Is Egypt's "Greatest" Archaeologist believes in Antisemitic Conspiracy Theories? Prof.B.Rubin
You, Too, Zahi? If Egypt's "Greatest" Archaeologist Believes Antisemitic Conspiracy Theories What Hope Is There For Anyone?
In an era when Islamophobia has become a sin punishable by death or mere career ruination—depending on who’s doing the punishing—it is remarkably hard to get people to understand how widespread is antisemitism in the Arabic-speaking world and in the Muslim-majority world in general. One always wants to believe that there are many exceptions, which is why I find the case of Zahi Hawass so discouraging.
I’ve often seen Hawass on television shows about ancient Egypt or antiquities’ smuggling. He is secretary-general of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities and gave President Barack Obama a tour of the Pyramids when the president visited Cairo in June 2009. I presume that Hawass was an honored guest when Obama gave his famous speech in Cairo, which included a discussion of antisemitism.
But here he is four months earlier on official Egyptian television, which gives his remarks the air of government endorsement. And note how what the interviewer says reinforces the idea that these are official positions. Presumably, Obama's speech didn’t change his mind. The irony here is palpable: One of Obama's main hosts had just shown that his views are poisoned by an extreme form of systematic antisemitism that no one can pretend was merely dislike for Israel.
If one thinks of the conflict as merely a normal one over boundaries or the need for confidence-building measures understanding this profound hatred coming from one side--and not matched at all by the Israeli world view--makes a real resolution of the issue extraordinarily
The translation is by MEMRI:
Zahi Hawass: "For 18 centuries, [the Jews] were dispersed throughout the world. They went to America and took control of its economy. They have a plan. Although they are few in number, they control the entire world."
Interviewer: "With regard to Israel and Zionism we are talking about 7 or 8 million. How is it possible that these 7 or 8 million have taken control of the entire world, and have convinced the world of their cause, while we, over one billion Muslims, cannot convince the world of our cause? How would you explain this from a historical perspective?"
Zahi Hawass: "The reason is that they are always united over a single view. They always move together, even if in the wrong direction. We, on the other hand, are divided. If even two Arab countries could be in agreement, our voice would be stronger. Look at the control they have over America and the media."
Interviewer: "So in your opinion, the secret lies in unity?"
Zahi Hawass: "Yes. It was unity that gave them this power..."
Note that his main theme is precisely the main theme of historical antisemitism (Jews control the world nd use this power for their own benefit, thus they are the humanity of humanity and should be--what?--wiped out?). His secondary theme—Jews always working together—is that of the Russian text I analyzed as typical of how antisemitism so often passes unnoticed in the West.
Of course, regarding Israel the Arabic-speaking world has been about as united as anyone can be over as long a period as anyone could imagine on this issue. Hawass is dead wrong from the standpoint of historical accuracy on both sides of the equation. Or perhaps the obvious implication is that Egypt should end its peace with Israel and join in a war to exterminate that country?
Equally, regarding alleged Jewish control of the media, given coverage of Israel, this charge must be seen as amusing as well as sinister.
As a bonus, note the third theme which is so essential in Arab nationalism: Arab unity is the key to success. Even in 2010, after about 60 years of experience regarding both the failure and disaster of this idea, it is still tremendously powerful in shaping thinking in the region.
That these notions can be taken for granted by a man who is seen as a great scholar in a country which has been at peace with Israel for over two decades is very telling. But then not long ago Egypt's candidate to be the world's cultural "czar" (head of UNESCO) said that he would burn Israeli-authored books found in any library he supervised.
To put it another way, if Hawass and official Egyptian television can be openly antisemitic in this way (and, of course, this characterizes their attitude toward Israel) what hope can there be for more than a handful of others in that vast Arabic-speaking area to think otherwise?
Optional notes: I would have made the title: Et tu, Zahi? As in Julius Caesar's words to Brutus when he was assassinated (at least according to legend) but worried that some readers wouldn't get it. Not you, of course but some of the others.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.
Explaining the "Obvious": Why It's Necessary
A frustrated pro-democracy reader from a Muslim-majority country asks me: “Do we have to explain that the Earth is round to any idiot who says it is flat? Or do we have to hold a rational argument about the evils of cannibalism with someone who practices it?”
What bothers him are the frequent articles I must write stating the “obvious,” things like radical Islamist forces aren’t about to moderate; too much of the Western world is missing the obvious threats; that it's wrong and dangerous to indoctrinate people in Western countries to be hostile to their own countries, viewing their histories as shameful; and much of what occupies our media and universities regarding international politics is rubbish.
If stoning people, mutilating little girls, and forcing children to wed while still in grade school can be regarded as acceptable cultural practices simply because they are carried out by societies where we don't live, it has become necessary--even, sad to say, courageous--to talk about these things.
Ten or more years ago, who would have thought this to be necessary? But when you have to deal with an article saying that Iran getting nuclear weapons is a good thing (New York Times), an Islamist takeover of Turkey is something we should celebrate (Newsweek), and—well, you can add to that list—there’s some serious insanity loose in the world.
My reader's flat-earth/cannibalism analogy is closer to the truth than many would think. There were times when cultures strongly believed in these things as the very gemstone in their cultural crown. At the time, it could have been said--and indeed was said--that one could not challenge such cultural norms or they would face serious punishment.
It was a sign of progress in history when people could respect what other cultures did rather than view them as barbaric and inferior. But it is a sign of regression when people are not allowed to distinguish between things they see as good--maybe worth borrowing--and those they see as abhorrant.
I never thought we’d be living in such a situation either. What’s especially dismal for me is to have to explain to younger people that things weren’t always like that. I can only do my best to try to see that things won’t be that way much longer.
Is there hope? Sure. The best hope is that reality forces people to acknowledge itself, eventually; that the enemies of democracy push so hard that they force people to fight them, and that the "common" people have a lot of common sense even when their “betters” do not.
Oh, yes, and some day someone will write history books (or, by then, perhaps history blogs) recording that some folk stood up for what was right even though it cost them dearly. It has been ever thus, hasn’t it?
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.