Comment: Love and War

A documentary on jihad broadcast on the festival of love makes for an unholy marriage.

twin towers 88 (photo credit: )
twin towers 88
(photo credit: )
Love was in the air this week. Admittedly it was surrounded by clouds of cynicism, but it was definitely there. Call it the Tu Be'av Effect. The 15th of the Hebrew month of Av, which this year fell on July 30, was traditionally the day the unmarried women of Jerusalem dressed in white and went out to dance in the vineyards, where they were chosen as brides by equally eligible men. The tradition was almost lost over the centuries but has in recent years undergone a huge, largely secular, revival to become the Israeli equivalent of Valentine's Day. Ahead of the day Labor leader Ehud Barak tied the knot with his childhood sweetheart, Nili Priel, in a ceremony which generated tremendous media hype for something so modest. The tabloid Ma'ariv broke the story a day or two ahead of the nuptials that had until then been such a closely guarded secret that most of Barak's close friends and staff had been unaware of them. The media had a field day. There was much discussion over whether or not it was a couple's right to plan their own wedding and guest list or whether the excessive secrecy was a negative trait - a sign that Barak was a lone wolf who held his cards too close to his chest. But the Barak-Priel wedding was merely the curtain raiser for the local love fest on Tu Be'av. Stores promoted gifts for lovers; hotels offered special deals for couples; prayers were said by singles seeking their bashert, and there were weddings and "happenings" around the country. While commercialism is usually a real romantic turn-off, I admit I got a warm feeling when I looked out of a back window of my Jerusalem apartment and saw a tractor decorated with fairy lights and blaring klezmer music as part of a celebration held in a plant nursery (for lack of an urban vineyard, one assumes). The spell, however, was soon broken. For some reason Israel Television chose that night to screen the documentary Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West. The title says it all. It is a fascinating study of global jihad and the unnerving state of denial of a world which doesn't seem to want to know just how much it is at risk. The material is not new to most Jerusalem Post readers. Indeed, the line-up of experts interviewed included a large number of writers who are either regular contributors to or often interviewed by this paper: Caroline Glick, Daniel Pipes, Sir Martin Gilbert, Nonie Darwish and our Palestinian affairs reporter Khaled Abu Toameh, who has to be one of the bravest men in the Middle East. The documentary records the scope of the problem and the radical indoctrination of hatred which threatens not only the West, but the Muslim world itself. It also has a section showing jihad to be as great a threat to the 21st century as Nazism was to the previous one following the failure of appeasement. The comparison to Hitler's Germany, while natural, can be misleading, however. History might have a tendency to repeat itself but it rarely does it according to exactly the same textbook. Applying lessons from the past to threats to the future needs to be done while acknowledging that circumstances are different and not blindly following the path that should have been taken before a battle that has already been fought. They say all is fair in love and war. But there was nothing "fair" in my Tu Be'av viewing. Shakespeare said: "The love of heaven makes one heavenly." The Islamic fundamentalists seem driven more by some satanic lust to attack the "infidel" - you, me and our next-door neighbors - and make a dramatic early arrival in the other world where they believe 72 virgins are waiting. What a difference between the lasses in white dancing among the vines to attract a partner to establish a home and family. I don't recall the al-Qaida attack on an Amman wedding hall being specifically mentioned in Obsession - my viewing was interrupted by phone calls from friends who were having an even less romantic evening than I was. But that particular suicide mission I found more chilling than almost any other. Dubbed Jordan's 9/11, the November 2005 triple attack left 60 people dead, most of them guests at a wedding in which a husband-and-wife terrorist team tried to get as close as possible to the bride and groom. Perhaps the thought that struck me most from the movie was the insight by Post columnist Glick that terrorists today don't even need territory of their own to prepare and carry out their attacks - 9/11, after all, was carried out in the US by terrorists who had trained in the US and used US planes to hit their targets. The documentary was possibly a case of preaching to the converted, if you'll pardon the expression. And it will take more than public awareness to fight back. But there are signs the al-Qaida attacks, Hamas takeover of Gaza and other Islamist "successes" have gone from being a wake-up call to serving as an alarm in every sense of the word. The flurry of diplomatic activity of the last couple of weeks shows that the Arab world is beginning to take the homegrown threats seriously. Last week Quartet envoy Tony Blair and the Egyptian and Jordanian foreign ministers made the journey to Jerusalem. This week it was the turn of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who arrived on August 1 fresh from her meeting (together with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates) with Saudi King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal and a diplomatic rendezvous in Sharm e-Sheikh with Egyptian leaders and representatives of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council. Rice's trip aimed at keeping up the momentum in the wake of US President George W. Bush's July 16 Mideast policy speech and his call for a regional meeting to provide an umbrella of support from neighboring states for Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic moves. Officials in Jerusalem said they hoped that such a gathering would bring a diplomatic breakthrough between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which have no diplomatic ties. The Saudis are also apparently planning to send a mission to the Shi'ite-led government in Baghdad, and, according to FM Faisal, "hope [to] work closely with Iraq regarding security aspects, especially terrorism." Saudi Arabia, heaven knows, is not exactly the first country that comes to mind when discussing moderate nations, but perhaps they too are realizing that there is nothing holy in holy war. Obsession showed that fanatics have hijacked Islam, taken it on a joy ride, and crashed it into the World Trade Center on the way. For me, I admit to being cynical about the recent revival of Tu Be'av with its crass commercialism. But when it comes to reviving and adapting ancient traditions, I prefer the thought of Jewish maidens in white dresses in the vineyards over the ancient hatreds being revived by jihadis around the world.