The Blog

Fascism, Islamism, and Anti-Semitism

The president of the Islamic Republic is guided in word and deed by the most vicious of ideologies.

11:00 PM, Jan 2, 2006 • By JOSEPH LOCONTE
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The strident anti-Israel tone of European politicians and journalists, for example, surely helps explain the appalling opinion polls showing massive distrust of Jewish political loyalties. Most Europeans now believe that Israel--a democracy--is a greater threat to world peace than North Korea or Iran. There have been similar rumblings in the United States. On the eve of the Iraq war, Democratic Congressman James Moran claimed that "if it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this." The claim went largely unchallenged by liberal political leaders. Anti-war protests have been similarly debased by racist shibboleths. A recent anti-war rally in Washington, D.C., for example, featured British MP George Galloway, who has described Israel as "this little Hitler state on the Mediterranean."

Many religious leaders seem prone to either silence or confusion about the depth of the problem. Pope John Paul II did much to improve Catholic-Jewish relations during his pontificate, and a senior Vatican cardinal was quick to condemn the Iranian president for his statements. But the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops still has not addressed the anti-Semitism of militant Islam. Neither has the National Council of Churches, which claims to represent 45 million believers in 100,000 congregations nationwide. NCC General Secretary Bob Edgar has denounced the Iranian leader for his "incomprehensible hatred." Yet his organization works closely with left-wing groups such as MoveOn.org, which are reliably anti-Israel. In numerous NCC statements about the "root causes" of Islamic terror--assumed to be economic and political--nowhere does the organization confront the racist illusions of the terrorists.

Some liberal Protestant churches appear to be aping the politics of the Arab League. Last year the Presbyterian Church (USA) began calling for divestment from firms doing business with Israel, while two regional conventions of the United Methodist Church endorsed a similar divestment campaign in June. Neither church, however, makes similar demands on companies investing in the world's notorious dictatorships. According to a 2004 study by the Institute on Religion and Democracy, liberal churches direct most of their human rights complaints against Israel and the United States. Of the 197 human rights criticisms issued by mainline Protestant groups over a three-year period, 37 percent targeted Israel--but not a whisper against the Palestinian Authority or some of the most despotic regimes on the planet.

Even when not brazenly xenophobic, the style of much of the Western criticism of Israel suggests that Jews have themselves to blame for anti-Semitism. This posture makes it easier for political and religious leaders to dismiss the Iranian dictator's tirade as an irrelevant eccentricity. Yet there's a grave problem with winking at the racist theology of radical Islam. For one thing, obsessive criticism of Israel from the West surely makes the vitriol of the Iranian president more credible in the Middle East; it plays into all the old stereotypes of Jews as subversives and conspirators. More importantly, it deflects attention from the most fearsome threat to democratic states--the rise of Islamic fascism and its glorification of murder and martyrdom.

Western statesmen made similar mistakes in the face of European fascism, with disastrous results. Beginning as early as 1933, the year Hitler came to power, American Jewish thinker and activist Stephen Wise tried in vain to alert U.S. leaders to the larger implications of Nazi hatreds, what he called "the Nazi revolt against civilization." Democratic leaders failed to understand--just as many do today--that the Jewish people embody the political and religious ideals of Western culture, and that it was precisely these ideals that had come under attack. "Men heeded not that the Jews were assailed as a symbol of that civilization," Wise wrote, "the values of which Nazism was resolved to destroy." By viewing Hitler's political aims in isolation from his racist ideology, Wise argued, the democracies had persuaded themselves he could be appeased.

Religious leaders helped pave the way. When in 1938 Hitler staged Kristallnacht, the beginning of his violent national campaign against the Jews, it sparked protests in New York and elsewhere. Yet the Catholic magazine America, which carefully followed Vatican policy, worried that the demonstrations were a ploy to stir up war fever. The editors argued strongly against U.S. intervention: "It is possible for a Fascist state to sign a Concordat," they claimed, "and even to be faithful to it." Albert Palmer, president of Chicago Theological Seminary, dismissed mounting reports of Nazi brutalities as "a haze of Allied propaganda." He suggested instead a massive economic assistance program for Europe. On January 30, 1939, when Hitler delivered his ominous Reichstag address--in which he warned of "the destruction of the Jewish race in Europe"--the religious press ignored it. The liberal Christian Century magazine even admitted there was "plenty of extermination" of Jews occurring in Europe, but doubted that any good purpose was served by publicizing speculative numbers; better to focus on diplomatic solutions to Nazism. Wise, who had been watching closely the developments in Hitler's Germany, was appalled. "With singular unintelligence, the world for the most part refused to heed the warning of his theories and his conduct alike, until he embarked upon a career of incredibly brutal conquest," Wise wrote shortly after the fall of France. "No day has seemed darker, no portent blacker than that of this hour."

We haven't yet reached a similarly black hour in the standoff with Iran. But that hour appears to be approaching. The dictator in Tehran shows no sign of backing down, either in his designs against Israel or his lust for deadly weapons. His paranoia seems complete. Indeed, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has emerged as a blistering rebuke to President Bush's cultured despisers. He reminds us that Bush has been right all along--right about the brooding racism of this threat, its genocidal ambitions, its corrupted spirituality. Yes, this is evil. "We're not facing a set of grievances that can be soothed and addressed," Bush told an audience in October. "No act of ours invited the rage of killers--and no concession, bribe, or act of appeasement would change or limit their plans for murder." Before the next round of negotiations begins, we should consider again the plans, theories, and conduct of this latest strain of the fascist disease.

Joseph Loconte is a research fellow in religion at the Heritage Foundation and a commentator for National Public Radio. His most recent book is The End of Illusions: Religious Leaders Confront Hitler's Gathering Storm(Rowman & Littlefield).