Saturday, November 19, 2011

Anti-semitic propaganda then and now (Mick Hartley)

Mick Hartley posted the item below in February 2009, but it remains timely. Hartley begins by quoting from Edward Rothstein's reflections in the New York Times after visiting an exhibition at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, “State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda". Here is one of Rothstein's insights, about the world-shaping power of propaganda in general and of Nazi propaganda in particular, which he elaborates over several paragraphs:
[I]f this is how powerfully these images affect an early-21st-century viewer who would have been a prospective victim, imagine the power they had on believers, flattering their highest vision of themselves while reminding them that endangering this imminent utopia was the conniving Jew, known from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In one 1943 poster a giant hand points accusingly at a corpulent caricature wearing a yellow star, “Jude”: “He is to blame for the war!” This, of course, while Jews were being carried off on trains heading east to feed the crematoriums.

The impact of these images is prerational or antirational; they short-circuit argument. To suggest that perhaps this caricatured figure was not to blame for the war would be like insisting on an alternate universe. [....] Exorcism and murder were not a policy; they were a responsibility. [...]

[We need to grasp] what was so powerful about Nazi propaganda: It didn’t just distort reality to make an argument; it reshaped it. It tapped into mythic beliefs about Jews being genocidal and inhuman, thus spurring retaliation.
And so on. Rothstein asks:
Is anything rhetorically comparable today?
As a matter of fact, yes.

It is unpleasant, but occasionally useful and necessary, to remind ourselves that we live in an era when significant portions of the world are flooded by virulently anti-semitic discourse and propaganda reminiscent of Europe during the 1890s or even the 1930s, which too many people in other parts of the world try to whitewash, ignore, or explain away. And it's not just a question of analogies, as the work of Jeffrey Herf, Matthias Küntzel, and others has made clear. There are also historical links and transmissions. Many of the key themes and images in present-day anti-semitic discourse, not least in the Arab and Muslim worlds, are drawn directly from sources in 19th- and 20th-century European anti-semitism, including that ever-popular forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (a best-seller in the Middle East today) as well as Nazi and fascist propaganda of the 1930s and 1940s. (One implication, by the way, is that many of the most poisonous features of anti-semitic discourse and ideology in the Arab & Islamic worlds over the past half-century or so do not simply have their roots in Islam itself, but involve the importation and appropriation of important elements from European anti-semitism, Christian and post-Christian.) These anti-semitic themes and images been updated, and blended with other elements, religious and racist and otherwise, in a rich variety of ways. But the roots still sometimes show through.

More on all this another time. Meanwhile, read the rest of Mick Hartley's post (below).

—Jeff Weintraub

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Mick Hartley (Politics & Culture)
February 26, 2009
The Strongest Contemporary Analogy

Edward Rothstein in the NYT visits a new exhibition at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, “State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda":
As the show, organized by Steven Luckert, winds its way from the beginnings of Nazism in the aftershocks of the First World War to the Allied attempt to eradicate Nazi propaganda after the Second, the effect is overwhelming. Conceptually everything is familiar: the foundering Weimar Republic, the celebrations of Aryan virility, the Jew as embodiment of evil, the mass rallies, the death camps, the defeat. But the effect is not in the facts but in the images and artifacts, many of which have been lent by institutions in Europe for this show.

And if this is how powerfully these images affect an early-21st-century viewer who would have been a prospective victim, imagine the power they had on believers, flattering their highest vision of themselves while reminding them that endangering this imminent utopia was the conniving Jew, known from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In one 1943 poster a giant hand points accusingly at a corpulent caricature wearing a yellow star, “Jude”: “He is to blame for the war!” This, of course, while Jews were being carried off on trains heading east to feed the crematoriums.

The impact of these images is prerational or antirational; they short-circuit argument. To suggest that perhaps this caricatured figure was not to blame for the war would be like insisting on an alternate universe. The accusation could be rejected only if everything were rejected. Exorcism and murder were not a policy; they were a responsibility. They all flowed out of these posters and their associated beliefs. [...]

The museum is developing a curriculum based on the show that will probe the notion of propaganda and examine contemporary implications. But here the slope becomes slippery. How much does the Nazi manipulation of media reveal about propaganda’s misuse in democratic societies? Does the extreme example shed light on the commonplace, without the dangers of the extreme being lessened, the dangers of the commonplace amplified?

Such analogies risk slighting what was so powerful about Nazi propaganda: It didn’t just distort reality to make an argument; it reshaped it. It tapped into mythic beliefs about Jews being genocidal and inhuman, thus spurring retaliation. Is anything rhetorically comparable today?

Perhaps. The exhibition points out that the Nazis financed anti-Semitic broadcasts by Haj Amin al-Husseini, “an Arab nationalist and prominent Muslim religious leader.” Now no sponsorship seems needed. Major Middle East media outlets have asserted that Jews use children’s blood to bake matzos. In recent weeks we have heard that Jews are following the nefarious plot outlined in the Protocols to exterminate all gentiles, this from the poet and former member of the Lebanese Parliament Ghassan Matar. An Egyptian cleric, Safwat Higazi, has described Jews being “as smooth as a viper”: “Dispatch those son of apes and pigs to the Hellfire.”

And an Egyptian cleric with strong ties to the West, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradhawi, has described Jews as “a profligate, cunning arrogant band of people”: “Oh Allah, count their numbers, and kill them, down to the very last one.” [JW: For more from Yusuf al-Qaradawi, widely described as a "moderate" Islamist, see HERE. Incidentally, "Yahud" means "Jews", not "Zionists".]

The extent of these visions (chronicled by the Middle East Media Research Institute), the historical distortions they codify and the readiness with which they are taught to children and are secularized into political action suggest that the strongest contemporary analogy to Nazi propaganda may be one the exhibition leaves unmentioned.
And, right on cue as it were, here's the latest item from MEMRI TV: Egyptian cleric Ahmad Abd Al-Salam on the Islamic Al-Nas TV channel, clarifying a point which may have been troubling some of his audience.
The Jews "will not fail to corrupt" the believers. What does it mean? The Jews are never remiss – they invest their utmost efforts, day and night, in conspiring how to corrupt the Islamic nation, the nation led by the Prophet Muhammad. I want you, Muslim viewers, to imagine the Jews sitting around a table, conspiring how to corrupt the Muslims, and how to destroy their worldly and religious affairs. The Jews "will not fail to corrupt you," and this is why we hate them. The Jews conspire day and night to destroy the Muslims' worldly and religious affairs. The Jews conspire to destroy the economy of the Muslims. The Jews conspire to infect the food of the Muslims with cancer. It is the Jews who infect food with cancer and ship it to Muslim countries.

We hate the Jews because they spare no effort in stripping Muslim girls of their clothes. It is the Jews who conspire to have Muslim girls, and even married Muslim women, wear clothes that are tight, short, or see-through, or clothes that are open from the front, or the back, from the right or the left. The Jews "will not fail to corrupt you," and this is why we hate them. The Jews conspire to destroy Muslims. The Jews conspire to bring Muslim youth down to the pit of sexual temptation. The sexual temptations, which are prevalent worldwide, were conspired by the Jews.
Clear enough?

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