September 3, 2003 No.

Syrian Defense Minister: Lebanese Resistance Is Justified, My Book 'The Matzah of Zion' Is Not Antisemitic

In an interview with the London-based Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass discussed Hizbullah and the Lebanese resistance as well as global terrorism. In addition, Tlass rejected claims that his book 'The Matzah of Zion,' [1] which was based on the 1841 Damascus blood libel, is antisemitic. The following are excerpts from the interview: [2]

On Arab Support for Global Terrorism

"One of the easiest things in politics is to accuse others. The accusations against Saudi Arabia and Syria – that they support terror – are false propaganda…. Thus the U.S. absolves itself from responsibility for what is happening in the world. The Zionist lobby in the U.S. also aspires, always, to present all the Arabs as enemies of the U.S., since the Zionist lobby does not enjoy seeing good relations between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. It is strange to present Saudi Arabia, which [itself] suffers from terrorism, as responsible for supporting terror, and it is even stranger to define the resistance to the occupation in Lebanon and Palestine as terrorism. If the occupation is not terror, then what is?"

On the American Presence in Iraq

"The American presence in Iraq is literally occupation. The U.N. has confirmed that America is an occupying state and that it bears responsibility for the occupied state. The occupation of any Arab state is a phenomenon that must be resisted, and is a danger in general to Arab national security. No Arab is pleased when his land is occupied. We must not forget that the American occupation forces are foreign forces threatening not only Iraq but also [posing a military threat] to all the neighboring countries. The American occupation [of Iraq] implements the usual American policy that aspires to shape the region in accordance with American interests, and this goes against Arab interests… The U.S. acts against the idea of Arab national and cultural affiliation and belonging."

On the Lebanese Resistance

"Hizbullah [in particular] and the national Lebanese resistance in general are political resistance movements against the Zionist occupation of southern Lebanon. Any instance of occupation must [be met with] national resistance, and therefore no one disagrees on the legality of resistance, and it needs no proof except the presence of occupation. The demand to stop resistance to the occupation means that you must agree to the occupation and submit to the occupier's will. Resistance is a legal right, as we have always said, and this is how we see the national Lebanese resistance, Hizbullah, and the Intifada in Palestine. Israel, America, and its agents in [the Arab countries] want us to agree to any arrangement forced upon us by the Zionist enemy – which harms our legal rights. By eliminating the resistance, they aspire to pave the way to surrender, but that is still distant, and even impossible."

On the Joint Arab Defense Agreement

"The Joint Arab Defense Agreement was originally drawn up with the aim of resisting all external aggression against the Arab nation or against one of the Arab countries that requires joint inter-Arab defense.

"The Camp David agreement drove a wedge in the joint inter-Arab defense, and then Saddam Hussein conquered Kuwait and created a deep rift in the agreement. Later, the preservation of national Arab security was omitted from the policy of the Arab countries. Israel is occupying the Syrian hills, part of the Lebanese lands, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip – that is, what remains of Palestine – and employs force, barbarity, and killing of the worst kind. America occupies Iraq, and - despite this - the Arab countries are silent, contravening the Joint Arab Defense Agreement. The non-implementation of this agreement [stems] first and foremost from Arab political decision."

On Dialogue with the West

"There is no way around adopting a new language by which we address others, a language which will present a true picture of what is [currently being] distorted by anti-Arab racists [in particular] and [anti-] Muslim [racists] in general. There is no escape from presenting Islam as it is, and not in the violent way in which it is shown on Western television.

"We must translate our innovation into the languages of the world, translate the messages that we convey to the West, establish cultural centers in the Western capitals, equip them with our cultural knowledge, and hold joint conferences with the West. We call for a cultural dialogue in order to create a bridge between us and the other side, with respect for the cultures and sensitivities of the peoples. We know that history says that the more advanced culture influences the less advanced.

"However, the objective and natural influence that emanates from inner need – which is different than imposing another culture on a national domestic culture – is a different matter, and it is not like the imposition of one way of life on another people's way of life."

On Antisemitism

"World Zionism opposes anyone who speaks the truth, and sees any intellectual, Arab or non-Arab, as antisemitic. This is the strange charge leveled against anyone opposed to its hostile policy. This, for example, is what happened to [French Holocaust denier] Roger Garaudy.

"It is natural that Zionism sees me as an enemy, and this is an honor for me, not only because of my book ['The Matzah of Zion,' about the 1841 Damascus blood libel] but because of my opinion, which is also the opinion of the people, hostile to the country occupying the [Syrian] land and Palestine, and trying to break our will. [The Zionists] viewed the book as if it had an antisemitic bias, while the term 'Semite' refers, in its Western sense, first of all to the Arabs, who are the [Semitic] majority. How can an Arab be an antisemite, if according to the Western historians he is [himself] a Semite?

"[The plot] of 'The Matzah of Zion' was set in Damascus. I did not invent it, and it is backed up by documents. It shows some Jewish rituals. How can the Zionists deny this reality? They want no one to know about their hostile morality, and thus direct their hostility towards anyone who exposes their activity. An example of this was the Belgian lawyer who wanted to sue the one responsible for the massacres at Sabra and Shatilla – Sharon – [but] the West accused [that Belgian] lawyer of antisemitism. When the demonstrators took to the [streets] in Paris against the racist Zionist policy in Palestine , and in support of the Palestinian people and its struggle for its right, [the Zionists] saw this demonstration as an antisemitic phenomenon. Hasn't the time come to stop this false lie?"

On the Theft of Iraqi Antiquities

"Damage to Iraqi cultural heritage is damage to the history of the Arabs and their united culture. The history of the Land of the Tigris and the Euphrates is the history of the region, as cultural unity was attained by virtue of [a common] history. The damage done to the heritage and natural resources in Iraq is another kind of military aggression. The best proof that this aggression is against the culture is the culture's importance to the unity of the nation. Damage to it is damage to the unity of history and culture, which are the main elements constituting the Arab nation."

On the Situation in Iraq

"Throughout Arab history there was no ethnic conflict in the accurate sense of the word. All ethnic groups live in peace in the Arab region. [In the past], the Christians fought the European occupiers alongside the Muslims. In Arab history, the struggle for power is unconnected to ethnic conflicts; rather it is part of the conflicts within the regime. Since the West began interfering in the region in the mid-19th century, it has spread ethnic conflict by using a 'divide and [conquer]' policy. Everyone knows the role that the West played in the Lebanon war in 1860, and in 1958, and what the role of Israel and the U.S. was in the 1976 war… The Gulf states, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon are regions of religious and ethnic diversity, in which there was no ethnic conflict from [the time of] the Ottoman rule to this day. However, the new imperialism aspires to entangle the religious or ethnic diversity by means of some profiteers from within, so as to justify its involvement in our country's affairs…"

[1] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 432, "Al-Hayat Highlights Large Popularity of Syrian Defense Minister's Blood Libel Book at Syrian International Book Fair" Al-Hayat Highlights Large Popularity of Syrian Defense Minister's Blood Libel Book at Syrian International Book Fair and MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 99, "The Damascus Blood Libel (1840) as Told by Syria's Minister of Defense, Mustafa Tlass" The Damascus Blood Libel (1840) as Told by Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass.

[2] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 10, 2003.