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Suicide bombers come from a neighborhood of make-believe.
In Israel, where I live and work, suicide bombings are commonly understood by the foreign press as acts of desperation by a people who have lost all hope for a better future. Ease the economic hardships of Palestinians and end the occupation, so the thinking goes, and terrorism will be deprived of its motive.
It's a convenient notion, which more or less excuses mass murder as the deeds of men who have been robbed of their property, pride and patrimony. But is it right? What if suicide bombings aren't an act of despair at all but something approaching the opposite: a supreme demonstration of contempt for everything Westerners hold dear, not least life itself? What if, too, suicide bombers are no poor-man's F-16 but a robust expression of confidence that the Palestinians are infinitely more ruthless than Israelis in what amounts to a zero-sum game?
Lee Harris believes that these are exactly the sorts of questions that we should be asking today, and not only about the war in the Mideast. In "Civilization and Its Enemies," he argues, brilliantly at times, that if you want to understand your enemy, you must understand him on his terms, not yours.
Take 9/11. Everyone from George W. Bush to Noam Chomsky agreed that the attacks were acts of war, even if they disagreed about exactly which political aims the acts were meant to further. But Mr. Harris takes a different view: 9/11, he says, was "a spectacular piece of theater." "The targets were chosen by al-Qaeda not for their military value--in contrast, for example, to the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor--but entirely because they stood as symbols of American power universally recognized on the Arab street. They were gigantic props in a grandiose spectacle in which the collective fantasy of radical Islam was brought vividly to life."
In other words, 9/11 was "a pageant designed to convey a message not to the American people but to the Arab world." This insight helps to explain why the U.S. wasn't afterward beset by a series of small-scale attacks. Such attacks, Mr. Harris observes, would have been easier to carry out and had a more destabilizing effect on the American economy. But they would have lacked the glamour and stylishness that was Osama bin Laden's trademark; indeed, they would have put him on a par with lesser terrorists.
So it was with bin Laden's predecessors, Mussolini and Hitler, also in the grip of what Mr. Harris calls "fantasy ideology." The essence of such ideologies isn't just a particular kind of make-believe--e.g., fascist Italy as the reincarnation of ancient Rome--but a conviction that the very act of making believe is enough to bring about the make-believe world itself, if enough people can be persuaded to play their part in the drama.
Such fantasy ideologists are the "enemies" of Mr. Harris's title. They are unlike the more common types of enemy known to man, who vie for land, prestige or plunder as ends in themselves. The fantasists, by contrast, have only a loose connection to the world as it really is. They may conquer land in the fulfillment of their fantasy, but the land is uninteresting to them except for the role it plays on the stage of their imaginations.
Yet paradoxically, says Mr. Harris, it is the very absence of a "sense of the realistic" that makes the fantasists so dangerous, because they are willing to take fantastic risks. So it was with Hitler's march into Rhineland in 1936, a foolish gamble by rational standards that succeeded because the French high command was unwilling to prick the Führer's fantasy of invincibility--thereby, of course, driving the fantasy to catastrophic proportions.
There are lessons here for us today. If, for example, you think the Palestinian national movement headed by Yasser Arafat seeks only to form a state within the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, then the answer to the problem is to get the Israelis to make way. If, however, you think Palestinians are in the grip of a fantasy ideology, acting as the vanguard for a Muslim counterattack against a latter-day Crusader state, then granting a Palestinian state becomes a bit like allowing Hitler to march into the Rhineland: It perpetuates a fantasy that deserves to die.
This is something the world needs to hear, and Mr. Harris makes his case well in the first 60-odd pages of his book. Alas, the reader still has 160 pages to go, and these are far less lucid or valuable. When will the American publishing industry rediscover the virtues of the pamphlet?
Mr. Stephens is editor in chief of the Jerusalem Post.
Hamas has joined the big leagues. No longer can it be seen as a local terror group that concentrates its efforts on destroying Israel. According to testimony given last week to the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee by Lt. General Peter Pace, the deputy chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Hamas has joined Hizbullah and Al-Qaida in the Triple Frontier Zone in Latin America where the borders of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay converge. There the Islamic terror groups train recruits, gather intelligence on targets for attacks, launder money and sell drugs.
Hamas is usually viewed as a local phenomenon. When in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks President George W. Bush announced that the US war on terror would target "every terrorist group of global reach" it was generally assumed this meant Palestinian terror groups were off the target list.
These organizations were seen as distinct from groups such as Al-Qaida, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Abu Sayyaf or Ansar al Islam that attacked mainly non-Israeli targets. By so distinguishing Palestinian terror organizations the Americans have, to date, been able to view the terror war against Israel as categorically distinct from the world jihad against the US and other western countries.
This distinction never made much sense. The fact that Islamic charities such as the Holyland Foundation, which were shut down in the US in the aftermath of September 11, funded both Al Qaida and Hamas made it clear that separating their operations was at best a dubious enterprise. Consistent Palestinian public support for Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden – evidenced by opinion polls, the official PA media and public demonstrations – also gave the lie to the notion that the Palestinian terror war is in a class by itself.
But if in the past the distinction was difficult to justify, it became downright untenable in the wake of the murder of three US officials in Gaza last October. It is not simply that Palestinian terrorists targeted American officials. Nor is it just that the attack has been followed up by an official PA cover-up of the affair. The fact is that official PA media in the weeks preceding the attack conducted targeted incitement against the officials who were murdered.
As shown by Palestinian Media Watch, an independent organization which monitors the official PA media, on September 22, 2003, the PA daily Al Quds reported on the rejection by Palestinian NGOs of a USAID demand that they sign a commitment not to transfer USAID donations to terror groups or operatives. Further down on the same page of the paper was a USAID advertisement calling on Palestinians to apply for US government-funded scholarships to study at American universities. The US officials who were murdered three weeks later in Gaza had arrived in the area to interview Palestinian applicants for congressionally funded Fulbright scholarships.
This week US Ambassador Dan Kurtzer decried the PA show trial of four men it claims were behind the October attack.
The trial, which was conducted behind closed doors last Saturday, came in the wake of a US decision to offer a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the attack. Kurtzer said Monday that not only does the US consider the trial proceedings unacceptable; it also finds the charges inexplicable.
"We're not even sure that the charge sheet that has been put together reflects the gravity of the crime. The charges seem to implicate these individuals for involuntary manslaughter rather than what we would call first-degree murder," Kurtzer admonished.
US anger at the PA is well-founded. Kurtzer is known for his strong affinity with the Israeli peace camp. And yet, given the mountain of evidence of PA involvement in terrorism, he could not avoid concluding that "The road map failed because of terrorism. It failed because Palestinians had not only not done enough to stop terrorism and had not done enough to uproot the terrorist infrastructure, but in the wake of the terrorism directed against Israeli citizens , the Palestinians did nothing."
Even the EU is no longer finding it possible to ignore PA involvement in terrorism. At the beginning of the week the Berlin Morgenpost newspaper published the results of an investigation by the EU's fraud investigations unit OLAF into the misuse of EU funds by the PA. The investigation, which was prevented for years by the EU's external relations Commissioner Chris Patten, went forward only after EU parliamentarian Francois Zimmeray collected the signatures of 157 EU parliamentarians overriding Patten's authority. The investigators were in Israel two weeks ago to check IMF allegations that $1.1 billion dollars of the EU's aid to the PA was illegally diverted.
According to the Morgenpost, OLAF investigators found that Yasser Arafat has diverted a large portion of the EU's assistance to the Fatah's Aksa Martyrs Brigade terror cells and to other Palestinian officials.
And yet, in spite of the fact that Hamas is clearly operating on a global level and in spite of the fact that the PA has been exposed for what it is, the US, like the EU, refuses to recognize the Palestinian war against Israel as an integral part of the world terror war that the US is fighting against.
In the same speech on Monday, Kurtzer said of the security fence, "If Israel makes a decision that the security fence is an important adjunct to its security then the United States will support that. However, if decisions on the routing of the fence are taken for reasons that have less to do with security and more to do with politics then we will have problems with it."
The question is, why does the US still insist that Israel cannot take any actions that will break the deadlock in the Palestinian war? Why is it that the US will not back Israeli actions that would bring it a political and military victory against the PA?
The answer was made clear this week. Led by Saudi Arabia, on Tuesday the OPEC oil cartel announced that it was cutting back oil production by one million barrels a day starting in April and would immediately eliminate the 1.6 million barrels a day of excess production over its standing quotas.
Reacting to the announcement, US Secretary of Treasury John Snow said that "higher energy prices act like a tax and are certainly not welcome."
In response to Snow's remarks, Reuters reported that the Saudi daily al-Riyadh shot back "saying that that the US has no right to warn OPEC against cutting oil output and accusing Washington of waging war on the cartel under the guise of protecting the global economy." Were the US to acknowledge that the Palestinian war against Israel is in fact an integral part of the global jihad against the West, it would find itself in open hostilities with Saudi Arabia which, with a quarter of the world's proven oil reserves, has the power to seriously damage the global economic recovery. And yet, the Saudis, who are the largest backers of Sunni terrorists like Al Qaida and Hamas, are in fact the enemy of the US.
America's dependence on foreign sources of oil has brought about the unprecedented situation where it is engaged in a world war against an enemy it is partly dependent on. Imagine what World War II would have looked like if Adolph Hitler had controlled the world steel markets.
And so it is that the US finds itself pursuing its current policy toward Israel and the Palestinians. The fact of the matter is that Israel is one of the US's staunchest and most valuable allies in the global war against terrorism. And yet, the US has expended great efforts to ensure that Israel brought none of its abilities to bear at least openly in the US war against terror to date.
While the US media is filled with reports about the overextension of US forces worldwide, the Bush administration not only makes no use of Israel's capabilities, but it places stringent limitations on Israel's ability to carry out operations in its own defense.
In the run-up to the November presidential elections, the Bush White House finds itself on the defensive for its actions in the war on terror. Perhaps America's reluctance to articulate clearly who its enemies and allies really are is one of the main reasons it is losing control of the debate on the war as a whole.
The value of human life is at the crux of the Middle East conflict
When it comes to mass murder, it seems that everyone is a pop psychologist. Everyone wants to know why some people strive to become killers, even at the cost of their own lives, as is the case with Palestinians.
For years, the talking heads on television and those who wrote about the situation for mainstream publications parroted the same line: The Palestinians are motivated by a sense of poverty and hopelessness that has made their lives untenable. What else would you expect desperate people to do but explode themselves on Israelis?
But after 311/2 years of a Palestinian war of attrition against Israel, that argument doesn't hold up anymore. The majority of those who have committed such crimes were not dispossessed or poor. They are just as likely to come from educated classes — and to have a great deal to live for. The Palestinian woman who last month faked an injury, then blew up solicitous Israeli soldiers at the Erez checkpoint who tried to help her, came from a wealthy family and had two children under the age of 3. And last week's atrocity on a Jerusalem bus was perpetrated by, of all things, a member of the Palestinian Authority police.
It's no good pretending we can understand such people via the rhetoric of compassion or the sort of inductive reasoning used by detectives on American television shows such as "Law & Order." Instead, we need to try to begin understanding the society that bred them.
But to even suggest such a thing opens us up to criticism for generalizing about a people rather than discussing individuals. We are told that only racists would even suggest such a thing.
Yet when it comes to Palestinian terrorists, focusing on the individual over the group gets us nowhere. These terrorists are acting in accordance with values that are lauded in their culture, and as part of a war that a particular society is conducting against Israel. The suicide bombers and other terrorists who kill Israeli men, women and children in cold blood are doing what their state schools and religious institutions have been telling them is an honorable, even saintly, deed.
So we must, albeit reluctantly, ask ourselves what sort of a society would think it is a good thing to commit gruesome murders? Are Jews not considered human? Are Palestinians truly barbarians, who, as historian Benny Morris recently suggested, need to be penned up?
DEHUMANIZING THE FOEIn the past, even those who lived in enlightened liberal democracies have not been troubled by generalizations about their enemies. Look at any movie made in Hollywood during World War II and search in vain for a humanized portrait of a German or Japanese soldier.
We can snicker at the crude chauvinism of that time, but what else were Americans to think about people who had committed untold atrocities in Poland, China and elsewhere? And the truth is, the screenwriters and the audiences of those films actually didn't know a fraction of the horror that was committed by the Nazis and their collaborators in the Holocaust, or in the Far East by the servants of the Japanese empire.
Americans then assumed that the Japanese and the Nazis, didn't place the same value on human life as we did. But by the time of the Vietnam war, Americans were too sophisticated to buy into such reasoning.
So, too, when it came to depictions of their Arab foes, have been most Israelis. Almost from the start of the modern Zionist movement, Hebrew popular culture has done its best to depict Arabs respectfully. Most films and plays produced in Israel have gone out of their way to humanize Palestinians, and to anguish over the conflict and the loss to both sides.
The notion of sacrifice for the nation is part of Zionist lore. But even a work such as Nathan Alterman's classic poem "The Silver Platter," in which the slain heroes of Israel's War of Independence remind the nation that the Jewish state was bought with their lives, does not glorify death or dehumanize the enemy; it reminds us of the terrible price of even a just war.
Even today, at a time when Jewish blood has been spilled so readily, mindless hatred against Arabs is still a marginal factor in Israeli society.
Not so among the Arabs. You need only read the translations from the Arab press and television that are published by the Middle East Media Research Institute to understand that the delegitimization of Israel and the Jews is an integral part of mainstream Arab culture.
Some will blame Israel for this, and claim its refusal to give in to Palestinian demands and its insistence on fighting back against terror is creating Arab hatred. But that assertion flies in the face of the fact that the current war is one the Palestinians chose when they could have had a state. The goal of the Palestinian national movement — Israel's destruction — remains unchanged.
MORE THAN A PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTIONYet even in the middle of this desperate war, we saw last week the willingness of Israel to trade hundreds of terrorist prisoners for one Israeli captive, along with the bodies of three slain soldiers. Israel was reportedly willing to release even more terrorists if only Hezbollah or any other Arab group would hand over the long-sought Israeli prisoner Ron Arad, or at least his lifeless bones. Recent reports in the Israeli press revealed that DNA tests proved that a bone fragment that was received recently from Hezbollah (a down payment on future trades?) was not that of Arad.
Why are Israelis so willing to trade so much for a single life when the Palestinians are willing to expend their own so needlessly? I suspect that it may be not so much a matter of devaluing life as it is the greater value they place on the ultimate victory they seek.
This is more than a philosophical question, because if we think that Israel's foes share our horror at the conflict, then we will always try to appease them with concessions. If their goals are different from those of the Jews, then a change in long-term strategy may be in order.
We may not understand why Arabs honor murder and Jews don't, but at this point in history, we're forced to at least pose the question. If, rather than a dispute about territory, something darker within Palestinian society is driving t his terrible war, then every debate about the peace process is ultimately moot. And that is a possibility very few of us wish to acknowledge.
What is so difficult to understand about the Middle East that Western diplomats and politicians continue to play with scenarios that have no hope of succeeding? The so-called "road map" created out of wishful thinking by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations states there must be two prerequisites before Israel relinquishes more land. One is that the Palestinian side must forswear violence, and the other is that the infrastructure that produces the violence must be dismantled. Neither has even begun to happen.
Quite the opposite.
This does not deter the wishful thinkers, however, including Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Sharon has announced a unilateral withdrawal of forces protecting Jewish "settlers" in Gaza, a strip of land Israel seized from Egypt when Egyptian forces used it to invade Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967. Partly, the announcement is for domestic political reasons. Sharon is involved in a bribery scandal investigation. Some believe a withdrawal might "pressure" Yasser Arafat and his band of serial killers to respond by eschewing terror.
Those who believe such things haven't been paying attention to history. Arafat doesn't give. He takes. That's because his objective differs mightily from everyone else's. The West thinks a formula can be constructed that will, in the words of Secretary of State Colin Powell, help the Palestinians realize the "legitimate aspirations" of a state of their own. What Powell and so many others will not recognize is that Palestinian aspirations are for a state that replaces Israel, not one that co-exists with it.
Reaction to the wall Israel is building to protect itself from encroachment by homicide bombers and others interested in its destruction is only the latest evidence that Arafat and company remain a threat and have no intention of modifying their objectives. If their plans have changed from regular incursions into Israeli territory for the purpose of killing civilians, why would they oppose a wall?
A Palestinian state without proof that Palestinian intentions have changed would assure an unprecedented base for terrorism that currently does not exist. It would be a threat not only to the entire Middle East and U.S. objectives to democratize the region, but to the United States itself. Such a nation-state would serve as a breeding ground and launching pad for terrorism worldwide. As a sovereign nation, a Palestinian state would be difficult for the United States and the toothless United Nations to control as it exports terror throughout the world. The Palestinian Authority (PA) already is the largest anti-American terrorist entity and enjoys diplomatic protection from much of the world. Imagine what it would be like as a full-fledged state, absent a change in purpose and direction. These people are playing for keeps because they claim a mandate from their "god." "Infidel" diplomats are not likely to deter such fanatics from their divinely ordained rounds.
President Bush is right in his assertion that the United States is fighting a war with worldwide terrorism. The Palestinian Authority is part of that war. The PA's allies have included Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein (whom Yasser Arafat praised for sending Scud missiles into Israel during the Persian Gulf War), the late Ayatollah Khomeini and other rogue nations in the region and beyond. Ideological mentors of the PA allied themselves with the Nazis and their goal of exterminating Jews (a goal that remains unchanged if one considers sermons, Palestinian TV and textbooks that are training a new generation of haters and terrorists). Arafat was trained by the Soviet Union's KGB.
Any progress toward peace and stability in the Middle East begins with abandoning the fantasy that what America and Israel do or don't do affects the actions and goals of Arafat and company. Anti-democratic forces understand only two things - power and resolve. A memo recently seized in a coalition raid in Iraq proves the point. It indicates growing frustration by Al Qaeda operatives in Iraq at America's resolve to remain in Baghdad until the stated objectives of free elections and a stable society are achieved.
Such resolve - and not unilateral measures by Israel and the West, or "confidence-building acts" - is more likely to protect American and Israeli interests and create conditions under which Palestinians and Israelis can have better lives - together.
"Everyone knows that the reason Israel has nuclear weapons is to protect itself from being thrown into the sea."- United States' Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
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