The Arabs and the Holocaust

April 15, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust’s Long Reach into Arab Lands, by Robert Satloff.
New York: Public Affairs, 2006, 204 pages. Notes to 227.
Bibl. to p. 239. Index to p. 251. $26.00.

Reviewed by Joseph V. Montville

On the afternoon of September 11, 2001, Robert Satloff was walking in the middle of Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue which was devoid of traffic in a city stunned by the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers that morning. The question came into his mind: “Did any Arabs save any Jews during the Holocaust?” He judged, as did this writer after the second tower was hit, that Arabs were behind the deed. He wanted to teach Arabs about the Holocaust and the depths of its meaning for Israeli and Diaspora Jews. Satloff decided to answer his question, and this book is the result.

What establishes the nobility of Among the Righteous…is the conviction of its author, a historian, an Arabist and an American Jew, that there is much more to Arab and Muslim humanity than the destructive, suicidal rage that the 9/11 hijackers displayed that momentous day. While he had never heard of “righteous” Arabs—people who took great risks to protect Jews from the Nazis and their underlings–Satloff felt in his bones that he could find some. He did not believe that the apparent absence of knowledge or discussion about the Holocaust among Arabs was the complete picture.

The author thought that if he could prove that Arabs had saved Jewish lives during World War II, they might be induced to face the Holocaust squarely and understand its power in the final thrust to establish the Jewish state in Palestine. He hoped that the shared prosocial values of Islam and Judaism could induce Arab cooperation in his research and generate pride in Arab heroes. He cites Muslim and Jewish sacred literature to make his point. “‘Whoever saves one life saves the entire world,’ says the Qur’an, an echo of the Talmud’s injunction ‘If you save one life, it is as if you have saved the world.’” (p. 6.) In the process of searching for “righteous” Arabs in North Africa, Israel and Europe, Satloff has filled an important gap in the history of World War II, and he has also reflected the best traditions of Jewish humanism. It is not insignificant that Satloff is also executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy which the Jewish weekly, Forward, calls “a think tank known for its pro-Israel views and for its predominantly Jewish board.”1

The narrative concentrates on the North African states of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya under French—the first three—and Italian and therefore fascist colonial rule during the Vichy and Mussolini regimes. Half a million Jews lived in these countries, and the Nazi policy of degradation and ultimately destruction was meant to apply also to these trans-Mediterranean people. There were also 30,000 Libyan Jews who faced danger and abuse.

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Israel’s Growing Insanity

January 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

I wrote this on 9th February 2009, the day before Israel’s election, after seeing an interview with Benjamin Netanyahu’s father on Israeli TV. Benjamin Netanyahu’s father—described as “sharp as a razor” at the ripe old age of 99—gave a rare interview to Amit Segel of Israel’s Channel 2 to support his son’s election campaign (Channel 2 website. 7 Feb. 2009).

At some point in the interview Professor Ben-Zion Netanyahu said, “Today we are facing plain and simple, a danger of annihilation. This is not only the ongoing existential danger to Israel, but a real danger of complete annihilation. People think that the Shoah (Holocaust) is over — but it is not, it is continuing all the time” (My translation from the Hebrew).

The views of Netanyahu Senior do not represent a lunatic fringe, but the Israeli mainstream. When I was growing up in Israel, things were much the same. I and everyone I knew believed in earnest that we were always at risk of annihilation. Fear of annihilation is at the heart of Jewish, not just Israeli culture and it pre-dates the Holocaust. But the climate in Israel today is far more extreme than it was in my time, as Israel on the whole moves further and further to an irrational fanatic position.

When a person’s perception of reality is completely out of touch with reality itself, we begin to get an uneasy feeling that something might be wrong with his or her mind. Where is the evidence that the Jews, right now are facing a “real danger of complete annihilation”? Where is the evidence that the Holocaust, a systematic and deliberate plan to eliminate all Jews during the Second World War, is still being carried out?

I would even argue that saying this is an insult to the victims of the real Holocaust. Israel is rumored to have one of the most powerful military forces in the world but Israelis still believe that they are right now being annihilated. This is insanity.

Someone is indeed facing a risk of cultural, economic, political and even physical annihilation, but it’s not Israel or Jews, it’s the Palestinians, and the annihilator is Israel itself.

Our politics and our economics are both a product of our psychology, not something separate. We make political and economic choices based on who we are and what we feel and believe. Many rational people search for a rational analysis—often political or economic—for what is happening in Israel-Palestine. But the only way to interpret Israel’s behavior during the past 61 years is through understanding the psychology of its society and its leaders.

To ignore Israel’s psychology is dangerous because it means that any intervention based only on political considerations, will miss the mark and risk being irrelevant. Indeed if you look at the history of diplomacy and `peace negotiations’ in the region, it is quite obvious that they have achieved nothing at all. Things seem to be progressing on a trajectory determined by something that to someone in my profession, looks more like a mental illness than a political plan, bearing no relation to any rational diplomatic efforts, `roadmaps’, peace plans or truces.

Israel’s behavior is a direct product of its psychological struggle with the implications of Jewish identity, which in turn determines Israel’s very reason for existence. In his book Alternative to a Psychotic State Akiva Orr asks if Israel is a `Jewish state’ or a `state for the Jews’. Since it is clearly not a Jewish state—Israeli state law is different to religious law—then it must be a state for the Jews. And this begs the question of `who or what is a Jew’, and to that there has never been a satisfactory legal answer.

Israel has no constitution precisely because it cannot resolve the question of who or what it wants to be. The de-facto, modern secular Zionist definition of a Jew is someone who would have been considered a Jew by Hitler. Effectively Jews are allowing themselves to be defined by those who hated them and sought their annihilation. In other words, this identity was formed as a reaction to a particular set of circumstances.

But what happens if the circumstances change? What does that do to this identity? In other words, if the world is now safe for Jews and is no longer what Jewish people thought it was, then Jewish people no longer know who they are, in which case either Jewish identity needs to change, or you make sure that the world is back to what it was when the Jews were persecuted. That way there is no need to go through the difficult process of self-examination or live in a world that doesn’t make sense.

The reason for the existence of the state of Israel is a direct result of Jewish self-perception as victims of persecution. Israel was created to offer a safe haven for Jews from persecution. I could be wrong, I might be naïve, but I don’t believe that Israeli leaders are conscious that they are now hyping up more traditional forms of anti-Semitism—that is to say, I don’t think that they are consciously plotting to do it. They are operating without awareness and they probably believe in their own explanations for what they are doing, for example that they attacked Gaza to weaken Hamas. But we must look at the real consequences of Israel’s actions in Gaza and three years ago in Lebanon for example, to understand Israel’s real motivation.

If Israel’s actions lead to an increase in fanaticism and in anti-Jewish sentiment, this is because this is what Israel wants to achieve, albeit unconsciously.

But why does Israel need more fanaticism and antisemitism? An increase in real anti-Semitism and attacks on Jews would bring current reality into line with the outdated imaginary reality, and would help keep Jewish identity unchanged. The reality is that Jews have not been victims, certainly not of a genocidal regime for over sixty years—the Holocaust is not happening now and there is no attempt by anyone to annihilate the Jews.

The fact that Jews live in safety everywhere and are not persecuted makes Israel uncomfortable. If the Jews are doing well everywhere, then Jewish identity is being put to question, and so is the very reason for the existence of Israel. The very state that was created to save the Jews from persecution, now needs them to be persecuted again so that it can continue to exist. Escalating the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians is one of the means to achieving this end.

The Palestinians, who are desperately trying to understand what has been happening to them, are caught in this madness and are the victims of it. It’s not because of who they are or something they did, that they are suffering. It’s because they had the misfortune of living on the land that a neurotic Zionist movement was determined to take for itself regardless of cost. I think many Palestinians are beginning to recognise this but the world leaders still believe Israel’s racist propaganda, which says that there is something inherent in the Palestinian people that means that they deserve what they get.

This is why it is essential that the world intervene decisively. I do not trust Israel to suddenly develop sufficient self-awareness to understand what it’s doing and put a stop to it. Israel’s growing delinquency demonstrates the exact opposite. The Palestinians do not have any more time to spare.

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Houstonian Corner (V11-I39)

September 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

ISGH President Dr. Aziz Siddiqi at the Holocaust Museum

Picture P Holocaust Museum Houston invited the Islamic Society of Greater Houston (ISGH) President Dr. Aziz Siddiqi at the opening reception of the Photographic Exhibition called “Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews During the Holocaust in Albania”. This Exhibition shows Heart-Melting Kindness and Righteous Determination of Muslim Heroes, who saved Jews during the Holocaust. The Exhibition started on July 17, 2009 and runs through to February 7, 2010.

After his welcoming remarks, Michael Goldberg, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Holocaust Museum, requested ISGH President Dr. Aziz Siddiqi to speak to the invited guests. Dr. Siddiqi welcomed the opportunity to talk to the guests and acknowledged a strong presence of Muslims in the exhibit reception.

Dr. Aziz Siddiqi said that throughout the Islamic history Muslims have always provided protection to the oppressed. Whenever persecution was carried out against Jews whether it was in Spain, Albania or anywhere else, Muslims were in the forefront to save the lives of innocent Jews. He also cited other examples of Muslims helping Non-Muslims from persecution in other parts of the world. He said, “Muslims practice what they preach” and quoted the Ayah (Verse) of Quran: “……………….And whoever saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the entire people…………..” Holy Quran, Chapter 005 Verse 032.

This Photographic Exhibition “Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews During the Holocaust Albania”, depicts about this European country with a Muslim majority, that succeeded where other European nations failed in dealing with Nazi Germany. Almost all Jews living within Albanian borders during the German occupation – those of Albanian origin and refugees alike – were saved. In a five-year project, Colorado-based photographer Norman Gershman set out to collect the names of righteous, non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust. He discovered that some of the names were of Albanian Muslims. He then began a quest to meet and photograph the Albanian rescuers or their descendents. During his interviews, when he asked why they had rescued Jews, the resounding response was “Besa” the code of honor deeply rooted in Albanian culture and incorporated in the faith of Albanian Muslims. As Gershman later would explain, “There was no government conspiracy, no underground railroad, no organized resistance of any kind – only individual Albanians, acting alone, to save the lives of people whose lives were in immediate danger. My portraits of these people, and their stories, are meant to reflect their humanity, their dignity, their religious and moral convictions, and their quiet courage.”

Holocaust Museum Houston is free and open to the public. It is located in Houston’s Museum District at 5401 Caroline Street, Houston, Texas 77004. For more information about the Museum, visit www.hmh.org or call 713-942-8000.

The New Muslim Cool at ICNA Relief Iftar-&-Dinner

Picture O The Annual Iftar-&-Dinner organized by Islamic Circle of North America Relief (ICNA Relief) was held at Shahnai Restaurant Hillcroft, which was well attended.

Hamza Pérez, famously known as The New Muslim Cool, was the keynote presenter, who in a most emotional and motivational manner informed about the immense need and significance of humanitarian work at grassroots level in America, in which ICNA Relief is at the forefront. Present on the occasion were Ayub Badat, National Director of ICNA Relief; Haseeb Abdali, President of ICNA Houston; Saad Ansari, Director of ICNA Relief Texas; Dr. Aziz Siddiqi, President ISGH; Jaime Mujahid Fletcher, Founder & President of Islam in Spanish; Hashim Badat, Vice-President ISGH; Iqbal Badat Vice-President Pakistani-American Association of Greater Houston (PAGH); and many others. A slide show of all the nationwide projects of ICNA Relief was presented with remarks by Ayub Badat.

ICNA Relief is one of the largest humanitarian services organizations of the Muslims, working solely in USA. At present in Baton Rouge Louisiana and Houston-Galveston Texas, ICNA Relief has received federal grants to provide services to those, who got affected by Hurricane Ike.

The major human and social services work of ICNA Relief at the domestic level in USA is being done only through the assistance provided by the Muslim Community of USA. It includes Emergency Financial Assistance (rent & utility bills assistance; family support; hunger prevention; immigration support and funeral services), Women Temporary Shelter Homes; Domestic Disaster Relief; Medical Clinics; Educational programs; and so on.

For more information and contributions, one can visit: www.ICNARelief.ORg

Rooftop Films has screened Jennifer Maytorena Taylor’s film New Muslim Cool, which chronicles the personal journey of Puerto-Rican American rapper Hamza Pérez. He ended life as a drug dealer 12 years ago, and started down a new path as a young Muslim. Now he’s moved to Pittsburgh’s tough North Side to start a new religious community, rebuild his shattered family, and take his message of faith to other young people through his uncompromising music as part of the hip-hop duo M-Team. But when the FBI raided his mosque, Hamza confronted the realities of the Post-9/11 world.

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The Unnecessary Bengali Famine

April 5, 2007 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy BBC

The famine in British-ruled Bengal in 1943-44 ultimately took the lives of about 4 million people. The speaker talks of how this man-made famine is absent from most history books and virtually unknown to most people.

BBC Transcript:

Robyn Williams: Can you turn science to history? To test it, I mean? You can’t really do experiments on the past, so how could it be applied? Dr Gideon Polya insists that science does have a role in this regard, and he’ll explain in a minute. But the point of such an exercise is important here, because the reason for Dr Polya’s concern (and he’s written a book about it) is one of the worst genocides on record, or not on record, unless you search long and hard.

Gideon Polya is reader in biochemistry at La Trobe University in Melbourne.

Gideon Polya: Humanity has made immense technological and scientific advances in the last few millennia through application of a scientific method involving the gathering of data, the generation of testable hypotheses, and experimentation to test the validity of such hypotheses. Reiteration of this process yields models that are progressively better approximations to reality.

Of course historically, this process has been impaired through authoritarian religious or political intervention. Such societal constraints aside, application of the scientific method can also encounter difficulties when past processes of the physical or biological world are considered. However, while we cannot recreate the explosion of a star, we can construct models that are consistent with the residual physical consequences of such events and with our current understanding of physical reality. Similarly, while we cannot recreate life currently, to biological scientists the Darwinian Theory of Evolution remains a powerful model explaining and systematising a huge body of information about past and present biological complexity.

Scientific approaches to human history are similarly constrained by the reality that it is generally not possible to do physical experiments to test historical models (although one can envisage, for example, computer simulations of past battles). In general the history is confined to relating model predictions back to pre-existing data, the physical consequences of events and human oral and written records of events. Of course value judgements, or culturally and philosophically biased ‘weightings’ will inevitably be applied to the relative importance of historical data. However some events involving massive loss of human life, such as the Jewish Holocaust, are so immense that they cannot be ignored, if at least for scientific predictive utility. Thus the Jewish Holocaust warns us of future dangers due to racism, moral unresponsiveness and the technological capacity for mass destruction.
The bottom line is that historians, like scientists, must respect the basic data. Selectively ignoring the data thwarts the quest for better approximations to the truth, and jeopardises informed prediction. While we all cynically accept the truism that ‘history is written by the victors’, the history of genocide in the 20th century, from South West Africa and Anatolia, to East Timor and Rwanda, reinforces the message that ‘history ignored yields history repeated’. Deletion of massive man-made human catastrophes from history and from general perception is not simply scientifically flawed and unethical, it also increases the probability that the same unaddressed, contributing social pathologies will yield the same carnage in the future.

One of the most extraordinary examples of such whitewashing of history is the sustained, continuing deletion of two centuries of massive, recurrent, man-made famine in British India from British and world history, and hence from general public perception. This massive, sustained lying by omission by two centuries of British academic historians occurred in a society having Parliamentary democracy, the means to readily disseminate information and a steadily expanding literate population. Furthermore, this process of lying by omission continues to this day in Britain and its English-speaking offshoots, such as Australia, countries having free speech, high literacy, democracy, prosperity and extensive media of all kinds.

To dramatise this perversion, imagine that the Jewish Holocaust was almost completely deleted from our history books and from general public perception, that there was virtually a total absence of any mention at all of this cataclysm in our newspapers and electronic media or in our schools and universities. Truth, reason, ethics and humanity aside, objective analysis suggests that such a situation would greatly increase the probability of recurrence of racial mass murder. Fortunately, in reality, virtually everyone is aware of this event and indeed in Germany today it is a criminal offence to deny the actuality of the Jewish Holocaust.

In contrast, during the Second World War, a man-made catastrophe occurred within the British Empire that killed almost as many people as died in the Jewish Holocaust, but which has been effectively deleted from history, it is a ‘forgotten holocaust’. The man-made famine in British-ruled Bengal in 1943-1944 ultimately took the lives of about 4-million people, about 90% of the total British Empire casualties of that conflict, and was accompanied by a multitude of horrors, not the least being massive civilian and military sexual abuse of starving women and young girls that compares unfavourable with the comfort women abuses of the Japanese Army.

The causes of the famine are complex, but ultimately when the price of rice rose above the ability of landless rural poor to pay and in the absence of humane, concerned government, millions simply starved to death or otherwise died of starvation-related causes. Although there was plenty of food potentially available, the price of rice rose through ‘market forces’, driven by a number of factors including: the cessation of imports from Japanese-occupied Burma, a dramatic wartime decline in other requisite grain imports into India, compounded by the deliberate strategic slashing of Allied Indian Ocean shipping; heavy-handed government action in seizing Bengali rice stocks in sensitive areas; the seizure of boats critically required for food acquisition and rice distribution; and finally the ‘divide and rule’ policy of giving the various Indian provinces control over their own food stocks. Critically, cashed-up, wartime, industrial, Calcutta could pay for rice and sucked food out of a starving, food-producing countryside.

Ultimately, millions of Bengalis died because their British rulers didn’t give a damn and had other strategic imperatives. The Bengal Famine and its aftermath for the debilitated Bengal population consumed its victims over several years in the case of complete British inaction through most of 1943 or insufficient subsequent action. Churchill had a confessed hatred for Indians and during the famine he opposed the humanitarian attempts of people such as the Prime Minister of Canada, Louis Mountbatten, Viceroy General Wavell, and even of Japanese collaborationist leader Subhash Chandra Bose. The hypothesis can be legitimately advanced that the extent of the Bengal Famine derived in part from sustained, deliberate policy.

The wartime Bengal Famine has become a ‘forgotten holocaust’ and has been effectively deleted from our history books, from school and university curricula and from general public perception. To the best of my knowledge, Churchill only wrote of it once, in a secret letter to Roosevelt dated April 29th 1944 in which he made the following remarkable plea for help in shipping Australian grain to India: ‘I am no longer justified in not asking for your help.’ Churchill’s six-volume ‘History of the Second World War’ fails to mention the cataclysm that was responsible for about 90% of total British Empire casualties in that conflict but makes the extraordinary obverse claim: ‘No great portion of the world population was so effectively protected from the horrors and perils of the World War as were the people of Hindustan. They were carried through the struggle on the shoulders of our small island.’

This whitewashing of Indian famine extends to two centuries of famine in British India. I have recently published a very detailed account of this two-century holocaust in British India that commenced with the Great Bengal Famine of 1769-1770 (10-million victims) and concluded with the World War 2 Bengal Famine (4-million victims) and took tens of millions of lives in between. In contrast to the response to the Jewish Holocaust, these events have been almost completely written out of history and removed from general perception and there has been no apology nor amends made. While Tony Blair has apologised for the mid-19th century Irish Famine that took over a million lives, there has been no apology for the World War 2 Bengal Famine.

My book is entitled, ‘Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History’ and sub-titled, ‘Colonial rapacity, holocaust denial and the crisis in biological sustainability’. I describe this whitewashing of history as ‘Austenising’ after Jane Austen, whose exquisite novels were utterly free of the ugly social realities of her time. Some of Jane Austen’s siblings and other connections, were involved in the rape of India. Of major note was Warren Hastings, the first Governor-General of India, who ferociously taxed famine-devastated Bengal and was eventually impeached and tried but ultimately acquitted for his manifold abuses in India. Warren Hastings almost certainly seduced Jane Austen’s aunt, Philadelphia Hancock. This adultery gave rise to Jane Austen’s lively cousin Eliza who is an evident model for the more advanced women of Jane Austen’s novels. While much of the huge academic Jane Austen industry has ignored (or ‘Austenised’) such interesting aspects of the lives of Jane Austen’s relatives, Jane Austen herself was much more forthcoming; thus to the initiated, ‘Sense and Sensibility’, the most Indian of her novels, includes a very detailed and barely disguised account of the Warren Hastings Scandal.

While it was legitimate for Jane Austen, the artist, to render her exquisite novels free of the contemporary awfulness in which her connections participated, the continuing ‘Austenising’ of British history is a holocaust-denying outrage that threatens humanity. Currently, 20-million people die each year of starvation-related causes and conservative, status quo productivity estimates would predict 30-million such deaths per year in the year 2050. A more realistic but still non-Malthusian view can be taken based on declining per capita agricultural production due to land degradation, decreased water availability, global warming effects on tropical cereal yields and increased population. A return from the current annual mortalities of about 10 per 1000 to the 35 per 1000 per year that obtained in British India in 1947 would yield a Third World excess mortality in 2050 of a staggering 200-million persons per year. Nevertheless this is avoidable, thus peri-conception, male sex selection provides just one simple example of a cheap, non-intrusive, pro-choice and technologically and socially feasible approach to slowing and indeed reversing population growth. That such an apparently radical suggestion is socially feasible is evidenced by the extraordinarily peaceful and tolerant multiracial society of Fiji, yet the initial male to female ratio among the indentured Indian five-year slaves was about 3 to 1.

The remorselessly continuing human catastrophe of mass starvation is avoidable provided that there is determined global responsiveness of a kind that was absent for both the Jewish Holocaust and the Bengal Famine of half a century ago. One hopes that the recent award of the Nobel Prize for Economics to Amartya Sen, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and expert analyst of the Bengal Famine, will increase global responsiveness to this continuing humanitarian disaster. We must resurrect the horrors hidden by two centuries of holocaust-ignoring historians, resolutely face the current environmental and humanitarian cris and apply the post-Holocaust injunction of ‘Never again’.

Robyn Williams: ‘Never again’, says Dr Gideon Polya, Reader in biochemistry at La Trobe University in Melbourne. And his interest in the subject of India (yes, I did ask) stems in part from having a Bengali wife. His book, by the way, can be ordered by writing to Dr Polya at La Trobe University in Melbourne.

Dr. Gideon Polya
Associate Professor in Biochemistry
Dept. of Biochemistry
La Trobe University, Bundoora Vic. 3083
e-mail: g.polya@latroabe.edu.au
His book Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History can be obtained from the author by writing to him at La Trobe University