THE fatal shootings in late May at the Brussels Jewish Museum were shocking. A young Muslim man, who experienced jihadist campaigning in Syria, is accused of opening fire at random victims. He shot and killed four people, two of them Israeli tourists visiting the museum, before escaping, later to be captured.
His choice of victims was random in the sense that, individually, he didn't care who they were. But the choice in its most profound respect was not random. He went to the museum to shoot and kill innocent Jewish people. His mind was formed in the heart of jihadist battle and it gave him the motivation to murder Jews.
We should pay a lot of attention to this appalling and hateful business. It would be bad enough if it were a truly isolated incident. It is not an isolated incident at all.
Senior Western, Middle East and Asian intelligence agencies have been telling their governments for months now that the Syrian alumni will become a bigger terrorist menace than the Afghan alumni were before them. But it is actually not primarily, or at least not just, through the prism of terrorism that I think we should view these terrible murders.
Instead we should understand them as just another emanation of hateful anti-Semitism, which is making an astonishing comeback around the world and across many points of the political spectrum.
Anti-semitism is a prejudice against or hatred of the Jewish people. It takes many forms. It is sad to say that anti-Semitism was a mainstream element of Christian culture over most of the past 2000 years.
I don't believe anti-Semitism was ever at the core of Christianity. You don't find anti-Semitism in the New Testament. But a misunderstanding of the culpability for the death of Jesus Christ led to the traditional view among many Christians that the Jews were responsible for killing Christ. Moreover, as a result of this, they were as a people cursed and homeless.
This was always a completely wrong view of Christianity, but it would be foolish to pretend that it did not have widespread support among many mainstream Christians for hundreds of years. As a Catholic, and as someone who believes that the contribution of the church throughout human history was overwhelmingly positive, I would say the history of Catholic anti-Semitism is the most awful element of Catholic history.
The experience of the Holocaust in World War II, in which Hitler's Nazis murdered six million Jews, changed the traditional Western view of the relationship of Western civic culture to the Jews. Of course, even before the Holocaust, there were always countless pro-Jewish Catholics. JRR Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, was a conscientious and serious Catholic. Before World War II, his German publishers wrote to him to ask if he was an Aryan.
He replied with words to the effect that he was a bit surprised by their inquiry, that Aryans were an Indo-Persian race, but that if their reference was to matters relating to the Jewish people, he could only regret that he did not have a direct connection to that talented and cultured people.
But it was not until Vatican II that the Catholic Church made its attitude to the Jewish people completely clear. The Vatican II Documents stated that: "`True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ (cf John 19.6); still, what happened in his passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the holy scriptures.''
The very fact the Vatican Council documents had to make this statement shows how widespread Catholic anti-Semitism had been. But what is perversely disturbing today is the rise again of anti-Semitism. Several currents of this noxious, moral poison are operating simultaneously.
There has been astonishingly, a recrudescence of Christian anti-Semitism. Some of this comes from Arab Christian churches who seek to portray Jesus not as Jewish, which he certainly was historically, but as a Palestinian.
This theological idiocy and historical travesty has been taken up by a number of progressive Western Protestant churches. This has an echo with the old Christian replacement theology, which held that because the Jews did not accept Christ they had been replaced as the chosen people.
It is indeed a legitimate element of Christian theology that the Old Testament promises are fulfilled by Christ in the establishment of Christianity. But it is not legitimate to deny the Jewish people their peoplehood, or their history. The idea of Zionism is that there should be a Jewish state in the historical lands of Israel. It is not remotely necessary to have any religious faith at all to acknowledge the historic and ongoing Jewish connection with the land of Israel.
This certainly does not entitle Israel to all the land of the Biblical passages. But it is a historic claim of association to a land of a kind that we recognise explicitly in our own legislation regarding Aboriginal land rights. It is the kind of association of a people with a land that is the basis for many civic identities around the world.
But now, alone among all such claims, Zionism has become a dirty word in all progressive circles. But what is really disturbing is how many other rivers of anti-Semitism are all flowing together.
The recent European elections saw substantial votes for a number of explicitly anti-Semitic, right-wing political parties. Perhaps the worst is Jobbik, which won 15 per cent of the Hungarian national vote. It has politicians who have called for Jews to be registered as a national security threat. Or there is the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party in Greece which won 9.3 per cent of the vote. The French National Front, which won a quarter of the French vote, has rejected its old anti-Semitism, but it has a history of anti-Semitism and it still honours its former leader, Jean Marie Le Pen, who certainly had a strong anti-Semitic record.
The rise of these right wing parties is a sign of the failure of European mainstream politics, but the degree of popular anti-Semitism in all this is quite real.
For some years now a mutant variety of anti-Semitism has been evident on the political Left in the West. This takes the form of a hostility to Israel that is so excessive and deranged, so uncoupled from the facts, so full of lies and grievous distortions, so unhinged in its lack of proportionality that it easily flows over into hostility to Jews in general.
This often takes an ugly manifestation in the use of Nazi imagery, in a cliched faux irony which implies that once the Jews were the victims of the Nazis, now they are the Nazis themselves. This propaganda is almost insane.
The Middle East today is roiling with a quasi-genocidal Sunni/Shia hatred, and the collapse of order in countries as diverse as Libya and Egypt, although Egypt has recovered some order under the military. None of these hatreds and killings could remotely be attributed by any plausible causality to Israel in any way, and yet Israel is still presented routinely as the centre of the Middle East's problems. Similarly, Israel's imperfections are treated as being of the same moral and human gravity as the enormities in Syria, or the excesses of the Iranian government.
Similarly Jews within Western societies who have views on the Middle East are routinely delegitimised as being merely the Zionist lobby, or sometimes more explicitly the Jewish lobby. These ad hominem attacks imply two bizarre things. One is that alone among Western citizens only Jews must not have views on the Middle East. The other is, perhaps unconsciously, to echo the historical conspiracy theories about sinister Jewish cabals.
And then of course we have contemporary Arab anti-Semitism which is widespread, nearly orthodox, among many Arab and Muslim societies. The government of Turkey, by Middle East standards a moderate government, recently accused the "Jewish diaspora'' of orchestrating demonstrations in Turkey. Jihadist culture is fixated on the Jews, but broad Arab culture is home to much flagrant anti-Semitism.
These disturbing currents should be opposed by every civilised human being.