The Jewish State vs. The Islamic State

The 1967 narrative is dead. In fact, it never existed in reality. “If only Israel would retreat to the ’67 borders, peace would reign between a secular Israel and a peaceful secular Palestine” — an extremely doubtful scenario then, but nowadays an impossible one. The regional war in the Middle East between Sunni and Shia has so altered this 1967 narrative, that any attempt to resurrect it has now been correctly perceived as dubious fiction.

Israel is a tiny Jewish state located at the very crossroads of an expansive Arab-Muslim, Persian-Muslim and Turkish-Muslim region numbering in the hundreds of millions of people. The very borders of this Muslim inter-state system have now become erased across the Levant, and the final outcome of victory is still years (if not decades) in the future. By the very actions of an American-led coalition, even the security of Europe and the US remains uncertain until the parameters of Sunni-Shia victory or defeat can be determined. The oil-rich Sunni states (allied ostensibly with the West) finance their part of this regional war in an attempt to roll-back Iranian and Shia influence and power. Yet the US government has become so alarmed by the rise of Sunni extremism that it now dabbles with the notion of a tacit rapprochement with Iran, Shia Iraq, the criminal Assad state and Hezbollah. At the very cusp of this regional chaos lies the future of all Muslims, including those states tied to the Jewish state through peace treaties (Egypt and Jordan). Also at risk is the future of the Iranian nuclear program and the prospect of a nuclear arms race within the broader regional struggle.

Within this uncertain environment, the reality of any kind of Arab nationalism, whether it be Syrian, Iraqi, Lebanese, Jordanian or Palestinian, is doubtful. As the Sykes-Picot and League of Nations Mandate border system unwinds, the nature of Arab society in the future will continue to unfold. At the very heart of this future regional polity rests the undying Muslim desire for a new Caliphate to replace not only the colonial era but the Ottoman Empire (the old Caliphate) itself. In this new, contemporary Middle East, Islamism has moved center stage to challenge monarchy, secular authoritarian nationalism and even the established institutions of Islam itself (the independence and learning of the religious class). It is within this context that the idea of a secular PLO mini-state on the West Bank appears not only anachronistic but completely out of touch with the current reality.

Islamism is a political movement less than one hundred years old. At its very root, it is anti-Western and anti-Jewish. It has both Sunni and Shia adherents. Unlike Liberal Islam or Reform Islam, which are future- oriented and attempt to come to terms with modernity (including Judaism and the State of Israel), Islamism is a political philosophy more attuned to Fascism or Stalinism. Under Islamism, Sharia Law is instituted through the coercion of state power as defined not by independent jurisprudence but by the dictates of a supreme leader or a one-party Islamic state. Unlike the historic Caliph — whose rule was not total but shared with an independent religious class — Islamism seeks a political state that would tyrannically define Sharia according to its strict executive decision. The 1979 Iranian Revolution ushered in a Shia Islamic Republic along these Islamist lines.

The Sunni Muslim Brotherhood was established in 1928 in Egypt, but it was based foremost on the writings of Sayyed Qutb. Qutb was the intellectual architect of the transnational movement. In his book — In the Shadows of the Koran — the author envisioned an Islamist program that basically attempted to prove that the weakness of the Islamic world (in terms of raw political and military power) was due to Western influences within Islam itself. In order to gain political strength, Qutb envisioned an Islamic state where all foreign cultural constructs would be stripped of their content or banned outright. In other words, Islam (according to Qutb and his minions of Islamist followers) needed to revert back to its inception in order to cleanse itself of all its foreign elements.

But this would mean that the very success of the original Islamic empire was, in essence, its downfall. It’s a completely ahistorical argument. Islam’s advancement as a world religion involved a distinct infusion with other cultures and ideas. Its power came from Western philosophical sources as well as an original Judaic input. Success and downfall can’t have the same antecedent. Therefore Islam is either a spiritual religion independent of the outward trappings of political achievement, or it is an historical-political entity whose success or failure is conditional on geopolitical reality. It can’t be both.

Islam’s success or failure cannot be dependent on worldly military power alone because such power is, by nature, a process of rising and falling. If there is ever going to be a political reality to any religion, it must be based on peace and the complete lack of any kind of religious coercion. The Koran itself ascribes to this very principle. Judaism, as well, ascribes to the very same value. Above all else, peace between all peoples is Judaism’s most cherished value. But this is not the way that religion is understood by Qutb’s Islamism. The return to the impulse of empire and war is the essential direction of his Islamist political program. The very existence of a Jewish state is incompatible with the political and military power necessary to “prove” the supremacy of Islam as a worldly religion. Israel, as a Jewish state, contradicts the very essence of the Islamist hegemonic philosophy.

With the advent of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hezbollah, ISIS, al Qaeda and al Nusra, Hamas, and the Jordanian and Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the only narrative useful to the survival of Israel is that of the imposition of an Islamist religious war. To retreat to the so-called “67 lines” in the face of this Islamist threat would be tantamount to suicide. The Israeli narrative must be one of religious self-defense. Today, nothing else makes any sense. In the not-too-distant future, Israel could become completely surrounded by Islamist enemies. This is not a left-wing or right-wing perspective. On the contrary, this is an essential national narrative.

The king in Jordan is in a very precarious position. With Hamas poised to win the next round of Palestinian elections, the Hashemite Kingdom (only twenty-five short miles from Jerusalem) could easily become shakier and shakier. Meanwhile the Islamist threat to Egypt proceeds unabated as an underground phenomenon. In Lebanon — as the Sunni, Shia and Christian divide widens — the prospect of the regional war expanding to include direct Iranian intercession is more than just a possibility. And in Syria, the border with Iraq has now become nonexistent. The world is watching not only for a conclusion to the Sunni-Shia civil war, but also for the US to adapt a long-term strategy, and to see whose side that strategy might favor.

The Muslim world has never accepted the existence of a Jewish state in its midst. This is the only narrative that accounts for the entirety of the conflict. This conflict started with the modern birth of the third Jewish commonwealth, from its League of Nations inception to its United Nations authorization, through a multitude of wars (inspired to not just defeat Israel but also to annihilate her people) and on to the present day. Islamist forces and conventional Islam’s religious institutions have opposed Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state from day one.

To call this conflict anything other than a holy war against the Jews and their Jewish state is to make a mockery of reality. The Jewish state vs. the Islamic state — Judaism believes in a genuine peace, a true theological peace. Hopefully Islam, in opposition to Islamism, will someday agree. Until that day, however, Israel’s impulse toward religious peace must never become fused with spurious narratives and the false visions of foreign powers. Unlike Diaspora Jews, Israelis cannot afford to “repair the world” at their own expense. Israel awaits a truly reformed Islam before it can sincerely embrace its multitude of neighbors.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).