Acknowledged: Appreciating and repudiating in an age of terrorism

Last week, as I finished the first draft of a book on Bill Clinton and the 1990s, as I contemplated the many relatives, friends, and colleagues who helped me in researching, writing, and editing, I had a rollercoaster week – along with so many others.  It was a week for gratitude and anger. The modern world blunts both emotions, even though appreciating and repudiating, proportionately and appropriately, are essential acts of free, discerning, happy, balanced people.  
Writing books is a hard, solitary, often thankless, business.  This lonely, overwhelming, often self-absorbed task ends with a lovely selfless ritual: writing acknowledgments. As the increasingly isolated author finishes, having burrowed ever-deeper into the project with the deadline looming -- dodging phone calls, shirking family responsibilities – reconnecting by acknowledging others is an elegant reentry strategy. Most of us take for granted all the emotional, intellectual, and logistical support we receive; very few have venues for such public thanks.
My gratitude ranges from the profound to the prosaic: I appreciate the love, support, friendship, humor, forbearance, of my wife and four children, forced to time-travel with me; my Moynihan book imprisoned us in the 1970s, this one stuck us in the 1990s; at least we’re approaching 2015.   “The Clintons r such professor hogs!!” one son posted on our family What’s Up, (as if the Clintons care…) I also appreciate all my little indulgences: jogging through Jerusalem; Bashar’s low-fat goat cheeses; my Aroma Light Ice-Caffe fixes; my wife’s chocolate chip cookies.
Last week, while reveling in my cocoon, the love that sustains me, the inanities that distract me, the intellectual freedom that fuels me, the outside world intruded. I attended a moving memorial service for my friend Anne Heyman, who died tragically last year at the too-young-age of 52. Her life combined grand, heroic acts of philanthropy including founding Rwanda’s Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, with intimate acts of love and friendship. Celebrating her made me appreciate my good health, my family’s well-being, and the inspiration I draw from my amazing friends. So many of them show in so many ways that, as Anne taught, “one person with a good idea can really change the world.”
The funeral of Adele Feit, an 87-year-old New Yorker-turned-Tel Avivi, who died peacefully after her morning coffee and a call to a college friend of 70 years, emphasized our debts to our parents’ ordinary heroism:  despite the travails they endured, their well-lived lives and all the good they created in North America and the Middle East, that we now enjoy.
On a different note, the ugly charges made against Alan Dershowitz, an intellectual leader whom I have only met once in person but have applauded, occasionally criticized, and frequently learned from in print for decades, highlighted how easy it is to trash someone’s reputation in the Internet Age. Anti-Israel forces have gleefully publicized the allegations, with no evidence beyond their hatred for his pro-Israel advocacy. Respecting the Western principle that everyone is presumed innocent unless proven guilty, knowing mutual friends who vouch for him, and considering the Jewish tradition of “hakarat hatov,” acknowledging the good, now seems an opportune time simply to mount a hashtag campaign, tweeting #ThanksDersh to acknowledge his brave support for Israel.
By Wednesday, fury at the evil menacing Paris ruined my Thanksgiving-in-January.   Even as France and much of the world claimed to be saying “Non” to terror, my frustration rose as I heard “maybe” or “it depends,” not “no.”
“Non” does not mean no when opinion leaders refuse to criticize Islamism clearly; when they fail to fight censorship boldly by reproducing Charlie Hebdo’s controversial cartoons; and when they don’t repudiate terrorism regardless of the justification. 
“Non” starts to mean “maybe” when apologists harp on “Islamophobia” or poverty or marginalization as excuses for the inexcusable, just as Palestinians have facilitated Islamist terrorism by rationalizing their targeting of babies, commuters, and coffee-drinkers with tales of woe. Millions of people have protested many injustices – real or imagined – for centuries without resorting to terrorist violence. Targeting innocents systematically is not some romantic “weapon of the weak”; it is a wicked weapon, regardless of the cause.
And “non” starts to sound like “it depends,” when Mahmoud Abbas, whose Palestinian national movement has done so much to normalize terrorism, and to mainstream the anti-Western, anti-democratic and anti-Semitic hatreds that fueled last week’s violence, marches “against terror” in Paris even though he honors terrorists as “martyrs” at home. Inviting him was as delusional as pretending that Islam has nothing to do with Islamism.
While fighting Islamism boldly, directly, honestly, we should honor the memory of Ahmed Merabet, the Parisian policeman gunned down outside the Charlie Hebdo offices. The cold-blooded murder of this Muslim by fellow Muslims demonstrates that Islamism menaces Islam; Islamists show no more respect for rival mosques or co-religionists than they do for synagogues or Jews. And we should acknowledge the heroism of Yohan Cohen, the hostage who died trying to seize the gun from the Hyper-Cachere terrorist. Cohen’s murder symbolizes the many acts of bravery last week amid the carnage, including the daily courage of security forces and first-responders, in France and elsewhere, who fight terrorism and other scourges, protecting us 24/7.
This topsy-turvy week reinforced an essential lesson.  The terrorists seek to disrupt us. Therefore, living a good life, sticking to routines, charting our own paths, repudiates them. They can ruin individual lives but our collective determination to keep living normally means they will never triumph.   
They are the ones forced to hide in the shadows. We are the ones who live in the daylight, sustained by love, nurtured by freedom, fulfilling democratic visions.And it is that poetry of everyday life, I – and we all – should so happily acknowledge, especially now. 
Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a visiting professor at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. The author of eight books on American history, his next book looks at Bill Clinton and the 1990s. 
Author, Moynihan's Moment: America's Fight Against Zionism as Racism Watch the new Moynihan's Moment video