Y. Ben-David, South Jerusalem’s most intrepid commenter, writes, in response to my previous post on anti-Semitism in Islam, that a significant part of the Muslim world today subscribes to theologies that demonize the Jews, as well as to outlandish conspiracy theories. I’d like to declare here, on the front page of this left-wing peacenik accommodationist blog, that Y. Ben-David (hereinafter YBD) is correct.
However, YBD is, like Benny Morris, wearing blinders that make his correct observation nearly useless–indeed dangerous–as a basis for creating good policies to confront such bigoted Muslims and their political-theological movements.
Let’s start with the conspiracy theories. Perhaps YBD has forgotten how popular they are pretty much everywhere and anywhere, including in the enlightened West. Large numbers of Israelis, in particular in the religious-Zionist sector, believe that Yitzhak Rabin was murdered on the orders of the Shabak or Mossad. A large number of Americans also believe in a variety of conspiracy theories regarding the 9/11 attacks. According to a Gallup poll in 1999, six percent of Americans are sure that the Apollo moon landing was faked by a shadowy conspiracy and another five percent think that might be true. That’s far from a majority but it’s a lot of supposedly enlightened Americans.
I recall when Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorist Mark Lane (that’s the guy who later represented Jim Jones’ People’s Temple and was present in Jonestown on the day of the mass suicide—prompted in part by believers’ convictions, fed by Jones and Lane, that they were the targets of a vast conspiracy) visited Duke University when I was an undergraduate there. Hundreds of some of America’s most intelligent young people emerged from his lecture convinced by his conspiracy theories and even signed up to donate money to Lane’s cause.
So weird and unfounded beliefs about groups or organizations out to seek world domination are hardly an exclusively Islamic problem.
That said, it’s true that the intellectual, religious, and political leadership in much of the Islamic world has nurtured such theories rather than seeking to educate their citizenry.
And here lies the ultimate point. Bigotry and falsehoods must be fought wherever they appear. But we will never end Islamic bigotry by fighting Islam as a religion. On the contrary, if we declare a crusade against Islam, Muslims will unite to battle the threat to their religion.
We must, rather, target the bigots and, in particular, the leaders who foster that bigotry. They must be fought on many levels. The most powerful ways to do that, the ones with the most long-lasting effect, are cultural engagement and equitable economic development.
Yes, it might be necessary in extreme cases to use force of arms as well. But war is never a good choice—it must always be a last resort. Victory is never assured, and long-term effects are nearly impossible to predict.
I’m with YBD in being alarmed by the extent of Muslim extremism, and in the powerful hold that conspiracy theories—in particular anti-Semitic and anti-Israel ones—seem to have on broad swathes of the citizenry in the Muslim world. But embarking on a crusade against the heathens is going to exacerbate the problem, not solve it.