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If it looks like a duck … November 19, 2006

Posted by smiffy in Islam, Israel.
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Here’s an amusing piece from today’s Observer. Apparently Asghar Bukhari, from the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (a U.K. lobby group), had built up quite a sweet little relationship with noted Nazi apologist, proven liar and Holocaust denier, David Irving, even going so far as to donate a small sum to Irving’s legal fund.

Now the story is a little sketchy on exact details, but a few points are worth noting. Firstly, Bukhari offered his support wrapped up in a nice little philosophical cliché:

Bukhari contacted the discredited historian, sentenced this year to three years in an Austrian prison for Holocaust denial, after reading his website. He headed his mail to Irving with a quotation attributed to the philosopher John Locke: ‘All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good people to stand idle.’

Nothing too shocking about that. One could argue that Irving’s imprisonment (or, indeed, the criminalization of Holocaust denial in general) represents a fragrant breach of basic civil liberties, while at the same time finding Irving’s own view repulsive. Except … the paragraph above is rather misleading. One could be mistaken for thinking that Bukhari’s support was linked to Irving’s Austrian trial (although I don’t think this is deliberate – it’s just poor editing). However, later on in the piece we learn that ‘Bukhari confirmed sending the letters in 2000’, presumably around the time of the libel case against Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Irving lost in April of that year (a case he himself took, a point often overlooked by those misguided fools he see him as some kind of defender of freedom of speech).

Bukhari’s response to the Observer’s questions seems particularly self-serving and ignorant (at best):

‘I had a lot of sympathy for anyone who opposed Israel,’ Bukhari told The Observer said. ‘I wrote letters to anyone who was tough against the Israelis – David Irving, Paul Findley, the PLO.”I don’t feel I have done anything wrong, to be honest. At the time I was of the belief he [Irving] was anti-Zionist, being smeared for nothing more then being anti-Zionist.

‘The pro-Israeli lobby often accused people of anti-Semitism and smear tactics against groups and individuals is well known. I condemn anti-Semitism as strongly as I condemn Zionism (in my opinion they are both racist ideologies). I also believe that anyone who denies the Holocaust is wrong (I don’t think they should be put behind bars for it though).’

It’s hard to square his apparent belief that Holocaust denial is wrong, with his continued belief in the rightness of his action. He says that he thought Irving was being ‘smeared’ because he was an anti-Zionist, which suggests that he didn’t know the first thing about the libel trial or, indeed, about David Irving. If he now accepts that criticism of Irving was justified, and that Irving is far more than ‘just’ an anti-Zionist then surely he should accept that his earlier support was wrong. If, on the other hand, he believes he did nothing wrong, then does his view of Irving still hold?

His dragging-in of the ‘pro-Israeli’ lobby is a complete red herring, and is a little hard to take. We’re all familiar with the argument that critics of the State of Israel are often unjustly labeled ‘Anti-Semitic’ and it’s a charge that should always be challenged. Part of the reason such a strategy is so objectionable, however, is that it diminishes actual Anti-Semitism. If everyone is an Anti-Semite, then Anti-Semitism means nothing.

One possibility Bukhari has overlooked is that Irving might be labeled an Anti-Semite because he actually is one. His opposition to Israel stems from this, not from any great humanitarian concerns. It’s important to note that, while not all Anti-Zionists are Anti-Semitic, pretty much all Anti-Semites are Anti-Zionists (certainly in Europe). Not a particularly radical idea, but apparently too complicated for Bukhari and his colleagues in MPAC whose claim that the Observer story is ‘just another Islamaphobic attack aimed at undermining and harming the brave individuals who support the Palestinian cause and the cause of Muslims within Britain’ is so hysterical, it’s almost cute.

What Bukhari and MPAC should try and grasp is that sometimes, just sometimes, is someone expresses Anti-Semitic sentiments and is accused of being Anti-Semitic then there might be another explanation besides the sinister Jewish conspiracy to crush all Anti-Zionist resistance.

Just maybe …

Comments»

1. JC Skinner - November 20, 2006

I’m unsure of your point here. Are you asserting that Irving is an anti-Semite? That’s hardly a new charge, I’d have thought. Or are you expressing shock that a Palestinian activist would find common cause?
It would seem to me that, not only is it perfectly possible to be anti-Zionist without being anti-Semitic (my own position), it is also actually possible to be Zionist and anti-Semitic (the Israeli government position re the Semites of Palestine) and even a Holocaust denier and a Zionist (again, the Israeli government position re the Holocaust of the Armenians.)
I think Bukhari’s reference to the ‘pro-Israeli’ lobby does have relevance, since it draws into the debate some of the many elements that are often overlooked, such as the Israeli tendency to smear opponents as racist when they themselves are conducting the greatest anti-Semitic crime current today, and indeed the hypocrisy of those who would seek to lock someone up for denying one Holocaust while simultaneously endorsing a regime built on the genocide of another people which happily denies the Holocaust of a third people.

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2. Lorenzo - November 20, 2006

I know it is a standard Dinner Party Interesting Fact (“Well actually, Palestinians can’t be anti-Semitic because they are themselves Semitic”) but could we not just acept that the general usage of ‘anti-Semitic’ means hostility towards Jews? ‘Anti-Semite’ is such a powerful term because of all the historical connotations it invokes – and those connotations all relate to the persecution of the Jews. To use it in its absolute, literal meaning is to dilute its power – I suspect with some, that is why it is used like that.

Furthermore there does not appear to be a great deal of usage of the literal meaning of the word – i.e. to be hostile to and prejudiced against the Semitic races (both arabs and jews). If we accept the general usage, then the combination of being both Zionist and anti-Semite becomes impossible.

In my view, Mr Bukhari, by supporting Irving for his ‘opposition to Israel’ by denying the Holocaust, has left himself open to justifiable claims of being anti-Semitic and not just anti-Zionist. The problem with following the “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” approach is that you can end up being friendly to some very unseemly types.

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3. WorldbyStorm - November 20, 2006

Yep, that seems to be a sensible approach regarding the term ‘anti-semitism’.

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4. smiffy - November 20, 2006

JCSkinner, I didn’t think my point was all that obscure. At the risk of oversimplification, all I’m saying is that if Bukhari can’t see anything wrong in supporting David Irving, he’s (at best) a moron.

Just because someone (like Irving) might be Anti-Zionist doesn’t mean that claims of their Anti-Semitism should be dismissed as pro-Israel propaganda (see the final paragraph of the piece).

Hardly that unclear.

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5. slumbery - November 21, 2006

The terms ‘anti-semite’ and ‘holocaust’ have, regrettably, been so twisted and abused over the decades that they’re almost impossible to use in any meaningful way. Well done though for including a post which is not usually on the traditional agenda of a left spectrum blog; it smacks of fair-mindedness and credibility.

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6. Ex Maven - November 21, 2006

Sadly this is not new. Bhukari has continually put antisemitic images on his web site. Last year he was showing a picture of a Jew with horns coming out of his head draped around an American flag. It looked like the picture had come straight out of some neo-nazi rag.. Funnily enough it had done., MPAC UK did not even save the picture on its own site..it had just copied the picture from a neo nazi site and a view source exploitedMPAC for what they were.

He makes excuses for everything – He didn’t know the antisemitic overtones in “pound of flesh” – he didnt know David Irving was an antisemite, he hadnt noticed it was a neonazi site because he is not well funded like the “Zionist lobby” to be able to have staff to pick these things ip..

The list goes on.. Bhukari is a joke and so his organisation..I just hope that the BBC recognise this..

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7. JC Skinner - November 21, 2006

I suppose, Smiffy, I’m not entirely sure that that was what he was doing. I think it’s evident that Bukhari does acknowledge his support for Irving was wrong, in any case, he has certainly sought to contextualise it and distance himself from it.
And as I said myself, there’s nowt wrong in pointing out that the pro-Israeli agenda exists. To turn around your own point, just because some people are anti-Semites doesn’t mean that Israel is not seeking to depict many others who are not with the same brush.
ON which ground, I bitterly reject the concept of defining the term anti-semitism to mean hatred of the Jewish people. They are not the only Semitic people, and whitewashing the treatment of the Palestinian Semites by Israel is exactly the intention of this mauling of meaning. The next step, one I’ve seen all over the media and internet in recent years, is the further redefining of the word to mean opposed to Israeli interests.
For me, the line in the sand is the true meaning of the word. Anti-Semitism is hatred of Semitic people and their culture. Hence Israel is the greatest Anti-Semitic entity on Earth.

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8. Pidge - November 21, 2006

No, JC. Generally, it’s best not to judge words or common phrases on their origins.

We wouldn’t – to choose what is perhaps a poor example – say that “begging the question” means that someone is kneeling in front of you, hands cupped, desperately begging you to ask them a question.

Similarly, “anti-semitism” has taken on a new meaning in a modern context – a context specifically relating to Jews. I imagine that most people would think of Jews when they hear the term.

And while I hate to see debates descend into dictionary-checking, Chambers, the OED, and three dictionaries on Dictionary.com specify Jews.

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9. smiffy - November 21, 2006

A couple of points, JCSkinner. On the point you made about Israel depicting people as Anti-Semites, I completely agree and made that point in the post. However, I don’t think it’s a particularly sensible argument for Bukhari to make in relation to David Irving, given that it doesn’t apply in Irving’s case.

On a more substantial point, you say that ” I think it’s evident that Bukhari does acknowledge his support for Irving was wrong”. I disagree. If you look at the article (and I quoted this piece) he says: “I don’t feel I have done anything wrong, to be honest.” That’s pretty unambiguous.

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10. JC Skinner - November 22, 2006

Pidge, you fail to acknowledge that this usage of anti-semitism as applying solely to Jews is a political appropriation of the term, designed to eradicate acknowledgement of the crimes committed on the Semitic people of Palestine, to deny their existence, their right to their land, lives and freedom.
It’s a landgrab, in other words. It reminds me of those who would argue that only the Jews ever suffered a Holocaust. People who would stand at Yod Vashem with their heads bowed every year while denying that the Armenian peoples were genocidally wiped out by their allies in Turkey.
Smiffy, there’s a very interesting piece on Lenin’s Tomb in relation to the misinformation surrounding media coverage of this story. Perhaps you’d give me your opinion on that?

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11. JC Skinner - November 22, 2006

And just to help you, here’s the linky:
http://leninology.blogspot.com/2006/11/lay-off-mpac.html

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12. smiffy - November 23, 2006

JCSkinner, thanks for the link. I’ve read the piece and, like so much else on Lenin’s Tomb I think it’s long, but wrong.

Firstly, it argues that the Observer article doesn’t make it clear that the support was in 2000. I addressed that above, and the article explicitly states that it was in 2000 (I do wish people would read my post more carefully before commenting).

I also think he’s wrong in stating that the Observer piece ‘is a straightforward smear’. I can find nothing in it that’s actually untrue or even distorting.

I don’t think I need to comment on Lenin’s Tomb’s comments about Harry’s Place or Oliver Kamm, other than to say I don’t support the position of either of the latter blogs in the first place.

I do, however, think that Lenin’s Tomb is far too keen on ignoring what I feel is a crucial part of the Observer piece, which is the fact that Bukhari feels he did nothing wrong in supporting Irving. If, as Lenin’s Tomb states, Irving is ‘man who fabricates history in the service of fascism’,surely pledging support to him and sending him money is, by any standards, ‘wrong’.

No?

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13. JC Skinner - November 23, 2006

Yes and no, I’d have thought. I was one of those in Trinity who invited Irving to speak to the university back in my youth, leading to a mass riot in Front Square by the Socialist Workers. My position then and now was in defence of free speech. Insofar as I was one of those who endorsed paying Irving’s expenses to come to Dublin, perhaps I also could be construed as funding him, though it didn’t come out of my pocket and it was well before 2000.
It was believed, prior to 2000, in many quarters that Irving was misguided, probably a bigot, but primarily a historian. In that context we invited him and in that context it could be argued that Bukhari supported him. Hence it wasn’t as clear cut as you would have it, since neither Trinity’s Philosophical Society nor Bukhari were aware of Irving’s conscious fabrication of history when both offered him money in their separate ways and times.
I think Lenin’s core point is that what Bukhari did is being used as a method to undermine MPAC, and there are certainly very powerful agendas keen to do MPAC down. In that regard, I find myself and Lenin in agreement.
Again, I find the relativistic responses in some quarters quite shocking. Those who would jail Irving for fabricating history in the service of fascism have no problem in supporting the state of Israel in their Naqba-denial or indeed their denial of the Armenian Holocaust.
I appreciate the religious reasoning in Judaism which permits Jews to believe that they are a people apart, chosen by God. But in what holy book is everyone else required to subscribe to the ideology that only Jews can suffer a Holocaust, or that the Israeli State cannot be culpable of fabricating history in the service of their own fascism?

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14. Lorenzo - November 23, 2006

JC, ‘you fail to acknowledge that this usage of anti-semitism as applying solely to Jews is a political appropriation of the term’.

You have it entirely the wrong way round. Since the late 19th century and Marr and the Antisemiten-Liga, the term has referred to hatred of Jews. This has been its generally accepted usage and has been before and after the foundation of Israel. It is only comparatively recently that some people have argued it should refer to Arabs as well. It is this group who wish to ‘politically appropriate’ the term, justifying this on its etymology.

Put it another way, ‘holocaust’ comes from the Greek for “completely burnt”. Should the genocide of the Armenians not be described as ‘a holocaust’ because they were shot or starved to death and not burnt?

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15. JC Skinner - November 23, 2006

I don’t have it the wrong way around. Etymology means the origin of words. Origins, de facto, precede later developments. Ergo…
Seems to me you’ve assumed all the typical Zionist positions, Lorenzo. Naqba-denial, denial of the Armenian holocaust. You’ll be pumping bullets into Palestinian kids next, if you’re not careful.

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16. Lorenzo - November 23, 2006

JC: To get something entirely the wrong way round once is unfortunate, to do so twice smacks of carelessness.

You argue that etymology trumps common usage when it comes to the meaning of a term. I don’t agree. I pointed out that if etymology determines meaning then the etymology of holocaust (‘burnt’) implies what happened to the Armenians was not a holocaust but just a common or garden genocide. By your own logic you are saying it wasn’t a holocaust, which you obviously don’t agree with.

Someone with such a good grasp of Latin such as yourself should recognise a reductio ad absurdum argument when you see one.

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17. JC Skinner - November 23, 2006

Erm, as you pointed out yourself, holocaust is of Greek origin. What I argued was that attempts to define anti-semitism as only applying to Jews is a political move aimed at minimising and ultimately denying the systematic and appalling series of crimes committed on the people of Palestine, who are Semitic and indigenous to the region.
There is a further landgrab attempt to redefine the term further, to make all statements in criticism of the entity of Israel be seen as ‘anti-semitic.’ Neither of these definitions are legitimate, as they act to eradicate discussion of the fascism conducted by the Israeli state on the people they have supplanted.
Incidentally, numbers of Armenians WERE burnt, and plenty of Jews during the second world war who died at the hands of the Nazis were not. What proportion of burnt bodies would you like to set the bar at for a genocide to be titled a holocaust?

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18. Lorenzo - November 24, 2006

The ‘Latin’ reference was to reductio ad absurdum.

This feels a bit like the Japanese arcade game where you have to hit hamsters on the head, but the more you hit down, the more pop up.
It’s kind of fun for a while but it soon gets pretty tedious. You are either being wilfully obtuse or genuinely are not able to follow the argument I am making. Either way there isn’t a whole lot of point in continuing.

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19. JC Skinner - November 24, 2006

That’s an easy way to back out of an argument you were losing, Lorenzo.

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20. Lorenzo - November 24, 2006

My but you are the gracious one. As to whether I was losing the argument or not, I’ll leave that for others to decide.

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21. tosser - November 25, 2006

JC Skinner:

You are doomed to continue.

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22. The Useful Idiot - November 25, 2006

The word Antisemitism ONLY applies to the Jewish Race, having been coined in Germany at the turn of the previous century.

The term “Ant-Arab” would be used to disparage Semites from an Arab lineage.

There is one “The Holocaust”. It is also a Genocide. There was an Armenian Genocide.

Bukhari’s latest article is a classical example of someone trying to defend their behaviour and actually making it worse for themself. I am pleased he has dug such a pit for himself. I’ll bet he goes quiet for a time.

http://theymadeitup.squarespace.com/the-latest-news-and-discussion/2006/11/24/asghar-bukhari-talks-about-anti-semitism-its-abuse-bwaahhh.html

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23. JC Skinner - November 30, 2006

Idiot is the right moniker, for sure. Judaism is first and foremost a religion, not a race. Otherwise, prejudice against the Slavs and Ethiopians who do the shooting and cleaning in Israel would not be Jews.
So what you call anti-semitism is actually anti-Judaism. Anti-semitism by definition refers to Semites, who are predominantly Arab.
Also, who are you to claim that there is only one Holocaust? Try telling that to the Armenians.
The constant attempt of Zionists to recreate themselves as a people superior and apart from others, to elevate their suffering above all other suffering and to seek to whitewash their own crimes, such as the Naqba, may or may not be justified by the Torah, but to see it manifest in Western liberal thought outside of Judaism is tragic, hypocritical and self-defeating.

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24. JC Skinner - November 30, 2006

Edit to clarify a sentence that got garbled:
Otherwise, since the Slavs and Ethiopians who do the shooting and cleaning in Israel are not Semitic, any prejudice applied to them as Jews could not be termed anti-semitism.

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