A Jewish conspiracy lurks behind the cat-and-mouse cartoon Tom and Jerry, according to an adviser to Iran’s culture minister.
“If you study European history,” Professor Hasan Bolkhari told an Iranian television audience in February, “you will see who was the main power to hoard money and wealth, in the 19th century. In most cases, it is the Jews. Perhaps that was one of the reasons which caused Hitler to begin the anti-Semitic trend, and then the extensive propaganda about the crematoria began … The Jews were degraded and termed ‘dirty mice.’ Tom and Jerry was made in order to change the Europeans’ perception of mice. One of terms used was ‘dirty mice.’
“The mouse is very clever and smart,” Bolkhari went on. “Everything he does is so cute. He kicks the poor cat’s ass. Yet this cruelty does not make you despise the mouse. He looks so nice, and he is so clever … This is exactly why some say it was meant to erase this image of mice from the minds of European children, and to show that the mouse is not dirty and has these traits.”
As a matter of fact, I also like Tom better than Jerry, and recently stopped watching the cartoon when at length it became clear to me that the cat never would be allowed to win. My sympathy for Bolkhari’s position, though, does not prevent me from pointing out some facts: (1) the Disney company did not make the Tom and Jerry cartoons, (2) Walt Disney was not Jewish, (3) the Hanna-Barbera company that did make the cartoons is not Jewish either, (4) the cartoon (dating from 1942) has nothing to do with the Jewish image, and (5) Bolkhari is barking mad.
Western analysts seeking to make sense of the regime of Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad are beginning to understand that the other side looks at the world in a radically different way, such that discussions go to cross-purposes. In every statement and gesture of the West, Tehran perceives a conspiracy to deny justice to Allah’s chosen.
In fact, paranoid delusions abound in the Muslim world, as the casual observer can verify by viewing video clips from Muslim media on the Middle East Media Research Institute website (www.memri.org), where Bolkhari’s televised seminar is available. MEMRI executive director Steven Salinsky publishes a running tally of Muslim conspiracy theories, including “blaming the US for [the events of September 11, 2001]; accusing ‘Zionists’ of spreading AIDS; claiming that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is an American propaganda invention; saying that the CIA [US Central Intelligence Agency] is writing sermons for Egyptian imams and that the Jews are rewriting the Koran; and more recently, accusing Israel of killing Yasser Arafat.” The search term “conspiracy against Islam” elicits 20,000 Google hits, many referring to the recent uproar over the Mohammed cartoons in a Danish newspaper.
Paranoia stems from powerlessness. Muslims display a special propensity for paranoia, but they hardly are alone. Black Americans widely believed that evil white doctors concocted the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) to kill them off with AIDS, according to opinion surveys. What common opinion calls femininity in fact amounts to a form of paranoia, I argued elsewhere (Women as priests? Women never forgive anything!, April 27, 2005):
The man on the street mutters to himself, “I will never understand women!” That only goes to show how thick men can be. There is no mystery in the feminine mystique. The feminine point of view amounts to what we otherwise call paranoia. No one displays more sensitivity or depends more on intuition than paranoids, who construct a world view in the absence of or despite the relevant facts. Paranoia, to be precise, assigns meaning to utterly random events. Why did that fellow on the far side of the restaurant fold his newspaper? Was that a signal? Why is the newscaster wearing a green tie? Does he know something? Why are you reading this essay? Are you out to get me?
Tehran has shown itself capable of tactical brilliance, especially in its incubation of the Shi’ite militias who now control the balance of power in Iraq. But the magical world of Ahmadinejad sets no limits on aggrandizement. My colleague Pepe Escobar recently filed a series of reports from Iran making clear that it is not within the realm of Iranian imagination that Washington might call a halt to their game.
Something more profound is at work in the psyche of radical Islam than the ordinary paranoia of the oppressed. It has deep roots in mainstream Islamic theology, starting with the definitive work of the 11th-century Islamic sage Abu Hamid al-Ghazali. Absolute omnipotence characterizes Allah, who may place any obligation he wishes upon humans and suffers no grief if they are not fulfilled. The Judeo-Christian god is not quite omnipotent, for he only can do what is good and best for humans, and suffers along with his creatures when they err. The Mu’tazilite school of Muslim held a similar view.
Allah has absolute freedom, and therefore no obligation to men, Ghazali countered. Because good and evil only can be defined with respect to a purpose, he said, nothing Allah might do might be considered good or evil, for he has no purpose. Allah simply is. That has been the unchallenged doctrine of mainstream Islam since the 13th century, when the last remnants of opposition to Ghazali died out.
Franz Rosenzweig, the great German-Jewish scholar of comparative religion, summarized the problem this way:
The God of Mohammed is a creator who well might not have bothered to create. He displays his power like an Oriental potentate who rules by violence, not by acting according to necessity, not by authorizing the enactment of the law, but rather in his freedom to act arbitrarily. [Muslim theology] presumes that Allah creates every isolated thing at every moment. Providence thus is shattered into infinitely many individual acts of creation, with no connection to each other, each of which has the importance of the entire creation. That has been the doctrine of the ruling orthodox philosophy in Islam. Every individual thing is created from scratch at every moment.
Islam cannot be salvaged from this frightful providence of Allah … despite its vehement, haughty insistence upon the idea of the God’s unity, Islam slips back into a kind of monistic paganism, if you will permit the expression. God competes with God at every moment, as if it were the colorfully contending heavenful of gods of polytheism.
Paranoia, I argued earlier, consists of assigning meaning to random events. But an omnipotent god exercising absolute freedom can only create a world of utter randomness. Human perception of such a universe too easily becomes what we otherwise call paranoia. No orthodox Muslim could say with Albert Einstein, “God does not play dice with the universe,” for Allah, if he so wishes, can play not only dice, but Texas Hold ‘Em or any other game he might fancy.
All of modern science, from Copernicus through to Johannes Kepler, Gottfried Leibniz, Isaac Newton and Einstein, presumes that God is limited by a purpose. The great physicists assumed that God, creating the universe, would limit himself according to what Leibniz called the Law of Sufficient Reason. Kepler summed it up: “Nature uses as little as possible of anything.” Or as Einstein said, “Our experience up to date justifies us in feeling sure that in nature is actualized the idea of mathematical simplicity.”
Western science presumes God’s self-limitation. Kepler discovered the laws of planetary motion by presuming that God would choose the simplest and most beautiful solution, and thus encountered the elliptical orbit of Mars. This of course is blasphemous in terms of the mainstream Islam of the 11th century onward, which helps explain the impoverishment of Muslim science during the past millennium.
But we are getting far afield from our concern, which is not science, but rather Tom and Jerry. Allah and the self-revealed god of Judeo-Christian scripture are different entities, contrary to the pulp theology of Karen Armstrong. The Judeo-Christian god is a loving parent who grieves with the weakest of his creatures; Allah is an absolute sovereign who rewards those who execute his orders. YHWH and Jesus offer consolation. Allah can offer nothing but success. That is why many Muslims become secular, but few become Christian. For Muslims, Christianity is not a different expression of the same desires that motivate Islam, but an incompatible set of motivations. Before they can consider an entirely different religion, first they must leave their own.
Only two things can explain the absence of success in Islamic terms. One is unfaithfulness, and the other is the action of a supernatural entity opposed to Allah, namely Satan. Just how Satan got into a universe whose every molecular jiggle comes under Allah’s purview is another question, but we will leave that aside. Sayyid Qutb (1906-66), the founder of modern radical Islam, proceeded from the accusation that “Islamic society today is not Islamic in any sense of the word.”
It is one thing to blame Nasserite secularism for Egypt’s failure in the 1967 war, and quite another to blame the Islamic Republic of Iran for not being quite Islamic enough. In any case, it is extremely unlikely that a clerical regime would take such a position. The new generation of Iranian leaders whose entire life has been the revolution know their purity of heart, and their proven capacity to sacrifice in the terrible war with Iraq.
To Ahmadinejad and his contemporaries, the entire world appears as a vast conspiracy to prevent them from having what rightfully is theirs: dominance of the Middle East from the Mediterranean to the Caspian, and eventually, much more. They know with absolutely certainty that they cannot fail, that the United States will withdraw from the region in confusion, and that they shall triumph.
There is no way to communicate reality to Ahmadinejad and his generation of militant theocrats except to demonstrate that can fail, by making them fail in the most visible and obvious fashion. Tom, in other words, finally has to eat Jerry.
Washington’s best course of action would be to launch an aerial attack on Iran’s nuclear capacities as quickly as possible, making clear that Iran simply will not be allowed to realize its imperial ambitions in the region. Even better would be the combination of an aerial attack and a blockade of Iranian oil exports as well as Iranian gasoline imports.
The West could withstand a 5% reduction in global oil supplies, and preempting the oil weapon would eliminate a great many illusions in the Islamic world.