Remembering Nothing

      The Obama administration long ago deleted all references to “Islam,” “radical Islam,” or even the word “terror” in its discussions of America’s ongoing war against…radical Islamic terror. This, undoubtedly part of its world view, adheres to the troubling pattern that has afflicted Westerners for almost a decade now.

     The National Education Association, the largest teacher’s union in the United States, routinely urges its educators to commemorate the anniversary of the Islamic-Arab terrorism on September 11, 2001, by omitting any reference to the perpetrators, Islamic-Arab terrorists. They feared that such an explicit rendering of the facts would harm efforts at diversity and arouse prejudice and intolerance.

     Sbarro’s Pizza Restaurant in Yerushalayim, destroyed amid terrible human carnage in August 2001, dedicated its memorial one year later. The plaque, which hung on the wall until the restaurant closed, read: “In eternal memory of the darkness that fell upon us” (translation mine) – as if Sbarro’s and its patrons had been afflicted by an electrical blackout, and not an Arab suicide bomber, on that fateful summer afternoon.

     The moving memorial (in front of the Teaneck Municipal Building) to Teaneck’s Sara Duker, hy”d, murdered in 1996 by Arab terrorists in the Gaza Strip, mourns her life which was tragically cut short by “violence” – place, purpose and perpetrators apparently unknown, or, at least, unmentionable.

     Imagine reading an account of the Holocaust that consciously and studiously deleted any reference to Germans or Nazis (or Jews, for that matter). Or, imagine if the Torah blandly commanded us to “remember what happened to you when you left Egypt”, period – instead of underscoring that we were attacked, in a dastardly and unprovoked way, by a nation which forever epitomizes evil – Amalek – and that we are adjured never to forget what Amalek did, even to wage eternal war against them. Imagine these two alternative, revisionist histories, and the examples brought above, and a clear pattern emerges: there is an ongoing, willful attempt to obscure, gloss over, or minimize the identity of the perpetrators of almost all of the terrorism in the world today, and for the last three decades. Why is that ?

     In the best-case scenario, many good-hearted people perceive man as naturally good, and evil as a gross aberration. Evil, therefore, exists as an entity, a concept, or as a failure of the human being – but it never inheres in the person. It is therefore unconstructive to associate the evildoers with the evil they have done. There are no evil people; there are only good people who do evil acts.

     This notion persists, despite its unequivocal rejection by the Torah. After the flood, Hashem advises Noach (Breisheet 8:21) that “the inclination of man’s heart is evil from his youth”, meaning from birth (Rashi). Judaism maintains that the unfettered, unrefined, untrained – i.e., morally unguided or natural – human being is a primitive, savage beast capable of committing the worst atrocities without a trace of guilt. As Jews, and after enduring two millennia of persecution, we should not need to be reminded of this.

      There are other possibilities why the identity of murderers is being systematically concealed. Perhaps, their identity is so obvious that it is unnecessary to state it. Or, it is unpleasant or unsettling to think about them. Or, there is a tangible fear that those who point it out will themselves become targets of attack (presumably from members of the same unnamed group). Or, perhaps there is concern that identifying the perpetrators as, disassociate themselves from the heinous crimes being committed and planned in their names.

      Of course, those standards were never applied (and are still not applied) when we classified past persecutors of Jews as Germans, or Poles, or Ukrainians, etc. Surely not every German, Pole, Ukrainian, etc. was a Jew-hater or Jew-killer. Yet, those groups were regularly categorized without qualification, i.e., stereotyped, because the stereotype was largely true. Those who disassociated themselves from the group – overtly or covertly – were so miniscule in number as not to be reflective of the group in general.

      The Arabs have escaped these natural consequences, largely because of the innate American reluctance to tolerate group stereotyping (cf. the abhorrence of racial profiling, which has made a mockery of attempts to upgrade airport security), but also because of a massive multi-billion dollar public relations campaign now underway in America, paid for by the Saudis, and designed to preclude and pre-empt such conclusions. But we ignore reality at our peril. It is undeniable that most Arabs are not terrorists, but equally undeniable that in today’s world most terrorists are Arabs (or Muslims). And if even 10% of America’s Muslims support terror, then there are well over 100,000 people in the United States willing to murder innocent people to achieve political goals. And if only 10% of the world’s Muslims support terror, that leaves 100,000,000 people out to commit mayhem. This alone should give us pause for thought, and for honest remembrance.

     One further example of the obfuscation of today’s evil is the media’s (and government’s) tendency to compartmentalize the “bad guys.” It’s Al Qaeda, it’s the Taliban, it’s Osama bin Laden, it was Saddam Hussein – in other words, an insignificant number of evildoers rather than a wealthy, sophisticated mass movement that numbers millions of adherents and tens of millions of tacit supporters.

     We are unfortunately well aware that since the Nazis, the primary murderers of Jews in the world have been Arab Muslims. We should be more aware that since the end of the Vietnam War, the primary murderers and tormentors of Americans in the world have also been Muslims, and primarily Arabs. The 1979 seizure of the United States embassy in Teheran, the American hostages there and in Beirut, the bombings of the embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 that killed 258 Americans, the destruction of the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, the homicides of Rabbi Meir Kahane and young Ari Halberstam, hy”d, in New York, the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the destruction of the Egypt Air flight that killed 217 people off the coast of New York City, the 1998 attacks on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania which killed 224, and the September 11, 2001 massacres which extinguished more than 3,000 innocent lives were all Arab/Muslim productions, and only a sampling at that.

     Certainly, one would hope, not every Arab or Muslim across the globe is a sponsor of terrorism, and a relative handful (mainly in America, but elsewhere as well) have denounced terrorism as a grave distortion of Islam. Many of those Muslim repudiators of terror have themselves become subject to death threats and hate mail, and have been silenced. And, of course, mere membership in a group is no indication of guilt, and no inherent reason to ascribe guilt. But, tellingly, many across the Middle East (the Saudis are a prime example) have condemned the attacks on America, while continuing to underwrite and exhort terrorism against Jews in Israel and elsewhere. It is not the murder or the mayhem that is inherently offensive, they seem to be saying, it is the lack of prudence in selecting an American target and not an exclusively Jewish one. In the Arab Muslim world, we have yet to hear of a substantial outpouring of soul-searching or even a massive wave of revulsion at the terrorism that blackens their names and defines their movements in the popular mind.

     Evil is not amorphous or abstract. It has a name, a face, an address, and an ideology. It is easier to forget, look away, and mask the hideousness of what Arab terrorists did and are still trying to do – mask it behind euphemisms, conceal it behind political correctness, submerge it in a torrent of pale palaver and innocuous nattering, and drown it in a raging river of wishful thinking. But we must be vigilant, as Jews and Americans, to combat evil, hate it passionately, weaken its perpetrators, hasten its demise, and avidly support the defenders of freedom and morality.

     Those who persist in believing in the intrinsic goodness of man have to account for the 150,000,000 human beings murdered in the 20th century alone. To distort the truth while purporting to remember the past is to remember nothing, to dishonor the victims, and to facilitate the murders of the future. Sadly, the Obama administration follows this naïve path, contorting to disassociate Islam from the Fort Worth killer, the underwear bomber, et al, and every murder whose root is directly traceable to radical Islamists.

    The Torah teaches us the nature of evil, how to recognize it, how to combat it, and how to defeat it. And it also teaches us that the destruction of evil – Amalek incarnate – is the precursor to the Messianic age, when man’s goodness, freed of the shackles of ego, strife, evil, greed, and jealousy, will flourish and triumph. Let us hasten that day by remembering Amalek (by name), by unflinchingly supporting the war against evil, and by being lovers of justice and truth.

4 responses to “Remembering Nothing

  1. another article right on the mark

  2. I couldn’t agree more.

    Chazak U’Baruch!!

  3. Thank you for speaking the things that burn inside of me.

  4. Senator Joseph Lieberman followed in the Rav’s “thought”-steps and wrote the following editorial:

    Who’s the Enemy in the War on Terror?
    The U.S. is at war with violent Islamist extremism, and the Obama administration does moderate Muslims no favor by refusing to recognize this.

    The Wall Street Journal
    JUNE 15, 2010

    In the new National Security Strategy released by the White House last month, the Obama administration rightly reaffirms that America remains a nation at war. Unfortunately, it refuses to identify our enemy in this war as what it is: violent Islamist extremism.

    This is more than semantics. As military strategists since Sun Tzu have appreciated, the first rule in war is to know your enemy so you can defeat it. The 2006 National Security Strategy did this: It correctly identified our enemy as “the transnational terrorists [who] exploit the proud religion of Islam to serve a violent political vision.” The Obama administration removed those accurate and important words.

    One argument administration officials use to defend their avoidance of terms like “violent Islamist extremism” is that they are imprecise and lump together a diverse set of organizations with different goals, motivations, and capabilities. Yet the administration’s preferred alternative term—”violent extremism”—is much more vulnerable to such criticism.

    To state the obvious, there are many forms of “violent extremism” with which America is not “at war.” The strategies and capabilities needed to counter the specific threat of violent Islamist extremism are very different from those needed to deal with white supremacist extremists in the U.S. or genocidal militias in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet at no point does the 2010 National Security Strategy explain or defend its repeated use of the nebulous euphemism “violent extremism,” which also has appeared in other strategy documents over the last year.

    The administration has also stated at times—including in its new National Security Strategy— that our enemy in this war can be identified as “al Qaeda,” “al Qaeda and its affiliates,” or as “al Qaeda-inspired terrorists.” While that’s a better characterization, it still suffers from a number of serious shortcomings.

    First, it is not fully accurate. Defining the enemy by reference to al Qaeda implies that this war is primarily about destroying an organization, rather than defeating a broader political ideology. This war will not end when al Qaeda has been vanquished—though that, of course, is a critical goal—but only when the ideology of violent Islamist extremism that inspires and predates it is decisively rejected. That ideology motivates many other groups and individuals.

    For example, the ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism, Daniel Benjamin, recently warned about the growing danger to the U.S. posed by the Pakistan-based Islamist extremist group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was responsible for the devastating 2008 attack in Mumbai, India. As Amb. Benjamin put it, “Al Qaeda is not the only group with global ambitions that we have to worry about.”

    Finally, characterizing this war as being against a specific organization risks distracting our government from important policy questions about how to combat the ideological dimensions of the war that is taking place within Islam. It also may send a message to moderate Muslims that they can and should remain on the sidelines of this fight, while governments use conventional means to defeat al Qaeda.

    Some in the Obama administration have suggested that—even if all of these objections were true—calling our enemy “violent Islamist extremists” is not wise because doing so bolsters our enemy’s propaganda claim that the West is at war with Islam. The logic of this argument is completely unsound. Muslims in fact understand better than anyone else the enormous difference between their faith and the terrorist political ideology that has exploited it.

    There is no question that violent Islamist extremists seek to provoke a “clash of civilizations,” and that we must discredit this hateful lie. We must encourage and empower the non-violent Muslim majority to raise their voices to condemn the Islamist extremist ideology as a desecration of Islam, responsible for the murder of tens of thousands of innocent Muslims and people of other faiths. How can we expect those Muslims to have the courage to stand and do that if we are unwilling to define and describe the enemy as dramatically different from them?

    We must recognize the nature of the fight we are in, not paper it over. The United States is definitely not at war with Islam. But a group of self-identified, extremist Muslims has definitely declared war on us, a war which they explicitly justify by reference to their religion. Muslims across the world see the ideological nature of this struggle. I believe it is disrespectful to suggest they cannot understand these distinctions and act on them.

    As a former Democratic secretary of state, Dean Acheson, warned a half-century ago: “No people in history have ever survived who thought they could protect their freedom by making themselves inoffensive to their enemies.” This remains the case today.

    Mr. Lieberman is an Independent Democratic senator from Connecticut.