Remember the Enemy by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky
(Published first in the OU’s Jewish Action, Fall 2011 issue)
The Jewish people are quite proficient in exercises of memory, and therefore we will never forget the horrific events of September 11, 2001–the mass murder of almost 3,000 human beings and the destruction of iconic American sites by Islamic-Arab terrorists. Like the Kennedy assassination for a different generation, few will ever forget where he or she was at the moment the Twin Towers collapsed under the overbearing weight of ferocious and sadistic evil. The fear for the fate of friends and loved ones, the dread felt by families of the missing, the devastation wrought to thousands of families, and the attacks on American symbols will never leave us. It was the first act of war on American soil since Pearl Harbor, but this assault had tens of millions of eyewitnesses.
For Jews, remembering is more than an exercise; it is a mitzvah found in several contexts and noted for its specificity. We are bidden to remember daily the Exodus from Egypt–both the event and its prelude and aftermath. Pious Jews also recall every day the Revelation at Sinai, the sins of Miriam and the Golden Calf, and Shabbat as well. And we are all mandated to “remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you left Egypt” (Devarim 25:17)–who they were, what they did, and what our response should be: eternal vigilance.
Note well the words of the verse: “Remember what Amalek did. . . ” –not simply what was done by a nameless, faceless enemy–but by Amalek. There is no reluctance to name the enemy. The modern but hollow demands of political correctness have required a concealment of the enemy’s identity. Notwithstanding ten years of war against radical Islam that has attacked a score of countries across the globe and murdered thousands more, Western man remains hesitant to recall the Arab terror of 9/11 by even calling it the Arab terror of 9/11. It is termed simply “9/11,” or the “tragedy,” or the “catastrophe” of the Twin Towers “imploding,” as one memorial states it. The moral imperative of not blaming all Muslim-Arabs for these crimes has disintegrated into not blaming any Muslim-Arabs, of whatever political stripe or passion, for these crimes. That is an offense to the memory of the victims, and to those who have led the battle against radical Islam for the past decade. We, too, have been guilty of these linguistic contortions that breed historical distortions. As Jews, we should know better.
Nevertheless, the Arab terror of 9/11 also engendered unprecedented acts of kindness, and a unity forged in a common struggle against evil. Many across the world who belittled, disparaged, or ignored terror against Jews in Israel now found terror coming to their homes, writ large. Americans, especially, saw Israel’s plight in a different light. But in the wake of this horrendous crime, we also witnessed and were inspired by acts of dedication and love that briefly enabled us to soar beyond the patterns that too often dominate our mundane lives and thoughts. Those too are indelible parts of our memory of America’s appalling encounter with radical Islam, for which freedom and true faith are the eternal antidotes.
The Torah’s proscription regarding Amalek is that every single Amalekite — man, woman, child — should be killed. See I Samuel 15:3 (“From man unto woman, from infant unto suckling, from ox unto sheep, so that the name of Amalek not be mentioned”.) See also Deuteronomy 25:17-18, Exodus 17:14. I assume you don’t believe that the appropriate reaction to terrorist attacks committed by radical Arabs is to kill all Arabs. Indeed, just the opposite, you make note in this post of
“[t]he moral imperative of not blaming all Muslim-Arabs for these crimes”. Do you not then see the critical flaw, and, indeed, the potential for a dangerously flawed interpretation of the Torah’s view, when you use the Torah’s broad naming of the enemy as “Amalek” as an analogy to promote greater use of the label Arab Terror to describe the attacks committed by an evil but very small subset of all Arabs?