Joseph: Hello. I’m Joseph Epstein, a legislative fellow at the Endowment for Middle East truth and I’ll be hosting today’s webinar. Today’s webinar will take on a slightly different format as we are planning to host a discussion between myself and EMET’s own director for our program for emerging democracies in the Middle East, Hussein Aboubakr Mansour. With time for questions from the audience after. Hussein will be discussing the central role of the Palestinian struggle within both modern Western and Arab intellectual thought.
In Middle Eastern Politics, the moral political commitment to the liberation of Palestine, and the destruction of Zionism has been a common ideological pillar of the multiple ideological and political projects of Arab nationalism, Third-Worldism, Islamism, and Communism. The Palestinian cause has become the rallying point of paying Nationalist and religious movements globally. It is a pillar of political identity and moral imagination for people’s as far from Israel as Pakistan and Bangladesh. In recently become even more relevant to Western Progressive groups such as the women’s March and black lives matter. For many Palestine became a social justice issue, an environmental issue, a query issue, and more. How did such a small regional conflict, which in the most objective terms is by no means the most pressing conflict in the Middle East acquire such essential significance? Is this all simply motivated by Jew-hatred and Semitism? Or are there other forces at play? So to discuss these questions, today’s webinars, featuring Hussein. For those unfamiliar with Hussein, he was born in Cairo, Egypt, and grew up in a world, dominated by the idea of Palestine, and Anti-Semitism. His critical intellect led him to find out more about Israel and Jews in to forge friendships with Israelis. As a result, he was arrested and tortured by the government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, under suspicion of being an agent of the government of Israel. Hussein received political asylum in the United States under President Barack Obama in 2012 and worked as an instructor for language and culture at the Defense Language Institute of Monterey California. He then went on to work as an educator and public speaker for stand with us, educating students about cultural geopolitical issues than beliefs and helping them counter anti-Semitism. Hussein is the author of Minority Of One: The Unchanging Of An Arab Mind. In his articles have appeared in Commentary, Newsweek, The Jewish Journal Janus.org, Times of Israel, and Mosaic magazine. He has worked for a met since 2020 and has been an integral part of our legislative team. Before we start, I’d like to mention that our work is only possible with the support of you all. If you find what we do informative and helpful, consider sponsoring a future webinar or contributing to EMET. It is your help and support that allows us to continue with our important work on Capitol Hill, to ensure a prosperous and peaceful Israel in the Middle East. Fight the influence of the Iranian regime, increase US National Security, and improve the welfare of Jewish Americans. Today’s webinar will be recorded for future viewing and encourage those of you who find the webinar informative to share the link, once it has been sent out. If you have any questions for Hussein, please feel free to write them in the Q&A function at the bottom of your screen.
So, without further ado, I’d like to start. So Hussein. when you say, when you discuss the centrality of Palestine. What exactly do you mean?
Hussein: First of all thank you very much, Joseph, for a wonderful introduction, and thank you very much to all our audiences who tuned in to listen to us today. So the centrality of Palestine, of course, it’s familiar to anybody who’s been dealing with this issue. Anybody who has any relationship with the Middle East, understands, of course, the centrality of the issue of Palestine in Middle Eastern politics and Arab politics and Muslim particle large, and as you said in your own introduction recently in Progressive politics, so people who are the audience of Ahmet who care about the state of Israel. And a lot of them know what I’m talking about. But I’m going to give some examples in order to really crystallize more, what do we mean by the centrality of Palestine? I’ll give a few examples of maybe able to illustrate this point. For example, the Ba’ath Party. The Ba’ath Party was the major wing, one of the major two wings of Arab nationalism. The Ba’ath Party was established in Syria 1940s. It ruled Iraq and Syria for decades. I mean, currently still, technically speaking, The Ba’ath Party is still in power in Syria. However, it’s the ideological salience of the original platform of the Ba’ath is now in question. The Ba’ath Party in the emblem of the Ba’ath Party, you’ll find the Palestinian flag right in the middle of the emblem and on the platform of the Ba’ath. Historically, the Liberation of Palestine, or the so-called liberation of Palestine was its priority. Al-Qaeda, which was the peak or the rise at the moment, really, or the star that started the entire wave of international jihadism in the 90s, reached its peak of course on 9/11.
Originally was called the global front of jihad against the Jews and the Crusaders. And one of the main points of grievance of Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda against the West was the support for Israel and the occupation of Palestine. There’s the Republic of Iran, it puts the liberation of Palestine at a central place in its ideological platform. Their primary enemy in the Middle East, as everybody knows, that they seek their destruction is Israel. They don’t make a secret that it’s their ideological mission to destroy Israel and liberate Palestine, which is in part why they are pursuing nuclear weapons. Everybody knows that the Elite Force of their IRGC, the main motor for said, there’s some of the public depends on it, projecting power in the entire region. They lead forces cold and cuts Force, which was headed by, of course, the infamous Qassem Soleimani before he was assassinated by President Trump. So, all of these are examples of the major ideologies that row across the 20th century. Some of them are not relevant or not current. Let’s say, Nasserism or Ba’athism. Some of them are like Iran and of them, and despite being very different, the Ba’ath was mainly a nationalist hybrid nationalist socialist ideology. The people who really oversaw the Ba’ath and most of the Ba’ath intellectuals were mostly atheistic. Those people really came from diverse religious backgrounds, and many of them were Muslims, and many of them were Orthodox Christians. The founder of the Ba’ath party himself, Michel Alfaq came from an Orthodox Christian family. A lot of the Arab nationalist ideas came from Arab, Christian intellectuals here, and then you have Al Qaeda which is basically a Sunni Islamist. The Islamist movement, you have the Muslim Brotherhood, and you have Iran – that’s a Shia revolutionary, Shia Islamic Republic. All of these people have these diverse ideologies, and all of them have that central place for Palace. And I’m going to give two more examples that also make it even more relevant. Because I do believe that the discussion today is actually very relevant to a lot of things that are happening in the United States including the cultural war. There is a famous figure in Arab journalism, specifically Egyptian journalists today. Her name is, Lina Attalah. She’s a young woman. I think she is now, 40 years old. She kind of was one of the journalistic stars that became very famous during the Arab Spring. And if you look at her, she’s exactly what you would imagine from the profile of kind of the new Young Arabs who were very secular. She’s very secular, very feminist, very Progressive and she’s now actually one of the main leading voices of the opposition to President Sisi in Egypt. She was named by the times as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2020. She was awarded the night international journalism award from the International Center of Journalism here in Washington DC. So, she’s kinda your typical secular, stunning, and brave – a voice of women, Her political dissidents. Lina Attalah a few years ago, remember published kind of a long essay talking about her life, and how she began journalism, and the first time she ever wrote something meaningful. And she told the story that this actually happened in Italy. Her family moved while she was in high school from Egypt to Italy, where she received part of her education and they sent her to high school they’re. And then on the first day in their school, the teachers asked all the students to write an essay about something that expresses who they are, or something about which they are passionate. And the essay that she wrote, she chose to write about Palestine and about the occupation of Palestine. Now, this was written, maybe two or three years ago. So I’m not going to deal with the facts of, okay, that you really write this. But the point is, that here is one of the most, as I said, Secular Progressive feminist voices in the Arab world today, chosen by the times as one of the most influential people in the world. And the way that she conceptualizes, her political identity as a journalist as a dissident, as an opposition figure, that’s bringing the voice of progress – that bringing the voice of women, starts from the idea of Palestine. I can give a hundred other examples like this: You have the Arab and Muslim student activism in the US, and almost most of it is really centralized around activism for Palestine, Muslim Western politicians, and political institutions that really spend a lot of the resources on the issue of Palestine. So all of these are just examples that I’m trying to illustrate. What do I mean by the centrality of Palestine for Arab and Muslim thought in modern times? And this is as we said now pouring into Western not just Progressive – I would say liberal politics. And the last thing I would say, is actually I’m going to read a quote from a book that was published by Wayne State University in 2019. It’s a book, a study of pedagogy that was titled teaching the Arab-Israeli conflict. A hefty, almost 500-page volume, that is meant to be a resource for college teachers, teaching about Israel and Palestine on American campuses. The author is American, and the book basically starts saying the following quote in just a few lines, “The Arab-Israeli conflict has become a touchstone for international politics and the flashpoint on college campuses. And yet how does the faculty teach such a contentious topic, taught, not only in international relations, peace and conflict, resolution politics and history, and Israel and Middle Eastern, studies courses, but also taught in literature sociology, urban planning law, cinema, Fine Art and business. This subject guarantees a white interest among students”. Again this book was published by Win University, and edited by Rachel Harris. And there is a question here, how many conflicts in the world are taught or of relevance to people taking literature classes, urban planning classes Cinema classes, Fine, Art Classes, and business classes on American campuses? I think the answer, would not be too many. If any, at all of there’s any conflict that really has that same centrality of the kind of Palestine. So basically, this is exactly what I mean by the centrality of Palestine.
Joseph: So you took about very diverse groups in the Middle East, who have adopted this centrality of Palestine. But what I’m curious about is the ideology behind the actual centrality of Palestine Universal between, say, the Palestinians themselves are they Arabs or the larger Muslim world?
Hussein: That’s a good question. Of course that there is a difference between what Palestine means to a West Bank Palestinian, let’s say, or Gaza Palestinian. That’s a person, of course, that’s directly involved in this issue. Directly involved in this conflict, and what it means to the wider residents of the Arab world or the members. I mean, even the terms of the Arab world, I think they are problematic, but I will use them just for the sake of being able to make my argument. But if for wider the Arab world and the wider Muslim world. For the Palestinians, the structure, the ideological content of the concept of Palestine, is the idea of Palestine, is a personal identity and that makes it a much more difficult issue to deal with naturally for the Palestinians. And here I would like just to make some distinctions. In order to also be clear about what I’m talking about. When I say Palestine, I don’t mean the place and I don’t mean the West Bank and Gaza, and they don’t mean from the river to the sea. I don’t actually mean a certain place or a proposed political entity, no matter how you think about that. I do believe it’s very important to make the distinction between the three. A completely different, yet overlapping Palestine’s different Palestine at Play. There is the Palestine of History. That’s the Palestine of the objective facts of history, and there is the Palestine of Legend and then there is a Palestine of literature. Those are three different Palestinians. The three of them overlap and they come together to form this powerful symbolic field, that contains paradigms and models of behavior that some of them are conscious of, and some of them subconsciously interact with a diverse arena of political ideologies with another Middle East and in the world. The Palestinian, of course, a person who is passed in, is right at the center of this. This structure became becomes their own identity. This Is How They see themselves. So, for example, the ideological content that has or that is the negation of Zionism that is contained within the idea of Palestine becomes not just an idea and it doesn’t become just a moral principle around, which you organize thought. And that’s the case for The Wider Arab and Muslim world. So a Muslim thinker, political thinker in Pakistan, or a Muslim political leader in Pakistan who is very passionate about hating Israel, about being anti-Zionist, about promoting the Liberation of Palestine. Obviously, they live in Pakistan or maybe they are British Pakistanis or American Pakistanis and they live here, and for them, the issue is more abstract. So it’s it, has to do with the organization of their own thought about politics, morality, the political truth, and the relationship of their identity to that. For a Palestinian, It’s not an abstract principle of organization of thought. They assume it adds a structure to their own identity, they think this is who they are. So and that’s one of the unfortunate realities about the interaction between that idea of Palestine and the legacy of anti-Semitism, which basically became Inseparable. Sadly now, from that idea of Palestine, that sadly for a lot of Palestinians, this becomes an identity, and that becomes a more difficult issue to deal with. But yes, there are distinctions about what this means for a potion. For a Palestinian for an Arab or somebody from a generally Muslim, or somebody who is sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.
Joseph: So the Palestinian cause in terms of world history is relatively new. But how modern is this centrality of Palestine in Monaco?
Hussein: As you said it’s very new. There is a term in French, that I don’t remember. But actually, the great scholar – look, Richard Landis told me about it once. But it’s like this French term that says like, “Once it’s there, it’s always been there”. And basically reflects this idea that most people, it’s not just Arabs or Palestinians. But most people like this; once something is there, it seems as if it’s always been there and I think that’s sadly the case with the Palestinian cause. The Palestinian cause, it really got internalized in a lot of ways and you saw a lot of historical, narratives are accounts that basically were built on this and they think that’s what basically made the perception that I think, a lot of people now are much wiser than to believe about the Eternal animosity or the Eternal war between, Jews and Arabs. And kind hears a very generally auction, ancient conflict, but the truth is, it’s an ancient conflict because Palestine itself is a very modern construct. It’s a very modern identity, it’s actually newer than this, real identity. There’s real identity itself, the political identities knew the Jewish identity is of course ancient, but that the political identity of Israel is new. The Zionist Project and it’s new, it risks rely on an ancient Heritage. But as a political program, the Palestinian idea itself, or the idea of Palestine, that concept that we’re talking about is new and did not emerge at once. It really had different stages in development, through which it accumulated. This symbolic power, emotional power, and moral power became vested in it. This did not happen overnight. This was not simply born was not born in 1948, it actually happened over time. It accumulated, this moral capital and caused. We’re really in a situation in which it placed itself at the center. As I said of the moral imagination in a way that absorbed all ethics. And they think this for me personally, this is the most problematic, or my biggest problem with the Palestinian cause. How this cause became an organizing principle for an entire world’s moral view, in a way that it made it absorb all ethics. So any consideration or anything can be morally judged or morally justified through its proximity to The Liberation of Palestine. And this is how we got to a sadden of terrorism, against Israeli civilians that a lot of people morally justified it. Until very recently, and now thankfully, we have the Abraham Accords and we have different Arab and Muslim populations. Who’s trying to take a different direction. But there was one point in time, that wasn’t too long ago, that there was nearly a universal consensus among the Arab world and then the Islamic world, that a suicide bombing in a pizza restaurant in Israel, that kills basically families that were sitting there for lunch is morally Justified. So basically, in order to understand this, you have to look at it from the outside and see that you’re talking about a moral worldview, that justifies the idea of Palestine. Things that have to do with the liberation of Palestine are morally justifiable? This is why you can justify let’s say, supporting Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait because it’s about the liberation of Palestine. So basically it absorbs all ethical and moral considerations. This idea of that magnitude, a whole moral worldview, is not born subtle, something of that magnitude involves and develops across time. And this is exactly what happened to that idea of Palestine, that it, we’re now dealing with today.
Joseph: So, as you mentioned before, this conflict is not even the largest in the Middle East. It’s even relatively small. So, how did such, you know, a small conflict over such a small piece of land gain such centrality?
Hussein: That’s an amazing question. Which is basically the question that I’ve been trying to deal with. How did Palestine become the cause of all the Arabs, how did Palestine become the cause of all Islam? Interestingly even Shia Islam, which is quite interesting because of the religious significance of Jerusalem. Which became a big issue in this conflict, does not exist, really for Shia Islam. Yet, we saw even how the largest Shia political ideologies out there, adopted this very centrally. So it’s a very interesting question, how did happen? And I don’t think this question received the treatment that it deserves. I think a lot, we a lot of us really accept answers that are easy. So for example, people who like to blame religious elements can very easily blame it on Islam. Well, obviously, it’s a problem with Islam that combines both very strong anti-Semitic sentiments plus very strong militant sentiments, they combined together the Manifest, in the issue of Palestine. And, but I would like to mention that the great scholar Bernard Lewis. He himself actually found the centrality of the Palestinian cause very weird. In his very famous book: Semites and anti-Semites. I think he commented and this. He actually talked about, how this is not the largest conflict in the world. This is not the biggest previous problem of [Inaudible] populations are the Muslim world. This is not the only. So there’s also a perception that it’s an unacceptable loss of territory and Bern Luz spoke about this and he said, this is not true. Muslim polities lost a lot of territories to Christians and to others all across history. Of course, the most famous if it is the Iberian Peninsula which was under Muslim rule for 800 years, You have Eastern Europe, and a lot of the Balkans were under the rule of the Ottoman Empire for centuries. So none of that evokes the sentiments that are evoked in the larger Arab world and the larger Muslim world the way that Palestine does. So I want to suggest that maybe we need to look for different reasons, why Palestine became this central, other than the ones that we know. Anti-Semitism is a major element that cannot be disregarded. Of course, the identity of the primary rival in this conflict, the Jews. Comes also with that Legacy of anti-Semitism that exists in religious traditions, whether Islam or Christianity. But also notably, it was one of the most widely exported products, sadly of 19th-century early 20th century Europe and how the legacy of anti-Semitic propaganda – anti-Semitic thought made it to the Middle East. The way that I understand it. Or the way that I historicize is that I understand it through stages. I think there have been named three stages of the evolution, the idea of Palestine and I think we might be entering now a fourth one. The first stage I would say with stage of the rise of Arab nationalism. And in order to understand the stage of Arab nationalism, one will have to go back to the foundations of Arab nationalism, the ideas of Arab nationalism. What are missional is meant and what did Palestine mean to Arab Nationalist intellectuals? And that era of Arab nationalism, I like to start from the 1930s or that stage. Some people go back to Arab nationalism in the 19th century. I think that was actually a different kind of Arab nationalism. There is, and I think people makes usually the history of Arab nationalism with different intellectual currents. There is a certain current of Arab nationalism that developed in the 1930s, with a lot of inspiration, directly from the rise of Nazi Germany, and it adopted a lot of German ideas, namely the German philosophy of history in order to structure its own Arab identity and Arab Arab nationalist ideology on top of it. Now, this is a very complex intellectual issue, but the philosophy of history has to do primarily with one of the most important enlightenment philosophers, which is Hegel. And the philosophy of history is really the substructure of all major modern revolutionary ideologies, whether they romantic nationalism or Marxism. Both of them have that substructure of the philosophy of History. This was adopted by Arab nationalists, who talked about the spirit of Arab nests that have marched through history and order to realize total freedom. And if we lead, if we read the major writings, namely of Constantine’s, [Inaudible] will find this very strong romantic German nationalist ideology. But just made for Arab nationalism. And the substructure, as I said of a lot of this concept is primarily German. So here, we have a concept of progress that did go to Arab culture and Muslim thought in general. They think it really transformed the way people think about everything, about the meaning of history about the meaning of politics. What is a state? What is the function of the state is a state, just a system? If institutions seek to administrate a public life or is it meant to express the authenticity of one’s identity or is it meant to shape Society in order to achieve a higher form of unity and, and progress? So all of these ideas actually I think transformed, the way people speak that way, people think, the way people talk. And a lot of the Arab nationalist intellectuals, who were primarily from Syria from the area of Syria, a lot of them from Palestinian towns, Lebanon – a lot of them invested the conflict with Zionism as the primary struggle through which Arab nationalism can achieve itself and can realize itself. And in order to understand this, you’ll have to understand Hegelianism and how Hegelianism work. How basically this Marsh of the spirit is a struggle is a Hegelian dialectical struggle. Of course, this idea will go later to Marks and the idea of struggle itself will become a very central concept. That is sadly now alive even in American culture. You know, the struggle of women. The struggle of minorities, everything is a struggle. The struggle is the tool through which you achieve your own Freedom. You achieve your own self-realization. This really started from this, Hegelian conception of history. That struggle is the meaning of History, because through which progress advances that the spirit,
It’s German idealism. It’s a little bit mystical. I’m not going to get into it, and then at the end, there is realization, of course, this is basically the structure of Marxism, however, you’re going to throw away the mystical stuff, the spirit and then we’re going to talk about the classes.
The struggle between the working class, proletariat, and bourgeoisie. And through that struggle, the entire situation radicalizes then explodes and creates a spirit, a situation of higher Unity of complete humanization. So this idea of the struggle is also with central to Arab nationalism because it was built on that Hegelian philosophical premise. And that idea of struggle crystallized around the struggle against cynicism against Israel. Once Arab nationalism became the mass mobilizing ideology, with the rise of Ba’athism, and with the rise of Nasser in Egypt. These Concepts were really spread all across the Middle East, all across Arab culture. This transformation also happens to a larger Muslim world to a large degree. And this idea of Arab progress really collapsed during the conflict with Israel, that is in the conception the main obstacle or the main struggle through which that Arab giant that Arab authenticity, will discover itself is through the destruction of Zionism. This is very clear, that Constantine Zureiq is an extremely important intellectual to understand these things. He actually wrote the book that jump-started the entire ideological fervor that turned Arab nationalism into the massive power it came. He published it in 1939. At the beginning of World War Two at the time, Nazi propaganda, or the Middle East, was afloat in Nazi, anti-Semitic propaganda. That is calling the Arabs to liberate themselves from Jews. To liberate themselves from the British. To liberate themselves from the French. And at that moment, in 1939 Constantine’s [inaudible], I think he got his Ph.D. from Princeton. He was teaching at the time of the American University in Beirut. He wrote his book, nationalist Consciousness. And that book was an explosion. Actually, it was his from amongst his students. The Arab nationalist movement started. This is actually the George Habash group that will become their PFLP later, the popular front for the liberation of Palestine, and then it will become Marxist. So here we have, actually a transition that will happen later from all of these Nationals conceptions into a nationalist fascist, not nationalist, in the American sense, more than the European sense will become Marxist later. So, the first stage is that stage when you had this strong inspiration from the Nazi ideas, from The Nationals ideas. This stage will end in 1967 1968. Now when I say 1967, what do people think of? The Six Day War, the standard historical narrative, is that the defeat of 1967 defeated Arab nationalism and that’s what ultimately a lift and ideological vacuum to be filled later by Islamism. By the rise of Islamism. This is a very, very common historical narrative. I don’t think it’s accurate. I think there are things that play. The magnitude of the defeat of 1967 for the Arabs and the victory and the Triumph of the state of Israel in the Six-Day War. I think it really blinded people from another transformation that was happening globally. And as I said, this is a global Story. The way that these ideas started from a revolutionary, European thought that became Global, it will continue to be a global story. What happened in 1968? 1968 was the year of student protests all over the world. That was the peak of the cultural revolution. A lot of things change our culture change the way we do our hair change, the way we dress changed, and our music change. It transformed the culture, all over. And the change that happened to The Establishment of Arab nationalism. For example, the PLO really embodies this, the PLO was part of the Arab establishment. It was led by Akhmad Shakira who was an old Arab political leader. He was overthrown by a group of students from Kuwait led by a guy named Yasser Arafat who modeled himself after Latin American revolutionaries with the uniform and everything. This was part of a global radical movement that was emerging. And this is when we saw the turn to Marxism. For example, from movements, like the Arab nationalist movements, who, really split into the PFLP or changed into the PFLP, the popular front, for the liberation of Palestine, became a Leninist Marxist movement for about a decade. This transformation happened all across the region, the new generation of intellectuals that one after the risks. That you had a generation of the lecture in the 1930s and 40s that was very inspired by German ideas. Then the generation rate after was more thoroughly Marxist, the split real between Leninist and Maoist renditions, and in the 1970s with the rise of post-modernism and in the west. Then you will have the authenticity and Islam Rising as a question. Not to mention, of course, the Maoist influence in the idea that using Islam as is and mobilizing force. Here you have three different stages. I’m sorry for the very long answer. You have three different stages on talking about, you had Arab nationalism, you have Marxism and then you had Islamism starting from the late 70s. And each of those stages really inherited the legacy of the stage before. It really went on its continued and added to it. And this is how we ended up with Palestine. That means authenticity, it means is all the air in the unity of the Arabs. It means the Dignity of Islam. It also means absolute social justice. It also means The Liberation from the Yoke of global capitalism led by the principal enemy, the United States. It also means the grievance against nationalism and the nation-state system that is unjust and that is basically a capitalist hegemony.
Joseph: So that’s a great explanation. But one of the things I thought you were going to address actually is the central role of anti-Semitism in this ideology of the centrality of Palestine.
Hussein: That’s a good point! Because I think anti-Semitism is a central factor that is intentionally overlooked by a lot of people who don’t like are very uncomfortable talking about the issue of anti-Semitism or solely pointed out. By people who care about anti-Semitism. And so, what I want to say is that anti-Semitism has to be seen as a central factor within an emerging system of different philosophies and worldviews and idea ideologies that centralized themselves around a way of thinking about history and progress that saw this progress to be embodied in a struggle of self-liberation that concretizes itself in the struggle against Jews specifically. So what I’m going to say, yes, anti-Semitism. But it’s far more complex than just hitting juice. And as I said, I think Bernard Lewis himself would have agreed and he talked about this many times, been lost with the great scholar of specifically, Ottoman history, he has a great work in early Islam. So he was of course we don’t produce many scholars like that anymore. Just that the scale of his knowledge and he said that, yes, and the past anti-Semitism was a big problem in Muslim countries but it really wasn’t. It was more of a conceptual or contempt towards the Jew’s contemptuous ambivalence, it didn’t really become this Obsession tale, a modern times. And I believe, in order to understand the modern anti-Semitism, in the Middle East, you have to put it in the context of those revolutionary ideologies that basically wanted to social engineer their own world whether using Arab nationalism whether using Islamism, but they relied on kind of on anti-Semitism as a catapult, a for kind of the real or as something that can start this revolutionary explosion. That brings the total transformation of reality. And this really started with the Nazi [Inaudible] If we go to the Nazi propaganda. Jeffrey Herf has a great book. I think it’s one of the rare ones. Nazi propaganda in the Arab world, University of Maryland. And he talks about this and you see the extent to, which the Nazis used anti-Semitism to mobilize the masses of Middle Eastern societies against the British, and against the Jews. Here, anti-Semitism has to be seen in that revolution in context, it was not anti-Semitism for the sake of anti-Semitism. It’s an anti-Semitism
that’s endowed with an existential meaning of the final self-realization.
And this is why it’s directly tied to these revolutionary ideologies.
Joseph: So you have spoken a lot about the role of Palestine in the intellectual movement and in terms of, you know, pure ideology. But I’m curious. How is it actually understood by just Arab regimes in the populations?
Hussein: That’s a great question. There is no uniform understanding of this. There is a difference between how it is seen by the intellectuals. How is it seen by the population? That is very a lot of the time is religious. And how seen, by political regimes. Political regimes deal with this very instrumentally, sometimes it is an asset that they can use to mobilize their own, their own populations. This is what Iran does to a great extent in order to recruit and mobilize all across the region from the world of Shia Islam. For intellectuals, it’s a central tool, as I said to elaborate systems of political thought that are revolutionary, that are anti-western that seek to expose the meaning of history and the eternal victimhood that can only end through this eternal state of struggle or not eternal stage – eternal state of struggle. That will finally bring the resolution of all contradictions and how’d seen by the average, man in the street, who usually receives those ideas, in the most concretized forms and usually in religious [Inaudible]. And this is how anti-Semitism especially with the rise of Islamism assumes very strong in the Middle East, a very strong, religious character, and a lot of the early traditions of Islam that were anti-Jewish were brought up revived from a lot of those classical texts. Radicalized completely and then put into those revolutionary ideologies.
So before the Iranian Revolution in 1979. There are actually a lot of years of revolutionary fervor in Iran. That included a lot of those hybrid Islamic, Marxist groups. And I like to go and reach a lot of stuff and look at their propaganda and it really strikes me every time the level to which Islamic texts and scripture were really instrumentalists. And this didn’t happen in Iran, by the way. In order to express Marxist to revolutionary thoughts. The capitalists are called the infidels. And obviously, if you read it and if you look at the posters and if you look at those things that obviously come from communist groups because you see the worker killing kind of using his range to kind of kill the American beast. But then it will have in quotes a part of the Quran and you may fight the infidels, you find them and basically, you will find this instrumentalization that really lifts anti-Semitism in the most concrete religious forms possible. And this is what a lot of the average people understand it. Now, you have also other people who, let’s say more westernized, people who study in American universities, and usually, for them, this becomes a progressive ideology of social, justice of fighting, capitalism of fighting colonization, and so on, and so forth.
Joseph: So we’ve discussed a lot about how Palestine became so central for Arabs and Muslims, but how has it become so Central for Western liberals and progressives? Which seemingly much different viewpoints and ideologies?
Hussein: That’s an excellent question. That’s I think the part that we get more relevant today. So this also has to have a historical context. Of what we call Progressive today. Of course, politics change all the time, labels change over time, and groups, change and ideologies, a mix and transmute. But if we go back to really when the Palestinian cause started to become the Palestinian cause which is after 1967 and the rise of the Auto [Inaudible] PLO and the other Palestinian militia. Back then, Palestine was not really a national movement. Today, of course, Palestine is a human rights issue. That’s a thing that stage has happened. People forget that there were different stages to this. After 1967, Palestine was a revolutionary cause. And all of the material, the intellectual material, the political material that produces the PLO. If you go and examine those you will find always the line that Palestine is a revolution. And that Palestine was part of the emerging Cosmopolitan Global radical culture. That is they viewed themselves or the Palestinian Guerrilla and militias viewed themselves as part of the same world of Vietnam of Ho Chi Minh, of Chairman Mao, of Chi of Fidel Castro. And this is how the kind of global culture to which they belong. That’s the political legitimacy that they sought for themselves. And already that inserts you, already that’s related to Western Progressive politics in general, especially as the rise of the western left, and Western countries, and the United States, the UK, France, Germany, and so on. That will become increasingly sympathetic to the worlds of the third worlders movement. And a person who really epitomizes this is actually Robert Malley. Robert Malley, I think his own life really describes the changes that happen to Western politics and Western activism and the Western left. Since that time, Robert Malley himself came from a family that was very leftist. I would assume Marxist. His father was very sympathetic to Nasser in Egypt who was an Egyptian Jew who actually despite the anti-Semitism, despite the words against Israel, He actually had loyalty to Egypt and Nasser. Because he hated that West in the capital of the United States. His mother, was from New York but she worked with the FLN which is the Algerian, front of Liberation which basically led the war against France. And they got married and Robert Malley grew up in that household. He met Arafat, he remember in his book he has a book that was written in the 90s called the call from Algeria. He met Arafat when he was little, and had a friendly visit between his parents and Arafat. And then he grew up in that radical world. And of course, after the Soviet Union, a lot of that radical world emerged into Western liberal institutions. I think in the United States, the moment when this completely happened during the Obama presidency, when you had a lot of people from this old radical world emerging into traditional liberal institutions, and that’s how we ended up with somebody like Robert Malley. Our Envoy basically, holds a senior position, the state department, and doing something as important as the negotiation with Iran. So basically that change in Western politics, if you really put it side by side, by the evolution of Arab politics, and Muslim politics. Where you get to get really a global story of the rise of a certain way of thinking a certain structure of thought that I call it “The German Structure of Thought”, that things about history in a certain way history have meaning. And the central Concept in that history is the idea of progress and that idea of progress is a govern law, towards to a total conception of liberation and freedom, and that evolved in different parts around the world in different shapes. But now, that brand of Arab politics is kind of find emerging with the brand of Western Progressive politics.
Joseph: So that’s fascinating, but I’d like to go back to the Middle East for a second. So in this kind of environment, I’m just wondering. How were the Abraham Accords possible? And is there a chance that the Accords could somehow signal a break from this ideology?
Hussein: That’s a great question. The Abraham Accords were possible because obviously, there is political leadership in some Arab countries that really want to get out of that Paradigm. They view the world very differently. They don’t see themselves as the losers of the capitalist nation-state world order. They see themselves as one of the winners, that’s mainly the oil wealth of the Arab Gulf countries. For them, the modern times were not a time of alienation and oppression and colonization and the failure of self-fulfillment. it’s a time in which a lot of wealth has been transferred from the West to their societies. Making them have some of the highest living standards in the world today. So obviously their view of history is different, their view of themselves is very different. And of course, there is a political condition that makes them made it possible for them to take that decision. Here what I want to point out is that those were all practical considerations and it really puts to question the importance of the kind of intellectual expositions, even what I’m doing to concrete politics, that is, by the end of the day, when you have political leadership that is freed from a lot of the constraints of movement and has the interest to take a decision, they take that decision. Regardless of all the considerations that are spoken of. And hopefully, this signals a change, a wider change. I believe that this will be hotter and societies that were shaped by this world view that is societies that were shaped either by Arab Nationalism or Islamism. Egypt, Algeria, Syria, Lebanon in Iraq. The Palestinians, I think you’ll be very hard, especially the Palestinians because all of this became for them an identity structure. It’s not just an idea, it’s not just a system of thought, it’s not just an organizing principle of moral political thought, but it really became who they are, sadly. So, I think it will be much harder for them, but I don’t think it’s impossible.
Joseph: So last question, before we open up to questions from the audience. What do you think the ramifications of this kind of ideology will be? Will it only affect the Jews in Israel?
Hussein: Okay, I’m going to start with the easy with the second part. I don’t think it will only affect the Jews in Israel. I think this way of thinking it’s disastrous, it’s absolutely pathological and destructive. This is how I see it. And it’s going to affect everything and what’s happening in the Middle East. And what’s been happening, in the Middle East is good evidence. I mean, look at all the societies that really adopted this way of thinking. Look what happened to Egypt. Egypt is barely floating. I mean, their economy is in tatters. Look at what’s happening with Lebanon. Looks at the Palestinian, look at Syria. A look at Iraq. Look at Libya, she was also an Arab nationalist revolutionary Republic. Look at Algeria. All the states adopted, all societies adopted these ideologies and ended up destroying themselves. As I said, I think there was a fourth stage that is starting. So we have that said there was a, there was an Arab National state to this. There was a Marxist stage. There was an Islamic stage. Now, I think that when opening a new stage, because things evolve and things do not work linear, there is now evolving, a new ideology. There is an ideological world. That’s also, by the way, inherited a lot of these legacies. And you see it on college campuses and the West today. You see these groups, that have a very strong anti-Zionist view, which they don’t see as anti-Semitic. But basically, as social justice ideology. And are able to subsume and in German [Inaudible] is some subsume even Islamist activists to become part of this weird world of Islamists and progressives and social justice Warriors. And they think there is now this new ideology or a new phase of this ideology that is rising that is collapsing on the idea of Palestine and Israel as a meaning of history in achieving the total social justice that is dreamt of.
Joseph: Thank you, Hussein. So this time, we’ll open up to questions from the audience. There are so many great questions and I’d like to apologize in advance because we will not be able to get to all of them. So the first question is, what was the influence of Edward Saeed on the Palestine issue and intellectual circles?
Hussein: Great question! I have like a pile of Edward Saeed books right here, but I’m starting to work on them very soon. So Edward Saeed, as I said to you this is a global story. I think the way, even I personally have been going about this, has been wrong for a very long time. This is not a story of Arab politics or the history of his own politics. This is a global story, of the emergence of certain ways of thinking and structures of thought and philosophy of History, namely from Germany that really became Global, and it changed, you know, every society took different shapes. Edward Saeed is a part of that world. And this is something I disagree with an actual lot of people on including Richard Landis, whom I steamed a lot. Edward Saeed was not an Arab intellectual who brought Arab diseases. I heard this line from people who brought Arab diseases to Western universities and brought Arab identity politics. I don’t think it’s true at all. I think Edward Saeed is a western professor. In order to understand it on his side, you have to look at what was he doing and what were the common ideas, the intellectual fads in Academia at the time. Edward Saeed passed as part of the wave of post-modernism. He was a Professor of English literature. His main field is literary Theory. And by the way, literary theory is the field from which a lot of the strongest post-modern theories came. Namely, deconstruction. Deconstruction comes from the dairy dot. That’s literally three Theories through and through and deconstruction is very relevant to all of us today. [Inaudible] is basically deconstruction made World. Anyways, Edward Saeed used a lot of these radical literary Theory tools, and a lot of them evolved out of Marxism. But you can’t say they are Marxist per say, because this is postmodern. And a lot of people don’t understand postmodern. Americans are such good-natured people when they hear postmodern they think, you know post-capitalist, they think post-liberalism. Basically, they think people are against the good modern stuff. That’s not what post-modernism means. Postmodernism means, in the terms of post-Marxism, those are people who came from Marxism, they came from the left. For them, modernism did not mean liberalism and America. It meant Marxism and the Soviet Union. So they are postmodern in the term that they were Marxist. And now, they are not Marxist anymore, but they brought a lot of these marks as tools. Basically, it or side used a lot of these Marxist Tools in writing, of course, his seminal work Orientalism. But as I said, they are not Marxist anymore. They became they became postmodern. Marxism is concerned primarily with the economy with economic production, with economic exploitation. That’s not what Edward Saeed said, he was concerned with domination. Now power and domination, you leave Marxism and you enter a postmodern territory. That is what Edward Saeed did, the tragedy of Arab and Muslim societies. These ideas, Edward Saeed brought and analyzed these. They are, as I said, they are produced using tools from philosophies that are inherently atheistic. What is really ironic is that you had Muslim institutions in the Muslim world, championing Edward Saeed. That I would claim that they didn’t understand what Edward Saeed did. Just for them, he blamed the West, he basically validated them, you’re good, you’re a victim. The West is racist. The West is so on and so forth. And then he championed him, Arab Gulf countries poured money into supporting his work and this and that and he’d never understood that basically what they are doing is that the empowering tools that are deconstructive of any society including their own, that they would destroy any society. So, Edward Saeed basically helped to bring, he was really at the Forefront of the postmodern wave. And this is why his work orientalism then went – even the word orientalism is not really constricted to the discipline of Middle East studies anymore. People use it in African studies to basically talk about Western attitudes toward Africa or Western attitudes to the third world in general. So he was really at the Forefront of this new wave that used these postmodern Tools in order to condemn the west and capitalism in the United States.
Joseph: So we’ve had quite a few questions about the role of the Soviet Union in the creation of the Palestinian identity. Could you discuss the role that Moscow played in this ideology?
Hussein: Of course, a lot of people know this but Soviet Union of course, was the patron of all of these radical groups for a very long time, even before that Arab nationalism as an imitation of Nazism, it was a hybrid mixture of not romantic, nationalism and socialism. The Soviet Union decided, despite the fact, either are a lot of weird things that we are not consistent. I think with a lot of what people think history was. So of course the archenemy of Communism was not sayism. Then you have Arab nationalism druid’s initial inspiration from Nazism and then the Communist Soviet Union came to support this ideology. Basically, what happened, when Arab Nationalism start to become powerful, the Soviet Union instructed, all of the Communist parties in the world, including the Middle East that the number one priority is fighting the principal enemy. And the principal enemy meant the United States. And even if that meant supporting the petite bourgeoisie elites of third-world nationalism. So the Soviet Union already started to patronize those Arab Nationals regimes and Nasser. Egypt was actually the largest recipient of aid from the Soviet Union during Nasser’s time. Then with the fragmentation of the Arab nationalist projects on the rise of those the Arab new left, from which the Palestinian revolutionary movement emerged or was Central to that Arab no left, those received now the patronization or the patronage of the Soviet Union and the Soviet Union gave them access to the global radical Network and they give a very quick example, the idea of Zionism, is settler colonialism was first fully expounded by [Inaudible]. It was originally a Christian Palestinian intellectual. He was part of this Nazi-inspired party and became a Marxist, a long story. But anyways, by the 1960s he was an American intellectual finger, teaching Yale at Princeton a radical leftist, social justice stuff, all the good stuff that all the young people love. And of course, he wrote a lot about Palestine and he was the one in 19. I think 65 wrote the booklet settler colonialism in Palestine. And in that book, he argued that what’s happening in Vietnam is what’s happening in Congo, is what’s happening in Palestine. Which is basically this Western settler colonialism. So he was the one who really intellectually made the palace conceived or created the conceptions of the Palestinian cause in the language of the radical left. Now, became the norm in Western universities. That booklet was picked up by the Soviet Union translated into many languages and globalize. This is just one example, of how the Soviet Union helped in this. The Soviet Union of course, A lot of these intellectuals, many of them. Some of them received their PhDs and Graduate Studies in France or the United States, and many others received them in the Soviet Union, including Mahmoud Abbas. For example, he had his Ph.D. in the Soviet Union. The KGB helped with the propaganda and the Recruitment and crafting of these ideologies. And afterward, the Soviet Union was responsible really for globalizing the ideas of the Palestinian revolutionary movement.
Joseph: Thank you, Hussein. So last question, as we are running out of time. How do you think we can combat this kind of ideology?
Hussein: Yeah, that’s a tough question and I’m afraid I don’t have an answer to it. This is me working on this story or trying to gather these different intellectual threads that paint this very different story. Actually made me extremely distrustful if that’s the word of intellectuals in general. I mean this is a story of, really the brightest and the smartest people. I’m not exaggerating. They were the brightest, the smartest the most privileged people among many societies, including European societies including the United States, who adopted these fad intellectual ideologies, that are really built on this unrestrained narcissism and Gnostic resentment towards the world and adopted it and made it not just an intellectual tradition. They emitted into identities. There are entire societies that are built on this. I would actually say that the story that I just outlined didn’t just happen. I mean, it happened I think in the most radical form in the Middle East, for certain reasons, but I will tell you that it happened all over. This became my identity. It became the national character. The national history of many Societies in Africa and ministers that are in Latin America and many Societies in Asia. I think the story that almost depressing because like if the smart people are the ones doing this or well, how you can fight it? I think by the end of the day, pragmatism and practical and real engagement in the world is the best solution to this. This is what happened and I think, in the Abrahamic accords, those Princes of the UAE, decided to normalize relations with Israel. They are the same people who paid money to popularize the work of Edward Saeed. They are the same people who paid money. It CARE by the way, the UAE on CARE now. The headquarter of CARE in New Jersey was paid for by the UAE. There are radical anti-Israel figures in D.C., and We’ve been funded a lot of their career by the UAE. Those princes changed their opinions, not because they brought an intellectual like Hussein who dispelled all of these ideas for them. They changed their opinions because they felt that, their interests are different. They need practical, they need to make other practical decisions. So I think we have to insist. This is why the BDS movement is very dangerous, and this is why we need to insist on talking to people who insist on our presence and insist on our voice, on campuses and everywhere. But that doesn’t mean that intellectual work doesn’t have a place. I mean that’s ultimately what I personally like. I think it’s very important to try to engage with as many young people as possible and it helped seduce them or end the seduction with these very fascinating ideologies that make these Grand promises, about ending all alienation and fixing all of your problems and the complete humanization of the world and bringing them more to a humble recognition of reality.
Joseph: Thank you so much for saying it was really a pleasure interviewing you. I’d like to also thank the audience for being with us today. And again, if you found the webinar informative, please share the link once it has been sent out, and thank you.
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