TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

Telos Contributors Featured in Democratiya

In its most recent issue, British political journal Democratiya features both Telos editor Russell Berman and Telos Press author of the award-winning Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism , Nazism, and the Roots of 9/11, Matthias Küntzel.

Published in the Summer 2008 edition of Democratiya is an interview between journal editor Alan Johnson and author Matthias Küntzel, who traces the influence of European Fascism on Islamist antisemitism and the Arab and Islamic world in his book Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11. The interview provides additional information for the understanding of topics discussed at large in the book. It explores the connections between Nazism and Islamism, the sources of contemporary Islamist antisemitism, the frightening possibility of a new eliminationist antisemitism, as well as the significance of Iranian president Ahmadinejad’s alarming worldview, the contemporary character of the Middle East conflict, and articulate responses to critiques of the book.

As explained, Küntzel is not so startled by the prevalence of antisemitic rhetoric and propaganda that surges from Islamist movements; rather, what is of more significance and the focus of his critique is the trivial reaction that these remarks have elicited elsewhere. Rather than recognize Islamist antisemitic and anti-Zionist speech as an articulation of hate for western modernity, and not just an expression of the Jew-hatred that Küntzel tells us it is, the West has ignored this reality and even gone so far as to suggest strategic partnerships with and accommodation of Islamist movements that belch hatred and openly violate human rights. Spheres of democratic society that normally did not tolerate discrimination and racism—such as the university, as elaborated by Berman—are now granting hateful and destructive ideologies space and attention. The contemporary attitude of tolerance that western democratic institutions have adopted toward antisemitism and anti-Zionism is unsettling and potentially very dangerous. As Küntzel observes: “The international left did not deal in an accurate way with the Holocaust, otherwise they would be much more alarmed by the antisemitic ideology of movements like Hamas. Thus, in defending Hamas directly or indirectly, the left plays the role of useful idiot for the Islamists. Today, hostilities against Israel result in the form of a pincer movement. On one side we have antisemites such as Ahmadinejad or Hamas who draw their ‘knowledge’ about Jews from the Koran and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. On the other side we have non-Jewish and Jewish fellow travelers of antisemitism in progressive western movements and governments who take up and proliferate, albeit in muted form, the Islamists’ attempts to delegitimize Israel.”

Also included in their most recent edition which marks the 40th anniversary of May 1968, is Berman’s essay “From ‘Left-Fascism’ to Campus Anti-Semitism,” which exposes the illiberalism within the universities that threatens free scholarship. Berman argues that a reactionary radicalism of the 1960s that challenged theory with a selective voluntarism was in fact far more repressive than emancipatory. Employing German examples, Berman first describes the legacies of repression within the student movement that Habermas termed “left-wing fascism. He then tells of the structural transformations that threaten the modern university’s intellectual culture and which open the doors to campus antisemitism. Berman concludes with a close reading of Judith Butler’s criticism of remarks made by Lawrence Summers. He suggests that the structural changes taking place within the university system, which have moved emphasis from the humanities toward vocational studies and narrow specialization, “eliminate the need to measure and to test one’s beliefs against the objectivity of evidence, counter-argument, or falsifiability,” thus constricting the quality of academic life by fomenting a cultural relativism that arrests the possibility to criticize and allows for the unchallenged pronunciation of illiberal tendencies, most specifically antisemitism.

As noted by the 2006 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, antisemitic incidents continue to occur on college campuses nationwide and the controversy that Berman describes between Summers and Butler illustrates the reactions to these episodes and the intellectual debate surrounding them. Rather than investing in dynamic dialogue, universities have become the playground for extremists to deliver harangues, speaking only to their followers and rivals, which results in a complete disengagement from the vast moderate majority. As Berman puts it: “Today’s campus antisemitism is not about a broadly politicized world; on the contrary, it is lodged in a context of apathetic pre-professionalism and mind-numbing specialization, where ideology can flourish without anyone really caring and even fewer ever really thinking. New Left sectarianism has morphed into postmodern fragmentation. Fanaticism and indifference have become roommates, and while indifference remains unconvinced, fanaticism is always good for a laugh, offering momentary respite from the boredom of career preparation for life-sentences in the service sector.” This facts of this gloomy forecast, combined with the aforementioned chilling relativism, may prove to vanquish the mission of free and creative scholarship at the core of the academy if the liberal traditions of “bold thinking, imaginative learning, and the innovative research which depends on a culture of freedom,” are not pursued.

The combination of these two trends is frightening. If the university has lost its academic character as well as the liberal precondition and has been deformed into a factory for the service industry with disregard for the original vocation of scholarship, so much that hateful and fanatical messages are afforded significant air time and intellectual respect, then it is not hard to imagine how antisemitic expressions are incorporated into the intellectual debate and worked into the multicultural tolerance model of modern democratic institutions. The dangers of the West allowing antisemitic attitudes into intellectual and political realms is serious because they are no longer merely antiquated prejudices but rather political policies that are directed not only against the Jewish people they vilify but also toward the evils of modernity with which the Islamists charge them.

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