By Michael Medved - October 29, 2001
We've been down this road before.
An extremist group bent on world domination, and angry about a long history of perceived injustices, insists that its only real enemy is the Jews. The extremists, locked in a desperate battle against the U.S. and Britain, declare that this struggle stems solely from the disproportionate Jewish influence on those countries. If only America, England and their allies could escape Jewish domination and view the world in a more even-handed perspective, then all major powers could live in peace and harmony.
This line of argument amounted to mendacious propaganda when the Nazis advanced it 60 years ago, and it's similarly dishonest and dangerous when put forward today by radical Islam and its apologists. Despite the artful application of "Big Lie" techniques, the struggle against German expansionism wasn't "all about the Jews," any more than the current struggle against Islamic extremism is "all about Israel." To counter such pernicious nonsense it's essential to clarify both history and current events.
Unfortunately, many Americans seem to have bought into the idea that the true reason for our entry into World War II was to rescue the Jews of Europe from annihilation. Such reasoning emerged repeatedly as a justification for our dubious adventures in Bosnia and Kosovo. Leaders of the Clinton administration, and many ordinary citizens, declared repeatedly that our World War II experience taught us that we must intervene on behalf of threatened Bosnians or Kosovars, just as we intervened on behalf of European Jews.
Such arguments are historically illiterate, of course, and give Hitler a perverse posthumous victory. America's war with Germany had nothing to do with saving Jews, and neither President Roosevelt or any other leaders ever cited overcoming Nazi anti-Semitism as one of our principal war aims. The truth is that the U.S. compiled a less than admirable record in this regard, not even bothering to bend immigration restrictions in order to save threatened millions.
Above all, Americans need to remember that we didn't launch a war on Germany; Hitler decided to make war on us. Even after Pearl Harbor, FDR hesitated before entering the European conflagration, until the Germans, honoring a prior commitment to Japan, declared war on the United States on Dec. 11. In his fiery speech requesting that declaration, Hitler repeatedly cited the fact that his enemy, Roosevelt, had placed Jews "all around him," and that the President of the United States, as "an old Freemason," had long been part of the worldwide Jewish conspiracy.
Blaming the Jews for the war actually won the Germans some support among the native populations of nations they conquered, especially in Eastern Europe. This tactic also found approving echoes among many American isolationists in the late '30s, including admired public figures like Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh, who insisted that the U.S. had no real quarrel with Germany, but that selfish, powerful Jewish interests wanted to force us into an ill-considered conflict.
The truth of the matter is that even if no Jews had ever lived in America, or even if Hitler had never expressed the slightest hint of anti-Semitism, the two nations would still have fought to the death. Nazi Jew hatred may have provided an early indication of the depravity of the regime, but the overwhelming majority of Europeans killed and oppressed by the German onslaught were Christian, not Jewish. Even without the Final Solution and its horrors, the Third Reich would have qualified by any standard as demented, deadly and profoundly dangerous.
The message of Muslim radicalism counts as similarly dangerous, and once again deceptively focuses on Jews to disguise the true depth of its threat to all of Western civilization. If Israel suddenly ceased to exist, would Osama bin Laden and his millions of supporters suddenly embrace America as a long lost friend? The very idea is preposterous, given the passion and sweep of bin Laden's clearly articulated and furious contempt for the freewheeling, secular and seductive nature of American society and culture.
Those observers who try to make the shaky case that Israel represents the one key issue dividing the West from the Islamic world, most often offer two utterly unrelated points to bolster their contention. First, they note that the vast majority of the world's Muslims suffer under conditions of appalling poverty, oppressed by corrupt, authoritarian regimes. Second, these compassionate commentators note that the unfortunate Muslims feel angered by the long-standing U.S. support for Israel.
Both these observations are accurate enough as stand-alone conclusions, but any honest analysis ought to acknowledge that they bear no connection whatever to one another. Yes, most Muslims live under dire conditions, but those circumstances in no way arise from Israel's existence or American policy in the Middle East.
Consider the angry anti-American riots that swept recently through Indonesia, the nation with the world's largest Muslim population. Indonesia is more than 6,000 miles away from Israel, and it is difficult to imagine that the existence of the Jewish State impacts the lives of ordinary Indonesians in any way. The same point applies to the similarly distant Muslims of Pakistan, or even those in Iraq, Libya, Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia who live in much closer proximity to Israel. Though their wretchedly oppressive governments eagerly recycle ancient anti-Semitic canards suggesting that all their misfortunes arise from Jewish plots, it's hard to argue that any of the world's Muslims (excepting those in the Palestinian Authority and within Israel itself) would be significantly affected by Israel's existence or disappearance. The only advantage to suffering Islamic masses in the destruction of the Jewish State would be the removal of a long-standing distraction, allowing greater focus on the real problems posed by their own brutal regimes.
Like the Nazis before them, the Islamic radicals also grossly exaggerate the extent of American entanglement with "Jewish interests." The only time the U.S. ever dispatched a major Army to the Middle East, the purpose of that expeditionary force was the rescue of an occupied Muslim, Arab nation – Kuwait. The U.S. bases no troops or planes anywhere in Israel, but it does maintain a major military presence in Saudi Arabia. America has never gone to battle in order to save Jews, but it has gone to war four times since 1990 in order to rescue Muslims – in Kosovo, Bosnia, Somalia and Kuwait. During the fateful Arab-Israeli war of 1967, in which Israel won control of East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank, President Lyndon Johnson declared that the U.S. must remain "neutral in thought, word and deed."
While it's true that the Nixon administration provided crucial re-supply to the Israeli military during the October War of 1973, the primary American involvement in the Arab-Israeli conflict over the years has involved strenuous, sometimes overbearing efforts to produce peace agreements. Those efforts resulted, most notably, in the Camp David deal between Egypt and Israel in 1978, and the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians in 1993. Of course, bin Laden and other extremists despise those peace initiatives as treachery – and one of Osama's closest colleagues, Ayman Zawahiri, helped plot the brutal murder of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat for his role in making peace. In view of this openly and repeatedly expressed preference for continued jihad over any sort of compromise, how can any thoughtful American suggest that a new Israeli-Palestinian agreement would in any way placate the Islamic radicals?
Muslim extremists, in other words, use their focus on "the Jewish question" in precisely the same way the Nazis did: as a means of conveniently oversimplifying their cause, and hiding its true menace to the very foundations of Western society. Like Hitler, the Islamic militants don't want to alter our civilization, they want to obliterate it. They don't dream that America will change, they yearn for America to die.
This acknowledgment in no way denies the obvious fact that they feel similarly impassioned hatred for Israel – and hope with similar intensity for Israel's imminent destruction. Nor would anyone suggest that the terrorist network that now represents such a ubiquitous threat to America and Americans, doesn't simultaneously menace Israel and all Jews. Like it or not, the survival of Israel will depend on the outcome of America's struggle against militant Islam – just as the survival of European Jewry ultimately depended on the success of the Allied struggle against Nazism. But in neither case should this dependence be considered mutual. America would have won the war even if Hitler had previously succeeded in murdering every Jew in Europe, and the fate of the U.S. anti-terrorism campaign won't be determined by Israel's success or failure. The Jewish Question, in other words, remains a sideshow, just as it was in World War II – one intense but tangential skirmish in the midst of a titanic, sweeping and historic battle between two irreconcilable worldviews.
The future of Israel may loom as an overwhelmingly significant issue for American Jews and committed Christians who feel a deep kinship with the Holy Land, but emotionalism shouldn't distort our vision of the present world struggle. That's especially true when such distortion validates the plans and purposes of Islamic hate-mongers and spin doctors, who also lavish a wholly irrational and wildly disproportionate level of attention on the role of Jews in this conflict.
The otherwise compelling historical parallel between today's situation and the early days of World War II does break down in one important area. Even those Americans who once accepted the German argument that opposition to "Jewish power" represented the true essence of the Nazi's fight, rejected those claims as enemy propaganda after Pearl Harbor and Hitler's declaration of war. Today, however, many Americans continue to believe that Israel and the Jews, not the United States, remain the prime enemies of radical Islam – even after a Muslim terror assault killed more Americans in a single day than all the accumulated Israeli victims of Islamic terror in the past 50 years. If nothing else, recent events should have made clear that it's not one religious group or one U.S. policy that's been targeted by Muslim militants around the world.
It's time now that we reach the unmistakable but uncomfortable conclusion that their brutal war has been implacably aimed at America itself.Michael Medved hosts a nationally syndicated daily radio show focusing on the intersection of politics and pop culture. He's the author of eight non-fiction books, including "Hollywood vs. America" and "The Shadow Presidents."
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