Fear and loathing of Islam on Israel's Channel 10
A documentary series about Muslims in Europe arouses strong emotions among Jewish Israeli viewers. Chief among them is schadenfreude.
"Fear is the mind-killer," wrote author Frank Herbert in "Dune." It is hard to say that "Allah Islam," the new Channel 10 documentary series by Zvi Yehezkeli and David Deri, is thought-provoking. But it definitely arouses emotions, and one in particular - fear. "I'm not coming out of fear. Let's not be afraid of the Muslims in Europe. Let's see what their story is," says Yehezkeli at the beginning of the series. So maybe he isn't coming out of fear, but he arrives there very fast, and he takes the viewers along with him.
This is a frightening series, and not only for Israelis. The series triggers not only fear among Jewish Israeli viewers, but also a much stronger emotion: joy or, to be more precise, schadenfreude. And there's no joy like it. The same emotion we felt when the Twin Towers fell: Ah, finally the Americans will understand too. And now finally the (bleeding heart) Europeans also understand. And they're also afraid.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall and Communism there was a vacuum created by the loss of the enemy who threatens Western culture, a position that every culture and society must fill in order to define itself. In the past decade (probably prior to that too, perhaps because of the large number of Jews in Hollywood, but let's not get carried away) it has been filled by Islam. We are afraid of Islamic Jihad, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Iranian bomb, the burqa, the kaffiyeh and religious coercion, and rightly so, it seems.
Swap Islamic for Jewish-Bolshevik
This is what Noam Chomsky has to say about fear in Nazi Germany in his article "The Manipulation of Fear": "Complex historical events always have many causes. One crucial factor in this case was skillful manipulation of fear. The 'ordinary folk' were driven to fear of a Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy to take over the world. Extreme measures were therefore necessary, in 'self-defense.'"
It's very easy to replace the words "Jewish-Bolshevik" with the word "Islamic," and "self defense" with the speech of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and to obtain the thesis behind "Allah Islam," but that would not be an accurate comparison. First of all, the series does not appear to be manipulative, at least not the kind of manipulation that is imposed from above by the leadership. Although it is suspiciously similar to the government's policy, it is hard to believe that a journalist with basic integrity like Yehezkeli would subordinate himself to orders from above; after all, he has too high an opinion of himself.
On the screen at least, Yehezekeli is an "ordinary man," and the ordinary folk, like me and you, are afraid even without being manipulated. We are afraid because we have reason to be afraid. We have money (relatively) and we have power (relatively). Why should we want anything to change? This is not a question of racism or xenophobia but rather of comfort, television, fashion, food, coffee and the financial ability to hire someone who will do the dirty work for you.
It's all about money
So Yehezkeli asks the right question: "Is this a religious struggle or a socioeconomic one?" But he doesn't give an answer, or to be more exact, he gives the wrong answer, one that diverts us from the main issue which is, as always, money. The Muslims are stuck in classical Europe without money, and seeing all this abundance s right in front of them, they go off the deep end (just look at the group of Parisians gathered in a small bistro over a plate of mussels in butter and garlic, presented by Yehezkeli, the anti-Islam fighter).
It's not certain that everything centers around Mohammed. Chomsky goes on to claim in the same article that Western culture delegitimizes the fear experienced by the other, in this case the Muslims. If we think about it for a moment, the Muslims certainly have a reason for fear, and perhaps even more than we do. I'm sure that even the religious Muslims are afraid of a change in their existing order, which is convenient for at least part of the population, and at least a sufficiently large part so that an Islamic government like that of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be allowed. And in the case of Western capitalism, this is not even a conspiracy but an overt and specific plan, which is succeeding quite well. At least for now we're winning and we're right, at least in our own eyes.
And here is the main dirty trick that Yehezkeli and Deri use in their series. Yes, there's a trick here, and no, I'm not talking about the fact that the high-school age interviewees do not receive captions with their names, as opposed to respectable Swedish sociologists. I'm not even talking about the fact that there are pictures of blood on the floor, whose origin is not quite clear, nor whether it was actually spilled in the same French neighborhood that is being discussed at that moment. I'm talking about the basic feeling that connects Israel to Europe, that includes us in the circle of enlightenment and Western mores. If you have reached this point in the text, you must have noticed that up to this moment in time it is written from a viewpoint that accepts this basic assumption. And it is a fundamentally false assumption. We are not in Europe. We're not even with Europe. We're something else.
It's odd that almost an entire episode is devoted to the sad state of women in Islam, when the situation of women in Judaism is no better. You want to talk about Sharia law? Let's talk a little about agunot (women who cannot get a religious divorce) and the Chief Rabbinate. It would have been nice if Yehezkeli and Deri were to recall for a moment that here it's not exactly Sweden and we're not exactly Europe. Sometimes I have a feeling that their series is not necessarily meant for Israelis, but rather for sale in foreign countries. At this point Chomsky would probably say that the role of the dissident is to deal first of all with the injustices in his own country and afterwards with what is happening overseas. On the other hand, it's hard to say that this is a rule that Chomsky himself lives by.
Let's imagine an opposite scenario for a moment: A journalist arrives in Israel and talks to a few Jews who are religious and extremist, let's say, settlers in Hebron, and hears their strange ideas about Arabs. Are they less frightening than the extremist Muslims? Is their coercion less coercive? There was in fact such a program, "The Ultra Zionists," not by a Muslim, but by Briton Louis Theroux. I'm sure that it had a far lower rating in Israel than "Allah Islam," but for some of us it was no less frightening. Not because we hate Jews, but because the settlers are at least as threatening to our comfort as the Muslims. And they are probably afraid of us too.
And yet, at the end of the day there is no better reason to watch television today. Without series such as "Allah Islam," television will simply die. In any case it is on its last legs. There's no problem downloading series from abroad on the Internet, reality series can be watched on the computer and the news has long since lost its value in the era of up-to-the-minute updates on the Internet. So the only question remaining is why we are so eager to be frightened when we watch television. And, frightened we are, to judge by the ratings of "Allah Islam" (about 20 percent, for a documentary series). Answers will be welcomed.
That's enough now. Pass the remote. I'm already depressed. Only a peek at the Kardashians will remind me that it's no less shocking in America.