Last week, a Hamas terrorist drove into a crowd of Jerusalemites, killing a three-month old baby and a 22-year-old Ecuadoran. Let’s call this heinous crime a “carder,” murder by automobile whose terrorist intentions are discounted – as Jimmy Carter has taught the world to do. The Associated Press first proclaimed: “Israeli Police Shoot Man in East Jerusalem.” A directive from the US consulate in Jerusalem to its employees referred to the “earlier traffic incident near french hill.” And J Street U – the left-wing lobbying group’s campus arm -- tweeted: “In Jerusalem, a baby has been killed and 8 wounded by a terrorist from the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, the same neighborhood where last week new Jewish settlers moved in.”
In 140 characters, J-Street’s young relativists essentially justified terrorism, morally equating apartment-buying with baby-killing.
This fog of inversion, obfuscation, and immoral contextualization is clarifying. The compulsion to impugn Israeli actions and excuse Palestinian murders trumps truth and morality. The Palestinian narrative has become so accepted that new Jewish houses generate more indignation than continuing Palestinian violence (or horrors elsewhere too). Civilized people can abhor Israeli settlement policies but still should distinguish morally between squabbling over territory and murder. Seized land can be returned; dead people don’t come back.
After terrorism in Jerusalem, in Canada (twice), in Syria and Iraq (repeatedly), and in Queens, New York, civilized people need the moral courage to acknowledge the obvious: the scourge of Islamism is behind this plague of beheadings, axings, shootings and “carders.” Regrettably, few were surprised that the three North American terrorists were newly-converted Muslims. The Queens terrorist, who slammed an axe into the skull of a rookie police officer happily posing with buddies for a picture on Jamaica Avenue, took the J Street U blame game further, saying in a YouTube posting: “If the Zionists and the Crusaders had never invaded and colonized the Islamic lands after WWI, then there would be no need for Jihad.” No, John Kerry, Israel did not cause all the world’s troubles or Islamism’s furies and crimes. The Islamic doctrine of Holy War is centuries-old and Islamists are using Jihad to justify slaughtering fellow Muslims too.
How many wake-up calls are necessary before we – from left to right -- confront the enemy? Yet how do we fight Islamism intensely without triggering Islamophobia, irrational hatred of Islam?
Islamism is a formidable ideological enemy. Consider the perverse indoctrination required to raise a totalitarian terrorist. To drive over a person, let alone into a crowd with a baby carriage at its center, to target a soldier guarding hallowed national space, to axe a fellow human being, to engage in such deliberate violence, requires purging core values that most of us so internalized they feel instinctive. Only after exorcising the good can a new, hateful ideology be instilled. This de-civilizing reorientation’s power reveals Islamism’s potency.
Denying Islam’s centrality is as foolish as blaming all Muslims for the extremists’ crimes. Too many on the Left minimize this link between Islam, Islamism, and terrorism to preserve their simplistic equations: “West = bad; Third World = good.” In his 2003 book, Terror and Liberalism, Paul Berman explained that Islamism only became Islamism – and so lethal – when Muslim Brotherhood theorists studying in the West encountered Nihilism and came home totalitarians.
Perhaps my ostrich friends would take their heads out of the sand to fight Islam-ism rather than Islamism, using the hyphenated “ism” to emphasize the Western legacy. This syntactical sin is tolerable if it helps politically correct Westerners distinguish between the respect Islam deserves and the contempt required to combat its evil, Western-inflected, bastard son.
Muslims should lead in fighting Islam-ism. Just as the perversity of Communism and Nazism did not invalidate other overlapping yet fundamentally different Western ideologies like liberal democracy, non-Islamist Muslims should be confident enough in Islam’s values to repudiate Islamism. The best counter to Islamophobia would be by helping save the world from Islamism – just as Dwight Eisenhower, Chester Nimitz and other German-Americans led the fight against Nazi Germany during World War II. Muslims should protect their religion from bloodthirsty extremists and denounce those who hijack their religion for evil, while non-Muslims should fight Islamism not Islam or Muslims.
I challenge Muslims to learn from Israelis about how to handle their own tribe’s sins and sinners. This summer, Israelis arrested and repudiated the three murderers of the Palestinian boy; meanwhile, Palestinians lionized the two Palestinian murderers of the three Israeli boys. Israel has a free press, uninhibited academics, and a robust, responsibility-taking culture of self-criticism; Palestinians have a controlled press, terrorism-rationalizing professors, and a defensive excuse-generating culture of victimization. Israel has a newly-elected president with a limited term, who is emerging as a sharp, modern day Jeremiah, ready to challenge Israel to be as great as it can; the Palestinian Authority has a now-unelected president serving the tenth year of his four-year term who is too busy demonizing Israel and deifying terrorists to rock the Palestinian boat.
Self-criticism is to a healthy body politic what medicine is to the human body; it can sometimes burn, be too harsh, or have dangerous side effects but it is essential for healing most wounds. President Ruby Rivlin is challenging Israeli Jews to accept Israeli Arabs, to purge their body politic of bigotry, to acknowledge Israeli Arab pain at Kfar Kassem and elsewhere. Rivlin has boldly declared that too many bigoted Israelis make “Israel …a sick society.”
Rivlin knew that every anti-Israel delegitimizer would hijack this presidential admission of weakness, applying it loosely, sloppily, to every Israeli policy, putting the presidential seal of approval on opposition to the Jewish state. But anti-Islamist Muslims take note. A society blessed with that kind of courageous, self-critical, challenging leader, is anything but sick.
Gil Troy is a 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 latest Moynihan's Moment: America's Fight Against Zionism as Racism was published by Oxford University Press. Watch the new Moynihan's Moment video!