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CAHN: Shoebats love built on foundation of hate

Published: February 4, 2005
Section: Opinions


As I left the Shapiro Theater on the evening of January 31st, I felt a mixture of anger and sadness at the events I had just witnessed. For nearly two hours I heard the words of Walid Shoebat, and during that time I gained a renewed appreciation for the dangerous and seductive logic of fanaticism.

Shoebat came to Brandeis as a man filled with more than a love for Israel and the Jewish people;

he spoke and acted out of hatred for Islam and many of the Palestinian people. For those who question how Shoebat could hate the Palestinians given that he is one himself, I would remind them that we are on a campus where hardly a day goes by without the term self-hating Jew being uttered. If a Jew can be thought to hate the Jewish people, than why cannot a Palestinian come to hate the Palestinian people?
Shoebats simplistic outlook was not nearly as startling as the ease with which the audience accepted it. Often timesFrequently a seemingwhat seemed to be a majority of the room was moved to applause and laughter by the ingratiating platitudes that Shoebat used rather than delving into any of the serious and pressing matters of the Middle East.

Some of the loudest applause of the night came when Shoebat, a self-identified Christian, said that When Jesus comes I think Im fortunate hes a Jewish guy. When one man asked if Shoebat if he saw any hope for solving the problems within the Middle East, rather than answering the question Shoebat stated that hope for peace was a uniquely Jewish quality.

In the end Shoebat was a little more than a showman presenting a well-oiled routine, looking to tell the audience what they wanted to hear and little else. But showmanship can deceive for only so long. Looking back on the talk, I am convinced that much of Shoebats outlook was formed by ignorance as much as conviction.

Shoebat knows aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more intimately than I can ever hope to myself. But his experiences on the streets of Bethlehem are not enough to make him an expert on intricacies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Just because Shoebat says that the conflict is simple that does not make it so, no matter how much people want it to be.

I do not believe that a conflict can accurately be portrayed as no more than a battle between good and evil, a fight without the complexities that both human nature and statecraft inevitably bring about.

So profound was Shoebats desire to demonize the enemies of Israel that he was willing to redeem aspects of Nazism to bolster his case. Prior to the start of Shoebats speech I had the opportunity to speak privately with him, a time during which I sought to find common ground and converse on the topics that I knew we both felt so strongly about.

But in the course of that talk Shoebat spoke so ignorantly, so hatefully, that I lost hope of finding any commonality or means of engaging in dialogue. As our conversation went on, time after time he made repeated references to the hHolocaust, comparing Islamic fundamentalists to the Nazis. I asked whether he thought that there was any difference in the level of anti-Semitism embodied by Nazis and by Islamic fundamentalists. In response he said, Of course, its worse than Nazism. Nazis, I mean, they wanted to do a sort of clean job: put them in the ovens, nobody sees anything.

He went on further to justify his response by claiming that Islam commands men to sleep with Jewish women, and that the prophet Mohammad had taken Jewish women as wives after killing their husbands. Both of his statements on Islam are false and show Shoebats poor understanding of Islamic law and history.

At many points within his speech Shoebats statements provided a rather odd paradox: Shoebat praised the Jews for being a hopeful people and simultaneously tried to quash that hope by denying that events within the Middle East could be seen as signs that peace was more imminent. He claimed, despite the growing signs to the contrary, that Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) would never be a partner for peace.

Shoebat may have turned his life around, he may have abandoned a life of violence, but when he speaks I hear a voice of hatred, not one of love. Before we met, I had hoped that those humanistic forces that won Shoebat over to the side of Israel might empower him to see the humanity within all the peoples involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I was wrong.