The theme song for radical Islam is not exactly “Let it Be.”
Salman Rushdie spent nearly a decade of his life with a fatwa hanging over his head for having written “The Satanic Verses.” To Muslim clerics the novel presented irreverent depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, which, in the Islamic world, is tantamount to signing your own death warrant.
A number of years later, Danish cartoonists suffered a similar fate after newspapers published cartoons that Muslims deemed to be mocking of Mohammad.
And now, Paul McCartney, the legendary and revered Beatle — a rock god if not an actual religious figure — has received an Islamic death threat. The Beirut-based Muslim cleric, Omar Bakri, proclaimed that “Paul McCartney is the enemy of every Muslim.”
Islamic terrorists wearing iPods is a frightening image, indeed, but it’s not Sir Paul’s catalogue of music that apparently has so inflamed Muslims that not even his British knighthood can save him. This new variety of murderous Beatlemania isn’t related to any particular McCartney tune, but merely to one stop on McCartney’s current world tour. The loathsome venue is a scheduled concert in Tel Aviv on Sept. 25 in celebration of Israel’s 60th anniversary.
In retaliation for singing before Israelis, Bakri said, “If he values his life, Mr. McCartney will not come to Israel. The sacrifice operatives will be waiting for him.”
Apparently performing a rock concert in Israel is this year’s new blasphemy. What next, a death sentence against Madonna, another British rock star, for her Kabbalah practices? A fatwa against Israeli grapevine dancing at bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies?
And even if McCartney ignores the by-now familiar bloodlust of Islamic radicals, there are less lethal advisers who have counseled him to skip the Tel Aviv gig as a statement of support for the Palestinian cause. Over a year ago British academics boycotted their Israeli cohorts and canceled invitations for Israelis to appear at academic conferences in England.
Now Britain’s most famous citizen is being cautioned not to travel to Israel (as part of what may, in fact, be symptomatic of the same boycott.) McCartney acknowledged that he “was approached by different groups and political bodies” and asked not to visit Israel. No doubt at least a few morally tone-deaf academics may have been singing into the Beatle’s ear.
Despite the death threats and the more subtle scholarly persuasions, one of the two surviving members of the Fab Four remains fearless. McCartney reported that the Tel Aviv concert would go on as planned. He has heard many fine things about Israel and wants to see the country for himself.
There is much irony in all this, of course. The Beatles were originally scheduled to play in Israel back in 1965, but the invitation was rescinded because the government feared the potential corrupting influence on Israeli teenagers. The British Invasion, so soon after the end of the British Mandate, never reached the Promised Land. Forty-odd years later, however, Israelis will now get a second chance, sans John, George and Ringo.
Of course, Israel is the only country in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf where such a concert could even take place. Everywhere else in that part of the world it is still 1965, if not 1265. After all, sitting together in the Tel Aviv audience, swaying to classic Beatles and Wings songs will be Jews, Christians and Muslims, men and women, and people of all sexual preferences and racial compositions. Imagine such a homogeneous mosh pit in Beirut, Riyadh, Tehran, Amman, Islamabad, or Damascus.
And let’s not forget that Israel is a country that allows the playing of Wagner — music that inspired murderers who would have been revolted by a Jewish state — within close proximity to Holocaust survivors. Such freedoms are not granted without spirited debate, the kind of internal dissent that is not tolerated among Israel’s neighbors.
And, yet, British academics are boycotting Israelis on human rights grounds, and the British media (assisted by our own former President Jimmy Carter) persists in tarring Israel as an apartheid nation? Sorry, but what soundtrack are these people listening to?
Those who have approached McCartney and advised him (without actually threatening his life) to boycott Israel, whether they are British academics or merely Palestinian sympathizers with strong anti-democratic, anti-Semitic tendencies, invariably call attention to the stark moral contradictions that always seem to be present whenever Israel’s name is uttered within impolite conversation.
First, is the world finally fed up with Islamic beheadings, dismemberments and death threats in the name of Islam? Just imagine if devout Catholics, Evangelical Christians and Orthodox Jews suddenly placed a bounty on a rock star who, even satirically, sang about Jesus or Moses, or performed in some country that happened not to be on the religion’s approved list of nations?
Second, when will the double standard about Israel finally be exposed for the anti-Semitic assault that it is? To be sure there are legitimate grievances on the part of Palestinians, and Israelis have been at the forefront of acknowledging these moral claims. Indeed, a majority of Israelis support a Palestinian homeland.
But condemning the one secular, democratic, pluralistic, rule-of-law-abiding nation in the entire Middle East is intellectually dishonest and morally repugnant. This is the same region of the world, after all, where women are beheaded for alleged adultery or can lawfully be gang raped for any number of tribal reasons. And God only help the homosexuals of the Arab world, or anyone who helplessly falls into the infidel abyss of the Koran.
Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager, was actually the only Jewish member of the group’s musical family. But Paul McCartney, whose music has united so much of the world and has generated feelings of goodwill and common purpose, will assuredly be among his own people in Tel Aviv.
Thane Rosenbaum is author of the novel “The Golems of Gotham” and a work of nonfiction, “The Myth of Moral Justice.”