Historical Facts Topple Film's Premise That Violent Muslim Fundamentalists are Nazis' Heirs, Expose its Fear-mongering
World War II demonstrated how geopolitics makes for bedfellows that, looking backward, can appear very strange. We could find further illustrations of this idea by looking at the period that is entirely elided in Obsession, the decades of the Cold War.
The great divide between West and East after World War II ended, and until the fall of the Soviet Union, was not about Islam but about political and economic systems and access to raw materials. It is well to remember, in this context, that for a brief period, the emergent state of Israel was courted by the Soviets as much as by the United States, which had come out of the war as the West's dominant power. Following the United States, the Soviet Union was the second nation to recognize Israel. Things changed, of course, as Israel became aligned firmly with the US and the longstanding cultural anti-Semitism of Russia and Eastern Europe became conflated with the USSR's anti-religiosity. For much of this period, the dominant trends in the Arab world and within countries in which Islam was the majority religion were secular nationalism, including Pan-Arabism, and various sorts of Marxism. The program of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, for example, which emerged as the dominant voice and leading faction of the Palestinian national movement called, before acceding to a two-state solution, for the replacement of Israel, not with an Islamic state, but with a democratic secular state in which no religion would be distinguished with special prerogatives.11
As the alliance between the United States and Israel strengthened, each country shared with the other its own particular unpopularity in the Middle East. As bulwarks against Soviet influence, the United States threw its support behind several hated dictators, including Saddam Hussein and the autocratic shah of Iran.
Of course, for its part, the Soviet Union also was involved with equally atrocious dictators such as Syria's Hafiz Assad and, eventually, found itself bogged down in a seemingly endless war of conquest in Afghanistan. Soviet brutality and contempt for Afghan independence fostered hatred, not only of socialist and left-wing movements but also for modernist Western-influenced culture.12
After 1967, the state of Israel took over land that was mostly owned by Palestinians but had been governed, uneasily and violently, by the king of Jordan. Israel maintained a policy opposed to the establishment of a neighboring Palestinian state and fought a constantly simmering, and sometimes boiling, war against Palestinian forces, in particular the PLO's government in exile, based primarily in refugee camps in Lebanon. This PLO infrastructure maintained hospitals, libraries, social welfare organizations and many other community functions. The Palestinians, while officially supported in their aspirations by most Arab regimes, were often engaged in confrontations with those governments. Theirmovements tended to oppose such traditional hierarchal regimes as those in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. Itinerant workers and businesspeople, with an average level of education higher than that in much of the Middle East, Palestinians tended to make trouble, forming labor unions, organizing students and despising monarchies on principle.13
11. U.S. News and World Report, December 5, 1997; The New York Times, November 8, 1983, "Foreign Affairs: A Report to Rumsfeld," by Flora Lewis. Helena Cobban, The Palestine Liberation Organization: People, Power and Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984, p. 16. The secular democratic solution was declared by the PLO on January 1, 1968.
12. Ivan Watson. "Experts: Lessons of Soviets in Afghanistan Ignored," National Public Radio, June 6, 2008..
13. Marvin Weinbaum. "The United States and Afghanistan: From Marginality to Global Concerns," in David W. Lesch, editor, The Middle East and the United States: A Historical and Political Assessment, 4th edition. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2007 pp. 462-482, James Gelvin, The Israel – Palestine Conflict: One Hundred Years (Cambridge Press, 2007) especially Chapter 9 pp. 196 – 228 "The Palestinian National Movement Comes of Age" and Chapter 10 pp. 229 – 255. "Coming Full Circle: Oslo and Its Aftermath." Ilan Pappe, A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) pp. 188-191.