The Arabs and the Holocaust

The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives

Gilbert Achcar

Picador

Arabs and the Holocaust
PART I
THE TIME OF THE SHOAH
Arab Reactions to Nazism and Anti-Semitism, 1933-47
Prelude
It ought to be a truism that "the Arabs" do not exist--at least not as a homogeneous political or ideological subject. Yet such use of a general category known as "the Arabs" is common in both journalism and the specialist literature. "The Arabs" are supposed to think and act or react in unison. Of course, like "the Jews" or "the Muslims," "the Arabs" as a politically and intellectually uniform group exist only in fantasy, engendered by the distorting prism of either ordinary racism or polemical fanaticism.
Like any large, diverse group, the Arab population is crisscrossed by different ideological currents that have been shaped by varied forms of education and political experience in different countries, a circumstance no well-informed work on political thought in the Arab world fails to point out. Only a perception distorted by "Orientalism," in the pejorative sense of the term made famous by Edward Said--that is the cultural essentialization of the peoples of the East that reduces them to a stereotyped immutable being or "mind"1--can obscure the very deep divisions in the Arab world.
The diversity of the Arabs' historical relations to Nazism and Zionism is no less pronounced. There have even been a few Arab allies of the Zionist movement: recall the Palestinian "collaboration"2 and the unacknowledged "collusion" of leaders who had ties to the British, such as King Abdullah of Jordan,3 or allies motivated by the idea of making common cause with the Zionists as "enemies of their enemies," notably some Christian Maronites in Lebanon.4
In the Arab anticolonial independence movement, whose opposition to the Zionist project in Palestine reflected what was by far the dominant Arab attitude in the 1930s and 1940s, we may distinguish four basic ideological currents:
1. The liberal Westernizers
2. The Marxists
3. The nationalists
4. The reactionary and/or fundamentalist Pan-Islamists
Note that none of these currents has a monopoly on the central value inspiring it. Thus there is widespread adhesion to Islam among liberal Westernizers and nationalists. Nationalism, moderate or radical, animates Westernist liberal advocates of independence and, in a specifically religious form, Pan-Islamists as well. Similarly, it can be argued that both Marxists and most nationalists are Westernizers who even, at times, embrace the same liberal values.
Moreover, each current comprises several distinct variants, and there are a number of intermediate and combined categories. Regarding nationalism in particular, we may distinguish a right wing that often works in close alliance with Islamic fundamentalism, a left wing influenced by Marxism, and a liberal version.5 On certain questions, the positions of these subgroups can differ sharply.
Nevertheless, a qualitative difference sets each of the four major categories apart: the nature of its guiding principle, its determinant system of political values. Each chooses its political positions with reference, first and foremost, to a distinctive political and ideological system of thought--liberalism, Marxism, nationalism, or Islam conceived as a source of political inspiration adapted to contemporary conditions.
Copyright © 2009 by Gilbert Achcar