As L.A.’s Muslims condemn French attacks, a gap on what’s to blame
Following the recent terror attacks in Paris by Islamic extremists that left 17 dead and 22 wounded at a satirical magazine and kosher market, the debate within the local Muslim community over what to blame and even how to label the ideology behind the attacks has only intensified.
Are the attacks in France, along with the surge of violence and persecution in Iraq, Syria and Nigeria, expressions of something called Islamism or Islamic extremism? Or are groups like Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL), Al Qaeda and Boko Haram political extremist movements that are exploiting Islam to advance their un-Islamic goals?
Much as they are being discussed in Christian, Jewish and secular worlds, these questions are subjects of debate within the Los Angeles Muslim community, where progressive Muslims and more traditional Muslims coexist, even as they differ when it comes to pinpointing the root problem of terrorism done in the name of Islam.
Israel and Islamism are both occupying Palestine
While Gazans, their Hamas leadership and pro-Palestinian supporters around the world condemn Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, now turning into a ground invasion, it’s time Muslims examined the Other Occupation: the inexorable advance of political Islamism over Islam.
Increasingly, Islam has been usurped by political Islamism, manifest in the current Israel-Palestine conflict as a war between Hamas and Israel. Elsewhere, Islamism drives conflicts between ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and Iraqi government forces, the Pakistani Taliban and the Pakistan army, the Afghani Taliban and would-be Afghani democratic leaders, Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists and the Nigerian government, the Jabhat al-Nusra and the Syrian regime, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and Lebanon’s secular democrats, and until recently, the democratically elected but explicitly Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s secular politicians.
As political Islamism advances, Muslims everywhere, including Palestinian Muslims in Gaza, have been increasingly marginalized and oppressed by extreme Islamists. These Islamists subscribe not to Islam but to a totalitarian ideology disguised as religion. While Islamists may fervently believe they are Muslim subscribers to Islam, what they adopt is a totalitarian politicization of Islam.
Operation Protective Edge merely underlines this Other Occupation.
Heavy criticism has been leveled at Israel’s emphatic assault on Gazans and the Gaza Strip because of the escalating casualties. Less acknowledged is that Israel is combating not just an organization devoted to securing its territory in a conflict over land, but a totalitarian ideology that definitively leaves no room for Israel, Israelis or moderate Muslims to exist.
We learn more when we allow Hamas to do the talking. Its leaders leave us no doubt as to its central philosophy, core to which remains martyrdom and unremitting anti-Semitism. The Hamas charter opens with: “We cannot recognize Israel. The land of Palestine is ours and not for the Jews.”
Sheikh Ahmad Yasin, founder of Hamas, was unequivocal in the role of martyrdom in the Hamas mission:
“Love of martyrdom is something deep inside the heart. The only aim is to win Allah’s satisfaction. That can be done in the simplest and speediest manner by dying in the cause of Allah. And it is Allah that selects the martyrs.”
Both anti-Semitism and martyrdom are central to political Islamism. In contrast, neither has any role in pluralistic, mainstream Islam. Israel is not at war with Muslim Palestinians in Gaza but with their nihilistic Islamist leadership.
In the Muslim world we are familiar with the battle between Islam and Islamism, and we make no bones about the need for open combat against political Islamists. Muslim militaries are not held to global condemnation in the way the Israel Defense Forces must face — despite their targeted attacks, pre-strike warnings and efforts to contain civilian deaths.
The Pakistan military’s current offensive in the North West Frontier against the Pakistani Taliban is the most recent example.
To empower the military, the Pakistani government has authorized shoot-to-kill on suspicion of Taliban operatives, invited U.S. drones to conduct strikes on militant Taliban leaders on Pakistani territory, displaced many Pakistanis in the last month from their homes in the North West Frontier and commenced a massive aerial bombardment campaign.
But global condemnation doesn’t befall the Pakistani military or the Pakistani government. Global media reports barely cover the story. Israelis faced with the same problem are the only ones for whom such wholesale condemnation is reserved.
Public sentiment in favor of beleaguered Palestinians, however well intentioned, is rapidly translated into support for Hamas. Western sympathies, especially European sentiment, embolden Hamas (and similar radical Islamist groups) toward an incipient crime against humanity that truly threatens not only every Israeli and every Jew with extinction, but also moderate Muslims everywhere, particularly those within Hamas’ current purview — cue the decapitations and crucifixions now a daily occurrence in ISIS-controlled Iraq, and the escalating persecution of minorities, especially Christians in Iraq and the wider Islamist Middle East.
Because of the lack of nuance and context in the era of sound-bite “journalism” and the distracting images of Israeli military might, the reluctance to see the bigger picture remains entrenched.
Were reality to hit home, adult solutions for regional — and Israeli-Palestinian peace, in particular — would be seen as truly bleak. Israel is fighting an impossible battle, on one front with nihilist political Islamists who willingly lead their populations to slaughter in the interests of religionized war for fictionalized spiritual gain rather than true political solutions, and on another front with an international media reflecting an increasingly ignorant and biased public opinion. The sooner media commentary can be broadened to explain political Islamism, diplomatic and political powers globally can begin to plan the true long-term freedom of the Palestinians — freedom from the Other Occupation and a lasting liberation from the stranglehold of Hamas’ political Islamism.
Qanta Ahmed, author of “In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom,” is a 2014 Ford Foundation public voices fellow with the OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @MissDiagnosis. This essay originally appeared in USA Today, reprinted with permission.
Amid rising Islamism in Africa, Israel-Senegal ties still flourishing
Struggling to be heard over a flock of bleating sheep, Israel’s ambassador to Senegal invites a crowd of impoverished Muslims to help themselves to about 100 sacrificial animals that the embassy corralled at a dusty community center here.
The October distribution, held as French troops battled Islamists in neighboring Mali and one month after Muslim radicals killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya, is held annually in honor of Tabaski, the local name of the Muslim Eid al-Adha feast. The distribution is broadcast on national television in a land that is 95 percent Muslim, providing Israel with a powerful platform to burnish its image among Senegalese.
“It registers very strongly with locals that Israelis give them sheep for a Muslim holiday while most Arab embassies do nothing,” said Eli Ben-Tura, the Israeli ambassador.
The animals are just part of the millions that Israel has spent over the years in Senegal, a French-speaking Western African nation of 12 million where the average monthly salary is $158. In return, Senegal has supported Israel’s erection of a barrier to protect itself from Palestinian terrorism and, in December, signed over oil prospecting rights in its territorial waters to an Israeli-owned mining company.
Over the past decade, Israel's trade with Senegal has more than tripled.
“Like Israel, Senegal is an island of stability in an unstable region,” Ben-Tura told JTA in an interview last week at the Israeli Embassy overlooking Independence Plaza in Dakar, the capital city.
The importance Israel places on its partnership with Senegal was evident in Ben-Tura's speech on April 30 at Israel’s 65th Independence Day celebration at the Grand Theatre National, a magnificent structure built with Chinese funding in 2011 near Dakar’s main port.
Speaking to an audience of 1,000, Ben-Tura listed Israel’s latest gifts to the country: training for hundreds of farmers; preparations to train thousands more by Israeli experts stationed in the country; and the establishment of a permanent depot for agricultural equipment and disease control.
Even intercultural activities have not been overlooked. After speeches by Ben-Tura and Mamadou Talla, Senegal's minister of professional training, Israel Ballet artistic director Ido Tadmor and 40 local artists performed a modern dance routine featuring tea cups. Dozens of onlookers avidly recorded their every move on smartphones.
“Cultural exchange with Africa has been neglected for too long,” Ben-Tura said.
Yet beneath this seemingly symbiotic partnership may be a deeper concern.
Mali, which used to be part of a federal entity with Senegal, last year witnessed an Islamic insurgency so powerful that French troops were called in to quell it. Some 475,000 people became refugees, many of them in Senegal. Some observers believe Senegal is wooing Israel and the West mainly for protection from the Islamic upheaval.
“The effects of the insurgency are not felt here for the time being,” said Oleg Sergeev, minister-counselor of the Russian Embassy in Dakar. “But the Senegalese authorities are turning westward out of concern over the possibility that the Mali insurgency may be trickling over.”
As an impoverished Muslim nation heavily dependent on foreign aid, Senegal must toe a careful line in its embrace of the Jewish state. Anti-Semitic books with titles such as “Hitler the Zionist Puppet” are sold here at bookstands and in 2009, several hundred people burned an Israeli flag at a rally to protest Israel's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.
The Senegalese government, then chair of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, condemned the attack as “unjustified and unacceptable.” Still, the government’s condemnations never went beyond words.
“It was a very strong reaction, but it didn’t have an impact on diplomatic relations,” said Christian Clages, the German ambassador to Senegal.
Senegalese officials declined to address the reasons for their country's closeness with Israel. But observers attribute it variously to the country's moderate brand of Islam, its relative openness to the West and its past disillusionment with Arab regimes. In 1973, under pressure from Arab countries, Senegal severed its ties with Israel.
“The Arabs threatened sanctions and promised free oil but never delivered, to the bitter disappointment of the Senegalese,” said Zvi Mazel, a former Israeli Foreign Ministry official who negotiated the restoration of diplomatic relations in 1994.
Senegalese moderation was on display in 2012 when Jamra, one of the country's leading Islamic associations, protested the release of an anti-Muslim film, “The Innocence of Muslims.” The online video triggered violent protests around the world, but in Senegal, it led to the first meeting between Jamra and the Israeli Embassy.
Jamra’s executive president, Imam Massamba Diop, told JTA he learned in his November meeting with Ben-Tura that Israel had nothing to do with the film. And despite his organization's generally pro-Palestinian posture — it considers Israel’s blockade on Gaza illegal and organizes pro-Palestinian activities in Dakar — Diop supports his government's friendly relations with Israel.
“The Senegalese people deeply appreciate the event,” Diop said of the embassy's sheep distribution.
Another Senegalese Muslim leader, Sheikh Paye, arrived at the Israel Independence Day celebration in a shiny, traditional white-and-gold imam robe. A spiritual leader in one of Dakar’s 19 neighborhoods, Paye told JTA that his attachment to Israel stems neither from gratitude for its largesse nor considerations of realpolitik.
“My late father used to be a good friend of several Israeli ambassadors here,” Paye said. “He died three months ago, shortly before the Israeli Embassy’s invitation arrived. It’s an honor to represent him here to people from a country he loved but never visited.”
Hate in Translation
This week I received close to 1,000 copies of the same e-mail — a very disturbing notice that the Web site Facebook features many user-generated pages devoted to memorializing and supporting Arab terrorists.
One e-mail would have sufficed to alert me to this, but now, as I write this paragraph, seven more have just arrived. Terrorists make use of the West’s most cutting-edge technologies to mount a multipronged attack on Western lives and values, and what is all that most of us can do in response? Forward e-mails.
I have a different tack someone can take in the battle: Translate Matthais Kuntzel’s new book into Arabic.
Kuntzel, a respected German academic, wrote, “Jihad and Jew Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11” (Telos Press, 2007). He barely found a German publisher, was fortunate to find a brave English-language press and won’t get an Arabic version unless somebody reading these words writes a very important check.
If you might be that someone, or know someone who could be, get it done.
Jeffrey Goldberg, writing in The New York Times, called Kuntzel’s book “bracing, even startling … bold and consequential.”
It is also, even for people who have followed the rise of Islamo-facism, revelatory.
We know that throughout the Arab world the press and popular media are given to vicious anti-Semitism. Syrian TV did a multi-part dramatization of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” Bookstores throughout the Arab world still offer translations of Henry Ford’s screed, “The International Jew.” The propaganda of Hamas and Hezbollah make fantastic claims about world Jewish power that would strike any rational person as batty and incidental, if the effects of the hatred they inspire were not so readily apparent.
The common wisdom is that all this Jew-hatred arises from the Arab world’s reaction to Israel.
But what Kuntzel’s historical research establishes is that the anti-Semitism is not, as academia would have it, a post-1948 reaction to those imperialist Zionists, but rather a pre-World War II infestation of Christian anti-Semitism.
There is anti-Jewish sentiment throughout the Quran and in Muslim culture, to be sure, but it rarely if ever approached the virulence either of Christian anti-Semitism or of current Jihadist sentiment. Jews were second-class citizens during their stay in Muslim lands — defeated, tolerated, but far from feared.
Then came the Nazis. The Nazis knew the Middle East would be an extension of the European battleground. They wanted to turn the Muslim world against the Jews. They found willing collaborators in two individuals: the Egyptian Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Haj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem. Banna’s movement began as a reaction to modernism.
“Islamism was born in the ’20s, not the ’60s,” Kuntzel told me over breakfast in Westwood, while on a speaking tour here. “It was the reaction to modernism in Iran, Turkey and Egypt. There is always a connection between the fight against modernism and the fight against Jews.”
The Nazis cemented the connection. They provided much of the funding for the Brotherhood, which in turn established printing presses and distributed Arabic translations of “Mein Kampf” and the “Protocols” throughout the Middle East.
The mufti, who moved to Berlin during the war, was an even more eager Jew-hater; who fought Heinrich Himmler’s decision in 1943 to trade 5,000 Jewish children for 20,000 German prisoners. Eventually the mufti prevailed, and the children were sent to be gassed.
Meanwhile, Alfred Hess, brother of Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess, established a branch of the Nazi party in Alexandria, Egypt, and began distributing copies of “The Jewish Question in Germany” to the educated elites there.
Kuntzel’s book draws a direct line from the hatred these men promoted and the rhetoric of today’s jihadis.
“Osama bin Laden made so many anti-Semitic statements,” he said. New York for him was the center of finance, from where Jews pulled the levers of world power. “It is a genocidal anti-Semitism.”
Kuntzel can boast, if that’s the word, of true believer yichus. His father was a member of the Nazi party.
“Every child in my family had to play a musical instrument,” he recalled. “We would have our recitals in my grandmother’s living room. When Hitler came on the radio, we all stopped and gave the Nazi salute.”
Kuntzel let the image sink in: “It’s important to get to the roots and see how this could happen.”
Not everyone has been happy with Kuntzel’s research. Though he lectures at Stanford, Yale and other universities, his appearance at the University of Leeds in England was cancelled due to protest by Muslim students. He believes the fear of radical Muslims has prevented him from finding a major German publisher, much less an Arabic one.
But I believe the latter is crucial. Why? Because the Arab and Muslim world, especially its elites, need to understand what they are choosing when they go down the road of unmoored hate. They need to know with whom they are aligning themselves.
The moderates and reformers among them desperately need the intellectual proof texts to show how their religion and culture was infected by some jackbooted white Christian losers, whose own historic arc no sane person would want to emulate.
If our gas money is going to Arab governments who sanction anti-Semitic vitriol, can’t we spend a little to counteract the lies with truth?
Or do we just keep clicking the “forward” button on our e-mail?
To purchase Jihad and Jew Hatred click here.
To contact the author, Matthais Kuntzel, about funding an Arabictranslation, send an e-mail to Rob Eshman at email@example.com
Free speech and radical Islam
At a lunch last year celebrating his 25th anniversary with Jyllands-Posten, Kurt Westergaard told an anecdote. During World War II, Pablo Picasso met a German officer in southern France, and they got into a conversation. When the German officer figured out whom he was talking to he said:
“Oh, you are the one who created Guernica?” referring to the famous painting of the German bombing of a Basque town by that name in 1937.
Picasso paused for a second and replied, “No, it wasn’t me, it was you.”
For the past three months Westergaard and his wife have been on the run. Westergaard did the most famous of the 12 Muhammad cartoons published in Jyllands-Posten in September 2005 — the one depicting the prophet with a bomb in his turban (above).
The cartoon was a satirical comment on the fact that some Muslims are committing terrorist acts in the name of Islam and the prophet. Tragically, Westergaard’s fate has proven the point of his cartoon: In the early hours of Tuesday morning Danish police arrested three men who allegedly had been plotting to kill him.
In the past few days, 17 Danish newspapers have published Westergaard’s cartoon, which is as truthful as Picasso’s painting. My colleagues at Jyllands-Posten and I understand that the cartoon may be offensive to some people, but sometimes the truth can be very offensive. As George Orwell put it in the suppressed preface to “Animal Farm”: “If liberty means anything, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
Sadly, the plot to kill Westergaard is not an isolated story, but part of a broader trend that risks undermining free speech in Europe and around the world. Consider the following recent events: In Oslo, a gallery has censored three small watercolor paintings showing the head of the prophet Muhammad on a dog’s body, by the Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who has been under police protection since the fall of 2007. In Holland, the municipal museum in The Hague recently refused to show photos of gay men wearing the masks of the prophet Muhammad and his son Ali by the Iranian-born artist Sooreh Hera; Hera has received several death threats and is in hiding. In Belarus, an editor has been sentenced to three years in a forced labor camp after republishing some of Jyllands-Posten’s Muhammad cartoons. In Egypt, bloggers are in jail after having “insulted Islam.” In Afghanistan, 23-year-old Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh has been sentenced to death because he distributed “blasphemous” material about the mistreatment of women in Islam. And in India, Bengal writer Taslima Nasreen is in a safe house after having been threatened by people who don’t like her books.
Every one of the above cases speaks to the same problem: a global battle for the right to free speech. The cases are different, and you can’t compare the legal systems in Egypt and Norway, but the justifications for censorship and self-censorship are similar in different parts of the world: Religious feelings and taboos need to be treated with a kind of sensibility and respect that other feelings and ideas cannot command.
This position boils down to a simple rule: If you respect my taboo, I’ll respect yours. That was the rule of the game during the Cold War until people like Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, Andrei Sakharov and other dissenting voices behind the Iron Curtain insisted on another rule: It is not cultures, religions or political systems that enjoy rights. Human beings enjoy rights, and certain principles like the ones embedded in the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights are universal.
Unfortunately, misplaced sensitivity is being used by tyrants and fanatics to justify murder and silence criticism. Right now, the Organization of Islamic Countries is conducting a successful campaign at the United Nations to rewrite international human-rights standards to curtail the right to free speech. Last year the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a resolution against “defamation of religion,” calling on governments around the world to clamp down on cartoonists, writers, journalists, artists and dissidents who dare to speak up.
In the West there is a lack of clarity on these issues. People suggest that Salman Rushdie, Theo van Gogh, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Taslima Nasreen and Kurt Westergaard bear a certain amount of responsibility for their fate. They don’t understand that by doing so they tacitly endorse attacks on dissenting voices in parts of the world where no one can protect them.
We need a global movement to fight blasphemy and other insult laws, and the European Union should lead the way by removing them. Europe should make it clear that democracies will protect their citizens if they say something that triggers threats and intimidation.
Flemming Rose, the culture editor of Jyllans-Posten, is writing a book about the challenges of free speech in a globalized world. This essay originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal. Reprinted with permission of the author.
Only democratization can fight Islamists
Natan Sharansky’s June 5-6 Democracy and Security Conference in Prague could reinvigorate the commitment of the United States to support the growth of liberal democracy. If not, the Islamists win a crucial advantage.
There are two basic foreign policy philosophies. The idealist school of thought, which holds that our national interests include the spread of liberal democracy, has a long history in the United States, going back at least to Democratic President Woodrow Wilson. It competes with the realist school, which defines national interests narrowly and elevates stability as the foremost value in international relations. President Bush came to office as a realist, and in a stunning post-Sept. 11 transformation became a hard-core idealist.
However, one can be an inept or ill-served idealist. Bush’s errors have led many to reject the underlying theory. But we can throw out the bathwater of Bush’s mistakes, while keeping the baby of democratization.
Under the influence of Sharansky’s book, “The Case for Democracy,” Bush understood that liberal democracies are rarely dangerous to one another. Therefore, fostering democratization abroad bolsters international security and is in our national interest.
As Bush said in Prague, “Years ago, Andrei Sakharov warned that a country that does not respect the rights of its own people will not respond to the rights of its neighbors. History proves him right. Governments accountable to their people do not attack each other.”
Bush’s rhetoric has been superb, but his follow through has been inconsistent. In Egypt, for example, Bush pressed President Hosni Mubarak for multicandidate presidential elections. But the election was held under restrictive regulations that heavily favored the ruling party, and today, Ayman Nour, who ran against Mubarak, sits in an Egyptian prison.
Former Egyptian political prisoner Saad Eddin Ibrahim said in Prague, “I feel disappointed and betrayed by George Bush. He said that he is promoting democracy, but he has been manipulated by President Hosni Mubarak.”
Worse, Bush apparently has a shallow understanding of liberal democracy, equating it with elections. This is clearly nonsense, considering the elections regularly held in such citadels of liberty as the Soviet Union, Cuba and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
In fact, elections without the requisite foundations of an open society, including the rule of law, independent media and noncorrupt security forces, merely permit the most thuggish elements to seize control. This was grimly demonstrated by the Palestinian election that brought Hamas to power.
Nevertheless, this does not invalidate the idealist theory. It simply implies that nurturing liberal democracy requires patience; elections must come at the end, not the beginning, of the process.
Nor has Bush properly used all the foreign policy instruments at his disposal. Military action must be part of the nation’s toolbox, but economic and political pressure are probably more effective in the long run during an ideological war, such as the current war against Islamism.
Bush should have learned this from Sharansky. After all, the United States didn’t win the Cold War by invading or bombing the Soviet Union. The Jackson/Vannik Amendment, linking trade with free emigration, and the Helsinki accords on human rights did at least as much to topple the U.S.S.R. as NATO’s military strength.
Thus, the final document of the Prague conference includes calls for the following:
- “Seeking national and international initiatives, in the spirit of the Helsinki accords, that link bilateral and international relations to the question of human rights.”
- “Exerting pressure through peaceful diplomatic, political and economic means on governments and groups abusing human rights to discontinue their practices.”
- “Providing incentives, through diplomatic, political and economic means, to governments and groups willing to improve the human rights record in their countries and to embark on the road to democracy.”
Nothing has been as disillusioning, nor given realists so much temptation to say, “I told you so,” as Iraq. There’s plenty to be unhappy about when considering post-liberation Iraq.
Still, the essence of the problem is that the Islamists are fighting back. That shouldn’t surprise us. It would be surprising if they didn’t. It just means, as Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said in Prague, “We have a responsibility to support the forces of freedom not only when it is easy but when it is hard.”
It is time to renew our commitment to liberalization and democratization — it is what the Islamists fear most. Congress should pass comprehensive legislation conditioning relations between the United States and nonliberal democracies on progress toward liberalization. This is not imperialism. It is support for decent values and democracies abroad.
We have the right to condition trade, foreign aid and other goodies on the character of the regime with which we are dealing. If we don’t, we tacitly support the conditions under which Islamism has flourished. Our national interests are at stake.
Paul Kujawsky is a member of the California Democratic Party Central Committee.
Have Jews lost their mojo?
I took a break from the hood the other night to speak to a large Conservative synagogue in Palos Verdes called Congregation Ner Tamid — and I used a word that got me in trouble. The occasion was a showing of “Obsession” — a documentary on the rise of radical Islam and the worldwide terror that has accompanied it — and it was sponsored by CAMERA, an organization that counteracts anti-Israel bias in the mainstream media.
“Obsession” assaults you with the hatred that fuels the fire of radical Islam.
The film points out that the majority of Muslims are not radical Islamists, but when it hones in on the radicals, the words and images make your skin crawl.
You see an old sheik, speaking to what looks like 100,000 people, pulling out a sword and exhorting his screaming flock to kill every Jew they can find. One radical Muslim after another is shown giving motivational speeches on the fine art of Jew-hatred. And Jew-killing. Lots and lots of Jew-killing.
But here’s the crazy part: There’s not a word from the Jew-haters about the dreaded Occupation. Not a peep about roadblocks or fences or the oppressive policies of the Zionist occupier, which, as we are so often reminded, lie “at the heart” of our enemies’ discontent. The Jew-haters are honest: they want Jews dead. All Jews. Roadblocks or no roadblocks. West Bank or no West Bank.
Talk about an inconvenient truth.
When you see all this Jew-hatred, it’s tempting to be dismissive and say “These are only the radicals; there are many more moderates.” Or to get all cynical because “The radicals will always want to kill us. So what’s new?” These are great coping mechanisms that help us maintain our composure. But here’s what’s new: The radicals aren’t just getting bigger and bolder on the battlefield, they’re also, amazingly, winning the PR war.
Who would have figured that two years after our heart-wrenching evacuation of Gaza — two years of continued relentless attacks from an enemy that brazenly calls for our destruction — we’d be the target of a boycott from British professors? Again, it’s tempting to get all blasé and say “Been there, done that.”
But this blasé attitude is a reason why we are losing the PR battle: We assume that getting all worked up about stuff doesn’t really make a difference, or that it’s not very becoming of Jews. The practical thing to do is to stay composed and look for solutions.
Well, here’s a practical idea: Let’s all take a time-out from “solutions” and get a little worked up. Let’s stop being so composed and start being outraged.
Because if we continue like this, the whole world, except for America and Micronesia, will be boycotting Israel.
Israel needs the Diaspora to get more emotional right now — because emotional outrage wins PR battles. Our enemy understands that a lot better than we do.
The most effective TV interview I ever saw happened about five years ago on a major network, while Israel was in the midst of numerous suicide bombings. The anchorman asked Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg, a very composed and sophisticated man, why Israel could not arrest these suicide bombers. Well, you should have seen the outrage on Mr. Burg’s face.
With clenched fists and an almost growling voice, he said something like: “But how do you expect us to do that when they can blow up in one second?”
It was visceral, it was sincere and it didn’t come from talking points. It came from his heart, and I guarantee you it played well in Wisconsin.
After seeing the Jew-hatred in “Obsession,” it was hard not to get worked up when I spoke at the Palos Verdes synagogue. I wanted the Jew-haters of the world to know that we have as much passion to defend Jewish lives as they have passion to destroy us.
But I got a little carried away. I said that we need to have our own Jihad — a Jihad for life — and to show the enemy that we believe in it as much as they believe in their “Jihad for death.”
A fellow Jew rose up in indignation. My clever twist did not amuse him. No matter how much I tried to explain the subtleties of turning our enemy’s word on its head to convey our own “noble struggle,” the word went too far for him.
I understood his discomfort, but maybe that’s precisely why we need to go there.
Our PR timidity has backfired on us. I’m not saying we should emulate “Wrestlemania” announcers (how sincere do they look?), but I am saying that we need to get bolder and more emotional. It makes us more human.
For example, when the bombs fall on Sderot, instead of empty clichés like “no terrorist is immune” and “this is unacceptable” and so forth, we should have the guts to run ads all over the world and get on CNN and the BBC and say things like: “We gave them land, and they gave us war.” “This proves that the occupation was never the key problem,” and “How would England respond if the same amount of bombs fell on Manchester?”
These are not think-tank words, they’re real words. If we can deliver them with the same intensity Mr. Burg used five years ago, the world will better understand the justness of our cause.
The amazing thing about the PR battle is that it’s probably the only area right now where we can win. The political, military and diplomatic landscapes are a mess, but the PR landscape is wide open. Especially post-disengagement, there are numerous PR victories that are ours for the taking.
In a brilliant article in Haaretz, Moshe Arens explains why you can’t deter terrorists, you can only fight them. It’s time for Jews of all stripes to get their mojo back, and join the PR fight.
Even if your only weapon is your PC, and your mouth.
The ‘Obsession’ trailer