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SPENGLER
When rabbis liked Hitler: A tale for the Mideast

Anti-Semitic propaganda redolent of the Nazi era has become ubiquitous in the Muslim world, complain a chorus of Jewish commentators. Egyptian television recently serialized a version of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious forgery alleging a Jewish world conspiracy. Syrian television shows caricatures of Orthodox Jews engaged in ritual murder, and Saudi clerics repeat the old canard that Jews bake their holiday pastries with the blood of gentile children.

Those interested in the sordid details may consult www.memri.org, which translates Arabic print and broadcast media. Other commentators, including Asia Times Online's Marc Erikson, emphasize the Nazi roots both of the Islamist organizations and the Ba'ath Party.

Nazi ideology may be gaining popularity in the Islamic world, but Jews nonetheless should show a bit more understanding. It was not so long ago that the orthodox rabbis of Berlin liked Adolf Hitler for precisely the same reason that many Muslims do today, namely as an antidote to moral decay in the modern world. No, this is not an out-take from The Producers. The story is told in Mark Shapiro's recent book, Between the Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy: The Life and Works of Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg.

Six months after Hitler seized power in 1933, several leading Berlin rabbis wrote to him pledging loyalty to Germany. The rabbis argued that they, the orthodox, shared the Nazis' moral values, as opposed to decadent Bolshevism and libertinism, as opposed to the left-wing Jews who made up much of the avant garde. The rabbis promised Hitler that they would do their best to persuade Jews around the world to end a boycott on German products. In retrospect that seems like a terrible mistake. Still, one would like to know whether these rabbis, given complete foresight, still would have preferred Hitler to, say, Barbra Streisand.

Nor was the rabbis' letter to Hitler entirely exceptional. A majority of Italy's Jews joined Benito Mussolini's Fascist party, which espoused an ideology similar to Hitler's, but without the Jew-hating. Faced with a catastrophic shift in values in the wake of World War I, many European Jews looked for a repressive government willing to impose traditional values.

Jewish readers no doubt will protest that I am making too much of an anomaly. Haven't Jews identified with liberal democracy since the time of Napoleon, provided innumerable leaders to Western democracies, starting with Benjamin Disraeli in Britain, and created true parliamentary democracy in the Mideast?

Did this writer not claim [Mahathir is right: the Jews do rule the world] that modern democracy stems from the Jewish notion of "divine humility", a concept alien to Islam? Didn't Franz Rosenzweig equate Allah, the beneficent and merciful, with a capricious Oriental tyrant?

Yes, and yes again, but that strengthens rather than weakens the point. If even a few prominent Jews supported Hitler for cultural reasons, a fortiori, we should expect Muslims to support Hitler for cultural reasons. It was one thing to support Hitler in 1933, and quite another after 1945, of course, when the full extent of the horrors he perpetrated were known to the whole world. The differences are obvious, not so the similarities between the Berlin rabbis of 1933 and today's Muslims. We will learn more by considering the similarities.

Most people assume that Nazi propaganda appeals to Muslims because Muslims are cross at Israel. There is much more to it, and that involves the sort of thing that attracted the orthodox rabbis of Berlin. Weimar decadence was an affront to the sensibilities of traditional Jews, and communism was an active threat. It was common for German Jews in 1933 to ignore what they thought was anti-Semitic steam-letting, and cheer on a bully boy who would put paid to the Bolsheviks.

Modern American culture offers a far graver threat to the Muslim world, bound up as it still is with the mores of traditional society, than ever did Weimar decade to traditional Jews. When President George W Bush hectors the Muslim world on behalf of the American ideal of freedom, traditional Muslims look askance at him. By Muslim standards, what sort of parent is he? Mothers in the Muslim world slit their daughters' throats for less than Bush's twin daughters Barbara and Jenna have done. For example, young Barbara Bush showers in the same-sex bathrooms at Yale with men in the next stall, the New York Post reported on November 3. In most Muslim countries she would be a candidate for an honor killing. If that is what the president means by freedom, most Muslims will have none of it. Move all the Jews in Israel to North Dakota, and disaffection in the Muslim world will remain.

Weimar Republic Berlin became the world's frontier town for sexual experimentation, to the evident disgust of the orthodox rabbis in 1933. But that has occurred in all democracies. Where in the modern world has democracy flourished without the sexual emancipation of women, the liberty to experiment with alternative lifestyles, to depict sexual intercourse in the plastic arts, and so forth? Permissiveness is in the nature of modern democracy. As the authors of the American constitution clearly understood, minorities have the power to forestall the intent of the majority for democracy to succeed. Otherwise a passing majority could crush minorities and intimidate opposition. To the chagrin of social conservatives, this principle applies not only to economic and regional minorities, but to sexual minorities as well.

Whether salvation is of the Jews, as St John wrote, I do not know, but democracy surely is, despite the orthodox rabbis of Berlin. Divine humility, the concern felt by the creator of all flesh for each one of his creations, is what allows the individual human being to become an entire universe. The pagan world, I observed in last week's essay, Oil on the flames of civilizational war erects a state and community into which the individual dissolves. That is its great virtue and its great attraction. One can be sure by yielding up one's individuality to the mass. The mass in turn imposes its code of behavior on individuals; every town, tribe and household conforms.

There never has been a state solution to the problem that used to be known as liberty vs license; it is not even clear how one would describe it today.

To be a little free is to be a little pregnant. Freedom to terminate pregnancy at will, to terminate adult life at will (right to suicide), and the elimination of all stigma attached to what once was called deviant sexual behavior may have catastrophic social consequences. Formerly Catholic countries, including Spain and Italy, as well as the French-speaking province of Quebec in Canada, experience birthrates which will halve their population each century. Not all of the Western world will survive its experiment with liberty, as freedom turns to anomie, self-disgust, and the dwindling of the will to survive.

Today's Europe embodies the program of the Enlightenment. National governments acknowledge the sway of a supranational body of wise men, governments meet basic human needs (except perhaps for elderly people during a heat wave), individuals are left to pursue happiness as they see fit. Yet by the most fundamental measure, Europeans are less happy than any people of whom we have detailed records in peacetime, for they do not care enough for themselves to reproduce. Tens of millions of Muslims live or have lived in Western Europe, sufficient for the Muslim world to take the measure of the West in its decline. In what way does Europe provide an example that the Muslim world should follow?

Americans are fond of saying that Islamic radicals "hate us for who we are", a phrase employed by commentators from Thomas Friedman to Victor Davis Hanson. An Internet search turns up hundreds of uses of that phrase. That is true, but just what "are we"? America represents to the world a divine right to do one's own thing, a proposition which does not enjoy universal support. It is interesting that Friedman, for years the best-known advocate of democratization of the Middle East, now defends the idea of an "Islamic Republic of Iraq". He is writhing on the hook of his own conundrum. No society on earth has found a middle ground. From the Muslim vantage point, the monolithic state may offer better chances for cultural survival. That may explain in part why highly educated and highly motivated soldiers continue to offer bitter resistance to the American occupation of Iraq.

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Dec 9, 2003





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