Monday, September 19, 2016

Nick Kristof’s fallacious history lesson on refugees

Once again, last century’s Jewish refugees are used to plead for today’s mostly Muslim refugees. It was exactly a year ago that the Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor devoted several articles to this topic and eventually noted with great satisfaction that one of these articles “ended up being one of the most read articles on our Web site.” Now it is the New York Times’ (NYT) Nick Kristof who argues that “world leaders should reflect on” the failure to help Jews fleeing Nazi Germany during currently ongoing meetings in New York City about today’s refugee crisis. As Kristof grimly notes: “Without greater political will, this week’s meetings may be remembered as no better than the 1938 Evian Conference [where delegates from 32 countries made do with expressing sympathy for the plight of Jews without offering refuge], and history will be unforgiving.” Just a few weeks ago, Kristof declared “Anne Frank Today Is a Syrian Girl.”

Given Kristof’s attempts to revive this fallacious history lesson, it is useful to recall some of the responses to last year’s debate, most notably James Kirchick’s superb Tablet piece on “The Bad-Faith Analogy Between Syrian Refugees and Jews Fleeing Nazi Germany.”

While the comparison has also been embraced by some Holocaust survivors and their descendants as well as some Jewish leaders, anti-Israel activists were quick to do a really good job exposing the hypocrisy that helped this “history lesson” go viral. As I noted in a related blog post last year, I was actually alerted to the popularity of the comparison while monitoring the Twitter activity of notorious Israel-haters like Ali Abunimah and Max Blumenthal. Back then I argued:

“So when there is a debate about how to respond to the hundreds of thousands – projected soon to become millions – of mostly Muslim refugees and migrants fleeing war and poverty in their own countries, Abunimah and Blumenthal discover their sympathies for the Jewish refugees desperate to flee the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s. The problem with this is that both Abunimah and Blumenthal are otherwise often busy promoting the 21st century version of the Nazi slogan ‘The Jews are our misfortune,’ which is: ‘The Jewish state is our misfortune.’
Obviously, if Israel had been established just ten years earlier, many of the Jews trying in vain to find refuge from the Nazis would have had a place to go to.”

This last point is still conveniently ignored by most of the people who are eager to transform the plight of Jews desperate to flee the Nazis into a “history lesson” that is useful for current political debates. But if one insists on using the fate of last century’s unfortunate Jewish refugees for the benefit of today’s refugees, the groups with the best claim would obviously be the Middle Eastern minorities who are fleeing murderous persecution by Muslim groups and states – notably the Yazidis as well as Middle Eastern Christians and Kurds.

Of course, such a distinction would be condemned as anti-Muslim bigotry, despite the fact that the Muslim refugees of today – very different from the Jewish refugees of last century – could seek refuge in many Muslim countries. Moreover, as I’ve noted previously, “the Muslim countries that are members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) boast of having formed ‘the second largest inter-governmental organization after the United Nations’ with a ‘membership of 57 states spread over four continents.’  Supposedly, the OIC ‘is the collective voice of the Muslim world’ and is dedicated to ‘ensuring to safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony among various people of the world.’” Surely the OIC can be counted on to prevent Kristof’s nightmare scenario that “this week’s meetings may be remembered as no better than the 1938 Evian Conference”? I have no doubt that if there had been 57 Jewish states spread over four continents in 1938, every single Jew who fled the Nazis would have found refuge – including Anne Frank and her family.

Furthermore, notwithstanding the disdain of liberals like Kristof, not all people who oppose Muslim immigration are bigots. There is the inconvenient fact that most acts of terrorism in western countries are committed by Muslims, and as anyone who follows the news will know, particularly European countries are facing serious problems with the integration of Muslims. There are plenty of problems in France, and a British study published last spring showed “that large numbers of Muslims don’t want to integrate, that their views aren’t remotely enlightened, and that more than a few of them sympathise with terrorism.” There is also a “new era of anti-Semitic violence in Europe,” which, as Jeffrey Goldberg put it, is “different from previous ones” because “traditional Western patterns of anti-Semitic thought have now merged with a potent strain of Muslim Judeophobia. Violence against Jews in Western Europe today, according to those who track it, appears to come mainly from Muslims.”

Perhaps western liberals who scold their fellow citizens for bigotry against Muslim refugees and migrants would be able to make their case more effectively if they acknowledged that westerners have no monopoly on bigotry – indeed, there are many indications that this is one of the few areas where the Muslim world is well ahead.

A Pew survey published in 2004 found “that Christians get much lower ratings in predominantly Muslim countries than do Muslims in mostly Christian countries. Majorities in Morocco (73%), Pakistan (62%) and Turkey (52%) express negative views of Christians.” In 2011, another Pew survey showed similar results:

“Muslims in the predominantly Muslim countries surveyed are more likely to associate negative characteristics with Westerners than non-Muslims are to associate them with Muslims. For example, nearly nine-in-ten (89%) Jordanian Muslims use at least three of the six negative adjectives* tested to describe people in Western countries, as do majorities in Egypt (81%), Turkey (73%), the Palestinian territories (71%), Pakistan (67%) and Indonesia (63%); only in Lebanon is this not the case. In contrast, Spain is the only Western country surveyed where a majority (60%) of non-Muslims associate three or more negative characteristics with Muslims. At least three-in-ten non-Muslims in Britain (39%), the U.S. (35%) and France (30%) do not attribute any of the six negative characteristics tested to Muslims.”
* i.e. violent, greedy, fanatical, selfish, immoral, arrogant

Then there are the shocking sermons by preachers seething with hatred against the “Other” – Jews of course, but also Christians and the West in general – that can be heard fairly regularly at the Al-Aqsa mosque, which is supposedly Islam’s third-holiest site. Is it even imaginable that anything remotely comparable could be preached over and over again in a major church or cathedral in the West?
But what makes the attempts to use the plight of Jews fleeing the Nazis for today’s debate so upsetting is the genocidal Jew-hatred that is incited by Muslim preachers and leaders all over the world – whether it’s a senior Al-Azhar scholar in Egypt, an Australian Islamist, a Kuwaiti scholar, a Palestinian Sheikh, a Yemeni cleric, a British Islamist, or the “global mufti” Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi, who once told his estimated 40 million viewers on Al Jazeera that he hoped the next Hitler-style “punishment” of the Jews “will be at the hand of the believers.”

Two years ago Kristof acknowledged in a column that “Anti-Semitism runs deep in some Muslim countries today” – but there was of course a “but”: “for most of history, Muslims were more tolerant of Jews than Christians were.” Kristof also worried plenty about stoking anti-Muslim bigotry with this column and tried last year to make the case that, as one critic put it, “the Bible is full of bad stuff while the Qur’an has some good stuff.”

Given Kristof’s concerns about “political correctness,” one might have hoped that he would have been more hesitant to exploit the plight of last century’s Jewish refugees for the benefit of today’s refugees. To be sure, the reports and images from the violence and war in the Muslim Middle East are heartbreaking. But there are many ways to plead for the victims of the region’s carnage without invoking the cruel indifference that was shown to the Jews trying to flee the Nazis. After all, if “Anne Frank Today Is a Syrian Girl,” are the regimes and groups that make her “Anne Frank” – Assad, Hezbollah, Iran, Russia and the assorted Islamists fighting in Syria and elsewhere – the Nazis? I’m pretty sure that is a comparison Kristof wouldn’t like at all.


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