Wed, Jun 27, 2007 - Page 9 News List

Embracing the Empire: Trading Nazis for Islam

By Ian Buruma

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has a long and distinguished record as an advocate of intervention in countries where human rights are abused. As a co-founder of Doctors Without Borders, he stated that "we were establishing the moral right to interfere inside someone else's country." Saddam Hussein's mass murder of Iraqi citizens is why he supported the war in Iraq. One should always be careful about attributing motives to other people's views. But Kouchner himself has often said that the murder of both his Russian-Jewish grandparents in Auschwitz inspired his humanitarian interventionism.

One may or may not agree with Kouchner's policies, but his motives are surely impeccable. The fact that many prominent Jewish intellectuals in Europe and the US -- often, like Kouchner, with a leftist past -- are sympathetic to the idea of using American armed force to further the cause of human rights and democracy in the world, may derive from the same wellspring. Any force is justified to avoid another Shoah, or Holocaust, and those who shirk their duty to support such force are regarded as no better than collaborators with evil.

If we were less haunted by memories of appeasing the Nazi regime, and of the ensuing genocide, people might not be as concerned about human rights as they are. And by no means do all those who work to protect the rights of others invoke the horrors of the Third Reich to justify Anglo-American armed intervention.

But the term "Islamofascism" was not coined for nothing. It invites us to see a big part of the Islamic world as a natural extension of Nazism. Saddam Hussein, who was hardly an Islamist, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is, are often described as natural successors to Adolf Hitler. And European weakness, not to mention the "treason" of its liberal scribes, paving the way to an Islamist conquest of Europe ("Eurabia") is seen as a ghastly echo of the appeasement of the Nazi threat.

Revolutionary Islamism is undoubtedly dangerous and bloody. Yet analogies with the Third Reich, although highly effective as a way to denounce people with whose views one disagrees, are usually false. No Islamist armies are about to march into Europe -- indeed, most victims of Revolutionary Islamism live in the Middle East, not in Europe -- and Ahmadinejad, his nasty rhetoric notwithstanding, does not have a fraction of Hitler's power.

The refusal of many Muslims to integrate into Western societies, as well as high levels of unemployment and ready access to revolutionary propaganda, can easily explode in acts of violence. But the prospect of an "Islamized" Europe is also remote. We are not living a replay of 1938.

So what about the high alarm about European appeasement, especially among the neo-conservatives? Why the easy equation of Islamism with Nazism? Israel is often mentioned as a reason. But Israel can mean different things to different people. To certain evangelical Christians, it is the holy site of the Second Coming of the Messiah. To many Jews, it is the one state that will always offer refuge. To neo-conservative ideologues, it is the democratic oasis in a desert of tyrannies.

Defending Israel against its Islamic enemies may indeed be a factor in the existential alarm-ism that underlies the present "war on terror." A nuclear-armed Iran would certainly make Israel feel more vulnerable. But it is probably overstated as an explanation. Kouchner did not advocate Western intervention in Bosnia or Kosovo because of Israel. If concern for Israel played a part in Paul Wolfowitz's advocacy of war in Iraq, it was probably a minor one. Both men were motivated by common concerns for human rights and democracy, as well as perhaps by geopolitical considerations.

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