Think Again: The price of blindness

Israel’s need to constantly defend itself against threats to its very existence from 1948 to the present has prevented the most basic human instinct.

Palmach soldiers 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Palmach soldiers 370
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
In preparation for Jerusalem Day, I’ve just finished The Battle for Jerusalem: An Unintended Conquest by longtime Jerusalem Post reporter Abraham Rabinovich. (The book is an expanded e-book version of his 1972 classic.) Rabinovich interviewed over 300 combatants in the battle, and it shows. No one captures the experience of war from the fighters’ perspective better than Rabinovich.
While reading The Battle for Jerusalem, it struck me that Israel’s need to constantly defend itself against threats to its very existence from 1948 to the present has prevented the most basic human instinct – the instinct for self-preservation – from atrophying here to the degree it has throughout the West.
Retiring Yale classicist Donald Kagan, 80, expressed concern in his valedictory interview with The Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Kaminski that the delicate flower of democracy is threatened today. He laments the development of a culture that “makes it difficult for us [the West] to behave rationally when the rational thing is to be tough.” He summarizes the basic lesson of growing up in the tough Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn: “If you don’t want trouble with someone, be sure he has something to be scared of.”
Kagan attributes the West’s failure to absorb that lesson to culture and a lack of political leadership. Democracy, he argues, requires a free, autonomous and self-reliant population, and these qualities are in increasingly short supply in an America of office workers and disability recipients.
Israelis, however, have been forced to be tough for wont of choice. And the experience of war has developed the qualities Kagan considers fundamental for democracy and the capacity for leadership.
In the bloody fighting in Jordanian trenches to take Ammunition Hill, the greatest casualties were absorbed by the platoon leaders, who took the lead position moving through the trenches and were thus most vulnerable to Jordanian fire. Fifty percent of the junior officers were killed or wounded in the battle. (By contrast, the Jordanian officers were much more likely to flee the battle than their soldiers.) A country that of necessity must produce many such young men has a better chance of developing the toughness and clarity to confront reality as it is, not as we wish.
ELITE REACTIONS to the Boston Marathon bombing provide another example of the Western failure to confront reality. Even after the radical Islamic associations of the brothers Tsarnaev were known, the media was still wondering “Why?” Could it have been the difficulties of immigrant absorption or possible concussions suffered by Tamerlan in his Golden Gloves boxing career? A Boston Globe headline would have been funny were in not illustrative of a dangerous cast of thought: “Islam might have had a secondary role in Boston attacks.”
Commentators had fun creating their own riffs – e.g., “Gravity may have played secondary role in fall”; “Anti-Semitisim may have played secondary role in Hitler’s Final Solution.” Politicians and commentators point out ad nauseam that the vast majority of Muslims do not become terrorists, as proof that Islam had nothing to do with the bombing. That’s like arguing cigarettes have nothing to do with lung cancer because not all smokers develop lung cancer.
And try making the argument in The New York Times: An infinitesimal percentage of gun owners murder schoolchildren, so it is ridiculous to impose new background checks for gun owners.
We cannot admit the truth: Islam possesses a power unique among all the world’s religions today: to fill its followers with the desire to murder innocents among non-believers. Most Muslims will never become terrorists. But jihadis of various stripes draw on a rich lode of canonical Islamic texts – the Koran and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (the hadith) for support.
It is frightening to contemplate that out of 1.3 million Muslims worldwide, there may be tens of millions susceptible to the lure of radical Islam. And it is a natural human tendency to avoid facing a frightening reality.
After the carnage of World War I, British prime minister Neville Chamberlain could not bring himself to contemplate the possibility that Adolf Hitler was preparing for war. He never read Mein Kampf, certainly not the sections in which Hitler talks about the role of deception. The British press went along happily, failing to report on Germany’s military build-up. In a similar vein today, Western leaders and media steadfastly turn their eyes from what the radical Islamists say and their presence at the heart of over 90% of terrorist acts.
THE FEAR of facing reality is compounded by a lethal political correctness.
Much of Europe has enacted “hate speech” laws indistinguishable from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s efforts to make Muslim blasphemy laws part of international law.
Even the suggestion of a link between Islam and terrorism can land one in jail.
Nor has the United States been immune. The 9/11 Commission Report is filled with references to “jihad,” “Muslims” and “Islam.” By contrast, the 2008 FBI Counterterrorism Lexicon contains no such references. Such references, we are told, might give credence to the notion that Islam sanctions terrorism, as if proliferating Islamist websites, with their prolific citation of Islamic sources, require such confirmation.
The government report on the Fort Hood shootings, in which army doctor Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan mowed down 13 servicemen and civilians while shouting Allahu Akbar, determined that it was a case of “workplace violence” and made no mention of his radical Islamic beliefs. “Religious fundamentalism alone is not a risk factor,” the report concluded. Army Chief of Staff George W. Casey opined that it would be even a greater tragedy than the murder of 13 if the attack led to a reduction of Muslims in the service. Yet that pursuit of diversity kept Hasan in the army, after colleagues complained of his erratic behavior and espousal of radical beliefs. The FBI questioned him – one of five cases in which Muslims questioned by the FBI subsequently participated in terror attacks.
In late 2011, the president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council threatened that the US Muslim community would refrain from cooperation with counterterrorism efforts unless “deep anti-Muslim sentiment” in training manuals was immediately addressed. In response, President Barack Obama’s then-counter terrorism adviser and current head of the CIA John Brennan ordered that all US government counterterrorism manuals be “purged” of any material that the undersigned Muslim organizations, many of them Muslim Brotherhood front groups, deemed unacceptable.
LESS THAN a week before the Boston Marathon bombing, Clare Lopez, a former CIA operations officer and currently a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy, published a detailed report titled “History of the Muslim Brotherhood Penetration of the US Government.” She relied heavily on two documents laying out the Brotherhood’s plans for spreading Shari’a law in America. The first is the Explanatory Memo uncovered by the FBI during the Holy Land Foundation Hamas-funding prosecution.
The memo refers to the use of front groups that will raise little concern, and lists 29 such groups in the US, including the Muslim Students Association, with 600 chapters; the Council on Islamic-American Relations; and the Islamic Society of North America.
These groups are almost all treated by the US government and the media as “moderate” and “mainstream” Muslim defense organizations, despite their links to the Brotherhood.
The second document referred to by Lopez is the “Project,” dated 1982 and uncovered by Swiss authorities in a 2001 raid on the villa of a suspected terrorist. It sets forth seven rules for front groups, including: avoid open alliance with terrorists or expressions of support for terrorism; use deception to conceal the true goals of the organization; establish funding networks; create alliances with “progressive” organizations; influence Muslims living in the West to maintain a jihad mentality; and maintain hatred of Jews.
Brotherhood-affiliated organizations have followed the game plan with remarkable discipline. By constantly raising the specter of Islamophobia, they have succeeded in stifling open discussion of the Islamic element behind terrorist threats to America.
Lopez lists a number of figures with extensive connections to the Brotherhood who attained influential positions in the US government and as presidential advisers, at least two of whom were subsequently convicted of terrorism-related offenses.
WILLFUL BLINDNESS to what is known comes at a high cost. Alan Johnson prepared a lengthy government report while working in the UK’s Office for Security and Counterterrorism, based on interviews with young British Muslims who had been radicalized. In virtually every case, there was a skilled recruiter, who succeeded in aligning the target’s life goals with a larger narrative involving a rigid, angry, politicized distortion of Islam. And that contact is rarely confined to just the Internet, but involves personal contact – e.g., in a mosque or at overseas training centers.
Even if the Tsarnaev brothers acted as “lone wolves,” not in conjunction with any overseas terror organization, the older brother, Tamerlan, almost certainly had terrorist training abroad.
Reporter Judith Miller points out that virtually everything about Tamerlan would have earned him surveillance under the guidelines of the New York City Police Department anti-terror unit: his travel to Dagestan, a Russian Republic with an Islamist insurgency; the warning from the Russian government that he could be dangerous; his rapid behavioral changes – adopting traditional Islamic clothing and growing a beard. Once under surveillance, his Internet postings and even his purchase of a pressure cooker might have alerted authorities.
Yet the NYPD anti-terrorist surveillance program, which is credited with foiling 16 potential attacks, has been under constant assault by so-called “mainstream” Muslim defense organizations since the 2007 publication of its report, “Radicalization in the West: the Homegrown Threat.” Last year, the Associated Press won a Pulitzer Prize for “exposing” the NYPD’s surveillance program.
After Boston, any law enforcement agency that does not have a program in place based on the NYPD model is in dereliction of duty.
Israelis would know that. ■
 The writer is director of Jewish Media Resources, has written a regular column in The Jerusalem Post Magazine since 1997, and is the author of eight biographies of modern Jewish leaders.