Anti-Semitism, Arab world, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Conversations with History, Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Harry Kreisler, Islam, Islamism, Israel, jahiliyya, Jordan, Judaism, Lawrence Wright, Muhammad, Muslim, Muslim Brotherhood, Muslim World, Nazism, Palestine, Syria
“After years of rhetorical attacks on Israel, Nasser demanded the removal of UN peacekeepers in the Sinai and then blockaded the Strait of Tiran to Israeli shipping. [In the summer of 1967] Israel responded with an overwhelming preemptive attack that destroyed the entire Egyptian air force within two hours. When Jordan, Iraq, and Syria joined the war against Israel, their air forces were also wiped out that same afternoon. In the next few days Israel captured all of the Sinai, Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights, while crushing the forces of the frontline Arab states.
It was a psychological turning point in the history of the modern Middle East. The speed and decisiveness of the Israeli victory in the Six Day War humiliated many Muslims who had believed until then that God favored their cause. They had lost not only their armies and their territories but also faith in their leaders, in their countries, and in themselves. The profound appeal of Islamic fundamentalism in Egypt and elsewhere was born in this shocking debacle. A newly strident voice was heard in the mosques; the voice said that they had been defeated by a force far larger than the tiny country of Israel. God had turned against the Muslims. The only way back to Him was to return to the pure religion. The voice answered despair with a simple formulation: Islam is the solution.
There was in this equation the tacit understanding that God sided with the Jews. Until the end of World War II, there was little precedent in Islam for the anti-Semitism that was now warping the politics and society of the region. Jews had lived safely — although submissively — under Muslim rule for 1,200 years, enjoying full religious freedom; but in the 1930s, Nazi propaganda on Arabic-language shortwave radio… infected the area with this ancient Western prejudice. After the war Cairo became a sanctuary for Nazis, who advised the military and the government. The rise of the Islamist movement coincided with the decline of fascism, but they overlapped in Egypt, and the germ passed into a new carrier.
The founding of the state of Israel and its startling rise to military dominance unsettled the Arab identity. In the low condition the Arabs found themselves in, they looked upon Israel and recalled the time when the Prophet Mohammed had subjugated the Jews of Medina. They thought about the great wave of Muslim expansion at the point of Arab spears and swords, and they were humbled by the contrast of their proud martial past and their miserable present. History was reversing itself; the Arabs were as fractious and disorganized and marginal as they had been in jahiliyya times. Even the Jews dominated them. The voice in the mosque said that the Arabs had let go of the one weapon that gave them real power: faith. Restore the fervor and purity of the religion that had made the Arabs great, and God would once again take their side.”
Pulled from the second chapter of Lawrence Wright’s 2006 book The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. The above photo shows Motta Gur’s paratroopers, the first wave of Israeli troops to reach Jerusalem’s Old City during the conflict.
I apologize for the brief hiatus. I’ve been busy in my time off, reading (Pale Fire, the news) and adding to an already massive drafts folder. Your regular programming will resume this week.
You can watch Wright discuss the subjects of Tower with the University of California’s Harry Kreisler below. It’s lulling to listen to such mellowed, Peter Sagal-type tones describe the world’s most notorious barbarians.
Then read on:
- In a stunning piece of historical footage, Nasser describes his argument with the Muslim Brotherhood
- Wright cogently illustrates how deposing Saddam resurrected al-Qaeda
- What did Lawrence of Arabia want to do about the Mideast?