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Achcar defies views of Arabs

By Hallie Jordan     2/17/11 6:00pm

Author Gilbert Achcar spoke Wednesday night about his new book The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab - Israeli War of Narratives. Achcar said his 400-page book explains that he believes the perception of the Arab world as anti-Semitic and extremist is unfounded.

"Since 2001, with 9/11, there has been a rise in Islamophobia and a depiction of the Arab narrative as highly influenced by al-Queda," Achcar said.

Achcar says he has observed a surge in the clash of "narratives," historical records combined with current perceptions, between Israelis and Arabs and felt a need to investigate the conflict in his book.

"Basically, in deconstructing 'narrative' I do believe it is possible to move forward toward convergence of 'narrative' and a change in attitude," Achcar said.

He described how one side of the clash is the historical record of how Arabs reacted toward the Holocaust and said he hoped to break the conflicting circle through further examination.

Achcar describes the Arab attitude during the Holocaust with four major "ideological families."

First, he says Arabs are overwhelmingly critical of Nazism, though it is often perceived otherwise. Secondly, a belief in Marxism and communism leads to higher concentrations of minorities, who might have extremist ideals, taking power. Thirdly, he said that often Arab countries are seen as very nationalist, when the reality is actually very different. Finally, Islamic fundamentalism contributes greatly to the anti-Semitic perception. The fundamentalists follow a very literal interpretation of Islam, leading to the most significant amount of anti-Semitism.

With these four ideas, he stressed that Arab attitudes cannot be viewed as one-dimensional.

Though Achcar explained that much of the anti-Semitic perception stems from history, he defended more recent Arab actions, citing World War II as an example.

"Historically, the involvement of Arabs in the second World War who supported the Axis powers was a smidgen compared with those who worked with the Allies," Achcar said.

The discussion was introduced by Rice Arabic Studies professor Ussama Makdisi. Jones College senior Emily Romano said it was Makdisi's influence that encouraged her to attend.

"I came because I had taken classes with Dr. Makdisi, but I feel that I still don't understand a lot about Middle Eastern politics and want to learn more.

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