From Josef Joffe
Of course, antisemitism cannot be amusing. How could it be? This darkest of creeds has spawned million-fold death, not to speak of its less murderous forms like discrimination, persecution and expulsion.
But here is a rare instance that might bring at least a bittersweet smile to your face. Then, further below, we’ll get serious again.
Let’s listen to Captain Sayyed Shahada, a member of the Egyptian Unique Mustache Association, who opined as follows on Egyptian TV on July 11, 2008 (the clip may be viewed at the end of this post):
I respect the mustache of this Hitler, because he humiliated the most despicable sect in the world. He subdued the people who subdued the whole world—him with his ’11’ mustache.… The generation of this Hitler… When I was little, my father, may he rest in peace, grew that kind of mustache, and so did all his classmates. They all had this ’11’ mustache. That was in the days of Hitler.
Funny, isn’t it? Here are some salt-of-the-earth Egyptians who take pride in sporting “unique” mustaches and who have formed a club to promote this harmless pastime. Yet another little beacon of “civil society” which we cherish so much, isn’t it?
But the problem in the Arab Middle East is a civil society that is by no means civil. Indeed, as this Egyptian example shows (add Jordan), there is an inverse correlation between governmental policy and societal attitudes. For the government, it has been peace with Israel for almost 30 years. Down below, it is deeply rooted and pervasive antisemitism.
Aren’t we exaggerating a bit? No, and this is why these mustachioed Egyptians deliver such an interesting example. What could—normally—be farther away from a facial hair artist’s mind than Jews? Who would worry about this “despicable sect” while clipping his bristles?
Well, Captain Shahada does, and if he does, who does not? Classical European antisemitism—blood libel, world domination and all—has migrated to the Arab Middle East. Interestingly, it got there way before the founding of Israel, let alone the taking of the West Bank. And so did the admiration of Adolf Hitler, as the good captain recalls.
And so this semi-funny little story reveals a truth that is much larger than Hitler’s No. 11 mustache. Antisemitism, like any “anti-ism,” is not about its object (the Jews), but about the obsession in the anti-ist’s head. An obsession, your shrink will tell you, is the compulsive recurrence of images and ideas over which you have no control. The obsession consumes you, and it spreads relentlessly—all the way to mustaches, wax and clippers.
Think stubble and you think Hitler, Jews and world domination.
The Israelis have vacated Gaza, they might yet pull out of the West Bank, but how will they, qua Jews, ever manage to escape from the obsession-filled mind of Captain Shahada and millions of his kind?
It will be easier to re-divide Jerusalem than to remove this deepest of “root causes” from the collective psyche of Israel’s neighborhood.
If you do not see an embedded clip, click here.
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