The Arabs and the Holocaust

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An unprecedented and judicious examination of what the Holocaust means—and doesn't mean—in the Arab world, one of the most explosive subjects of our time

There is no more inflammatory topic than the Arabs and the Holocaust—the phrase alone can occasion outrage. The terrain is dense with ugly claims and counterclaims: one side is charged with Holocaust denial, the other with exploiting a tragedy while denying the tragedies of others.

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Overview

An unprecedented and judicious examination of what the Holocaust means—and doesn't mean—in the Arab world, one of the most explosive subjects of our time

There is no more inflammatory topic than the Arabs and the Holocaust—the phrase alone can occasion outrage. The terrain is dense with ugly claims and counterclaims: one side is charged with Holocaust denial, the other with exploiting a tragedy while denying the tragedies of others.

In this pathbreaking book, political scientist Gilbert Achcar explores these conflicting narratives and considers their role in today's Middle East dispute. He analyzes the various Arab responses to Nazism, from the earliest intimations of the genocide, through the creation of Israel and the destruction of Palestine and up to our own time, critically assessing the political and historical context for these responses. Finally, he challenges distortions of the historical record, while making no concessions to anti-Semitism or Holocaust denial. Valid criticism of the other, Achcar insists, must go hand in hand with criticism of oneself.

Drawing on previously unseen sources in multiple languages, Achcar offers a unique mapping of the Arab world, in the process defusing an international propaganda war that has become a major stumbling block in the path of Arab-Western understanding.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“A sensitive and insightful exploration of an important dimension of the Middle East conflict—one that we usually only encounter in angry sound bites. Gilbert Achcar’s book, which combines meticulous scholarship and an engaging style, is a significant contribution to the mutual understanding that is in such short supply.”
—Peter Novick, author of The Holocaust in American Life
 
“In this study Gilbert Achcar exposes a great deal of spurious scholarship on the subject and places Arab attitudes towards the Holocaust and the Jews in their proper historical and intellectual context. It is an erudite, perceptive, and highly original study that shines much-needed light on a field which has tended to be dominated by partisanship and propaganda.”
—Avi Shlaim, author of The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World
 
“Essential reading for anyone who seeks a balanced understanding of the place of Jews and the Holocaust in Arab thinking today. Whether or not one agrees with Gilbert Achcar on every issue, he provides a welcome and well-informed counterpoint to caricaturists and hate-mongers and fear-promoters of every persuasion. His is a voice of moderation in a bitter conflict, and it is all the more valuable for being steeped in the history and idiom of the Arab Middle East.”
—Michael R. Marrus, author of The Holocaust in History
 
“This is a work of breath-taking empathy, examining one of the most painful and emotion-laden topics in the modern world with dispassion, sensitivity and high erudition. Gilbert Achcar combines a historian’s profound understanding of the workings of Arab political discourse with a fine appreciation of the traumatic valence of every aspect of this topic. This magisterial study constitutes a welcome advance on the often meretricious and mediocre scholarship produced thus far on the important topic of the Arabs and the Holocaust.”
—Rashid Khalidi, author of The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood
 
The Arabs and the Holocaust is a penetrating analysis of the multiplicity of attitudes and responses in the Arabic-speaking world toward Nazism, anti-Semitism, and the Holocaust. The book effectively disproves simplistic notions of a single, monolithic, Holocaust-denying Arabic-speaking world driven by racist and neo-Nazi hatred of all Jews, and effectively demonstrates that there never has been one ‘Arab’ narrative on the Holocaust.”
—Francis R. Nicosia, author of Zionism and Anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany
 
“Gilbert Achcar’s thoughtful, well researched, and very welcome assessment of one of the most explosive topics of Palestinian/Israeli historiography is a courageous undertaking. He succeeds in treating the subject of the relationship of Palestine and the Nazi Holocaust with original thinking, profound scholarship, and meticulous analysis.”
—Naseer Aruri, member of the Palestine National Council and author of Palestine and Palestinians: A Social and Political History
 
“In a field fraught with bad faith and sheer propaganda, Gilbert Achcar’s book stands out as scholarly, even-handed, and decent.”
—Idith Zertal, author of Israel’s Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood
 

Kirkus Reviews
A scholarly reappraisal of the diverse Arab responses to the Holocaust and Zionism. In the wake of recent scandalous proclamations by Holocaust deniers, Beirut-born historian Achcar (Development Studies and International Relations/School of Oriental and African Studies, London; The Clash of Barbarisms: The Making of the New World Disorder, 2006, etc.) is distressed by the evidence of Arab "intellectual regression." Examining the archives-he takes English-language "experts" to task for not learning Arabic-from the rise of Nazism in the early 1930s through the eras of Nasser, the PLO and the present-day efflorescence of Islamic fundamentalism, the author emphasizes that the Arab response has involved an enormously convoluted "symbolic tit for tat" over the centuries, stating, in effect, that the Jewish people are not the only victims, and refusing to be saddled with the responsibility for what was in fact a Christian evil. Achcar repeatedly stresses that "the Arabs" do not act in unison, but are diverse peoples, and as such there is no single response. In terms of the reaction to the Zionist incursions in Palestine and increased immigration during the '30s and '40s, he carefully distinguishes among four groups of Arabs: the liberal Westerners, the Marxists, the nationalists and the reactionary/fundamentalist Pan-Islamists. Achcar acknowledges the bad apples over the decades-e.g., the pro-Nazi Baath Party and Amin al-Husseini, aka the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem-while much of this record continues to play into "the stock themes of Israeli propaganda" by the Zionist state. At times the author scrambles to portray the Arab reaction in a favorable light, but he does a fine service pointing out holes in previous research. Moreover, he never loses sight of the irony that Israel is widely regarded as a racist state. A spirited defense and a plea to both Arabs and Jews, "motivated by the same humanism yet situated on opposite sides of the wall of hatred."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805089547
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/27/2010
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Gilbert Achcar, who grew up in Beirut, has taught at the University of Paris-VIII and at the French-German Centre Marc Bloch in Berlin. He is currently professor of development studies and international relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Among his many books are The Clash of Barbarisms: The Making of the New World Disorder and Perilous Power: The Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy, co-authored with Noam Chomsky.

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Arabs and the Holocaust

PART I
THE TIME OF THE SHOAH
Arab Reactions to Nazism and Anti-Semitism, 1933-47

Prelude
It ought to be a truism that "the Arabs" do not exist--at least not as a homogeneous political or ideological subject. Yet such use of a general category known as "the Arabs" is common in both journalism and the specialist literature. "The Arabs" are supposed to think and act or react in unison. Of course, like "the Jews" or "the Muslims," "the Arabs" as a politically and intellectually uniform group exist only in fantasy, engendered by the distorting prism of either ordinary racism or polemical fanaticism.
Like any large, diverse group, the Arab population is crisscrossed by different ideological currents that have been shaped by varied forms of education and political experience in different countries, a circumstance no well-informed work on political thought in the Arab world fails to point out. Only a perception distorted by "Orientalism," in the pejorative sense of the term made famous by Edward Said--that is the cultural essentialization of the peoples of the East that reduces them to a stereotyped immutable being or "mind"1--can obscure the very deep divisions in the Arab world.
The diversity of the Arabs' historical relations to Nazism and Zionism is no less pronounced. There have even been a few Arab allies of the Zionist movement: recall the Palestinian "collaboration"2 and the unacknowledged "collusion" of leaders who had ties to the British, such as King Abdullah of Jordan,3 or allies motivated by the idea of making common cause with the Zionists as "enemies of their enemies," notably some Christian Maronites in Lebanon.4
In the Arab anticolonial independence movement, whose opposition to the Zionist project in Palestine reflected what was by far the dominant Arab attitude in the 1930s and 1940s, we may distinguish four basic ideological currents:

1. The liberal Westernizers
2. The Marxists
3. The nationalists
4. The reactionary and/or fundamentalist Pan-Islamists
Note that none of these currents has a monopoly on the central value inspiring it. Thus there is widespread adhesion to Islam among liberal Westernizers and nationalists. Nationalism, moderate or radical, animates Westernist liberal advocates of independence and, in a specifically religious form, Pan-Islamists as well. Similarly, it can be argued that both Marxists and most nationalists are Westernizers who even, at times, embrace the same liberal values.
Moreover, each current comprises several distinct variants, and there are a number of intermediate and combined categories. Regarding nationalism in particular, we may distinguish a right wing that often works in close alliance with Islamic fundamentalism, a left wing influenced by Marxism, and a liberal version.5 On certain questions, the positions of these subgroups can differ sharply.
Nevertheless, a qualitative difference sets each of the four major categories apart: the nature of its guiding principle, its determinant system of political values. Each chooses its political positions with reference, first and foremost, to a distinctive political and ideological system of thought--liberalism, Marxism, nationalism, or Islam conceived as a source of political inspiration adapted to contemporary conditions.
Copyright © 2009 by Gilbert Achcar

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Table of Contents

Introduction Words laden with pain 5

1 The liberal Westernizers 35

2 The Marxists 51

3 The nationalists 64

4 Reactionary and/or fundamentalist pan-Islamists 104

5 The Nasser years (1948-67) 192

6 The PLO years (1967-88) 221

7 The years of the Islamic Resistances (1988 to the present) 244

Conclusion Stigmas and stigmatization 273

Acknowledgments 297

Notes 299

Bibliography 343

Index 359

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First Chapter

The Arabs and the Holocaust

The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives
By Gilbert Achcar

Picador

Copyright © 2011 Gilbert Achcar
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780312569204

PrefaceThis book had its inception early in 2006, when my friend Enzo Traverso asked me to contribute a chapter on the reception of the Holocaust in the Middle East to the monumental work on the history of the Shoah that he and three other scholars were coediting for the Italian publishing house UTET in Turin. I accepted the invitation, but only after much hesitation: the short six months I was given to complete my essay— an author who had been approached before me had bowed out late in the day— made the task, given its scope and complexity, a perilous one. I took it on nonetheless, motivated by what might be called a sense of duty. The work being put together would, I knew, be a good one, and I did not want to see the issue I had been asked to discuss— a delicate question if ever there was one— treated incompetently or left aside. Out of a concern for intellectual rigor, I limited the field of my research to countries that lay directly in my area of competence, countries whose language I knew— those of the Arab world from which I come. After my editors had approved this restriction, I began intensively researching and writing, and I eventually turned out the long chapter that closes the second and final volume of that work. Enzo was the first to suggest, insistently, that I work this chapter up into a book. At the time, I was not particularly inclined to plunge back into intensive research on the same topic. But I continued to give it thought, since the questions raised were being posed ever more sharply in the Middle East. For example, late in 2006 a Tehran conference called “Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision” promoted Holocaust denial, with the Ira ni an president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad contributing his own deliberately provocative statements. Urged on both by readers of the original chapter— including the publishers of the French, British, and American editions of the present book— and by my own desire to discuss the problem in a form more widely accessible than the voluminous compendium published solely in Italian, I undertook the project of transforming the chapter into a book. It was obvious that it was going to take enormous effort to depict the reception of the Holocaust in the Arab world, where the diversity of countries and conditions is multiplied many times over by the diversity of po liti cal tendencies and sensibilities, even as the inhabitants’ views of the Jewish tragedy are rendered infinitely more complex by their relationship to the Palestinian drama, the Nakba. The introduction to the book is accordingly devoted to this very complex relationship between the Holocaust and the Nakba. To make my task somewhat more manageable, I have focused on the countries most directly affected by the creation of the State of Israel, those of the Arab East. Maghreb countries— those of the Arab West, in North Africa— are treated only incidentally. This restriction notwithstanding, the slim volume that I initially envisioned has mushroomed into a thick book. The discussion of the Holocaust period— the 1930s and 1940s— takes up more than half of it. I have construed the Shoah (the “catastrophe”) broadly in the following pages, not restricting it to the post– January 1942 phase of systematic liquidation that the Nazis called the “Final Solution” but including the entire period of Jewish persecution— both in Germany and, later, in the lands conquered by the Nazis— that began with Hitler’s assumption of power in 1933. I have privileged these years over the following decades for several reasons. First, they are the main object of the historical controversy fought out in the battle of the narratives. (Wherever good secondary sources were not available, I have explored primary sources.) Second, it was between the end of the First World War and that of the Second that the main ideological currents of the Arab countries took shape; their diverse relations to the Holocaust provide an excellent index of their own nature. As a result, this book provides an ideological mapping of the Arab world— and, as I see it, as much of its interest lies therein as in the title subject. Finally, a detailed discussion of the attitudes toward the Holocaust that have taken shape in the six decades since the State of Israel came into being is impossible here, for the simple reason that it would fill several volumes. I certainly have not titled my book The Arabs and the Holocaustbecause I share the grotesque view that the Nazis had no closer collaborators in their persecution of the Jews than the Arabs. I do not even suggest that “the Arabs” participated in the crime, actively or passively, as many population groups across Europe did. Yet as a result of the Zionist enterprise and Jewish immigration to Palestine, the Arabs were deeply affected by the Holocaust, and my main ambition has been to render the complexity of their relation to it. To be sure, one finds many odious attitudes toward the Holocaust in the Arab world; but one also finds absurdly distorted interpretations of the Arab reception of the Holocaust in Israel and the West. My aim is to open up avenues of reflection that make it possible to go beyond the legion of caricatures, founded on mutual incomprehension and sustained by blind hatred, that plague discussion of the subject. Finally, though it would be impossible to provide an exhaustive account of Arab reactions to the Holocaust, I do believe that a more narrowly focused investigation of Palestinian perceptions of the Shoah is both possible and necessary. I would hope that a Palestinian scholar will soon produce, on this subject, the equivalent of what Tom Segev and Peter Novick have produced, respectively, on the Israelis’ and the Americans’ relationship to the Holocaust, with the same admirable concern for objectivity and the same critical distance from nationality and ethnicity that they demonstrate. And, in the interests of mutual comprehension, I would also hope that an Israeli scholar will soon produce an in- depth study of the history of the Israeli reception of the Nakba, the drama of the Palestinian people. LONDON, AUGUST 2009  A Note on the Transliteration of ArabicI have transliterated Arabic names and terms using a simplified version of the rules for romanization applied in the specialized literature, with the aim of making them more accessible to lay readers yet still recognizable to those who know the language. To the same end, names of wellknown individuals are transliterated in accordance with common practice. Finally, in the case of Arab authors who have published in a Eu ro pe an language, their own transliterations of their names have generally been respected. However, the romanization of Arabic names by

the various authors is respected in the citations, as is the rule.



Continues...

Excerpted from The Arabs and the Holocaust by Gilbert Achcar Copyright © 2011 by Gilbert Achcar. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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