December 30, 2002

It's a contradiction in terms

One good aspect of the holiday season was that veteran Arab-hater James Taranto, whose column "Best of the Web" runs on the Wall Street Journal's website, went on vacation, and the world was spared his unsparing hatred for all things Arab for a few blessed days. Not for long, however: he's back at the same old stand, picking up little items from Memri about the innate evil of Muslims and always appending the same hateful headline: "A Religion of Peace?" But two can play that game….

The Washington Post reports that there's "tension at [the] Holy Land's tombs," and the source of it is … well, let them report. You decide:

"In Bethlehem, Rachel's Tomb – which is also venerated by Muslims and Christians – has been sealed inside a heavily fortified building. The tomb is no longer visible from the outside, and Palestinians are not allowed access. Foreign tourists can visit, but only Jews are allowed to pray."

Imagine if the Post had titled its story "A Religion of Peace?" The yelps of outrage would have been deafening. Yet Taranto gets away with precisely this kind of hate-mongering five days a week. I note, in passing, that Taranto was one of those who led the conservative wing of the Jacobin mob that detached Senator Lott from his job as Majority Leader, screaming that even the merest hint of "racism" had to be expunged from the GOP. But what about Taranto's own preferred form of bigotry – attributing all the evil on earth to the world's billion-plus Muslims?

So, what's the penalty for Christians and Muslims who break the ban on non-Jewish prayers? And do they have hall monitors, watching for signs of gentiles looking a bit too prayerful as they traverse Rachel's Tomb? Scary.

Even scarier is the news that fanatical "settlers" – i.e. Israeli fundamentalists – are mobilizing around these holy sites as rallying points for their expansionist program. As George Giacaman, of the Palestinian Institute for the Study of Democracy, puts it:

"The strategy of settlers is to use every small place with some religious connection as an excuse to expand the settlement project. It's not a question of prayer rights for Jews. The issue is using holy sites as a ruse to expand settlements."

As in Hebron, where Kach extremists have set up an outpost in the midst of an ancient Palestinian community, and now enjoy the "protection" (i.e. collaboration) of the Israeli Defense Force. And in Bethlehem, where the Vatican had pleaded with the IDF to permit the Christmas celebration to proceed, it was the saddest Christmas ever in the town where Jesus was born. The Latin Patriarch, Michel Sabbah, the highest Catholic cleric in the region, spoke for many Christians, Muslims, and Jews when he delivered this rebuke to the Israeli authorities in his Christmas message:

"We say no to violence, no to terrorism and no to oppression, but we ask you (Israelis) to understand the reason for the violence and this is occupation. Blood has been flowing in your cities and streets, but the key to solving this conflict is in your hands. By your actions so far, you have crushed the Palestinian people but you still have not achieved peace."

Although many hoped that the twelve days of Christmas would give Bethlehem a brief respite, it was even briefer than that: the IDF withdrew for a single day – and then moved right back in, guns blazing.

In Gaza, they killed a 9-year-old Palestinian child: Hanneen Abu Suleiman was shot in the head outside her home in the Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis. Presiding over this orgy of mindless violence, the Chief Rabbi, Israel Meir Lau, spread Christmas cheer by urging Jews not to succumb to the temptations of the holiday season, warning them against celebrating Christmas or New Year's Day. According to the Associated Press, Lau ranted that "such observances threaten the identity of the Jewish state." With the expulsion of many Palestinian workers, and their replacement by Christians from abroad, the celebration of Christmas and the New Year has become more widespread in Israel, a trend that upsets the Chief Rabbi, who declared in a Christmas Eve statement:

"Why should we have anything to do with Christmas or New Year's Eve, in the shade of the Christmas tree? We never imagined that even in our independent country of the Jewish nation, foreign cultures would threaten our identity as a people and a nation."

If Israel's sense of national identity is threatened by a few Christmas trees and toasts to the New Year, then it is too fragile to survive in any case, and nothing can save it: not the IDF, not more billions in U.S. aid, not all the angels in heaven. In a country where endless war, official corruption, and rising religious extremism are everyday facts of life, are Christmas trees and seasonal conviviality really a major problem?

If the Pope, or Trent Lott, had said something in a similar vein – say, that celebrating "Kwanzaa" diluted our identity as a Christian nation – the media Thought Police would have nabbed them and forced them to confess their sins, and not only apologize but beg the public's forgiveness. The rise of Haider in Austria, Le Pen in France, and similar eruptions of political incorrectness in the Anglosphere have ensconced "xenophobia" in the political lexicon as a synonym for hate. But when Israel's chief religious official attacks Christmas and even New Year's parties as an invidious incursion of "foreign cultures," where is the outrage?

The rise of religious fundamentalism is generally deplored by the champions of "modernity," such as Andrew Sullivan and his "blogger" brigade, who point to the Islamic and Christian varieties as the main danger to Western civilization. Those nasty Christian fundies, we are constantly reminded, are a bunch of knuckle-dragging book-burners who would ban Harry Potter if they could: but when fundamentalists of another sort campaign to ban a novel, our "civil libertarian" journalists – usually so vocal about the defense of free speech, especially when it comes to books – are struck dumb. I can't locate a single editorial or opinion piece in English on this subject, outside of the Middle East – except for an article in Alexander Cockburn's Counterpunch, where Gavin Keeney's review of Christmas books notes:

"The publishing sensation of the year – Dream of Palestine – written by a fifteen-year-old Italian girl (of Palestinian descent) will not be available in the U.S. (in English, French or Italian), but you can buy Oriana Fallaci's anti-Muslim screed The Rage and the Pride (in five languages). The former is in the process of being suppressed overseas and will probably never see the light of print in the U.S., while the latter has climbed the bestseller list despite being universally condemned as a post-9/11 apoplectic tirade in 'defense' of the supremacy of Western values. Odd, indeed, since both of these titles come from the same publisher."

The marriage of religious fundamentalism and state power is supposedly the main threat to the peace of the world, which is why many dread the Russo-Iranian effort to supply Tehran with nuclear power. But what about the one country in the Middle East that already has nuclear weapons, namely Israel? Oh, but they are just like us, the Amen Corner assures us, a modern essentially European-style "democracy." Yet Israel has its own mullahs, and is a "secular" society only in comparison to its neighbors. By Western standards, Israel is a theocracy: why else would you need the permission of the government to change your religion?

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that four Israelis, born into the Jewish faith, converted to Islam and were told by the Ministry of the Interior that their conversions could not be officially registered:

"The four were told they could not convert without the approval of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which in turn tried to put pressure on them to change their minds. All four have been told they will have to justify their decisions before a special committee that includes a psychiatrist and a social worker."

This gives new meaning to the term "therapeutic state," popularized by Thomas Szasz and Paul Gottfried. Israel today is a typically theocratic Middle Eastern country, albeit one armed with all the "scientific" instruments of social engineers – and all the social workers (and nukes) U.S. tax dollars can buy.

As religious fundamentalism rises in Israel, threatening the last vestiges of moderation in the government, the U.S. has grown closer to Ariel Sharon. Sharon's political opponents consider that the alleged threat to Israel from Iraq is a convenient diversion away from the election bribery scandal tainting the Likud party. But the Likud leader has received confirmation from Washington that the threat is so great that America is prepared to put the lives of its own soldiers on the line. The first in a deployment of 1,000 American troops arrived in Israel on December 28.

The official pretext for their presence is a military exercise code-named "Jennifer Cobra," designed to test the effectiveness of the Patriot missiles we sent over there in combination with the Israeli "Arrow" missile system. However, as the Guardian reports, "once the exercise is over, the U.S. soldiers will remain in Israel until the crisis over Iraq is resolved."

As the crisis deepens, their numbers can only increase, making our soldiers convenient targets for suicide bombers. An American garrison in Israel could result in another Beirut, this time writ much larger.

A religion of peace? There isn't any such thing. All religions, all the time, inspire dogmatism that ends in violence because of the simple definition of faith, which is the suspension of reason. When rationality breaks down, dialogue is impossible and war is inevitable. It's as simple as that.

So let's cut out the cheap shots at Islam, and Christianity, for that matter, while leaving the rest of the world's superstitions immune from criticism. The rise of religious intolerance in Israel, and among that country's vociferous supporters in the West, isn't the only clue to the dangers posed by a misguided sensitivity. Hindu-fascism in India is the latest fundamentalist threat to the peace of the world, as I have warned in this column before: does the world really need another nuclear-armed fanatic who looks to God (or the gods, in the case of the Hindus) as justification for repression and mass murder?

The emerging Israel-India alliance is all too logical, given the fundamentalist trajectory of both countries. That the U.S. is funding and sponsoring this sinister convergence will reap us the kind of "blowback" we have rightly come to dread.

– Justin Raimondo

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.

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