence of Arabia had been meddling there, visiting at night in dramatic disguises (may be, may be not, according to Robert Graves’ biography of the guy it seems rather out of character to me)

    – at 9/11 he was held backed at Munich airport due to a certain book he carried and his outrage made all our newspapers – no consideration that safety personnel may have been a bit confused after the hitherto unimaginable event, but Ali chose to claim discrimination and got away with it i.e. he is an eminent intellectual – is the capability to spout endless nonsense maybe a pre-requisite for the title?

  5. Bataween, Ali’s books must necessarily be a revision of history to favour Arabs/Muslims because being Muslim means that one cannot be wrong and the truth of Muslim involvement in the Holocaust makes them wrong by the moral compass of the rest of the world!

    Most intellectually developed people recognise the limits to “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” stratagem and where they use it, do so cautiously. So for Ali to deny the Nazi sympathies of the likes of Hajj Amin al Husaini is all of a piece with the usual pro Islamist “I say it so it must be true”

    It was convenient to Arabs/Muslims to side with the Nazis against what they perceived to be their common enemy, the Jews. Arab Jew-hatred would have meant that such an alliance with Nazism could be used to block the sort of Jewish state which was envisioned then.

    It was, of course, doomed to failure, as is any undertaking on the part of people united negatively, by a hatred of a mutual perceived enemy, rather than positively.

    Ali knows that his audience are likely to be in tune with him and as lacking in the capability to confront Arab-Nazi sympathies, warts and all, as he is.

  6. Serendipity, I think Ali completely misses the fascist ideology underpinning pan-Arabism and Islamism. As part of this ideology, the Mufti and the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as the secular nationalists who founded Ba’athism, for instance, took on a cosmic notion of antisemitism based on Nazi ideas. Read Matthias Kuntzel’s ‘Jihad and Jew-hatred’.

  7. It was one of the oddest book reviews I had ever read. I felt that I was in an Alice in Wonderland world where the writer seemed to expect agreement on concepts that are foreign to me. His list of acceptable Jews are those who would long have earned a fatwah if they had been Moslems talking in their customary terms about Islam.

    He ascribed attitudes to me that I have never had – assuming that all who think this or that are ‘anti-Semites’. I was just waiting for him to tell us that Arabs are semites too in order to make his credentials clear. But he failed even in that.

  8. One of the commentators at cif called this crude Islamic propaganda. It’s all that and less.

  9. Stephen Howe makes some criticisms of Ashcar’s book (read especially the last two or three paragraphs:

    There is long, acrid contestation over how how central to Arab political culture these have been. A full-scale academic and propaganda industry, in Israel and beyond, has devoted itself to uncovering and publicising such utterances. Central to this is the 1930s Palestinian leader, and wartime Nazi collaborator, Hajj Amin al-Husseini. His vehement anti-Semitism is repeatedly highlighted, often with wild exaggeration of his sordid but utterly marginal role in the Nazi project.

    Husseini’s successors have less often been Palestinians than outside sympathisers with Arab causes – or people posing as such. They include European neo-fascists, and nasty mavericks like the French ex-Communist, Muslim convert and Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy. The highest-profile current exponent of this trend is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

    That pattern might suggest that, far from being unusually imbued with anti-Semitism, Palestinians, or Arabs more generally, have just been often unfortunate in their leaders or unwise in their choice of friends. Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism might be merely a weak, derivative offshoot of that which flourished in Christian Europe, or a horrible by-product of conflict with Israel. Repeated, even obsessive focus on Arab Judaeophobia, including its toxic but happily rare manifestations in Holocaust denial, might seem unfair, overstated or a malicious campaign of misinformation.

    So Achcar wants to argue. There lies one of two basic problems with this admirably intentioned and in some aspects very learned book. His tone and aim oscillate between a cool, detailed analysis of anti-Semitism in the Arab world, and a counter-polemic against the overheated or unjust charges from many pro-Zionist writers on the subject. The first part is, after all the polemic and prejudice, still much needed, and Achcar gives some of it: though, as he acknowledges, his coverage is more detailed for “the time of the Shoah” than for subsequent eras.

    The second, too, is a quite legitimate and perhaps necessary task. But mingling them as Achcar does makes for a rather uneasy hybrid work. He is especially concerned to exonerate those Arab political traditions to which he is clearly sympathetic – leftists, universalists, democrats, secular nationalists – and to argue that hatred of Jews is most often encountered among Islamists and authoritarians of various stripes. Fair enough and, in the main, true enough: but on this front also, the book sometimes slips towards a tone of special pleading.

    The other main shortcoming is an unclear or over-ambitious analytical focus. Achcar’s coverage forms a series of concentric circles, with Arab ideas about the Shoah, including denial, forming the innermost, but widening to take in Arab attitudes to Israel, to Jews in general, Nazism and fascism, and much more. At the outer circle, he offers a general ideological “mapping” of the Arab world and its intellectual traditions: lucid and penetrating, but surely the basis for a quite separate book? Commenting, often shrewdly and always humanely, on a war of narratives, Achcar is also a combatant, and even a victim, in such a war within his own pages.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/the-arabs-and-the-holocaust-the-arab-israeli-war-of-narratives-by-gilbert-achcar-1972533.html

  10. Regarding the role of Islam in India, it is not surprising that Tariq Ali, a Moslem, chooses to ignore its brutality.

  11. ‘The first part is, after all the polemic and prejudice, still much needed, and Achcar gives some of it: though, as he acknowledges, his coverage is more detailed for “the time of the Shoah” than for subsequent eras.’

    Which suggests the work is hardly an indepth study of the phenomenon of Arab antisemitism. Surely there are organisations such as Memri doing that full time (the kind of empirical research and scholarship Ashcar and Ali call ‘industries’).

    Nor do I say an Arab Christian cannot write such a work, it is just that, prima facie, it looks like an apology, a whitewashing, of the phenomenon of Arab antisemitism as, in essence, merely ‘the anti-Zionism of fools’ i.e. right in spirit, if wrong in letter.

    Surely to characterise it as merely ‘exasperation’, as he does elsewhere, is to beg the question, Why does the exaggeration take this form, and not another? Is it altogether wrong to observe that traditional Islamic anti-Judaism, while far more tolerant than the Christian, in general, could become persecutory, even fullly blown antisemitic, if Jews were deemed to have transgressed their proper submissive place?

    Some of the seeds of modern Arab antisemitism may inded have blown in from Europe. But others, of punishing Jews if they or their brethren elsewhere ceased to comport themselves correctly, surely lay dormant all along.

    I have asked several other authorities on this period for their response to this book. Neither Ali nor Howe seem experts in the field, rather those the publisher might deem ideologically compatible. A similar policy dictated who reviewed Shlomo Zand, until Martin Goodman, the first UK academic in the same field to do so.

    Further, is it not odd that a book on antisemitism is not asked to be reviewed by a Jewish academic in a comparable field? I suppose they could have asked Avi Shlaim, Professor of International Relations, St Antony’s College, Oxford. He could have been trusted to give a favourable review.

  12. Why didn’t they give it to Martin Gilbert, or an equivalent UK authority on the holocaust?

    Henry’s choice of reviewer seems bizarre.

  13. Zkharia,

    “It seems to me that if the Arab-Nazi alliance can be forgiven as mere pragmatism, why not Israeli-South Africa relations? And why does CIF veto detailed pieces on the former, but relate in detail the latter?”

    This is a great point which once again hits the nail on the head.

    There is no problem in doing so as long as you align yourself with one side or the other.

    But claiming to be an objective reporter and an objective paper means that these items should have been investigated through and through and covered in an equal fashion.

    In my opinion the Nazi / fascist related articles or points should have been emphesized much more since they hit the very core which this paper’s political stand is, while the SA relations should have been a much low key since militery and commercial relation between many western states and SA existed at the time.

  14. Silke,

    “at 9/11 he was held backed at Munich airport due to a certain book he carried ”

    do you recall which book?

  15. One reason one finds dubious Achcar’s thesis, as understood, is that the Arabs perpetrated their ‘holocaust’ the effective expulsion of ‘their’ non- or anti-Zionist Jews.

    It is not enough to say this was ‘merely’ in response to Zionism. Why such a response? Why did Arab Muslims so readily identify Arab Jews with Palestinian, European or Zionist Jews, if their mind set was so allegedly different from that of European cultural Christian antisemites? If their understanding of Jewish history was, say, more like that purveyed by Shlomo Zand?

    They so identified Arab with other Jews because their traditions told them of such an identification, that the Jews were a people punished and dispersed for their sins. Their cultural instincts told them to so punish Arab Jews for the alleged sins of Palestinian, European or Zionist Jews, the chief of which was conducting themselves as the equals of Palestinian Arab Muslims, and founding a state despite Arab Muslim attempts to thwart it. They saw Jews as, essentially, one people, one part connected to, and responsible for, the rest.

    That may not have been European antisemitism in toto. But it certainly was an essential ingredient. And it was there already, in tradition, in seed form, dormant, until roused, to anger.

  16. Itsik
    it was Karl Marx, der Titel Vom Selbstmord (Selbstmord is Suicide) and the article says it was already end of October which suggests that in all harmlessness he was doing his own bit of provocation. Beware though “Der Freitag” is a pretty dirty red thing. http://www.freitag.de/2001/49/01491501.php
    I remember the article from Der Spiegel but can’t find it there instead I can offer you the man himself in all his harmlessness in English here http://www.counterpunch.org/tariq8.html

  17. ‘In my opinion the Nazi / fascist related articles or points should have been emphesized much more since they hit the very core which this paper’s political stand is, while the SA relations should have been a much low key since militery and commercial relation between many western states and SA existed at the time.’

    I am sure a Guardian defence will be that Israeli Jews propped up apartheid SA in a way far more than Palestinian and other Arab Muslim nationalists did Nazi Germany, Israeli help in building the Cheetah to overcome the Angolan Mig 23s, and in building atoming warheads, and the rockets to carry them, helped apartheid SA survive from the early 80s, when the French cut back on military supplies.

    But I would argue that, in terms of evil done, the terrrorising of 10s or 100s of 1000s of European Jews into remaining in Europe, where they died, the exacerbation of Arab Jewish relations to the point of expelling most Arab Jews, the siege imposed on Israeli Jews for 60 years, and the antisemitism, that a thoroughly detailed article, such as TG might allow, might reveal to be endemic, and stoking of an unappeasable hatred of Israeli Jews throughout the Arab and Islamic world. are an evil at least as great.

  18. zharya
    You find the imprint of Nazi influence on Arab policy well before the forced exodus of Jews from Arab countries, although this was precipitated by Nuremberg-style state-sanctioned persecution.

  19. you’l find nazi influences on a few members of the royal family of england too,hell some of them were nazi collaberators.

  20. Central to this is the 1930s Palestinian leader, and wartime Nazi collaborator, Hajj Amin al-Husseini. His vehement anti-Semitism is repeatedly highlighted, often with wild exaggeration of his sordid but utterly marginal role in the Nazi project.

    This is false. It would be impossible to exaggerate Amin’s role, which was not at all marginal. As remarked on another thread:

    Haj Amin, acknowledged by Palestians as their leader and hero, is thought to have played a pivotal role in turning HItler from emigration to elimination as the “Final Solution.”

    Husseni also
    – was indicted as a war criminal by Yugoslavia for his role in manifold offenses, including the extermination of over a half million Balkan Jews
    – escaped Yugoslav justice by the shameful collusion of Egypt and Britain
    – authored the Pejani Plan, calling for the extermination of the Serbian population
    – founded the World Islamic Congress, at the root both of the Jewish naqba and of the modern OIC
    – had as friend and banker a certain Genour, founder of the “Odessa” organisation which saw to the escape from justice of many Nazi war criminals
    – was instrumental in the formation of the Nazis’ Einsatzgruppe Ægypt , intended to implement the genocide of Mideast Jews
    – instigated the murderously anti-Semitic farhud in Iraq.

    Far from being unrepresentative of Palestinians, historian Epeleg confirmed that “Haj Amin’s popularity among the Palestinian Arabs and within the Arab states actually increased more than ever during his period with the Nazis.”

    Edward Said confirmed that “Hajj Amin al-Husayni represented the Palestinian Arab national consensus, had the backing of the Palestinian political parties that functioned in Palestine, and was recognized in some form by Arab governments as the voice of the Palestinian people.”

    Of course, Haj Amin also murdered more moderate rivals for Palestinian leadership.

    An extremist Palestinian murdering more moderate Palestinians. Sound familiar? Plus ça change …

  21. As I have mentioned before that “narratives” garbage is for the birds. There is no such formulation. There are only the facts of a case; sometimes not all of the facts are known, sometimes there may be legitimate disagreement about the interpretation of the facts, but there are no legitimate “competing narratives.”

    That “narratives” rubbish is a way to try to legitimize a pack of lies. When someone brings up that nonsense what he is saying is, “The facts are against me, so I am going to try to confuse the issue by lying but put it down to ‘competing narratives.'”

    If I were not a super-polite, well bred, always well behaved lady I would call it a steaming pile of horseshit.

    The Moslems have hated Jews ever since Mohammed cobbled together his version of a religion out of barely understood scriptures which belonged to other people, and then he was surprised and angry because the Jews wouldn’t turn away from God and towards him. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t care what Moslems believe, I don’t care what anyone believes as long as they don’t bother me or mine with it, and if Islam makes its adherents happy, I am all for it.

    However, we all know that the history of Islam is one of putting minorities to the sword if they wouldn’t convert, and of treating the remaining minorities, especially Jews, extremely badly, unless they needed one or more of us to do something for them.

    I have a simple rule when it comes to Islamic testimony, I don’t believe it when I hear it. I don’t disbelieve it, either, as certainly not all Moslems are liars or worse. I make note of what they said, and I wait for independent confirmation. I have been force to formulate this rule because of this “narratives” idiocy, because of Arab “big talk,” because of takiya, because of the pressure on “witnesses” to conform to the party line. I accept “statements against interest” as likely to be true, but again, I hold some judgment in abeyance.

    I really do not like groupthink, but I have been driven to it.

  22. There are only one 2 words to describe this person.

    Utterly revolting…….No point in adding anymore.

  23. benorr
    I agree but you should hear pundits sucking up to him
    – he is respected treated like a somebody always like academic roaylty sometimes wherever I came across him
    just take this

    “there can be said to have existed an Islamo-Judaic civilisation that spanned the Iberian peninsula, ”

    leaving aside the inanity of appropriating the Islamo-Judaic and the wrong way around to boot, the original wave of conquest made it all the way to Tours (France) got stopped/defeated and retreated to the best of my memory somewhere to the south of Toledo which seems to me rather south to the middle of the peninsula.
    But Ali insinuates that it was ALL of the peninsula and leaves out their stints in Sicily where they when they were not the masters treated rather well.
    I.e. he is a deeply dishonest narratvie constructor by using very inaccuarate and suggestive language.
    Usually when I come across a falsehood by intimation like that I stop reading and never trust the author again (ignorance reads different from deliberate distortion most of the time)

  24. There is a very sinister and nauseating look to this Tarik Ali,he looks downright sleazy.

    In a Moslim world that is almost devoid of heroes,Tarik Ali is all that they have got.

    So he will just have to do.

  25. benorr
    Tariq Ali TALKS like he looks
    – but he has a “redeeming” point in that the is a such a good story teller when writing long journalism that he can get away with lots of insinuations packed into his tales (only when you begin to ask yourself how can one man know so manye parts of a very diverse country so intimately you begin to realize how he operates i.e. he establishes his credentials with some sound seeming facts and then he embarks on 1001 tales)

  26. i wasn’t aware that tariq ali contributed to the guardian…that explains my being in pre mod for a less than judicious description of him in reply to one of berch’s posts.

  27. bataween, as always, pleasure to read your piece here. It’s almost amusing to imagine Georgina Henry pondering who could be the most reliable reviewer for a book like Achcar’s. Though it has to be admitted: Tariq Ali was a sure bet. It’s quite an achievement of the imagination for a Pakistani Marxist to wax eloquent about Muslim tolerance. Pakistan’s establishment came at the cost of about 1 million dead, and some 12 million refugees, if I’m not mistaken. Well, why care, since the real catastrophe is obviously the success of Zionism…