Sunday, 4 March 2007
Historical Amnesia

Orson Scott Card writes at Civilization Watch (h/t LGF):

..the reason I stopped listening to Steve Berry's The Alexandria Link is that this book is evil...

I mean that this book, to the degree that it is read by people ignorant of history (i.e., practically everybody), will move us closer to a future in which our society permits or even approves of the murder of Jews and the destruction of the state of Israel...

At the beginning of the book, we are shown a Palestinian during the 1948 war over the creation of the state of Israel. The scene is about how this Palestinian has been torturing a man he captured in order to find out what he is doing; then he kills him. But the torture is not treated in the fiction as anything other than a regrettable necessity; later, the character does in fact regret his actions that day.

That's not what makes this book evil. No, it's the fact that Berry sets this scene against a background in which Israelis are systematically driving all the Palestinians out of Israel; the Israelis are heavily armed by the British while the Palestinians have no weapons to counter them; and the Israelis have rounded up whole villages of Palestinians and slaughtered them, men and women alike.

These things are not what the scene is about. They are slipped in as background; they are treated as if they were the sort of thing that was really going on in Palestine in 1948.

This is the kind of thing that readers -- especially ones who don't know anything about history -- are likely to assume the writer has researched, so that it can be trusted. The book is fiction, so we know this particular character did not torture and kill the other guy -- that part is obviously made up. But the background is assumed to be real. And readers often come out of books like this thinking they now know something about the real world...

Posted on 03/04/2007 3:13 PM by Rebecca Bynum
4 Mar 2007
Hugh Fitzgerald

The article is good, and strong, but not strong enough. That is, the writer accepts a few lies along the way, including the most successful one, the one that began after the Six Day War, in which local Arabs were transmuted into the "Palestinian people. " Given that most people know nothing, and are at the level of "well, there's a Palestine, and there's this Palestinian people" so I guess "Palestine must belong to those Palestinian people" -- knowing nothing of the history of the area, nothing of its fate under Arab and then Ottoman rule, nothing about the treatment of the Jews under Muslim rule, in "Palestine" and outside (from Morocco to Yemen), have some vague notions that Jews were "well-treated" under Islam -- an idea belied by the fact that 9/10ths of the world's Jews were living outside that supposedly "tolerant" Muslim world by the beginning of the last century, and none are left, save for the tiniest remnant, anywhere in Dar al-Islam, nothing of the cadastral or demographic facts about that area which, if one bothers to find out, make the case even stronger.

I don't want to quibble with Orson Scott Card, however. He deserves praise. He understands, as many Americans do -- far more than do non-Jews in other places -- that it is not enough not to be an antisemite. Given the incredible history of the Jews, and the incredible behavior of so much of the world, and given the stakes now, there is an affirmative duty, as the lawyers say, imposed on  all those non-Jews who have managed either to remain unaffected by antisemitism or, by dint of their own efforts, to throw off all bits and pieces of it, and that duty requires them  to make a point of pointing out what contributes to, or what reveals, antisemitism wherever it may be. Some think too much is made of this pathological mental condition, a condition that has nothing to do with Jews but with mental states of the possessors. On the contrary. Not enough is made of it, and it is not recognized often enough as the explanation for attitudes and a quickness to accept the most absurd of lies, big and little. Orson Scott Card belongs to the Camp of Those Who Won't Have It, Won't Have Any Of It. And that is the only Camp to belong to, for intelligent and decent non-Jews everywhere. It is not enough for them to be non-carriers of the mental virus. They have a duty to help to diagnose, and then inoculate, others.