Just before he was given the boot by President Bush, Yassir Arafat made an extraordinary offer - extraordinary because it was not one of the specific demands Bush was about to make, extraordinary because Arafat acknowledged a hidden horror: the indoctrination of the delusional young people who carry out suicide bombings. In a six-page private memorandum he sent to President Bush and Arab capitals outlining his 100-day plan for reform, Arafat said he would "renounce fanaticism in the educational curricula and spread the spirit of democracy and enlightenment and openness".
There is a lot under the stone Arafat has lifted. Fanaticism has been bred into the suicide murderers and millions of young people throughout the Arab nations with scant attention by media, governments, academia and churches in the civilized world. The Palestinian schools, financed by Europe, are open sewers in terms of the hatred they seed - hatred not just of Israel, but of all Jews and all their friends. Dr Ahmad Abu Halabiya, former acting rector of the Islamic University in Gaza, speaks the message: "Wherever you are, kill the Jews, the Americans who are like them and those who stand by them."
Arab leaders come to Washington and London and Geneva with formulas for peace, while at home they feed their populations with similar incitements. It means that even if by some miracle there is agreement on the shape of a Palestinian state, there will be no peace in the Middle East for a generation. The Israelis may forget or forgive the suicide assassins; the Palestinians may put behind them the humiliations of occupation. But the political conflict over Palestine is only one aspect of the fanaticism that has been fomented. It adds up to the dehumanisation of all Jews and it has been manufactured and propagated throughout the Middle East and south Asia on a scale and intensity that is utterly unprecedented. This is something relatively new in the Islamic world. There was more tolerance for Jews in the Islamic empire than ever there was in Christian Europe.
I was aware, as we all are, that the Palestinians hate the state of Israel. What has surprised me is the virulence of this new anti-Semitism throughout all the Muslim countries. It is frenzied, vociferous, paranoid, vicious and prolific, and is only incidentally connected to the Palestinian conflict. Hope, the familiar bromide, seems to have little to do with it. The moment of high hope following Camp David saw a surge, not a diminution, in the tide. It is a singular phenomenon; there is nothing comparable to it in relation to Arabs or Muslims.
Everyone talking about Palestine or terrorism is talking in a vacuum, for nothing can be understood without a proper appreciation of the way minds have been poisoned. A single skinhead assault on a synagogue in Europe is news, but not the unremitting daily assault on Jews waged from Morocco to Cairo to Damascus, from Baghdad to Teheran, the Gaza Strip to Karachi.
The paradox is that the world is connected as never before in terms of the flow of current, but many of the wires are lethally bare. The religious fanaticism that has spawned and condoned terrorism and drives the new anti-Semitism is insensible to reason. Jonathan Swift recognised our dilemma more than 200 years ago: "You cannot reason a person out of something he did not reason himself into."
What we are up against is best illustrated by what the Jews did to the World Trade Centre. Everyone in the Muslim world knows that September 11 was a Jewish plot to pave the way for a joint Israeli-US military operation against not just Osama bin Laden and the Taleban but also Islamic militants in Palestine. On the day of the bombing, 4,000 Jews were absent from the World Trade Centre; they had been tipped off.
I thought this canard had long ago vanished up its own orifice, but it was being retailed with all sincerity by a Pakistani taxi driver last week in New York of all places - which proves nothing except that he is an accurate representation of a now unshakeable Muslim conviction. Millions and millions and millions believe this rubbish, as a Gallup Poll has found after questioning people in nine predominantly Islamic countries - Pakistan, Iran, Indonesia, Turkey, Lebanon, Morocco, Kuwait, Jordan and Saudi Arabia - representing about half the world's Muslim population.
Some 67 per cent found the attacks morally unjustified, which is something - why not 100 per cent? - but they were also asked if they believed reports that groups of Arabs carried out the bombings. Only in West-aligned Turkey was the answer Yes, but it was close; 46 per cent to 43 per cent. In all the other eight Islamic countries, the populations rejected the idea that Arabs or al-Qaeda were responsible. Repeat, that is a poll just a couple of months ago, after millions of words from reporters and exultant videos from the Osama bin Laden show. The majorities are overwhelming in Pakistan, Kuwait, Iran and Indonesia - in Pakistan only 4 per cent accept that the killers were Arabs. Thomas Friedman, of The New York Times, reported last month from Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim state, that nobody has any doubt about the Mossad conspiracy.
Who could be naive/crazy/malign/misguided enough to disseminate such fabrications? The effluent is from official sources, newspapers and television in Arab states, from schools and government-funded mosques, from Arab columnists and editorial writers, cartoonists, clerics and intellectuals, from websites that trail into an infinity of iniquity. The appearance of modernity in the Arab media is illusory. More important than the presence of the hardware is the absence of the software, the notion of a ruggedly independent self-critical free press. CNN will film American bomb damage in Afghanistan; al-Jazeera and the Middle East stations would never dream of talking to the orphans and widows whose loved ones were blown apart by a suicide bomber. An Arab critic of America and the coalition is always given the last word. How could people be so susceptible to misinformation? Well, conspiracy theories simplify a complex world. The absence of evidence is itself proof of plot: missing records at Pearl Harbor, missing bullets in Dallas, missing bodies in Jenin. Preconceptions are outfitted in fantasy.
Contradiction by authority is mere affirmation of the vastness of the plot: so he's in it, too. Conspiracy and rumor bloom, especially where the flow of news and opinion is restricted and illiteracy is high.
But there is another explanation for the potency of lies today. It is the aura of authenticity provided by technology, by the internet. John Daniszewski, of the Los Angeles Times, asked an editor of The Nation in Islamabad, Ayesha Haroon, why they blamed Israel. "It is quite possible that there was deliberate malice in printing it," she admitted. "I also think it has to do with the internet. When you see something on a computer, you tend to believe it is true." Here in our new magic is a source of much misery. An Indonesian visiting the Islamic stronghold of Yogyakarta, according to Friedman, was alarmed by the tide running for jihad against Christians and Jews. Internet users are only 5 per cent of the population, but these 5 per cent spread rumors about Jews to everyone else. "They say, 'He got it from the internet'. They think it's the Bible."
The smear that defiles the Jews who died in the World Trade Center, that millions perceive as reality, owes its original currency in September 2001 to a website called InformationTimes.com, "an independent news and information service" whose address was given as the Press Building in Washington. I thought it worth asking the editor in chief, Syed Adeeb, for the evidence. He told me his source was the TV station Al Manar in the Lebanon. When I asked if he had any qualms about relying on Al Manar because it was a mouthpiece for the terrorist group Hezbollah, which exists "to stage an effective psychological warfare with the Zionist enemy", Adeeb's reply was: "Well, it is a very popular station." Adeeb clearly believed his story; when I mentioned that there were Jews who died in the towers, he conceded that one or two might have died, but he found it sinister that nobody could tell him just how many.
He volunteered that he was an American citizen and that some of his best friends were Jews. Adeeb's approach to the world speaks for itself in his headlines: "Israelis with bomb material arrested in Washington"; "Israeli mafia controls US Congress"; "Crazy Hindu terrorists threaten America"; "FBI and CIA should investigate the Israeli lobby"; "Barbarous Israeli soldiers rape and torture 86 women in Nablus, Palestine".
I asked for the source of that rape story and was referred to the Labour MP for Birmingham Selly Oak, Lynne Jones. I checked. Dr Jones did indeed put the atrocity in circulation, quoting an e-mail from an Anthony Razook in Nablus, but she was careful to say that "this report has not been authenticated". Such qualifications evaporate in the endless laundering of information.
Once upon a time stories such as this would circulate only on smudged cyclostyled sheets that would never see the light of day. But now Wizards of Oz such as Adeeb have a megaphone to a gullible world, with this spurious authenticity of electronic delivery. In the thirties, Cordell Hull complained of print and radio that a lie went half way round the world before truth had time to put its trousers on; nowadays it has been to Mars and back before anyone is half awake. At the end of the line of incendiary headlines and the careless propagation of e-mail there is Danny Pearl, tortured and butchered because he was a Jew and a reporter.
Unfortunately, reporting and comment in the West all too often, with the best of motives, ingenuously reinforce the anti-Semitic mindset. Israel is supported, in Lenin's phrase, like a rope supports a hanging man. Equal weight is given to information from corrupt police states and proven liars as to information from a vigorous, self-critical democracy. The pious but fatuous posture is that this is somehow fair, as if truth existed in a moral vacuum, something to be measured by the yard, like calico. Five million Jews in Israel are a vulnerable minority surrounded by 300 million Muslims governed for the most part by authoritarian regimes, quasi-police states that in more than 50 years have never ceased trying to wipe it out by war and terrorism. They muzzle dissent and critical reporting, they run vengeful penal systems and toxic schools, they have failed in almost every measure of social and political justice, they deflect the frustrations of their streets to the scapegoat of Zionism and they breed and finance international terrorism. Yet it is Israel that is regarded with scepticism and sometimes hostility.
Take the battle of Jenin. The presumption in the feeding frenzy in the best newspapers in Europe and in hours and hours of television was that the Palestinian stories of 3,000 killed and buried in secret mass graves must be true, though the main propagator of this story, Saeb Erekat, has been accused of being a liar. The Guardian was even moved to write the editorial opinion that Israel's attacks on Jenin were "every bit as repellent" as Osama bin Laden's attack on New York on September 11.
Every bit as repellent? Did we miss something? Some American provocation of Osama comparable to the continuous murder of Israeli women, children, the old and the sick? Was something going on in the World Trade Centre as menacing as the making of bombs in Jenin, known proudly to Palestinians as Suicide Capital? In fact, there was no massacre, no mass graves. Human Rights Watch has since put the death toll at 54, including, on their count, 22 civilians - the Israelis say 3. Some Palestinian militants in fact claim Jenin as a victory in the killing of 23 Israeli soldiers.
Of course, the press had a duty to report the Palestinians' allegations of massacre; it was entitled to raise questions and express alarm in the editorial columns. But truth did not lie in the balance between competing statements, and it was ill served by hysteria. Big stories such as this demand special rigor in the reporting, restraint in the language, scrupulous care in the headlining, proper attribution of sources and above all a sense of responsibility: "genocide" is too agonizing when real for it to be devalued by its use as small change. To describe suicide bombers as "martyrs", as a recent British headline did, is to endorse a barbarity; Palestinians can call bombers martyrs if they like but it is a defamation of historic martyrs who gave their lives to save others, not to kill randomly and for financial reward for their families. Words, said Churchill, are the only things that last for ever. We should all have as much care with the explosive power of words as we expect airports to have with our luggage.
Let me reject the sophistry that to question such matters is to excuse everything done under the guise of protesting anti-Semitism. It is not anti-Semitic to raise questions about Jenin, no more than it is anti-press to raise questions about the reporting. It is not anti-Semitic to report and protest at ill treatment of Palestinians. It is not anti-Semitic to consider whether Sharon's past belies his promises for the future. It is not anti-Semitic to deplore the long occupation, though originally brought about by the Arab leaders who instigated and lost three wars.
It IS anti-Semitic to vilify the state of Israel as a diabolical abstraction, reserving tolerance for the individual Jew but not the collective Jew; it IS anti-Semitic to invent malignant outrages; it is anti-Semitic consistently to condemn in Israel what you ignore or condone elsewhere; it is, above all, anti-Semitic to de-humanize Judaism and the Jewish people such as to incite and justify their extermination. That is what we have seen thousands and thousands of times over on a preposterous scale.
The European Community recently voted more millions to the Palestinian Authority. Corrupt as it is, one sympathizes with its need for the relief of suffering and poverty, but should it not have been made a condition that the PA must cease using European money for racist propaganda through its schools, its mosques, on television and radio, in political rallies and summer camps? The fanaticism Arafat offers to renounce - as a bargaining chip, not a moral principle - is the fanaticism stimulated by his Palestinian Authority which, among other enlightenments, makes educational films of little girls singing their dedication to martyrdom. The degree of infection was manifest at Al-Najah University in the city of Nablus, where the students put on a display entitled "The Sbarro Caf? Exhibition".
The Sbarro Cafe is the pizza parlor where a Palestinian suicide bomber murdered 15 people taking a meal. The display, according to the Associated Press and Israeli media, included an exhibit with pizza slices and body parts strewn across the room. The walls were painted red to represent scattered blood.
It is hard looking for sanity to put in the picture - especially in the Department of Psychiatry at Ein Shams University in Cairo. Here is Dr Adel Sadeq, who is also chairman of the Arab Psychiatrists' Association, on suicide bombings: "As a professional psychiatrist, I say that the height of bliss comes with the end of the countdown: ten, nine, eight, seven six, five, four three, two, one. When the martyr reaches 'one' and he explodes, he has a sense of himself flying, because he knows for certain that he is not dead. It is a transition to another, more beautiful, world. None in the Western world sacrifices his life for his homeland. If his homeland is drowning, he is the first to jump ship. In our culture it is different . . . this is the only Arab weapon there is and anyone who says otherwise is a conspirator."
Next patient, please! The Muslim world's relentless caricatures of the Jew are boringly on the same one note; Jews are always dirty, hook-nosed, money-grubbing, vindictive and scheming parasites. They are barbarians who deliberately spread vice, drugs and prostitution, and poison water. Among the fabrications: Israeli authorities infected by injection 300 Palestinian children with HIV during the years of the intifada; Israel poisoned Palestinians with uranium and nerve gas; Israel is giving out drug-laced chewing gum and chocolate intended to make women sexually corrupt; Jews use the blood of gentiles to make matzos for Passover Al-Ahram, Cairo). This past April, state-funded San Francisco students put out a poster of a baby "slaughtered according to Jewish rites under American licence".
Incredibly, the Arab and Muslim media, and behind them their states, have resurrected that notorious Bolshevik forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This supposedly occult document, which reads like something discarded as too ridiculous for the script of Mel Brooks' The Producers, is the secret Zionist plan by which satanic Jews will gain world domination. It has had more scholarly stakes through its heart than the umpteen re-enactments of Dracula, but this bizarre counterfeit is common currency in the Muslim world. A multi-million dollar 30-part series was produced in Egypt by Arab Radio and Television. With a cast of 400! And not as satire.
It is the Protocols that inspire Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement, to teach their children that the Jews control the world's wealth and mass media. According to Hamas - and who will be there in the classroom or on the street to raise a question? - Jews deliberately instigated the French and Russian revolutions, and World War I, so that they could wipe out the Islamic caliphate, and establish the League of Nations "in order to rule the world by their intermediary".
When I checked on the website Palestine Watch, by the way, to report on what they were telling the world about Israeli propaganda, I drew a blank, but there it described Hamas as seeking nothing other than peace with dignity, forbearing to mention the small matter that Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel.
Apart from the volume and intensity of the multi-media global campaign, there has been an ominous change in political direction. Arab frustration with the recognition of the state of Israel after the Second World War has for decades been expressed as "why should the Arabs have to compensate the Jews for the Holocaust that was perpetrated by Europeans". Today the theme is that the Holocaust is a Zionist invention. It is expressed with a vehemence as astounding as the contempt for scholarship.
A typical columnist in Al-Akhbar, the Egyptian Government daily, on April 29: "The entire matter (the Holocaust), as many French and British scientists have proven, is nothing more than a huge Israeli plot aimed at extorting the German Government in particular and the European countries. I personally and in the light of this imaginary tale complain to Hitler, even saying to him, 'If only you had done it, brother, if only it had really happened, so that that the world could sigh in relief (without) their evil and sin'." Hiri Manzour in the official Palestinian newspaper: "The figure of six million Jews cremated in the Nazi Auschwitz camps is a lie," a hoax promoted by Jews as part of their international "marketing operation".
Seif al-Jarawn in the Palestinian newspaper Al-Hayat al-Jadeeda: "They concocted horrible stories of gas chambers which Hitler, they claimed, used to burn them alive. The press overflowed with pictures of Jews being gunned down . . . or being pushed into gas chambers. The truth is that such malicious persecution was a malicious fabrication by the Jews."
Clearly here is a consistent attempt to undermine the moral foundations of the state of Israel and it is espoused by a number of supposedly moderate people. The former President of Iran, Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, had this to say on Tehran Radio: "One atomic bomb would wipe out Israel without trace while the Islamic world would only be damaged rather than destroyed by Israeli nuclear retaliation."
The brilliance of the whole campaign of anti-Semitism is its stupefying perversity: the Arab and Muslim media and mosques depict Israelis as Nazis - even the conciliatory Barak and the hawkish Sharon are alike dressed up in swastikas with fangs dripping with blood - but media and mosque peddle the same Judeophobia that paved the way to Auschwitz. How can you talk to someone who conducts all discourse standing on his head screaming? People in the West who adopt the same murderous metaphor for Israel, and I heard it often on my recent visit to Europe, may be regarded as a joke in their own country, but that is not where the action is. They are moral idiots but they lend credibility to malevolent liars in the Middle East.
By comparison with the phantasmagoria I have described, it seems a small matter that without exception Palestinian school textbooks supplied by the PA Authority, and funded by Europe, have no space in the maps for the sovereign state of Israel, no mention of its five million people, no recognition of the Jews' historic links to Jerusalem.
The Palestinian claim to statehood is unanswerable, and with wiser leadership it would have been flourishing for years. It is tragic that the cause is now being so ruthlessly exploited with Jew as a code word for extremist incitement of hatred of America and the West. This is jihad. It is aimed at us all, at Europeans who "look like" Americans because they believe in liberal democracy and are infected by American culture. But its first victims are the Palestinians and the frustrated masses of the Muslim world. Their leaders have led them into ignominy in three wars. They have failed to reform their corrupt and incompetent societies. It is convenient to deflect the despair and anger of the street to Israel and the Jews who supposedly control the West, but terror and hate have a way of poisoning every society that encourages or tolerates them.
When Bernard Lewis observed 16 years ago that anti-Semitism was becoming part of Arab intellectual life "almost as much as happened in Nazi Germany", he added the comforting thought that it lacked the visceral quality of Central and East European anti-Semitism, being "still largely political and ideological, intellectual and literary", lacking any deep personal animosity or popular resonance, something cynically exploited by Arab rulers and elites, a polemical weapon to be discarded when no longer required.
But that was before the current electronic efflorescence of hate, before the brainwashing I have sketched, before September 11. Habits of mind tending to approve terror are becoming ingrained in the Muslim world, sanctioned by the lethargy and prejudice in Europe: those Palestinians who danced for joy on September 11 and those students who staged the grisly exhibition of pizza parlour murders were not al-Qaeda, but their acceptance of terror as a substitute for politics does not augur well for the future of their country or the possibilities of peaceful political dialogue in any of the Arab states.
This article is abridged from a lecture prepared for the 30th anniversary of Index on Censorship. Harold Evans, a former editor of The Sunday Times and The Times, was most recently president of Random House, New York, and editorial director of the Daily News, Atlantic Monthly and US News & World Report. He is the author of The American Century.
©2002 - Times of London