Imagine if Ariel Sharon, Israel's Prime Minister, delivered a speech to dozens of fellow heads of state arguing that the Arabs are more hateful than the Nazis, and that God should bring his wrath down upon Muslims. It would be front-page news. Sternly worded UN resolutions would be passed. EU nations would line up to denounce Mr. Sharon. Even the United States would likely get in on the act. And yet, substitute Israelis for Arabs and Jews for Muslims, and you will find slogans of exactly this type were thundered from the podium at the Arab summit in Amman, Jordan last March. In his speech to fellow Arab leaders, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad declared that Israel "is a racist society and it is even more racist than the Nazis." Not to be upstaged, Saddam Hussein, whose address was read for him by a deputy, ended with the words, "May God damn the Jews!" Such virulent hate speech is standard fare in Arab nations. According to the official Syrian media, for instance, the Holocaust is a "myth." And Syria's Defense Minister, Mustafa Tlas, is the author of a book promoting the medieval myth that Jews kill Gentiles and consume their blood on Passover.
Most Arab hatemongering passes under the Western media's radar. Arab leaders generally sanitize their rhetoric in polite company. But on Saturday, Syria's President just could not control his impulses. Delivering a speech on the occasion of Pope John Paul II's visit to his country, Mr. Assad said, "our brethren in Palestine are being murdered and tortured ... by those who ... killed the principle of equality when they claimed that God created a people distinguished above all other peoples." As members of the papal entourage shifted uncomfortably in their seats, he continued: "They try to kill all the principles of divine faiths with the same mentality of betraying Jesus Christ and torturing Him, and in the same way that they tried to commit treachery against Prophet Muhammad."
When journalists and politicians lament the recurring spasms of religious and ethnic hatred that afflict the world's violent neighbourhoods, they inevitably include the example of Jew and Arab in the list of paradigmatic examples. The hatred has come to be seen as a self-perpetuating entity unto itself. Many observers have lost track of the fact that hatred does not survive by accident or habit. As Mr. Assad's musings on deicide demonstrate, Jew-Arab hostility continues because Arab leaders actively stoke it. Israel is a democratic nation with a per capita GDP roughly equal to Canada's. The country's Arab neighbours, by contrast, are poor, technologically backward and repressive -- which is why Arabic-speaking countries attract only 1% of world equity flowing to emerging markets. Rather than embrace democracy and globalization, as did similarly situated nations in Latin America and Asia several decades ago, they have gone the route of dictatorship and holy war, explaining away failures with medieval conspiracy theories. It is this attitude that is at the heart of the enmity between Arab and Jew. The hatred will not go away until Arab nations abandon foreign policies that are based on anti-Semitic demagoguery.
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