By Clemens Heni, The Algemainer
July 31, 2012
European anti-Semitism scholars are in an uproar over the appointment of Achim Rohde, an Islamic studies scholar in the mold of the late Columbia Professor Edward Said, to the Berlin-based Center for Research on Antisemitism (ZfA), which is now branching out into a seemingly incongruous research project: the “Islamophobia in European Societies.”
Opponents of Dr. Rohde claim that his work is aimed at belittling anti-Semitism by confounding it with Professor Said’s Orientalism philosophy, which Dr. Rohde is now pushing hard as a sort of replacement theology: their confused thinking equates anti-Semitism with Orientalism and portrays Muslims as victims of Nazism and the Holocaust.
In April, the Center for Research on Antisemitism (ZfA) at the Berlin Technical University appointed Achim Rohde, a scholar in Islamic Studies, to conduct further research to evaluate the similarities of “antisemitism” and “Orientalism” “in the sense of Edward Said,” according to the announcement in a fawning ZfA newsletter a month after the appointment. In addition, Dr. Rohde will be working on the ZfA’s major project on “Islamophobia in European societies.” (“Islamophobia” as a research project of a Center for Research on Antisemitism seems out of place.)
Rohde was hired by the newly appointed head of the ZfA, historian Professor Stefanie Schüler-Springorum, herself only hired in June 2011, and a newcomer to scholarship on antisemitism. She has not published a single book on that topic, nor has Rohde.
The appointment has put a new spotlight on Professor Said’s work, bringing it further into the mainstream at the only German University based research center on antisemitism, which seems to have strayed from its mission. The accusation is that the ZfA and Rohde are promoting antisemitism instead of analyzing it.
For those unfamiliar, Edward Said (1935–2003) was the leading academic anti-Zionist voice in the US. He portrayed Arabs as the ‘new Jews’ as early as 1969 and equated Israel with South-African apartheid in 1979. He portrayed Israel as the leading Orientalist, imperialist and racist power in his bestselling book Orientalism in 1978.
In an interview in 1987, Professor Said said that Israelis had not learned the lessons from their own suffering under Nazi Germany. In his view Jews have become perpetrators now in the same way Germans or Nazis were perpetrators against the Jews. In 1999 Said said that, if he could choose, he would opt for a kind of renewed Ottoman Empire. Jews could become an accepted minority, but Israel would be destroyed.
Dr. Rohde entered this academic milieu when he was first published in 2010 by then head of the ZfA, controversial historian Wolfgang Benz. Rohde promotes the fantasy that Muslims and Arabs had been victims of Germany since the 19th century, if not long before. He follows the ideology of “the Orient within.” This means that while Orientalists aim at Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East, they aim at Jews in Europe. Jews are victims of Orientalism within the homeland of the empire, Europe, so to speak, while Arabs and Muslims are victims abroad, in the Middle East and in the fantasies of artists, authors, writers, politicians, intellectuals, the public, art historians, painters, etc.
This equation of antisemitism and Orientalism is a denial of antisemitism, which we clearly understand as being based on conspiracy theories, blood libels, anti-liberalism, anti-capitalism, anti-communism, anti-Westernism and many other aspects of that “longest hatred,” a term of historian Robert S. Wistrich. The “lethal obsession” (Wistrich) of antisemitism cannot be compared or equated with supposed or real Orientalism and alleged or real problematic views vis-à-vis the Arabs and Muslims. Particularly after 9/11 it has become fashionable and useful to ignore Islamism and Muslim antisemitism and to talk about Arabs, Muslims and Jews as victims of Orientalism. Anti-Zionist antisemitism is a core element of this post-Orientalist ideology from the work of Edward Said.
Achim Rohde and many colleagues, who are obsessed with post-colonial ideology and Edward Said, also ignore or deny the close friendships of German Emperor Wilhelm II, who traveled to the Ottoman Empire in 1898 and portrayed himself as friend of the Muslims. German Islamists remember this German-Muslim friendship until today. In 1914, during the First World War, Wilhelm II initiated the Jihad of the Ottoman Empire, as Middle East Studies scholar and historian Wolfgang G. Schwanitz has shown.
Subsequently, the Arab Muslim Brotherhood developed close ties with the Nazis even before the Holocaust. During the Shoah, the Arab and Muslim leader at the time, Haj Amin al-Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, collaborated with Hitler and the Germans. Nazi Germany was pro-Arab and pro-Muslim, and anti-Jewish. Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal documented the close relationship of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, al-Husseini, and the Axis (Nazi Germany and fascist Italy) in 1947.
Nazi scholar Hans Lindemann published a work about Islam in 1941, urging the Germans to see the similarities of the Muslim world and National Socialism. A leading Nazi agitator, Johann von Leers, was happy about Islamism and converted to Islam after the defeat of Nazi Germany and went to Egypt, like many former Nazis, to spread Jew-hatred and antisemitism in that leading Arab country. Egyptian President Nasser welcomed these Nazis and collaborated with them, as the American Jewish Committee documented as early as 1957. Historian Robert Wistrich analyzed the antisemitism of Egypt and von Leers in 1985.
During the 1950s, the Federal Republic of Germany became a hotbed for Islamism (supported by Federal agencies), thanks to anti-communist hysteria of the time, as Pulitzer Prize winner Ian Johnson and historian Stefan Meining have shown in recent years. Finally, 9/11 inflamed German Schadenfreude, anti-American, anti-Israel and pro-Islamist tendencies.
Dr. Rohde, from the younger generation (born in 1969), is equally aggressive against critics of antisemitism as is Professor Benz. Rohde’s doctoral thesis was about Iraq’s Ba’ath Party, Saddam Hussein, gender-relations in Iraq, and the ideology of pan-Arabism. He submitted his work in 2006 at the Institute for Islamic Studies at Free University Berlin. His first reader was the controversial (in Germany: prize winning) scholar Professor Gudrun Krämer, who is known for portraying the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hasan al-Banna, as a nice guy with great ideas to promote Islam. She is also known for her support of the leading Sunni Islamist in the world, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who praised Adolf Hitler in January 2009 on Al-Jazeera TV, aired from Qatar, where he lives.
For the young Rohde, Iraq’s Ba’ath party style pan-Arabism failed. He urged the Arab world to look for a stronger and more successful way of pan-Arab ideology and action. He was against the “hegemony of globalization” and referred to Professor Said, Daniel Boyarin and anti-Zionist Jacqueline Rose. Unfortunately, at the time it never seemed to raise any eyebrows that the young Rohde would refer to anti-Zionist and antisemitic authors in a doctoral dissertation dedicated to the analysis of Iraq, gender relations and pan-Arabism.
Professors Boyarin and Rose have been analyzed as examples of progressive Jewish antisemitism by scholar in literature and Jewish Studies Alvin H. Rosenfeld in 2006. It is telling that the young Rohde deleted these references at the very end of his study to Professors Boyarin, Rose and Said in his published book in 2010 on the same topic.
In the paper, Rohde referred to German historian Jürgen Zimmerer, a leading voice in distorting the Holocaust by universalizing it and framing colonial crimes as forerunners of the Shoah. For Rohde, imperialism, racism, and Orientalism were closely related to Nazi Germany. He also compared German and Nazi “sexual politics” with those of the United States and Israel in the 20th century.
Achim Rohde is not a direct Holocaust denier; instead he trivializes and distorts the Shoah by referring to Arab authors like Hazem Saghiyeh and Saleh Bashir. Saghiyeh and Bashir published an article in 1997 in which they argued against Holocaust denial, characterizing it as too stupid an argument to be useful in their fight against Zionism. Indeed, even Said is against hard-core Holocaust denial, but he said in the very same article Rohde referred to that “Zionism” is based on “apartheid.”
The same holds for the article Universalising the Holocaust by Hazem Saghiyeh and Saleh Bashir. They accused Israel of not having learned the lessons from history; they distorted and trivialized the Shoah completely by equating it with racism and colonialism:
“The dissociation between the acknowledgment of the Holocaust and what Israel is doing should be the starting point for the development of a discourse which says that the Holocaust does not free the Jewish state or the Jews of accountability. On the contrary, the Nazi crime compounds their moral responsibility and exposes them to greater answerability. They are the ones who have escaped the ugliest crime in history, and now they are perpetrating reprehensible deeds against another people. Modern Jewish consciousness can no longer look at the world from the exclusive perspective of the Holocaust, in spite of the magnitude of the event and its enormity. Within these parameters, it becomes pressing to (re)present the event as a trial for human suffering more than a purely and exclusively Jewish one, especially since the Jews in recent decades have started losing their long-standing “monopoly” over the tragic. The Turk in Germany, the Algerian in France, and always the black in every place, head the columns of victims of racism in the world and in them, albeit in different proportions and degrees, is the continuation of the suffering of the Jews of which the Holocaust was the culmination.”
This antisemitic argumentation, which universalizes the Holocaust and therefore trivializes it, is a basic assumption of Dr. Rohde. For him, like for Saghiyeh and Bashir, Turkish, Algerian or Black people are seen in a “continuation of the suffering of the Jews of which the Holocaust was the culmination.”
This is a denial of the Holocaust if we look at the situation of Turks in Germany or Arabs and Algerians in France at any time. It is unscholarly in nature to equate the situation of immigrants or citizens with an immigrant background and the Holocaust.
In an article in 2005, Dr. Rohde thanked anti-Zionist authors Moshe Zuckermann from Israel and German sociologist and anti-Zionist Klaus Holz for helpful comments and support. Holz was on the short-list for the job as head of the ZfA and Zuckermann knows Schüler-Springorum, too.
For Rohde, Zionism is based on “central aspects of modern antisemitism;” for him it is “a kind of identification with the aggressor.” He attacks Israel and remembrance of the Shoah in Israel and urges the Arab and Muslim world not to deny the Holocaust, but to attack “Shoah remembrance in Israel” from a “higher ground.” This “higher ground” is the distortion or trivialization of the Holocaust and not hard-core denial of it.
It is not surprising, though it should be, that Dr. Rohde, a new appointee to an institution created to be a bulwark against anti-Semitism, has recently been involved in anti-Semitic rallies and polemics. In December 2008, he supported an Internet campaign by a German anti-Israel and antisemitic website in support of German political scientist and anti-Zionist activist Ludwig Watzal. Secretary General of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Stephan Kramer, attacked the “antisemitic clichés” of Watzal in April 2008. Then, the Central Council of Jews in Germany pleaded to dismiss Watzal as co-worker of a Federal Agency. Political scientist and expert on Islamism, Iran, and antisemitism, Matthias Küntzel, criticized Watzal in 2005 as well.
In his support of Watzal, Rohde was joined by Palestinian Abdallah Frangi, from the PLO, antisemitic author Norman Finkelstein, left-wing politician Inge Höger, who joined the terrorist Gaza flotilla in 2010 (she was on the Mavi Marmara), and over 300 other anti-Zionist activists, scholars etc. Watzal is a particularly aggressive anti-Zionist voice in Germany. Due to many of his anti-Israel articles, critics like Social Democrat Franziska Drohsel, then head of the youth organization of the Social Democrats in Germany (Jusos), supported Jewish organizations who urged the Federal Agency for Education to take a clear stand against their co-worker Watzal. German daily Die Welt reported about the anti-Israel stand of Watzal. While ZfA co-worker Achim Rohde supported Ludwig Watzal in 2008, even his colleague at the ZfA, Juliane Wetzel, criticized Watzal’s writing and his fantasies about “Jewish capital” and “Jewish power,” according to an article in 2006.
Dr. Rohde also sided with Middle East Studies scholar Gil Anidjar from Columbia University and his study The Jew, The Arab. A History of the Enemy from 2003, because Anidjar equates antisemitism with Orientalism and portrays Muslims as victims of Nazism and the Holocaust. For Anidjar, Zionism is antisemitic, because it aims at Judaism, Jews, Arabs, and Islam. He applies Said’s ideology of the “Semite” and accuses “Orientalism” of being antisemitic, including being anti-Arab. This is a denial of antisemitism, of its term and ideology. Islam has a legacy of antisemitism, although on another level as Christian antisemitism. Portraying Muslims and Arabs as victims of European history is beyond reality. Islam is an imperialist religion, like Christianity. For centuries, Jews have been oppressed and murdered by Christians and also by Arabs and Muslims (on a lower scale). Since 1945 and particularly since 9/11 Islamism and Arab anti-Zionism are the biggest threat to Jews and Israel. Iran seeks nuclear weapons and its president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is known for his incitement to genocide; he pleads for a “World without Zionism,” and is followed by the entire Iranian regime and substantial parts of Western academia and activists as well. Edward Said fought for a world without Zionism, too, decades before Ahmadinejad, and even before the Iranian revolution in 1979.
Anidjar makes fun of Jews and the Holocaust and equates the fate of Jews with the history of the word “Muslim.” For him, like for fashionable Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, Jews died as “Muslims” and not as Jews in Auschwitz. This is linguistic anti-Semitism. These horrible games with language are mainstream in many post-structuralist, post-modern and anti-Semitic circles. It is shocking, though, that a scholar from the ZfA refers favorably to this parody of scholarship.
In reality Muslims were allies of the Nazis, we know of SS-Imams, Muslims in the German army, the Wehrmacht, SS-units and so on. Rohde follows Anidjar and says that both Jews and Muslims have been victims of Europe since the crusades. In an interview about his book, Anidjar rejects any scholarly analysis of the “new antisemitism” and equates anti-Semitism with racism or the situation of Muslims. In 2009 Anidjar published another article and equated (and mentioned the “link” between) colonialism and the Holocaust; he attacked Israel, the US and the War on Terror, in order to portray the poor and innocent Arabs (and Muslims) as victims of Israel and the US. Already in his 2003 book and then in his 2009 article, Anidjar applied the grotesque distinction between “The Jew, the Arab: good Semite, bad Semite.” Like Edward Said and many protagonists of post-colonial theory, he denies that antisemitism was an anti-Jewish ideology from the very beginning (and not a kind of Orientalism), starting with Wilhelm Marr’s agitation in Germany in 1879. Consequently, Anidjar was a speaker in 2009 at the Israel Apartheid Week and promoted boycotting Israel and therefore Jews. This is no problem and not worth mentioning for German academics like Achim Rohde or Felix Wiedemann, also a scholar from the younger generation; as quoted, Achim Rohde referred to Anidjar very positively in 2005 as well as in 2010, Wiedemann refers to Anidjar’s scandalous book from 2003 (The Jew, The Arab) in 2012, and promotes Rohde’s approach, too, embedded in esoteric, cotton-ball-style criticism.
Achim Rohde’s appointment to Berlin’s premier, tax-supported Center for Research on Antisemitism (ZfA) at Technical University in Berlin, is a travesty for the institution, seeming to run in the face of why it was created and only portends further conflict in the future.
In review, there are 8 major problems with this appointment of Dr. Achim Rohde:
1. He supports antisemitic, anti-Zionist, post-colonial and post-Orientalist superstar Edward Said;
2. He supports German anti-Zionist and highly controversial activist Ludwig Watzal;
3. He supports antisemitic, anti-Zionist authors like Daniel Boyarin and Jacqueline Rose;
4. He supports authors who make fun of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, who defame Israel as apartheid and promote the boycott of Israel like Gil Anidjar;
5. He supports the trivialization and in fact denial of the Holocaust by equating it with the situation of Turks in Germany today with reference to Hazem Saghiyeh and Saleh Bashir;
6. He equates antisemitism with “Orientalism” and denies the genocidal ideology of antisemitism;
7. He ignores or affirms the Iranian and Islamist threat;
8. He dwells on the fantasy of “Islamophobia” and he is employed to do so by the ZfA.
The Center for Research on Antisemitism (ZfA) at the Technical University Berlin should finally change its name to something more fitting, perhaps The German Edward Said Center for Holocaust Distortion and Post-Colonial Anti-Semitism?