Reprinted from Gush Shalom
"WE HAVE nothing to fear but fear itself," said President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He was wrong.
Fear is a necessary condition for human survival. Most animals in nature possess it. It helps them to respond to dangers and evade or fight them. Human beings survive because they are fearful.
Fear is both individual and collective. Since its earliest days, the human race has lived in collectives. This is both a necessary and a desired condition. Early humans lived in tribes. The tribe defended their territory against all "strangers" -- neighboring tribes -- in order to safeguard their food supply and security. Fear was one of the uniting factors.
Belonging to one's tribe (which after many evolutions became a modern nation) is also a profound psychological need. It, too, is connected with fear -- fear of other tribes, fear of other nations.
But fear can grow and become a monster.
RECENTLY I received a very interesting article by a young scientist, Yoav Litvin [*], dealing with this phenomenon.
It described, in scientific terms, how easily fear can be manipulated. The science involved was the research of the human brain, based on experiments with laboratory animals like mice and rats.
Nothing is easier than to create fear. For example, mice were given an electric shock while exposed to rock music. After some time, the mice showed reactions of extreme fear when the rock music was played, even without being given a shock. The music alone produced fear.
This could be reversed. For a long time, the music was played for them without the pain. Slowly, very slowly, the fear abated. But not completely: when, after a long time, a shock was again delivered with the music, the full symptoms of fear re-appeared immediately. Once was enough.
APPLY THIS to human nations, and the results are the same.
The Jews are a perfect laboratory specimen. Centuries of persecution in Europe taught them the value of fear. Smelling danger from afar, they learned to save themselves in time -- generally by flight.
In Europe, the Jews were an exception, inviting victimizing. In the Byzantine (East Roman) Empire, Jews were normal. All over the empire, territorial peoples turned into ethnic-religious communities. A Jew in Alexandria could marry a Jewess in Antioch, but not the girl next door, if she happened to be an Orthodox Christian.
This "millet" system endured all through the Islamic Ottoman Empire, the British Mandate and still lives happily in today's State of Israel. An Israeli Jew cannot legally marry an Israeli Christian or Muslim in Israel.
This was the reason for the absence of anti-Semitism in the Arab world, apart from the detail that the Arabs are Semites themselves. Jews and Christians, the "peoples of the book," have a special status in an Islamic state (like Iran today), in some ways second-class, in some ways privileged (they do not have to serve in the army). Until the advent of Zionism, Arab Jews were no more fearful than most other human beings.
The situation in Europe was quite different. Christianity, which split off from Judaism, harbored a deep resentment towards the Jews from the start. The New Testament contains profoundly anti-Jewish descriptions of Jesus' death, which every Christian child learns at an impressionable age. And the fact that the Jews in Europe were the only people (apart from the gypsies) who had no homeland made them all the more suspicious and fear-inspiring.