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The Jerusalem syndrome

Andre Glucksmann on reactions to the war in Lebanon: From surrealistic geopolitics to apocalyptic delusion.

The outrage of so many outraged people outrages me. On the scales of world opinion, some Muslim corpses are light as a feather, and others weigh tonnes. Two measures, two weights. The daily terrorist attacks on civilians in Baghdad, killing 50 people or more, are checked off in reports under the heading of miscellaneous, while the bomb that took 28 lives in Qana is denounced as a crime against humanity. Only a few intellectuals like Bernard-Henri Lévy or Magdi Allam, chief editor of the Corriere della Sera, find this surprising. Why do the 200,000 slaughtered Muslims of Darfur not arouse even half a quarter of the fury caused by 200-times fewer dead in Lebanon? Must we deduce that Muslims killed by other Muslims don't count - whether in the eyes of Muslim authorities or viewed through the bad conscience of the west? This conclusion has its weak spots, because if the Russian Army - Christian, and blessed by their popes - razes the capital of Chechnian Muslims (Grosny, with 400,000 residents) killing tens of thousands of children in the process, this doesn't count either. The Security Council does not hold meeting after meeting, and the Organization of Islamic States piously averts its eyes. From that we may conclude that the world is appalled only when a Muslim is killed by Israelis.

Should we thus presume that the public at large implicitly endorses the ideas that Ahmadinedjad shouts at the top of his lungs? And yet so many of those sceptics who display consternation over bombings in Lebanon seem shocked if you suspect them of anti-Semitism. I want to trust them. We don't want to imagine that the entire planet is mired in anti-Jewish paranoia! But then the matter becomes even more puzzling. What is the source of this hemiplegia? Why is the world frightened by Israeli bombs alone?

Perhaps the reason why the deaths in Lebanon are so disproportionately shocking as compared with the starving people of Darfur and the ruins of Chechnya is that they are seen as a surrealistic geopolitical signal. Anyone who follows the news in Gaza or Qana does not simply count the dead on a particularly violent day - rather, the coffins of these victims encircle the aura of a fatal promise - a promise that the hundreds of thousands of corpses from Africa and the Caucasus have no chance of approaching. Haven't legions of experts - for decades now - identified the Mideast conflict as the centre of the world's chaos and the key to its pacification? Is there any diplomat who does not repeat ad nauseum the formula about the gates to a hell of future wars versus the gates to world harmony, all of which open in Jerusalem? A never-changing script haunts 21st century minds. The script maintains that everything is decided on the banks of the Jordan. In its most grim version, that means: As long as four million Israelis and as many Palestinians are facing off against one another, 300 million Arabs and 1.5 billion Muslims are condemned to live in hate, bloody slaughter and desperation. And the rosier version: We just need peace in Jerusalem to put out the fires in Tehran, Karachi, Khartoum and Baghdad and to set the course for universal harmony.

Have our sages gone crazy? Do they really believe that sans Israeli-Palestinian conflict nothing bad would have happened, neither the deadly Khomeini Revolution, nor the bloody Baathist dictatorships in Syria and Iraq, nor the decade of Islamic terrorism in Algeria, nor the Taliban in Afghanistan, nor the angry warriors of God the world over? The sad, reverse hypothesis is seldom posed, but it is actually much more likely: Every truce along the Jordan is fleeting, as long as the palaces and streets, the majority of the intelligentsia and the officials of the Muslim world hang on to their anti-western passion. Globalization (which entails the dismantling of economic barriers but more importantly all social and mental barriers) necessarily leads to tough and terrible defensive reactions. The development of anti-western ideologies in Germany, from Fichte to Hitler, does not depend on the foundation of the Zionist state. The anti-western affect is constantly renewed in Russia, from the tsars to Stalin and on up through Putin. And it would be naive to presume that the Iranian lust for power, in search of its Khomeinistic force de frappe, uses the "Jewish question" as anything more than a pretence for a universal Jihad. Does anyone think that the green subversion, after erasing Israel from the map, will mark its success by laying down its weapons?

A hypocritical geopolitics, which ordains the Mideast as a basic pillar of the world order, has become the religion of the European Union, the belief of the unbelievers and of the doubters of the west. Post-modern thinkers have no justification in proclaiming the end of all ideologies. In fact, we are swimming in an ideological illusion and have secretly exchanged our deceptive hopes for a final battle with a fearful incantation conjuring a catastrophe to end all catastrophes, that is just as absolute. While our head swarms with surrealistic ghosts, our heart perceives, in every photo from Lebanon, the death of humankind. Jerusalem is only the centre of the world because it is considered the centre of the end of the world. Our illusions feed on apocalyptic notions.

And so every Mideast conflict is like a rehearsal for the end of days. Just look at the undefinable war of cultures, if you need convincing. And anyone taking that position is resigned to a self-fulfilling prophecy. The years of bombing of Israeli cities by the rockets of the Party of God become a foretaste of the Iranian godfather's promised destruction. And so, as Clausewitz already noted with irony, it is not the aggressor who starts the war. Instead it is he who steps in to stop the aggression. So Israel is guilty. Guilty of a collectively fomented fantasy of the end of days. From surrealistic geopolitics to delusion - just one step.


This article first appeared in Le Figaro on 8 August, 2006.

Andre Glucksmann is a French philosopher and writer.

Translation: Toby Axelrod. - let's talk european