Recognizing terror in its many forms

The plague of physical and economic terrorism will only worsen until we find a way to take a tough stand against its practitioners rather than kowtow to them or capitulate to their demands.

North Korea supreme leader Kim Jong-un (photo credit: REUTERS)
North Korea supreme leader Kim Jong-un
(photo credit: REUTERS)
There’s a plague of fear spreading across the globe. The news greets us nearly every day like a blast of cold air. Acts of evil intended to influence the behavior of others.
The attack on Sony by North Korea may have been bloodless, but it’s an act of terrorism no less, undertaken by a dictator desperate to exert his influence in a world in which he feels insecure. This time it was the hacking of email accounts and other information from a major international corporation. Next time the hackers could target power grids or an airport, and the results could be actual loss of life. The entire fragile US economy could be thrown into chaos by a maniac with sophisticated cyberterrorists on his leash.
As in any case, the US can strike back, as it appears to have done by somehow shutting down Internet access in North Korea (the White House won’t confirm or deny). But the effects of cyberterror are already felt.
Theater chains across North America declined to show a lowbrow comedy starring Seth Rogen that accomplished its mission of poking the bear, in the form of Kim Jong-un. Fearing liability, they caved in to vague threats by hackers that they would somehow punish audiences who saw The Interview. The media were Kim’s accomplices, not only rushing to publicize the hacked Sony emails and causing severe corporate mayhem, but also, in the case of CNN, referencing the 2012 Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting and even 9-11 in its coverage as feasible outcomes of screening the movie.
Americans nearly universally groaned at this capitulation – it’s not like us to hide from bullies – but there were defenders, too.
“They’ll never be able to protect [audiences],” said Mortimer Zuckerman, publisher of The New York Daily News and US News and World Report on the McLaughlin Group last week. Fortunately some 300 small theaters agreed to show the movie in time for the release date and Sony Pictures wisely made it available online at the same time.
It is the very essence of terrorism to upset a society’s way of life, economic and cultural, via violent intimidation, whether the threat is real or just perceived.
It’s not surprising that terrorism is gaining an upper hand in a world that gives a free pass to groups that embody it. Last month the European Union court ordered Hamas removed from the EU terrorist list for “procedural reasons.”
Never mind that US courts have found that in fact Hamas has been responsible for the murder of innocent people, or that it has turned Gaza into a rocket base to attack Israel from the moment it gained independence. International donors have raised $5.4 billion to rebuild the area from Israeli retaliation strikes last summer, and schools across the United Kingdom are joining a five-mile walkathon next week to raise money for rebuilding schools in Gaza.
One wonders how much will be ponied up for the rebuilding effort by the international Hamas supporters who paid for the rockets that soared into Israel and ignited the conflict.
Does the fact that the EU court is located in Belgium, now known as one of the most anti-Semitic locations in the EU, contribute to this “procedural reasoning” or is this part of an attempt to encourage inclusion of Hamas in the coming debate over a Palestinian state, along with the more reasonable Fatah wing of the Palestinian Authority? It was in Brussels, the de facto capital of the EU, that shouts of “Death to the Jews!” and “Gas the Jews!” were heard at pro-Palestinian rallies. As The New York Times reported, “ugly threats were surpassed by uglier violence” as a new wave of anti-Semitism sweeps across Europe even as anti-Israel fervor grows. Recently, there was a deadly attack on a Jewish Museum in Brussels, a Jewish-owned pharmacy in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles was destroyed and a synagogue in Wuppertal, Germany was firebombed.
Evidently the world can’t even wait for the generation of Nazi victims to pass before moving on to the next wave of hate against the Jews. While world leaders gathered in Berlin last month for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s 10th annual conference on anti-Semitism, some participants noted that it was largely a gathering of governments who either pay lip service to the issue, or are fully committed but simply lack the wherewithal to have a serious impact on the problem, as in the case of France.
The more “sophisticated” Jew haters at least make an attempt to mask their hate as political activism, utterly fixated on the policies and actions of the Jewish state (while yawning at the daily bloodshed in Syria and elsewhere). Their form of terrorism is also cloaked in faux respectability: a boycott campaign against Israeli academic institutions and companies. Never mind that one of the targeted companies, Sodastream, is a major source of stable unemployment for Palestinians, and Israeli universities are full of professors harshly critical of their own government.
The plague of physical and economic terrorism will only worsen until we find a way to take a tough stand against its practitioners rather than kowtow to them, whitewash them or capitulate to their demands.
I will leave it to experts to decide a strategy that is effective for deterrence. But the first step is easy. Call it what it is.
The author is a financier, real estate developer, and investor in commercial real estate.
He is a board member of the American Jewish Congress, co-founder of and president of OurPlace, a non-profit organization that provides support, shelter, and counseling for troubled Jewish youth. He is a frequent commentator on political and social services matters.