Anti-semitism doing well in NK, Middle East

In a global perspective, so many are focused on madmen outside the proverbial madmen of the Middle East.

However, one should not dismiss a significant difference and a significant similarity between North Korean madmen and middle eastern madmen. Religious fervor is what I mean as the difference. Surely, victims of mad violence who shed their blood, suffer their agony, and lose all that they once cherished including their lives, do not care much about the reasons motivating their tormentors.

The virulent anti-Semitism plaguing the Middle East continues to be, albeit not all that publicly well- known, a most insurmountable hurdle to any peace between Arabs and Jews. While it (virulent anti-Semitism) is not an across-the-board character in all Arabs, it is certainly not rare, and the “examples” to prove it are both plentiful and unequivocal.

I am ashamed by it, although I have never felt even a hint of it in my personal growing up milieu before leaving Egypt almost 50 years ago. There are two reasons for that. First, is the nature of my family of origin and how they interpreted their faith and adhered to its loving, kind, and generous core.

The other is what I need to address more comprehensively here. By that I mean the exponential rise of hatred towards Jews which extends beyond any borders a peace treaty may establish. It, simply, needs to stop.

I have not visited Egypt for almost five years, which is dramatically different from the days I used to visit twice a year. Observing the slow rise in fundamentalism beginning way back with the religious revolution in Iran was impossible to miss, and so was the “nature” of Friday sermons bellowing out of loud speakers and never missing a few phrases about a judgment day coming after Muslims kill all Jews. The mysterious irony was that nothing in Islam supports such a notion except, perhaps, a Hadith or two about which there are vigorous disagreements regarding their authenticity.

The post 1967 war between Egypt and Israel could have been the foundation for rising propaganda of Jew hatred on government-controlled media, but even after signing a peace treaty, anti-Israeli/anti-Semitism continued.

I must have challenged Egyptians hundreds of times to explain the logic behind having a peace treaty with a neighbor while keeping a war-like propaganda. My argument was never religiously based. Not only because I do not believe it, but more so, because it had a most damaging effect on the minds of a youth who was to carry the mantle of bringing Egypt, and the rest of the Arab world forward.

I always wondered why and how any Arab leader, or person for that matter, would ignore the facts displayed with abundant clarity in the United Nation Arab Human Development Report of 2002.

How can any leader, irrespective of how despotic he is, not be moved, let alone shaken, by the ever growing gap between the life (with all of its aspects) of Arabs juxtaposed to the enormous universal progress of humanity, and how much of that progress is actually a product of Jewish scientists, authors, artists, film makers, brilliant comedians, peace activists, tolerant religious scholars, etc, etc, etc.

The report was prepared by a team of Arab scholars, and as such, was a look in the mirror. It was aimed at stimulating discussion and debate by policy-makers, practitioners and the general public on how to best tackle the most pressing challenges to improving human development across the region, with great emphasis on the horrible condition of Arab women.

The report actually listed some very encouraging signs for potential progress. One such progress which stood with vivid clarity is the fact that women’s literacy has basically tripled in the previous 20 years, and yet more than half Egyptian women continue to be shackled with illiteracy today.

I used that report at a presentation in Cairo to a relatively large audience of well-educated Egyptian professionals in 2003 (just weeks before we dove into the Iraqi quagmire) to illustrate my point. Namely, why continue living a war-like culture against neighbors with whom you not only have a peace treaty, but especially when their technological prowess is actually contributing handsomely to your own economy? What shocked me were the responses which were loaded with old and stale anti-Semitic rhetoric.

My fear is also the common element between the madmen of North Korea and those of the Arab world, notwithstanding a profound difference. A government-controlled propaganda machine aimed at nurturing hatred.

Editor’s note: Mohey Mowafy of Marquette is a retired college educator.