|Neil Berry, email@example.com|
In the face of Iraq’s remorselessly mounting carnage, those who query the claim that the death toll among Iraqi people now runs into hundreds of thousands are losing all credibility. Not that many of the war’s proponents seem ready to admit that they made a profound error of judgment; rather they are shifting their ground, no longer questioning the scale of the killing so much as denying that the occupation may be held to blame for it. The British armchair warrior Geoffrey Alderman, for instance, has doubted if more than 1,000 Iraqis have died at the hands of the coalition forces; his implication seems to be that Iraqi people have squandered the opportunity bestowed on them by the US and Britain to become a civilized democracy and shown themselves to be addicted to bloody sectarian warfare.
Alderman is a Jewish historian, with a regular column in the weekly paper the Jewish Chronicle. Jewish voices have been prominent among those who have expressed skepticism about the death toll in Iraq or who have otherwise made light of it, in the process absolving Britain and America of guilt for what is happening there. The London political pundit Nick Cohen has consistently argued that it is the left in Britain that has much to answer for the Iraq debacle on account of its failure to support the fledgling Iraqi democratic movement. Impenitent about his own pro-war stance, Cohen has persuaded himself that the war’s opponents are crypto-fascists so contemptuous of democracy as to be pleased that the effort to “liberate” Iraq has failed.
It could be said that US foreign policy in the Middle East has led to a form of genocide, that Iraq has become a slaughterhouse, the scene of an incipient Muslim holocaust. Yet nothing is more certain than that the likes of Alderman and Cohen would regard any such claim as an obscene misapplication of a term that has become exclusively reserved to describe the mass extermination of Jews at the hands of the Nazis. As it happens, the issue of alleged rising anti-Semitism and of a possible new holocaust have become an increasing Jewish preoccupation, even as the killing of Muslims in Iraq and elsewhere has assumed macabre proportions.
It’s worth pondering the huge popularity of the film “Borat” against the background of the Iraq war and characteristic Jewish responses to the conflict. The brainchild of the British Jewish comic, Sacha Baron Cohen, the film purports to be a documentary by an ignorant reporter named Borat from a fictionalized version of the largely Muslim state of Kazakhstan dealing with his experience of traveling through the United States. Got up to look like a “typical| Kazakhstani, Borat begins the film with an introduction to life in his own country which dwells, among other things, on the bovine qualities of Kazakhstani women, especially his wife, and generally portrays Kazakhstan as a ludicrously primitive Slavic backwater. That the film has caused much offense in Kazakhstan itself comes as no surprise, though the Kazakhstan government has by this stage plumped for the view that all publicity is good publicity, and it is true that “Borat” may yet prove of inestimable advantage to the Kazakhstan tourist industry.
“Borat” portrays one of the favorite Kazakhstan customs as a sport called “running the Jew” which involves the ritual humiliation of Jewish people. Having arrived in America, the endlessly crude Borat has no trouble unmasking the US as a country no more civilized than “Kazakhstan”, a society where troglodyte attitudes are the rule and where racism, not least anti-Semitism, is endemic. What lends piquancy to the indictment is that the film is filled with spontaneous encounters between Borat and real Americans who believed that they were being interviewed by a genuine Kazakhstani journalist.
“Borat” is to be sure hilarious stuff, much of it working on the level of Chaplinesque slapstick, the kind of daft visual humor which enjoys universal appeal, as when Borat unpacks his suitcase in a hotel lift which he has mistaken for his room. Convulsed with mirth, the viewer can thus easily fail to notice that gags exposing anti-Semitism feature rather more in the movie than do gags exposing racism against blacks or ones exposing Islamophobia (always assuming that we are dealing with genuine jibes against racism in the first place: Some Jews think the film brands Cohen himself an anti-Semite). Judging from “Borat”, you would have to conclude that anti-Semitism is a far more conspicuous scourge of the early 21st Century than hostility to Muslims, a curious message for a satirist to be conveying during a period when incalculable numbers of Muslims are dying in the Middle East thanks to the machinations of the United States, Britain and Israel.
What has made it hard to pin down just where Baron Cohen himself stands on such issues is that he has hitherto fought shy of giving media interviews in which he was not playing the part of “Borat” or one of his other comic creations, notably the pseudo-black rapper “Ali G” or the spoof Austrian gay “Bruno”.
Last week, however, possibly emboldened by the success of “Borat”, Cohen at last came clean about his politics, giving an interview to Rolling Stone magazine, from which it is plain that his Jewish background has been central to the formation of his worldview. An alumnus of a Zionist youth group who later lived on a kibbutz, Cohen is in fact a pious Jew and Zionist much concerned about the fate of the Jewish people and fearful that another Jewish holocaust could indeed be in prospect, if only because of public apathy about rising anti-Semitism. Granted this, it can no longer be in doubt that the seeming anti-anti-Semitic thrust of his new film is precisely that, a calculated attempt to make viewers receptive to the belief that hatred of Jews pervades Western society; and the fact is that, in contrast to many others, key scenes in the film involving Jews were carefully scripted. You would never guess that this is the age of Guantanamo Bay or that we are living at a time when the US and Britain are pursuing catastrophic policies in the Muslim world — policies which Jewish Zionist ideologues have played no small part in formulating.
Whether it is also fair to accuse Cohen of scoffing at Islamic culture by getting himself up with a shock of springy black hair and a luxuriant moustache and looking like a joke East European Muslim may be a moot point. However, in inviting viewers to giggle at Borat’s excesses, Baron Cohen could be said to be inducing them to equate Muslims with gross behavior without quite realizing what they are doing; at the very least, there is, perhaps, an element of unconscious Islamophobia behind the creation of Borat.
This is not to say that jokes about Muslims (or for that matter any other ethno-religious group) ought to be taboo. But imagine the uproar there would be if a Muslim (or Christian) had assumed the role of a parody Jew, or of a figure who could be construed as Jewish, and had mocked Jewish women by making them out to be disgustingly obese, hirsute and entirely devoid of femininity.
“Borat” is fresh evidence of the flagrant double standards that operate in Hollywood — not to mention in the Western media at large, where the movie’s barely hidden agenda has gone wholly unremarked.
The objection to “Borat” is that it distracts attention from the genocidal violence currently being visited on Muslims, leaving the impression that it is Jews, notwithstanding their politico-cultural ascendancy in the US and elsewhere, who remain the world’s pre-eminent victims.
Friday, December 1, 2006
‘Borat’ Comes Clean
Friday, 1, December, 2006 (11, Dhul Qa`dah, 1427)