Speaking as someone who’s received his share of abuse both online and in the public world for my political views, I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Al-Muhajabah (see her blogs). On her blog she proudly quotes AND LINKS TO her detractors. It takes guts. When I am similarly attacked I become stressed, threatened and defensive. She seems to take it in stride. Good for her!
This is how I came to Secular Islam.net: The natterings of an unhappy American Muslim created by Fatima. She devotes a long post to critiquing Al-Muhajabah’s views on Islam, terrorism, Israel, Jews and women’s rights. It’s a detailed analytical piece which attempts to ‘take apart’ Al-Muhajabah’s devout views of Islam.
The Secularist-Devout Divide
I found the secularist-devout debate between Fatima and Al-M to be eye opening because I’ve seen and heard very similar ones within my own Jewish community. While I was an observant Jew for some years as a young adult and attended a Conservative theological seminary as an undergraduate, I have always felt distant and more or less alienated from my co-religionists and their world view. Since I was a teenager during the 1967 War, I’ve always believed that Israel was on the wrong path if it wished to subjugate and coercively govern millions of Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza. Also, I’ve felt profoundly alienated from Orthodox Jews because of their deep mistrust and intolerance of Jews who are less devout than they. Orthodoxy’s oppressive and dismissive attitude toward women (though they would argue that they are not dismissive) also rankles me deeply.
For my unorthodox views, I have been reviled, insulted, stoned (once in a demonstration in Israel) and threatened. When New Jewish Agenda told the Los Angeles Jewish community in a 1984 newspaper ad that it mourned the bombing murder of Alex Odeh, Orange County representative of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, one of Irv Rubin’s Jewish Defense League henchmen, Earl Krugel, called my office and warned us not to support “dead sand niggers.” The words still bring a chill to my heart. Parenthetically, I’m pleased to report that Krugel pled guilty to conspiracy to bomb Culver City’s King Fahd Mosque and will receive a 10-20 year jail sentence sometime this month.
In another incident which would otherwise have been laughable had it not been so shocking, a small rump assembly of Orthodox rabbis excommunicated New Jewish Agenda members from Judaism because we supported gay and abortion rights. Afterward, I jokingly suggested that we start a Spinoza Society for those expelled from Judaism because of their beliefs. The motto I suggested: “Spinoza was right!”
After reading my views in the Jewish press, I’ve often read responses such as “you can’t be a Jew,” “you’re a traitor to your people,” “find another religion,” etc. It’s remarkable the level of intolerance and downright stupidity on both sides of the Muslim-Jewish fence. So when I read almost precisely the same invective in the Fatima-Al Muhabarajah debate, I said: “I guess both religions have a a lot more in common than I thought.”
The one thing I am grateful for in Jewish tradition is that there is no litmus test for belief. You can believe anything as a Jew and remain a Jew. No one can (at least in our modern era) excommunicate you, stone you or ostracize you. I could go to my nearest local synagogue, pick up a bullhorn and loudly proclaim I am an atheist (I am not) and no one could legitimately (though some would anyway) question my Jewishness. I’m proud to say that Judaism recognizes and sometimes even embraces freedom of thought. I have to place a caveat here: my Orthodox friends are not so tolerant nor accepting. They would not welcome me nor would they accept me. Luckily, they are not yet normative Judaism.
Al-Muhajabah’s Views on Israel
While I found some of Fatimah’s arguments to be a bit strident, overstated and underproven, she pointed me to some Al-Muhajabah posts which are troubling. Mostly these revolve around Israel. Al-M calls Israel an apartheid state. She believes that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism. She believes that there are similarities between Israel and Nazi Germany. When she does quote or endorse the views of Jews, they are invariably anti-Zionist.
Like many on the left and in the Muslim world, she has what I call a “reductionist” view of Zionism. In this view, Zionism is what the worst of its adherents believes. In reality, Zionism is a nationalist movement much like any other. It contains progressive, universalist strands along with insular, triumphalist ones. There is a constant battle within the movement (and within Israel itself) for position and power between these two tendencies. It is the job of the progressives within this movement to keep the flame of tolerance alive.
Look, everyone has the right to pick and choose their friends and allies. So I don’t have a problem with highlighting the views of anti-Zionists. What I do have a problem with is a tendency among some leftists to want to believe that anti-Zionists are a legitimate and representative group within the world Jewish community. Nothing could be farther from the truth. If you want to quote anti-Zionists like Joshua Reubner, go right ahead. Just don’t believe that you are quoting legitimate or normative representatives of Jewish opinion or belief. Anti-Zionism among Jews died (as a viable political viewpoint) once the Holocaust occured and the State of Israel was established in 1948. Sure, some Jews are still anti-Zionists. But if a poll were ever done, I’d guess that less than 1% of Jews are anti-Zionist. If you want to win minds and influence the views of Jews, you’re going to have to engage is serious debate with those are more mainstream. And there are many such individuals and groups with our community (see my “Mideast Peace” category for further examples).
Al-Muhajabah’s other views about Israel are misguided. The Zionism-Nazism equation is a terrible calumny that no self-respecting intellectual should resort to. Yes, there are nativist, racist tendencies within Zionism just as there are in most nationalist movements. If allowed to run roughshod these tendencies would wreak havoc in the Middle East. But the whole point is that they have not done so and will not. No doubt, there are racist, thuggish Israeli politicians some of whom sit in Sharon’s Cabinet. But there is a counterbalance within Israeli political life that prevents their worst plans from being implemented. This is why I believe that population transfer will never happen.
Returning to my anti-Zionist critique: there are more than enough legitimate avenues of criticism of Israel and its policies than to have to stoop to such lowness (Zionism=Nazism). Those of us who wish to heal the Israeli-Palestinian divide and see an Israeli and Palestinian State living in peace with each other need to work to change Israel (and Zionism), not to destroy it. If you don’t believe this is possible–if you believe that Israel should just ‘go away’–then disabuse yourself of the notion that Israelis and Palesrtinians will ever live in peace. Because such views (whether from Jews or Muslims) are deeply nihilist and lead to endless bloodshed.