by Jonathan Rosenblum
September 19, 2003
Two anniversaries were marked last week: the tenth anniversary of the signing of the Oslo agreements and the second anniversary of 9/11. The lessons to be learned from those two events and the manner in which they have been absorbed share much in common. Above all, they expose the limits of the liberal imagination.
The second anniversary of 9/11 was much more muted in the American media than the first. The media was, by and large, careful to avoid anything that might suggest a link between the traumatic events of that day and ``war on terror" declared by President George W. Bush in its aftermath. Martial themes were out.
As the initial shock of watching the Twin Towers crumble wanes so too does the memory of what was revealed on that day: a network of Islamic terrorism with no other goal than sowing death and destruction throughout the hated West.
Many Americans (and most Europeans) have reverted to thinking of themselves as living in the world of September 10, 2001. They are more concerned with the economy than security, and prone to grumbling about the cost of the continued American presence in Iraq in terms of lives and money.
Those who think that way cannot accept the fact that the West is at war with Islamic terrorism. Either America will defeat the remnants of Al Qaeda and its Islamist allies in Iraq or confront them again in American cities. From the latter perspective, the cost of rebuilding and defending Iraq is cheap. The alternative is the dystopia painted by Max Singer in these pages in which 9/11-like attacks become routine.
The liberal imagination has difficulty accepting the existence of implacable enemies filled with hate not for what one has done but for what one is. American is hated not for wrongs done to the Arab world – wrongs that could be redressed – but because its freedom, prosperity and power stand a perpetual reminders of the failure of Moslem society. Islamic hatred is fueled by global communications that provide no escape from the failure of Islamic society. Historian Michael Ignatieff describes the ``remorseless growth [in Arab lands] of lawless shanty towns that collect populations of unemployed or underemployed males who can see the promise globalized prosperity in the TVs in every café, but cannot enjoy it themselves."
The entire Oslo process was predicated on a similar failure to recognize that it is Israel’s existence, not its actions, that are the root of Arab hostility. It is not just Hamas, but the entire Arab world that cannot make peace with the existence of Israel, within any borders, on what it views as dar-al-Islam, Moslem land. Without a societal abandonment of the goal repeatedly proclaimed by Palestinian leaders of a ``Palestine from the river to the sea," all other issues – borders, the identity of the Palestinian prime minister – are meaningless. Suicide bombers, as David Frum recently observed, do not disrupt the peace process; ``they demonstrate that this `process’ does not exist."
The liberal imagination has difficulty moving beyond a criminal justice model of a few bad men who break the law. It cannot comprehend the existence of entire perverse societies. Suicide bombers – whether those who rammed commercial jets into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon or those who haunt Israel’s cities – are not mere criminals but the products of an entire society whipped into paroxysms of hate. To seek their explanation in individual biographies, ala The New York Times, is futile.
With enemies who seek one’s destruction there is no possibility of accommodation. Signed agreements, so beloved by those who view their enemies as basically rational calculators like themselves, are worthless. Worthless at Munich; worthless at Camp David. When one side rejects the very existence of the other, as Islamic terrorists reject the West and the Palestinians reject Israel, the battle can only end with the defeat of one side or the other.
In such a war, nothing is more crucial than resolve. In the pre-9/11 rantings of Osama bin Laden, writes Bernard Lewis, ``hatred of America is less significant than contempt – the perception that America is a `paper tiger.’" The prelude to 9/11 was two decades of terror attacks against U.S. targets around the globe that went unavenged.
From the inception of Oslo, Israel consistently acted as the party desperate for peace, refusing to insist on Palestinian compliance with their signed undertakings, continuing to negotiate under fire ``as if there were no terror." In late 1995 the Palestinian Authority signed an agreement that Hamas could continue with terrorist attacks as long as the paper trail did not lead directly back to the Palestinian Authority. Instead of declaring the Oslo Accords abrogated, Prime Minister Shimon Peres denied the existence of the agreement from the Knesset podium, just as he has once explained Arafat’s declaration of jihad immediately after the signing of the Oslo Accords as a ``jihad for peace." How the Palestinians must have sneered at us. The two Jerusalem bus bombings that cost Peres his premiership were the response. And so it continued right up to the Palestinian declaration of war on Erev Rosh Hashana
three years ago.
TWO WEEKS AGO, I had the privilege of spending two hours together with Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas and three of the most articulate English-speaking Torah scholars in the world. Except for a Saturday trip to Ramallah, the Senator spent almost his entire four days in Israel within the haredi community and visiting religious sites. The Senator came to the meeting with his dog-eared copy of the Bible and eager to hear the wisdom of Jewish sages (myself excluded).
He had carefully marked off a number of verses that he viewed as pertaining to current events, and wanted to learn how we understood them. Perhaps the biggest surprise from his point of view was hearing from the rabbis that the Divine promise of the Land to Avraham would not preclude, as a theoretical matter, territorial compromise by the Israeli government if Jewish lives could thereby be preserved. (None of us believed that possible today.)
I thought of Senator Brownback again last week while reading an American opinion poll two years after 9/11. The poll showed that Americans living in the major cities of the East Coast, which remain the prime targets for any terrorist attack, are less likely to rank security as their primary concern today than those living in states like Kansas, far removed from the terrorists’ sights.
Interestingly, those living in the South and West are also the most supportive of Israel, despite the relatively low Jewish populations in those areas. As Senator Brownback told us, ``My constituents tell me that America will be judged by her treatment of Israel." They admire Israel when she fights for her life against an implacable enemy, and are puzzled when she seems unwilling to use her superior military strength to protect her citizens.
The difference between the people of New York and those of Kansas does not lie in the fact that the latter are more intelligent, certainly not better educated. They are, however, certainly more religious. Perhaps having experienced the power of religious belief to transform their lives for the better, they can also appreciate the power of a perverted religious belief to deform and dehumanize an entire society. Perhaps having read the Bible and a bit of history, they know that there are enemies that cannot be appeased, but which must be decisively defeated.
Could religion be an antidote for the failures of the liberal imagination?
Related Topics: Peace Process
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