Reprinted from Gush Shalom
I am not ashamed to admit it. I am afraid.
It is the only real danger that threatens Israel, that threatens the world, that threatens me.
Those who treat it today with equanimity, with indifference, will come to regret it.
IN THE year I was born -- 1923 -- a ridiculous little demagogue with a funny mustache, Adolf Hitler, staged an attempted putsch in Munich. It was put down by a handful of policemen and soon forgotten.
The world had far more serious dangers to contend with. There was the galloping inflation in Germany. There was the young Soviet Union. There was the dangerous competition between the two mighty colonial powers, Great Britain and France. There was, in 1929, the terrible economic crisis that devastated the world economy.
But the little Munich demagogue had a weapon that did not catch the eye of experienced statesmen and wily politicians: a powerful state of mind. He turned the humiliation of a great nation into a weapon more effective than aircraft and battleships. In a short time -- just a few years -- he conquered Germany, then Europe and looked set to take on the entire world.
Many millions of human beings perished in the process. Untold misery visited many countries. Not to mention the Holocaust, a crime almost without parallel in the annals of modern history.
How did he do it? Primarily not by political and military power, but by the power of an idea, a state of mind, a mental explosion.
I witnessed this in the first quarter of my life. It springs to my mind when I look at the movement that now calls itself IS, the Islamic State.
IN THE early 7th century of the Christian era, a small merchant in the godforsaken Arab desert had an idea. In an amazingly short period of time he and his companions conquered his home town, Mecca, then the entire Arabian peninsula, then the Fertile Crescent, and then most of the civilized world, from the Atlantic ocean to North India and much beyond. His followers reached the heart of France and laid siege to Vienna.
How did a little Arab tribe achieve all this? Not by military superiority but by the force of an intoxicating new religion, a religion so progressive and liberating that its earthly power could not be resisted.
Against an intoxicating new idea, material weapons are powerless, armies and navies crumble and mighty empires, like Byzantium and Persia, disintegrate. But ideas are invisible, realists cannot see them, experienced statesmen and mighty generals are blind to them.
"How many divisions has the Pope?" Stalin responded contemptuously, when told about the power of the Church. Yet the Soviet Empire fell and disappeared, and the Catholic Church is still here.
Uri Avnery is a longtime Israeli peace activist. Since 1948 has advocated the setting up of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In 1974, Uri Avnery was the first Israeli to establish contact with PLO leadership. In 1982 he was the first Israeli ever to meet Yassir Arafat, after crossing the lines in besieged Beirut. He served three terms in the (more...)