The less well Muslims and Jews actually know each other, the more hatred grows

August 7, 2014


In the small town of San Dona di Piave near Venice last Friday, an imam, Raoudi Albdelbar, asked Allah to, “Kill them all (the Jews), down to the last one; make poison of their food; transform the air that they breath into flames, and put terror in their hearts.” The imam was so proud of his sermon that he made a video of it and posted it on his Facebook page — from where it went viral. Earlier this week, Italian antiterrorist police showed up and arrested the imam on charges of inciting violence, and began the process of expelling him to his native Morocco.

There’s a doleful, five-century-old parallel to the iman’s prayer. In his “Trials of the Diaspora,” Antony Julius, a polymath British lawyer, has taken Shylock’s trial in the Merchant of Venice as the ur-trial of diaspora Jews, seeing in it a subtle re-imagining of the old blood libel. In Shylock’s pitiless pursuit of a pound of flesh cut from the merchant Antonio’s body, Julius detects another instance of Jews seeking Christian blood.

Shakespeare gave Shylock a speech that seemed to challenge the dehumanization at the heart of anti-Semitism – “Hath not a Jew eyes. … If you prick us, do we not bleed?” — even as the play drove inexorably to the ghastly humiliation of the Jew. But Shakespeare did not know any Jews; they had been expelled from England in 1290 after centuries of oppression and were not readmitted till the 1650s. Shylock was a composite, born of the normal anti-Semitism of a Christian Englishman but softened by the sympathetic insight of one who recognised common humanity even as he assumed uncommon Jewish malignancy.

For the imam of San Dona di Piave, there is no such generosity. For him, the trial of the Jews should conclude with a mass death sentence — found, as a race, collectively guilty of creating a bloodbath in Gaza, where the victims this time were not Christians but Muslims.

Some among his audience, when later interviewed by a Corriere della Sera reporter, sought to excuse the imam’s remarks. “I understood [his sermon] this way,” said a man named Ali. “There was a massacre of children in Gaza and he prayed to Allah to punish those who did the killing. It’s normal, it seems to me.”

There’s another tragedy here beside the obvious one in Gaza. What Ali sees as “normal” is, in fact, normal for many Muslims, just as anti-Semitism was for many Christians in the 16th century. What he said was in his heart, and he felt he should broadcast it. Because Ali probably doesn’t know any Jews to wish them personally dead, it was an easy matter for him to condemn all Jews to death, divorced as he is from any inconvenient images of real people.

Divorced, too, from any wider context. In Iraq, well-trained and well-armed fighters for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria are wholly ruthless in the business of slaughtering their Muslim foes. Their religious fervor countenances no apostasy; it’s either be converted to their beliefs or be killed. They are sweeping through Sunni areas and most recently have advanced into Kurdish areas in the northeast of Iraq, leaving in their wake piles of headless bodies and desecrated religious shrines. The Sunni militants now threaten death to thousands of members of the Yazidi sect, a religious minority whose faith mixes Islam and ancient Persian Zoroastrianism.

The fighting in Iraq is but one theater in the bloodiest struggle in the world, that between Islam’s two major sects, the Sunnis and Shi’ites, a horror that firebrands like the Imam Raoudi ignore. The enemy is, and must ever be, the eternal Jew. Most — not all and not everywhere — of the malign energy in Christian anti-Semitism is now spent. The Catholic Church, for a long time at best ambiguous toward Jews, has under the leadership of Pope Francis become more proactively friendly to them, while many Pentecostal churches in the United States and elsewhere are outright philo-Semitic. But Muslim Arabs’ detestation of Israel’s existence easily spreads to include all Jews — and as easily displaces any attention paid to the cancer in the midst of Islam.

Andre Aciman, the scholar and novelist who teaches comparative literature at the City University of New York, was a child when his Jewish family was expelled from Egypt in 1965, after Gamel Abdul Nasser came to power. Returning in 1995 to Alexandria, where he grew up, he found the city much the same, but its people had changed. “They were no longer cosmopolitan; people would come up to me and ask, ‘Are you a spy?’ perhaps thinking I was a Jew. Then in a taxi, I began to speak in Arabic. ‘Why did you leave?’ asked the driver. ‘Because I’m a Jew, they were hunting me.’ But he had no memory of that: the memory of Jews in Egypt had been rubbed out.”

The memory of Jews has been rubbed out all over the Arab world. “Death to the Jews!” the proud call of the imam in San Dona di Piave, is now heard on the streets of European cities. It is a call most easily pronounced by those who know nothing of those they wish to see dead.

PHOTO: Pro-Palestinian protesters shout slogans and hold signs during a demonstration against Israel’s military action in the Gaza Strip, in Lisbon August 1, 2014. REUTERS/Hugo Correia


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Ignorance seems to be one of the main ingredients for hatred.

Posted by sego | Report as abusive

It’s also the main ingredient of religion.

Posted by JRTerrance | Report as abusive

Excellent piece, however, demagogues always like to frame their quarry in abstract, stereotypical terms: Jews are greedy; blacks are dumb, etc., otherwise, their spell is broken because people will naturally apply their own experiences and observations about a targeted group and find them just people, like themselves.

Consider: Millions of Germans lived peacefully with millions of Jewish neighbors, yet the nazi propaganda machine eventually worked flawlessly in enlisting them to support the mass murder of their neighbors, but only in distant, abstract places and removed from the daily, tangible reality of observing that Jews were pretty much like everyone else.

Posted by LOTOGO | Report as abusive

People like to follow someone and some individuals are really good at leading. Depending on what is in their head – you can get quite a following and in turn create a lot of hatred.

Those who are not blinded by religion and open minded will see thru bad leaders and drop from the following. Aside from that – oppression creates hatred within the hearts of open minded people.

Posted by Butch_from_PA | Report as abusive

It is my opinion that there will never be peace with the non-Jews until the life of s child in Gaza is considered just as valuable as the life of a child in Israel.
War produces hatred. Co-operation produces peace

Posted by rfd657 | Report as abusive

Censoring is cowardly.

Posted by UKantHndleTruth | Report as abusive

Hate grows from the Media and Hollywood. I grew up in Los Angeles, CA. In 2nd grade, Roots came out on TV. At school I had Black, White, Asian, Latino friends- a couple of my Black friends became unfriendly and when I asked they said “your people slaved mine”. They had been taught hate.

Posted by UKantHndleTruth | Report as abusive

Why are you censoring my comment, you coward?

Posted by UKantHndleTruth | Report as abusive

Wow, Reuters does censor the comments. They didnt publish mine.

Posted by No_apartheid | Report as abusive

I think Reuters only wants pro-Isreali comments posted.

Posted by No_apartheid | Report as abusive

I guess the millions of Palestinians killed over 65 years by the apartheid state of Isreal has ntohing to do with the hatred????

Or our support for the terrorist Saudi government?

Posted by No_apartheid | Report as abusive

The biggest reason the Jihad dogma. If you know by their religious law they are to make war on you, you hope they have a fight with others and had stupid leaders so they are weak. You also hpoe their leaders are fanatical enough to inspire people to wish them ill.

Posted by SamuelReich | Report as abusive

Maybe I am being unrealistic but what happened to “We are all children of God”. So very sad this world we live in. Hateful comments will not help.

Posted by clouseauexists | Report as abusive

This opinion piece captures the essense of hatred’s birth and life. I would love to see a follow up on how cultural exchange and understanding can overcome hatred among former enemies. Meanwhile, I don’t excuse the Iman’s ignorance of how Hamas has used their own children as shields–even the U.N. has admitted Hamas placed missiles in U.N. schools. The Iman obviously didn’t read Reuters.

Posted by hometown | Report as abusive

Hatred for Jews is a basic belief and is built into the koran.

Posted by Davido1 | Report as abusive

History is bygone stories.Current affairs are reality with current crop of politicians for whom GREED is their subconscious desire.Current politicians don’t care to read and digest constitution of their country nor history.Democracy which in reality is mobocracy provide them opportunity to buy ignorance of people and their by go forward with their ambitions.
My own experience to work with them is pleasant but I wonder why Hitler hated them.Why Moslims hate them!!Hate them to an extent of their own an mass loss of their lives.Praise does not spread as fast as hate and Israel will have to give serious thought to such situation.It is said many ants can drag big snake.Moslims are in far majority in the world and their population grows geometrical progression.With connected world of today,technology of weapons and trade spreads fast.Look at Palestine missiles have started pearcing Iron Dome of Israel.Russia is beyond control of EU/US in Ukraine and so on.

Posted by gentalman | Report as abusive

Reuters publish comments or not.At least they provide this platform to express our heartfelt feelings.I write my comments but I never check back whether they are published or not.Thank you Reuters.

Posted by gentalman | Report as abusive