We watched The Pianist on sunday. It’s a good movie about the holocaust. It tells the story of a Jewish pianist, Mr. Szpilman, in Warsaw during World War II. It shows the restrictions imposed by the Nazis on the Jewish population and their internment in the Warsaw ghetto. Szpilman’s family was sent to a concentration camp while he survived. The second half of the movie is basically Szpilman being helped by his friends in hiding and looking at events unfold. Szpilman looks like helpless to do anything except try to survive. The movie moved us a lot with its scenes of death and destruction.
After the movie, my wife and I got into a discussion on anti-semitism and how the restrictions on Jews increased over time until they reached genocidal proportions. It got us thinking about the anti-semitism in the Muslim world today. We have always found the conspiracy theories about Jewish (usually referred as Zionist in this context in Pakistan) power rather strange. These are, however, widespread feelings and are prevalent in the educated middle class as well. [Caveat: As with all generalizations, this one is also defective. Also, I have obviously not met even a small fraction of the 1 billion Muslims. This is just anecdotal evidence of my experience. Hence, it applies mainly to urban middle-class Pakistanis concerned about religion, politics and international affairs and even then not to all.] The more nationalist Pakistanis believe there is an axis of Indo-Zionist conspiracies against Muslims and especially Pakistan. The US is usually considered to be completely under Jewish influence and then there are the conspiracy theories floating about the role of Israel in the September 11 terrorist attacks. It is true that most of these wacko feelings started out with the founding of Israel (except may be in the region surrounding Israel.) But they have gone far beyond anti-Israel and even if there is peace in the Middle East tomorrow, the anti-semitism would remain.
One thing that I have observed in Pakistan is the lack of knowledge of history. History, except Muslim history in South Asia, is not taught in Pakistani schools; so it’s not a surprise. Hence, most people do not know much about World War II and the evil that was Nazi Germany. World War II is often seen as a war between European powers (probably countries that saw battles on the home front, like Indonesia, feel differently.) So there is a tendency for moral equivalence between the Allies and the Axis. When you add anti-semitism to the mix, there are people who either deny the holocaust, minimize it or horror of horrors think Hitler should have killed all Jews.
Back to the discussion with my wife: since we thought that the holocaust was a gradual process starting out probably in the hatred of Jews, we were worried whether Muslims and/or Arabs might try genocide one day. However, we came to the conclusion that it would not happen. The reason for that is not moral compunction on the part of Muslims/Arabs; rather the practical situation on the ground would deter anything like that. It’s a good thing that Israel today is a military power and has nuclear weapons. Also, I believe US support to Israel, especially for the survival of Israel itself, would deter or in the worst case thwart any attempt to destroy the country.