Shiraz Dossa. Third World Quarterly. Volume 33, Issue 9. October 2012.
It is passing strange that the existence of Auschwitz has not lessened racism. In fact quite the reverse: it has unleashed surplus racism on the ‘Third world’ and its ‘natives’. As I contend here, this is the Auschwitz finale, its abject truth, the dialectical residue of the Holocaust. Jacob Neusner calls it the Holocaust ‘myth’ and ‘mythic theology’. It now constitutes the ruling narrative in the West. This article dissects the Auschwitz discourse and its denial of other holocausts. It critiques the claim that it was the only ‘real’ genocide. It advances a contrary thesis on colonialism, racism and holocausts in history. I clarify the affinity between colonialism and fascism and Israeli tactics in Occupied Palestine. It is undeniable that Auschwitz fuels anti-Arab anti-Semitism and anti-Islamism. In my conclusion I analyse Jewish criticism of the Auschwitz finale.
Kant’s ‘terrible sublime’ resolves the figure of Auschwitz. It exudes the terror invested in it by the West. It conveys the transcendence of that atrocity. As Kant writes ‘the sublime must always be large’. Its status as the exemplary evil is unassailable in Western culture. Indeed, probing Auschwitz and Jewish suffering is considered illicit. Yet the intellectual responsibility for such inquiry is clear. It is crucial for precision in truth and to preclude further violence. For Auschwitz has yielded its own sublime racism. Its Western logic depicts the Third World’ as the ‘terrorist’ zone and the Arab/Muslim as the enemy. The role of Israeli and Diaspora Jewry in this fashioning is unrivalled. It is truly ironic that Auschwitz’s finale is new colonial holocausts as in Iraq, and the denial of old ones. Thus the ‘late Victorian Holocausts’ which occurred during British rule in Asia in the19th century and claimed well over 30 million lives are not recognised. The massive human losses are justified as causalities of the ‘civilising mission’.
Analogously King Leopold’s mass murder of over 20 million blacks in the Congo in the space of 20 years from 1890 to 1911, is deemed a lesser massacre. The journalist Adam Hochschild won’t even call it a ‘genocide’. Yet as Robert Weisbrod states ‘It was indeed a holocaust before Hitler’s Holocaust’, which Pope Pius X ‘endorsed’ to facilitate the Church’s mission to acquire converts. Weisbrod’s honesty is unusual. Pope John Paul II lamented the ‘tragedy of the Holocaust’ and the Inquisition, but he said nothing about the ‘Congolese genocide’. As Novick notes, the ‘gold medal in the Victimization Olympics’ is held by Jews. They are ‘intent on permanent possession’ and wary of the ‘theft of Jewish moral capital’ by non-Jews. Elie Wiesel has often accused them of ‘stealing the Holocaust from us’.
Sublimity is denied automatically to colonial infernos; also excluded are the Slavic and Roma/Sinti victims of Auschwitz and the Nazis. It is in this sense that Judaic studies scholar Jacob Neusner calls the Holocaust a ‘myth’. He asserts that the genocide of Jews has been turned into ‘mythic theology’. And American Jews in particular live ‘lives … separated from reality by a veil’. In Guy Debord’s idiom the Holocaust is cast as a ‘spectacle’ which ‘discourses endlessly upon itself’ in a ‘monologue of self-praise’ and which brooks no ‘interruption’ and no comparisons. Not only has the ‘myth’ of Auschwitz displaced Auschwitz’s actuality, it has legitimised the Jew/Arab-Muslim binary and Jewish racism against Arabs. Few Jews and Christians question this quintessentially European construct (in this case of white Jews). To cleave Auschwitz’s sublimity from its reality is thus crucial.
In this article I question the ruling Western reading of Auschwitz, that it was exclusively Jewish and wholly unique, and that it is the only ‘real’ genocide. I begin with literary theorist George Steiner’s thesis on the Nazi genocide. His is a self-assured version of this Euro-Jewish narrative. He offers an imperious Jewish thesis but he occasionally worries about it. I discuss the views of its leading proponents and critics and I offer a counter-thesis on holocausts in history. I stipulate the links between racism, colonialism and fascism and their echoes in the Israeli Occupation. I criticise the use of the Holocaust narrative to dispossess Palestinians and to fuel anti-Islamism. I conclude by considering Jewish disaffection with the Auschwitz ‘sublime’ and its legacy.
Arendt’s contention in Eichmann in Jeusalem, that far fewer Jews would have been killed if ‘Jewish leaders’ had not ‘cooperated’ with the Nazis, struck a raw nerve. It led to vicious attacks on her character, her alleged self-hatred and anti-Semitic turn of mind. Arendt never said or implied that Jews had caused or invited the Holocaust, but she condemned the Judenrat‘s commitment to save ‘better’ Jews. The irony was that ‘lesser’ Jews were considered disposable by the Nazis and by ‘respectable Jewish society’ because ‘German Jewry from the very beginning’ had accepted the Nazis’ ‘privileged categories’. This led Jewish leaders not to object to the killing of ‘little Hans Cohn from around the corner’ because he was no ‘Einstein’. Arendt discerned the same attitude in Ben-Gurion’s assertion ‘that for us a decent German … is a decent human being’ and that Israel did not ‘hold Adenauer responsible for Hitler’. As she wryly noted, ‘There was no mention of decent Arabs’.
It was clear to Arendt that Israel was crafting a new ‘regime of truth’. Foucault called it a ‘”general politics” of truth … types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true … which enable one to distinguish true and false statements … the means by which each is sanctioned’, and who can say ‘what counts as true’. This rhetoric has become a real presence in the West. It has metastasised into a global truth and it controls much of the narrative on Muslims. Western foreign policy is substantially based on this ‘truth’. Muslims/Arabs are compelled to accept it. The disdain for Palestinians flows from it as well. Any opposition to it is labelled anti-Semitic (as in hating Jews); resistance in Occupied Palestine is quelled by F16s and military invasions. The West sells this as stability and peace. To reject it is to rebuff human rights, freedom and democracy.
The corollary of this logic is the sibling regime of anti-Semitism. Hating Arabs is normal and calling Palestinians the new Nazis obligatory. Loving Israel is a sign of tolerance, opposing its policies is ‘terrorism’. So is being Muslim, since Islam is deemed violent by nature. Critics of the Jewish/Israel lobby are branded ‘hateful’. Arendt understood that the Zionist settlers in Palestine had pioneered this logic: ‘they did not even to stop to think of the very existence of Arabs’, an attitude she condemned as ‘plain racist chauvinism’. Such arrogance would only make them unsafe and insecure. Arendt’s fear has been realised—although she was not above this sort of prejudice. She called Africans ‘savages’ continually. Since 1945 the ‘never again’ chant has become canonical. Yet the West did not oppose genocide in places like the Congo and Rwanda.
The Judeocide has not appreciably enhanced the Judeo-Christian conscience. Rwanda’s killing season in 1994 was played out in public, in the presence of UN troops, leaving more than a million dead. Neither the UN Security Council, nor the USA or the European Union sanctioned intervention to stop this announced, advertised genocide, despite pleas by the UN force commander on the ground, Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire. It was ‘a slaughter on a scale not seen since the Nazi extermination programme against the Jews … the killing was vicious, relentless and incredibly brutal … the killing rate in Rwanda was five times that achieved by the Nazis‘. The UN Special Envoy for hiv/aids in Africa, Stephen Lewis, concurred: ‘what we were witnessing in Rwanda was unprecedented in the annals of human behaviour since the Holocaust in Nazi Germany and Europe’, and the overriding factor in ‘the international community’s’ unwillingness to help Rwandans was its ‘extraordinary racism’.
According to Dallaire the ‘self-interested racism’ of the West allowed the genocide to occur. He noted that ‘while Bosnia got thousands of troops and billions of dollars … not one of the developed countries sent me troops within eight to nine days to stop the continuing slaughter of Rwandans’. In the Bosnian case the West intervened militarily in 1995 well after over 8000 Muslims were murdered, countless Muslim women raped, libraries and homes deliberated destroyed. UN/Western interest in saving Bosnian lives took time to develop: their plight became unacceptable four years after the Serbian bombing and ethnic cleansing initiated in 1991/1992. Bosnian Muslims did well by comparison with black Africans in the crosshairs. It is crucial to grasp that Rwandan killers drew on the colonial archive of the West to unleash their genocide; they found their racist logic and modus operandi in Western methods of conquest. The Nazis also drew on this archive.
Simone Weil had it right: ‘Hitlerism consists in the application to the European continent, and the white race generally, of colonial methods of conquest and domination’. Hitler invoked the liberal Jeffersonian solution to America’s native Indian ‘problem’ to tackle his Slavic, Gypsy and Jewish ‘problem’. He was consciously mimicking the ‘American Holocaust’. Like the West generally, he saw ‘New World’ natives as a ‘surplus people’. The British were not opposed to the ‘final solution’ as ‘long as’ the Nazis did the work. Liberals and Nazis shared in the ethos of white supremacy. The killing of the Indians was ‘as ultimately beneficial as it was inevitable’ for Roosevelt. Hitler knew that ‘the settlement of the North American continent was a … consequence not of any higher claim in a democratic … sense but rather of a consciousness of what is right which had its sole roots in the conviction of the superiority and thus right of the white race’. Similarly Israeli Ashkenazis (white Jews) proclaim their superiority to Palestinians and other ‘natives’ in the Middle East as a matter of course.
In brief, basic Western ideas and values abetted the massacre of ‘inferior’ groups, ‘native’ or ‘Third world’. Mass murder was acceptable in their case. The problem for the West is not genocide but the mass murder of cultured ‘civilised’ humans. Killing the ‘uncivilised’, ‘uncultured’ blacks/browns has not been much of an issue. This is my crucial claim. It should not surprise us: genocide’s efficacy, its ability to elicit intervention, has depended very much on the calibre of its victims and on Western interests. It took the West a long time to respond to the Nazi assault on Europe’s Jews. And it was the Jews, not the equally victimised Gypsies, who finally elicited the West’s moral concern. Even now the Gypsies (Roma and Sinti) and the handicapped murdered and gassed by the Nazis are not counted as victims of the Holocaust by most scholars of the Nazi genocide. But they should be; they were killed intentionally.
As Friedlander says:
my research convinced me that this definition of the Nazi genocide … had to be revised because Jews were not the only biologically selected target. Alongside Jews, the Nazis murdered the European Gypsies. Defined as a ‘dark-skinned’ racial group, Gypsy men, women, and children could not escape their fate as victims of the Nazi genocide. Biology also determined the fate of the handicapped … Nazis killed handicapped infants in hospital as well as elderly men and women in nursing homes. I realized that the Nazi regime systematically killed only three groups of human beings: the handicapped, Jews and Gypsies.
After the Holocaust Jews rose in the liberal West’s esteem, but not the Roma and the Sinti. In post-Nazi Europe they are still persecuted because so-called liberals judge human worth racially. As a rule, white Jews (Ashkenazis) accept this view.
Redcliffe Nathan Salaman, a British Jew and Zionist, a specialist in biology and eugenics based at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was much taken by the fairness of Euro-Jews. So much so that in 1911 in a Journal of Genetics essay, he declared that the Jews from Yemen ‘are not Jews. They are black … Arab half-castes … The true Jew is the European Ashkenazi and I support him against all others’. Such views were common in the European converts to Judaism and their descendants. The Salamans are the majority in the Diaspora and the ruling class in Israel. In 1930 the Odessa born Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Zionist settler- pioneer in Palestine, rejected the idea that Jews should speak Hebrew as it was spoken by Biblical Jews. He opted for the Western accent because the Biblical one would be ‘an Arabic accent’. And that was unacceptable: ‘We are European and our musical taste is European, the taste of Rubinstein, Mendelssohn and Bizet’. His intent is clear even if his logic is not.
The ‘uniqueness’ of the Holocaust flows from Ashkenazi pride in their racial superiority. Its corollary is not denied but defended: non-Jews count for very little, which can be traced back to the Old Testament thesis on the acceptability of the Canaanite genocide because Yahweh willed it. Israel’s killing of Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims since its founding has been similarly justified. Suffice it to mention the 1200 civilians killed in Lebanon in July 2006 and the 1400 civilians (including 400 children) killed in Gaza in January 2009. It is evident that the chosen Jew-unchosen non-Jew divide has been globalised. It is even accepted by many ‘Third world’elites, including Saudi, Jordanian and UAE Arab leaders who endorse the US-Israeli agenda without demurral. Its legitimacy, its ‘truth’ has long been settled. The dissenters among Jews are aberrations.
George Steiner blames Christianity for the Holocaust. This view suffuses his literary criticism and his reflections as a Euro-Jew. His prose is haunting, thick with philosophical allusions, frequently brilliant. His forte is high- pitched reflection and assertion. As he sees it, high culture seems less and less plausible in an age besieged by the pressure of biological instincts and sexual urges. Intellectual things are decried because their relevance is far from self-evident. Still Steiner exults high culture even though the Judeocide was authorised by ‘civilised’ nations: ‘When barbarism came to twentieth century Europe, the arts faculties in more than one university offered very little moral resistance … In a disturbing number of cases the literary imagination gave servile or ecstatic welcome to political bestiality’. In high culture’s own commandments there is a taboo against such intimacy. Steiner is intent on ‘making sense’. Its horror can’t be accounted for by antecedent social/political factors. Nor can it be dismissed as madness.
For Steiner the final authority for Hitler lies in the realm of the sacred. Nazi inhumanity can be traced to the beginning of Western culture nearly 2000 years ago. High barbarism is only chronologically a modern phenomenon: its roots lie in the discovery and the subsequent career of the idea of one God. Invented by the Jews, recast into a more palatable, plural form in Pauline Christianity, the ideals of monotheism, ‘of ascetic love, of compassion, of self-suppression’ ruptured the consciousness of Occidental man. The unnatural commands of the Western God have, since then, continued to torment his sleep. For centuries the discontent, provoked by monotheism, remained muted because Western man, despite severe misgivings, never ceased ‘to fully acknowledge its supreme value’.
That is, until the turbulent, promising, exciting 19th century, the century of progress, of new vistas, of sensual comfort, freedom and above all, unfettered optimism. But below this public face surged a sense of rage and despair. In Steiner’s allusive rendering, this undercurrent, ‘registered, with unequalled precision, in the novels and private life of Flaubert’, less poignantly in Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche and later Freud, and announced itself as a radical rebellion against the new ‘world of middle-class fact … middle-class rule … (the) suet of a bourgeois life-form’. Flat, sterile, soulless—the new world enraged the literati and induced them to revolt. In their alienation Steiner detects an ‘itch for chaos’, ‘for revolutionary action’. It was their longing for the authentically human that spawned destructive impulses in the foes of liberal modernity and which paved the way for high barbarism in the next century.
As he sees it, disenchantment with modernism turned into a revolt against monotheism. The numbing banality of life in the 19th century exacerbated Western man’s [sic] resentment of monotheism and its impossible, inflexible, unattainable ideals. And now he was more troubled, since the only alternative to the secular, debased world he inhabited, was the monotheistic ideal of ‘self-suppression’. The ‘Jewish’ nightmare had returned to haunt his consciousness in an age of liberal optimism and freedom. Romanticism, with its conviction—widely shared by the literati— that God had disappeared,was Europe’s answer to this predicament. Nietzsche’s declaration that ‘God is dead’ summed up what cultured men in the 19th century already knew in their bones. This nihilistic revolt was underwritten by the cultured and the educated.
‘By killing the Jews’, Steiner says, the West sought to ‘eradicate those who had “invented” God … the Holocaust is a reflex … of natural sensory consciousness, of instinctual polytheistic and animist needs’. Instinctive violence lay just beneath the ‘civilised’ veneer. The Holocaust was an archaic Christian irruption. Steiner insists that the West is deeply Christian. He takes Western culture, in essence, to be Christianity writ large. He can thus accuse ‘Western culture’ of ‘killing Jews’ to avenge the curse of the absolute God. Steiner’s claim lacks cogency. If the culture is Christian, how does that make the Holocaust inevitable? Isn’t religious anti-Semitism a contest over doctrine by rival claimants to the throne? Steiner claims that the Christian West has been aching to rid itself of the incubus of monotheism by killing its ‘inventors’. Why, then, did Byzantine Christians not liquidate Jews when they were at the zenith of their power?
It is true that modern anti-Semitism springs ‘from Christian theological anti-Judaism’, yet the Christian Church or rulers never contemplated genocide. For all its willingness to persecute Jews, Christianity ‘did not decree [their] extermination’, even though it distrusted the people who rejected its truth. As Yerushalmi puts it, ‘The problem is not why the Jews were derogated but rather why they were not wiped out?’ when intolerance of rival faiths was the norm. If Jews were the problem, why did the Nazis also murder millions of non-Jews as well? Why were the Slavs and Roma killed when they did not invent the One God? Steiner’s reasoning seems illogical, outlandish.
It is irrefutable that the Holocaust ‘resonate[d] with the religio-mythic traditions of biblical religion’. And that the Christian Church has political interests. Like the Nazis, Christians wanted to rule the world. In the creation of Europe ‘all those who rejected baptism, apart from the Jews, were either expelled or exterminated’. As spiritual precursors, only Jews were exempted. But the Nazis had none of the qualms that held Christians back. In fact the Holocaust was Hitler’s ‘holy war’ by methods Christians rejected. The irony is that that Christianity protected Jews. The Nazis took the ‘deliberate genocide’ of American Indians as their ‘model’ for the Jews and other ‘Indians’ on the ‘European continent’. It was the colonising ‘civilised’ Anglo-West that inspired Hitler.
Steiner avers that “We are not—this is often misunderstood—considering something truly analogous to other cases of massacre, to the murder of Gypsies or, earlier, of the Armenians. There are parallels in technique and in the idiom of hatred. But not ontologically, not at the level of philosophic intent‘. His logic is not compelling. The ‘philosophic intent’ was not clear or explicit in Nazi discourse until early 1941 when the Nazis began murdering Slavs, Gypsies and Jews en masse. The Nazis planned to kill all ‘non-Aryans’, all ‘racial inferiors’; ‘eliminating the gypsy plague’ was a primary interest. The first victims were the handicapped Germans, they were gassed in 1938. With this move Hitler launched the ‘racial re-structuring’ of Europe, and the liquidation of all humans seen as defective by the Nazis. The Holocaust was never just about the Jews. Slavs were judged worthless as well: ‘3.3 million Soviet prisoners of war … out of a total of 5.7 million Soviet soldiers’ captured “by the German Army [by] February 1945′ died from ‘exploitation … starvation and endemic diseases’ in Auschwitz and other camps.
The Nazis murdered ‘five million Jews’ in all; like the Soviet prisoners, 2.4 million of them died in Nazi camps of ‘natural’ causes, ‘disease, exploitation, malnutrition and the like’. The other Jews were gassed and shot like many of the Gypsies. As many Gypsies were killed, proportionately, as Jews in Nazi camps and in similar ways. Yet Yehuda Bauer, Steven Katz and others, exclude Gypsies and other Nazi victims from the Holocaust: they claim that the Nazis really wanted to kill only the Jews. This is the fallback position of the ‘holocaust is Jewish’ academics, which casually dismisses the other 15 million or so annihilated by the Nazis as extraneous collateral damage.
Katz captures the ruling Ashkenazi view. He asserts that the Nazis were committed to killing all Jews: ‘every man, woman and child’. He sees the Nazi genocide as unique and exclusively Jewish; he adds that the Nazi attack on the Jews was ‘the only true genocide in history’. Katz’s claims are baseless, unsupported. There is no extant evidence that the Nazis wanted to kill ‘all Jews everywhere’, or that they sought to ‘kill every Jew on earth’. From 1933, on the contrary, the Nazis were making exceptions for various categories of Jews. Until 1940-41 Hitler favoured mass emigration of Jews to Madasgascar in particular. Jews exempted from deportation and death comprised ‘the Mischlinge and the Jews in mixed marriages; the Theresienstadt Jews, including the old people, badly disabled and highly decorated war veterans and prominent persons’.
The majority of Gypsies killed were of ‘mixed blood’ (they were not spared). In addition, as Hilberg notes, ‘The Jews were not killed before the emigration policy was exhausted’. Hitler knew that ‘the entire democratic world dissolves in tears of pity but then … closes its heart to the poor, tortured Jewish people’. The West did accept rich German Jews. In 1938 SS Chief Ribbentrop told the French Foreign Minister that ‘we all wanted to get rid of our Jews but … no country wanted to receive them’. Goebbels stated that ‘At bottom … I believe both the English and the Americans are happy that we are exterminating the Jewish riffraff ‘. The Nazis effectively exposed liberal Western hypocrisy. The other West was not less lethal or less racist. It killed ‘inferior’, non-Christian ‘natives’ in the ‘New World’/’Third world’ with facility.
As Lemkin, who coined the term, recognised, ‘genocide did not begin with the Nazis’. Its modern roots lay in ‘the atrocities committed by European colonialists and settlers’ in the global South. Euro-Jews, however, insist that the genocide of Jews is unique because only Jews were singled out because they were Jews. In brief, anti-Semitism caused the genocide. This conviction is unfounded. Anti-Semitism was not rife, insidious or deep enough to let the Nazis exploit it. It was ‘virulent only in certain sectors’ and it was unserviceable as ‘an overall integrating ideology’ for authorising the Judeocide. Secular/theological anti-Semitism was just one factor that facilitated the Nazi genocide. If anti-Semitism had been the exclusive justification for the Holocaust, Slavs and other Christians and Gypsies would not have been killed. For this reason, Hilberg and Arendt rejected this explanation.
Saliently ‘first generation’ Jewish scholars grasped that Jews were not the exclusive victims of the Holocaust: Philip Friedman, Raphael Lemkin and Miriam Novitch included ‘the murder of Gypsies in their definition of the “final solution”‘. Yet Jewish scholars like Yehuda Bauer, Steven Katz, Deborah Lipstadt and Elie Wiesel consciously exclude non-Jews from the Holocaust and even deride their losses. Not surprisingly a few Jewish critics have slammed this fixation on the Jewish dead as ‘sordid’, ‘fatuous’ and ‘intellectually vulgar’. Phillip Lopate recalls that the ‘Holocaust’ entered Jewish conversation as ‘part of a polemic … the Holocaustians used it like a club to smash back their opponents’. It was invented by Eli Wiesel who heads ‘the Holocaust corporation … who defends his patents with articles … in the Sunday New York Times’.
Why then is Steiner a ‘Holocaustian’? After all, he is a fêted critic. Yet he is less astute than he should be. His take on certain issues is dubious. He sees the Judeocide as unique because of the ‘intent’ driving it, and he connects it to that unbearable ‘Jewish invention’—conscience. Thus the killing of the Jews is the worst of all evils. But the context is crucial. The Judeocide ‘must be seen against the horizon of the unprecedented magnitude of violence’ in the past century, which killed over 100 million, including the victims of ‘the American nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WW II’. Can any evil be considered truly unique in this light? As Arendt noted, ‘massacres of whole peoples are not unprecedented. They were the order of the day in antiquity.’
Culture and Mass Murder
Still, the Nazi killing of Jews had a certain edge to it. Far too often they had been derided and abused in their European birthplaces. A terrible obsession with Jews has marked Western Christian culture. On the matter of the Jew in the mind of the West, Steiner is on the mark. As an instance of evil, the Holocaust was extraordinary but was it incomparably unique? Steiner sees its Jewish victims as special; he elevates them, denying equality to non-Jewish victims. He says as much and more on behalf of his thesis on high culture. In 1966 he called all massacres ‘realities of profound evil’, declining to see the genocide of Jews as ‘singular’. But by 1971 he had labelled the Holocaust ‘ontologically’ unique. He knew then that Western colonialism specialised in the ‘subjugation of other races and continents’. In 1998 he emphasised the Holocaust’s uniqueness, adding that he did ‘not know’ if ‘the Rwanda genocide is analogous’.
Yet Raul Hilberg, the leading scholar of the ‘destruction of the European Jews’, called the Rwandan carnage a ‘pure genocide’ just like the Judeocide. Steiner’s Jewish exceptionalism is encased in his theory of culture. High culture civilises, preserves, humanises, it does not kill and it does not murder. These are the basic tenets of the faith of culture that Steiner knows by heart. These are the unwritten canons of high culture. Yet this culture willed the destruction of Euro-Jews. It was murder by culture of its own cultural children, of Jewish lives seething with the culture and the spirit of Western Europe. For Steiner this constitutes high treason. Literary figures Stefan Zweig and Thomas Mann felt the same. This culture produced the killers; it killed fellow Europeans. For them the Holocaust’s uniqueness resides in this central fact.
Steiner is enraged by the collusion of high culture in the killing of the cultured. He is unsettled by the mass murder of cultured fellow Jews. He disdains its compact with the ‘inhuman’. ‘From the time of Plato to that of Matthew Arnold’ has it not been the enabling conviction of the West ‘that culture is a humanizing force, that the energies of spirit are transferable to those of conduct?’. Investment in culture, in reading, writing, has presupposed that it improves the mind, refines the sensibility and civilises intercourse between men [sic]. Like Steiner, many Euro-Jews acquiesced in this high culture theory. Its sensibility of nobility was crafted by them.
What the West calls ‘Central European humanism’, which dissolved under Hitler, was substantially created by Jews. The Nazi camps swept up millions of them. By turning on Jews, this culture turned on itself and on the ideals of culture. Steiner concludes that evil is unique when cultured Europeans kill cultured fellow Europeans, when it violates Euroopean minds and bodies on European soil. But the mass murder of ‘natives’ by white colonisers is a lesser evil, if one at all. Steiner extols the ‘elements of creative exchange and beneficial import in colonialism‘, without offering an explanation. He pours scorn on ‘Western gurus’, the white sympathisers, ‘who profess to be brothers under the skin with the roused, vengeful soul of Asia or Africa‘.
Steiner’s attitude is stunning. The West, he says, just can’t grasp ‘the rules of consciousness of a coloured or “third world” culture‘. He accepts Euro-Jewish settler canards about violent and cunning Palestinian ‘natives’ displaced by these settlers. He reiterates the lies that Euro-Jews turned ‘desert into orchard’, that Israel had no choice but to ‘make itself a closed fist … to survive the wolf pack at its doors’. Steiner’s chauvinism is jarring. As early as 1891 and 1905, and in the 1920s and 1930s, immigrant Jews in Palestine had repudiated such fictions. He says that the ‘inhuman’ warrants censure because it rose from within, and from the core of European civilization’. Colonial evils, he asserts, are not ‘truly analogous’ to the Holocaust. The conceit in this stance is misplaced.
Colonial holocausts were sanctioned by the same ‘core of European civilization’ that sponsored Nazi barbarism. In fact, colonial killings served as precedents, as rehearsals, for the Nazi genocide. Steiner fails to see this. He rejects ‘native’ mass murders as true genocides. This is Auschwitz’s racist dividend: it consists in the denial of older holocausts and of the holocausts to come of non-Jews. In liberal/Jewish discourse this is a non-subject. For instance, in the Americas the population of 80 million had been reduced to 10 million by ‘the middle of the sixteenth century’ by the Spanish colonisers. In the same period (1500 to 1600), the Mexican population had been cut from 25 million to 1 million: ‘If the word genocide has ever been applied to a situation with some accuracy, this is here the case’.
Colonial evils were not lesser evils. The Holocaust, as Stannard observes, was an “abominably unique event”, but it pales by comparison with the “total extermination” and “near-extermination” of the “many American Indian peoples”, roughly 100 million dead by 1890 when the US Indian Wars officially ended. He emphasises that 95% of the indigenous Indian population was wiped out both by disease and by ‘a deliberate racist purge … the most massive act of genocide in the history of the world’. Africans captured and shipped to America as slaves endured spectacular losses, between 40-60 million souls’. Killing by gas was one novel method used by the Nazis, who gassed the Roma and Sinti, Jews and handicapped Germans with equal fervour. Yet of the ‘five million’ (Hilberg) Jews killed by the Nazis, half the Jews died of starvation, disease, brutal abuse and exploitation.
In its 1997 report on Israeli torture of Arab detainees (approved by the Israeli state and its courts), the London Sunday Times underlined Israel’s colonial/racist attitudes: Israelis tortured to ‘control’ the ‘natives’ even utilising ‘gas’ to do so. US journalist Nicholas Von Hoffman noted ‘the grotesque irony of using gas as an instrument of torture’ by the Jewish state. In December 2008 Israel launched a full-scale assault on Gaza for 23 days, leaving many civilians, including over 300 children, dead. The UN fact- finding mission on the Gaza conflict concluded that Israel violated ‘international law, international human rights law and humanitarian law’ systematically. Led by a South African Jew, Justice Richard Goldstone, the mission stated that the ‘Gaza Strip had been under a severe regime of closures and restrictions on movement of people, goods and services … [ including] food and medical supplies … and fuel, electricity, school items, and repair and construction material’ for three years before the invasion.
It added that the Gazans were ‘psychologically suffering from long-standing poverty, insecurity and violence … the dignity of the people of Gaza had been severely eroded’. Justice Goldstone was, nevertheless, notably solicitous of Israeli interests. He assumed that the Gaza strip (under Israeli siege) and the Israeli state were equal combatants. Gaza has no army or air force because Israel won’t allow it. Lynda Burstein Brayer, a South African Jew and Israeli-trained lawyer, reports that Israel killed ‘1417 Palestinians and 9 Israeli soldiers were killed by Israeli fire. Palestinian rockets killed one Israeli soldier and 3 Israeli civilians’. It was disingenuous of Justice Goldstone to say that Israel was guilty of ‘potential’ ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘war crimes’.
Furthermore, Justice Goldstone did not address the Palestinian right to fight Israel’s illegal occupation and colonisation of Palestine. Nor did he consider the history of Israel’s invasions in the past. In Lebanon (1982), Israel killed over 20 000 civilians and left it devastated. In July 2006 Israel annihilated over 1200 hundred Lebanese civilians and destroyed Lebanon’s modern infrastructure. It did so each time with the support of the ‘civilised’ West. The UN mission, nevertheless, conceded that in Gaza in 2009 the Israeli operation was ‘premised on a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed not at the enemy but at the “supporting infrastructure”. In practice, this appears to have meant the civilian population‘. The mission witnessed ‘obscenities … and racist slogans on the walls … all constituted an overall image of humiliation and dehumanization of the Palestinian population’. The Nazi camps have been closed for 65 years and the Occupation of Palestine has gone on since 1967. Yet Israel and Jews still enjoy total immunity in the West, which provides carte blanche moral and political support. Canada excelled in such collusion in 2012.
Racism and Holocausts
Liberals like JS Mill had little sympathy for ‘natives’. Circa 1859 he dubbed Africans and Asians ‘backward’ and unfit for self-rule. Killing and bombing them was as uncontroversial then as it is now. Absolute rule over ‘natives’ was justified by the ‘civilising mission’ in their interest. Under Nazism this constituted ‘totalitarian’ rule (Arendt). It has been open season on ‘natives’ for 200 years. In the 19th century ‘native’ genocides in places like the USA and the Congo were far from unusual. The Jewish experience differed from the ‘native’ one. Notably Jews were not classified as ‘natives’ but they were persecuted. Crucially, however, anti-Semitism co-existed with robust philo-Semitism. Balfour’s, Churchill’s and Truman’s philo-Semitism literally created Israel. It was aided, substantially, by Europe’s anti-Arab anti-Semitism. The same Christian habit sustains Israel today.
The Zionists knew this well and exploited it. In a letter to Balfour in 1918, Weizmann warned him about the Arab: he is ‘treacherous’ by nature, and ‘he screams as often as he can and blackmails as often as he can’. He added that he knew that ‘the British Authorities’ understood this. Weizmann emphasised both the Judeo-Christian affiliation and the common European view of Arabs and Muslims. Weizmann ‘founded’ both Israel and the future negative discourse on the Arab. Pace Weizmann, Jews were once labelled ‘treacherous’ and now ‘blackmail’ the West to secure financial and military support for Israel. The corporate Western media see nothing wrong with this. Indeed, they cover Muslims/Arabs typically through a Jewish filter. In May 2002 former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak told his fellow Israeli Jew Benny Morris that Arabs ‘are products of a culture in which to tell a lie … creates no dissonance … They don’t suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judaeo-Christian culture‘. Morris’s essay was published in the leading US intellectual journal the New York Review of Books without comment.
Lying—in other words—is the norm in Islam. The point is that the white Christians take white Jews seriously; they are racially similar and they share the same cultural milieu. Indeed, the West has granted the latter the power to denigrate Muslims and Arabs. Should we then be surprised by Weizmann’s and Barak’s anti-Arab anti-Semitism? Hardly. Cesaire’s criticism is germane in this context. He noted that the West was shocked by Nazism because Hitler ‘applied to Europe colonialist procedures … .reserved exclusively for the Arabs of Algeria, the coolies of India, and the blacks of Africa’. ‘Pacifying’ Europeans with colonial methods was unacceptable. Yet white men ‘were its accomplices … they absolved it … they legitimised it’ when it massacred ‘non-European peoples’. What the West objected to was not ‘the crime against man’, not ‘the humiliation of man as such’, but ‘the crime against the white man’ and ‘the humiliation of the white man’.
‘Concentration camps’ were not a Nazi invention; the British installed them during the Boer War. The West killed countless ‘natives’ with the support of Christians opposed to ‘native’ ‘polytheists, unbelievers, pagans’. It was their faith which led Christian invaders to kill natives in good conscience. In Western culture the will to kill has been sustained, historically, by faith in monotheism. Indeed, Christians blessed the dispossession of ‘natives’ in the name of their Lord. The Nazi Holocaust was not Christian revenge on the Jews. Steiner and others ignore the real cause: racism. For centuries the West has considered Slavs, Gypsies, Jews and ‘natives’ to be inferior. Not only is racism ‘endemic in Western civilization’, Nazi racism was based on ideas ‘largely’ borrowed from European, in particular French, ideas.
Even ‘liberal equality’ is fully consistent with racism. It has never been a barrier to conquest and subjugation of the ‘natives’. It has been justified on liberal grounds as ‘humanitarian intervention’ or ‘saving’ their women. The notion that liberals are not racists is an illusion. It is fully ‘inscribed’ in liberal practices: ‘(forms of violence, contempt, intolerance, humiliation and exploitation)’. It covers the gamut from ‘internal … to external racism’, from a ‘racism of oppression’ to a ‘racism of extermination or elimination’. It thrives in what Balibar calls the Western ‘racist community’ (‘community of racists’). Liberal anti-racism is self-serving, rhetorical and weak. Yet Steiner defends Western culture as non- racist—although he concedes that it is anti-Semitic (ie anti-Jewish). He is dejected about ‘our ubiquitous anthropology, relativistic, non-evaluative in its study of differing races and cultures’; less and less does the West distinguish ‘higher from lower, greater from lesser: civilization from retarded primitivism’.
In Weimar Germany the word Jew became ‘a metaphor for Modernity’. Jews were co-producers of modern Western culture. When disillusion set in, they were blamed for it. And the masses were easily roused by ambitious politicians to vent their frustrations on the Jews and the barren world ‘they’ had created. Liberalism, modernism (as attitude) and modernisation were closely associated with Jews. As Arendt said, Jews were ‘co-responsible’ for the world they had co-authored. As modernism’s co-creators, they bore the brunt of the rage of the disaffected. Clearly Jews were not ‘guilty’ but they were ‘co-responsible’ because they were ‘involved in the business of [that] world’. Their strength was cultural and economic, politically they were powerless. They had not sought, or cultivated political power.
Christian anxieties had little to do with inciting the Nazi genocide. As Yerushalmi writes, ‘there must be some significance in the fact that the Holocaust took place in our secular century, and not in the Middle Ages’. Steiner’s thesis on Christian anti-Semitism is baseless. Arendt knew that the Nazis were as anti-Christian as they were anti-Jewish. The Western problem was and is insidious racism. Conrad summed up its rapacity well: ‘They grabbed what they could … It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a large scale … The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.’ Drinnon unravels US racism succinctly: ‘In its more inclusive form, Western racism is another name for native-hating—In North America of ‘niggers’, ‘chinks’, ‘dagoes’, etc … in Indo-China “of gooks”‘.
This love of native-hating is akin to past Jew-hating. It is now on display in the attacks on Muslim ‘natives’ (Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis, Libyans, Palestinians, etc), demonstrating the Western zeal for conquest. Unlike Muslim, Jews (Jewish elites) co-run the Empire today. It should be recalled that the Nazis reclassified Jews as ‘Asiatics’ and ‘Orientals’, in a word, as ‘natives’, before killing them. Foucault saw that colonial logic was central to this project: ‘racism … develops with colonization … with colonizing genocide’. Racism validates war and mass murder. It ‘justifies’ the ‘need’ to ‘kill populations and to kill civilizations’. Liberals were as guilty as fascists. The Stalinists ‘simply extended … mechanisms that already existed in the … West.’ The ‘liberal heritage’ proved congenial to them.
It is principally Jews who now assail Muslims, scorn Islam and call Arabs sub-human. Suffice it to mention the prolific screeds of Daniel Pipes, Marty Peretz, Richard Perle, David Frum, Leon Wieseltier, Alan Dershowitz and Charles Krauthammer, among others. State University of New York research scholar Jerome Slater calls them ‘enabler[s] of Israeli policies’ and of the skewed US foreign policy on Palestine. He condemns the ‘discountable rants of our Abraham Foxmans, Alan Dershowitzes, and Martin Peretzes’. In Israel’s defence, even Michael Walzer vilifies Muslims and Arabs routinely. He not only agrees with Martin Peretz and Alan Dershowitz, he calls them ‘my friends’ and criticises Slater for underling the ‘political power of American Jews’ in crafting US pro-Israel policy. It is worrying when a liberal political theorist like Walzer allies himself with Peretz and Dershowitz. Walzer is cannier but he is equally a traducer of Arabs and Islam. What bonds them is their uncritical Zionism and love of Israel.
It is no secret that US Jews like Bernard Lewis, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Elie Weisel and William Kristol successfully pushed for war against Iraq twice (1991 and 2003). And this was justified, among other reasons, to prevent another Auschwitz. The same crew today calls for war against Muslim Iran. It is no accident that they are militantly pro-Israel. Hating Islam, and anti-Islamism have become a Jewish speciality (even though some Jews condemn this). It comes as no surprise that the self-described ‘Jewish state’ occupies Palestinian land, terrorises its inhabitants, builds illegal settlements, and violates international law. It is the proudly ‘Jewish state’ which slays Arabs in Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank at will. It is Western Jews who invoke the Old Testament and Western civilisation to defend invasion and occupation.
Yet Jews routinely, 67 years after the Holocaust, still claim to be victims. In 2008 Israeli Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai warned that ‘The more Qassam (rocket) fire intensifies … they (the Palestinians) will bring upon themselves a bigger holocaust‘. Hamas fired rockets to end the ‘Israeli blockade’ and siege of Gaza. Vilnai’s threat wasn’t just crass rhetoric. Israel invaded Gaza nine months later. The Israeli poet Yitzhak Laor decries this kind of ‘Jewish pride’ that leads to ‘abetting racism’. He recalls how in Italy in 2003 Berlusconi was forced to apologise to the Italian Jewish community for declaring that Mussolini killed no Jews. But he did not apologise for the 1935 Italian invasion of Ethiopia and the ‘use of gas to massacre huge numbers of Ethiopians’. The Italian Jews did not demand an apology for the slaughter of Ethiopians: ‘they were interested only in the Jews who were murdered’. Laor adds that ‘the Holocaust has become a part of Europe’s new religion. Under its aegis one has the right to hate foreigners and migrants. The greatest Islamophobes are also friends of Israel.’
Avraham Burg is equally concerned about Jewish attitudes. He discerns excessive self-love and indifference to non-Jews in his fellow Israeli Jews. An activist and critic, he rejects the view that Jews are still victims. In his book, The Holocaust is Over, he writes that ‘Anti-Semitism seems ridiculous, even innocuous, when compared with the strength of the Jewish people today’. The Ashkenazi Holocaust obsession is debilitating. It is alien to the current Israeli-Jewish reality: ‘There are no more real Nazis. Our people should return to be part of the family of nations’. Unlike the crafters of the ‘Auschwitz sublime’, Burg knows that the Holocaust was ‘the climax of a process of racial superiority theories of the white races and their contact with “inferior races”‘. He hopes for a new Jewish sensibility and a new Jewish ‘world in which the holocausts which were not ours will become ours … we have to look ourselves in the eye, to face and sever the new roots of Jewish racism that are rising in our midst and consuming us from within’.
Recognising the holocausts of others will not diminish theirs. On the contrary, it will elevate the stature of Jews and respect for Judaism. It will serve as well to restore Jews to the human family and the annals of human suffering. Laor and Burg can see that but they are an anomaly among Ashkenazis and Jews generally. It is crucial for Jews and non-Jews to rethink Auschwitz and the Holocaust, to rethink Auschwitz’s finale, its racism and its licensing of current and future holocausts. Rethinking Auschwitz has to start by disabling the tribal reading of Auschwitz. This construal is committed to violence and war; it is hostile to humanity and justice; it revels in clannish exclusivism. It calls tacitly for the continuation of Nazism in new guises. Racism is intrinsic to this archaic reading. It comes as no surprise that Auschwitz serves to justify new bloodbaths. It sanctions as well the North’s racism in the South. The antinomy and irony is rich here.
In Auschwitz the Jews invented a strange analytic. The worst-off, close to death Jews were labelled Muselmänner (Muslims) by fellow Jews. Primo Levi called them ‘the drowned’, an ‘anonymous mass’. The Muslim surrendered, he caved in to terror. Muselmänner signalled contempt. Muslim Jews were un-Jewish, cowards. Camp Jews, oddly, knew no Muslims. Yet they used Muslim as an insult. The Muslim was the South. Northern Jews founded Israel. But it was in the South. Since then, loathing the South has been the norm. It ensures disdain for Muslims/Arabs and for Others. In May 2012 Tel Aviv Jews attacked African asylum seekers. In April Ilan Tison, an Israeli lawyer, called ‘the presence of Africans a mortal threat to the lives of every single Jewish man, woman and child’. It was unclear how or why. The Israeli interior Minister Eli Yishai warned that ‘the country belongs to us, to the white man’, that Israel is a ‘white man’s country’. 1500 black asylum seekers were detained in Saharonim prison. Yishai told the UK Guardian: ‘I want to be able to walk the streets without fear or trepidation … The migrants are giving birth to hundreds of thousands, and the Zionist dream is dying’.
As usual the North is silent. But not all of Europe has hushed up. Philosopher Alain Badiou and his colleague Cecile Winter have harshly criticised the Israeli Occupation and Jewish behaviour. Both despise racism, especially Jewish racism. Badiou bluntly states that ‘no greater threat weighs upon the name of Jews than the politics of conquest, of physical liquidation of Palestinians, of massacring Arab schoolchildren, of dynamiting houses, and of torture, currently pursued by the state of Israel’. Little about Israel is Jewish: ‘the country’ is in the ‘process of de-Judaization, an anti-Semitic country’. Surprisingly ‘the principal threat to the name of Jews comes from a state calling itself Jewish’. As a Jew, Badiou is incensed by Israeli politics and its colonial treatment of Palestinians: ‘that way of thinking is wrong … it is foreign to everything that has been brought forth in our history under the name of Jews’.
What really worries Badiou is the Israeli ‘project of a genocide of Palestinians’. He sees ‘the will to disperse them at all costs, to drive then further and further away, to wipe them out on every occasion, to shoot at their children’. Cecile Winter is incisive: ‘Who are the masters?’ Israeli terror is no coincidence. It is the West and ‘Western discourse’ that fuels it: ‘the Whites … the rich, the democrats or Westerners, the developed, the well-armed wing of Humanity, servicers of goods who know Good and Evil’. The West is still the master and it has licensed and unleashed the ‘New Aryans’—the Jews. It is rare to encounter such honest criticism of Israeli/Northern racism. The horror of Auschwitz has not silenced Badiou and Winter. Still, we all need to be liberated from Auschwitz.