Starving the murderers

I was at a Thanksgiving dinner at my sister’s house in Orange County, sitting next to a woman who couldn’t take her eyes off her BlackBerry®. The woman wasn’t being rude; she was texting back and forth with her friend Peggi Sturm, who was holed up in one of the hotels under siege in Mumbai.

The woman showed me one of Sturm’s nervous texts — the word “scary” was in all caps (Sturm eventually made it out alive) — and she seemed dumbfounded. Here we were in the middle of a warm and joyous Thanksgiving celebration, even as she was in such close contact with the human carnage unfolding in Mumbai, and she simply couldn’t fathom where all this evil was coming from, or what anyone could do about it.

The notion of this pleasant and polite Orange County mother confronted by the ugly face of cold-blooded jihadist terrorism halfway around the world left me speechless, too. What could I tell her? That I’m from Morocco, so I understand this kind of stuff? That I felt like strangling the murderers?

Complete coverage of Mumbai Chabad attackSo I suggested she read a recent essay from the Shalem Center in Jerusalem written by its senior fellow, Martin Kramer, the world-renowned historian, author and biographer of Sir Winston Churchill. Although the essay isn’t connected to the Mumbai massacre, it touches on the broader issue of dealing with Islamic fundamentalism.

Kramer’s essay, titled, “What Do the Present Financial Crisis and U.S. Middle East Policy Have in Common?” draws an analogy between the headlong rush toward disaster in our financial markets and what he sees as a similar fate for our foreign policy. Behind both, he explains, is “a well-practiced mechanism for concealing risk.”

“The risk was there,” he writes of the financial crisis, “and it was constantly growing, but it could be disguised, repackaged and renamed, so that in the end it seemed to have disappeared. Much of the debate about foreign policy in the United States is conducted in the same manner: Policymakers and pundits, to get what they want, conceal the risks.”

By far the biggest danger Kramer sees today lies in how we conceal the risks associated with Islamic fundamentalism (or radical Islam, or jihadism, or Islamism, take your pick), which the West does in two ways:

First, it ignores the “deep-down dimension of Islamism,” which he describes as follows: “The enemies of Islam enjoy much more power than the believing Muslims do. But if we Muslims return to the faith, we can restore to ourselves the vast power we exercised in the past, when Islam dominated the world as the West dominates today.”

The second concealment relates to concessions: “We are told that the demands of Hamas, Hezbollah or Iran are finite. If we give them a concession here, or a foothold there, we will have somehow diminished their demands for more concessions and footholds. But if their purpose is the reversal of history, then our gestures of accommodation, far from enticing them to give up their grand vision, only persuade them to press on.”

He explains that no amount of “engagement” can change that dynamic. In the Middle East, Kramer says, “there is harm in talking, if your talking legitimates your enemies, and persuades them and those on the sidelines that you have done so from weakness.”

He concludes that the least risky path for the United States is to “show the resolve and grit to wear and grind down adversaries, with soft power, hard power and will power.”

What Kramer is saying, in essence, is that it’s very risky to negotiate with evil forces that have a destructive and religious agenda, because they’re not motivated by grievances that can be accommodated.

Just like the moderate David Horovitz, editor of the Jerusalem Post, wrote after the Mumbai attacks: “Much of the international community clings to the self-evidently risible notion that there are specific, legitimate grievances motivating the murders, and that these grievances can be sated and normal service resumed.”

In discussing the premeditated nature of the attacks, Horovitz added: “This is only the latest bloody declaration of war by the death-cult Islamists, seeking now to destabilize India, but ultimately threatening all of our freedoms.”

To our sophisticated Western minds, these are bitter and inconvenient truths that must be concealed. We much prefer making loud and grand gestures to create the illusion of forward movement. So we set up toothless U.N. commissions, or orchestrate fanciful peace-seeking spectacles like the one at Annapolis, and then we wonder why the only things that really move forward are violence and cynicism.

And when violence does strike, we get angry and bang on the table and make all this noise about our “Global War on Terror,” which only feeds into the jihadists’ pathology and apocalyptic visions — and helps them recruit even more jihadists.

Maybe it’s time we take a deep breath.

As we mourn and pray silently for the victims of Mumbai, maybe we ought to consider a quieter, more lethal approach to fighting the multi-headed serpent of Islamic terrorism, one that doesn’t play to the movement’s craving for high drama and worldwide media exposure.

Our goal should be to starve the murderers — of money, attention and prestige. We should fight them with every tool and weapon at our disposal and with maximum worldwide collaboration — but do it without fanfare, without honoring them with a loud war. We should target their training camps and “take them out” with commando raids — but do it without telling CNN. As we freeze their assets, we should also freeze their egos.

The only loud noise we should insist on is for moderate Muslims and their religious leaders to rise up in anger against their violent brethren who are desecrating the name of their God and their religion.

In short, we should treat Islamic terrorists like the losers and cowards that they are, and do everything we can to diminish their unearned status and prestige.

This is what I wanted to say to that mom from Orange County on Thanksgiving Day, but there were too many kids around.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and He can be reached at

The Passion of Mel Gibson

After watching Mel Gibson’s two-hour-and-six-minute “The Passion of the Christ” at the Fox Studio’s 200-seat Zanuck Theater, with barely a dozen carefully invited others in the audience, I came away with great admiration for Gibson.

Not for the film, I can assure you.

For while it is superbly photographed by Caleb Deschanel (“The Patriot,” “Being There” and “Black Stallion”) you can’t but sit in awe of Gibson’s brilliant publicity juggernaut that could teach Barnum and Bailey a thing or two about the not-so-delicate art of movie promotion and marketing.

This has to be the most brilliant marketing campaign in the history of movies. First, the story goes out: This movie will be in Latin and Aramaic and there will be no subtitles. The media swallows that one whole. Inevitably by the time the film is finished there are subtitles galore. Gibson may be a gambler, but he’s no fool, and there’s upwards of $25 million of his own money riding on this one. Then, there is the masterstroke of inviting a few token Jews to screenings. The inevitable cries of anti-Semitism guarantee ink in major newspapers worldwide — getting some Jews to cry anti-Semitism being only marginally more difficult than encouraging a yellow dog Democrat to attack Rush Limbaugh. Exhibit No. 1: When can you remember anyone securing a solid hour of “Primetime” puffery for an independent, unbelievably bloody (I defy anyone not to look away at certain points in this interminable torture) movie on a religious theme, in two dead languages yet?

So did we all fall into Gibson’s trap? Don’t bet the farm against it. This guy’s been around Hollywood for a long time. He knows what works.

Which brings us to the movie and the central issue — and no matter how much Gibson dodges the question that’s what the film is all about: Did the Jews kill Jesus? (Promotional postcards distributed by mainstream churches in North America do indeed provoke: “Who killed Christ?”) Gibson has removed from the subtitles the line in which the Jewish leaders, in encouraging Pilate to order the crucifixion, take the responsibility for the blood of Jesus into their hands and the hands of their children — the justification for centuries of Jewish persecution. The line remains “in the background” in the Aramaic dialogue. But he leaves no doubt whatsoever that the Jewish high priests under the leadership of the “ugly monster” Caiaphas, who on this evidence could have used a good dentist and cosmetic surgery, were the real instigators of the crucifixion. And that that perfectly decent chap Pontius Pilate, and his even nicer wife, really tried everything they could to talk some humanity into the bloodthirsty Sanhedrin.

The central problem with the film is that it is not the story of Jesus’ life. It is the story of his death: The slowest (all 12 hours of it), bloodiest, most painful death ever depicted on film. There are a very few fleeting flashbacks, all of which entirely, perhaps deliberately, miss any explanation of how we got to this point.

Why is this nice guy, who does nothing but preach sweetness and goodness and lovingkindness to everyone with whom he comes in contact, being treated like this? Why do the Jewish leaders want to get rid of him? One looks in vain for answers from the story “According to Gibson.” (He said the background is too well-known to anyone familiar with the Gospels so there was really no need to go into any explanations.)

In fact, it’s obvious from even a cursory viewing of the movie that he is not interested in historical niceties involving complex philosophical and cultural forces. His only answer — and it’s a lame one, even in a movie era obsessed with hobbits and goblins and child wizards — comes in the shape of a strange hermaphrodite, hooded creature that lurks on the edge of the crowd scenes and apparently represents Satan. For Gibson, the death of Jesus is a simple tale of good and evil — no further explanation required. His devotion to mediaeval nuns of 16th-century Spain and to his radical father for whom the current pope is a Polish heretic, gives him a simple, almost childlike black-and-white theology that is not too different from that preached by the Taliban.

Gibson, like most ludicrously powerful, rich, undereducated superstars, is immune to logic or history, and if he wants to propagate the “Gospel according to Mel” who can stop him? He’s the director and therefore entitled to shade his story as he sees fit. His version of the story of the Scottish rebel William Wallace in “Braveheart” — as any student of Scots history can attest — was no more accurate than his version of the story of Jesus of Nazareth. But his romantic ignorance of the struggles of the Highlanders against the English has considerably less serious implications.

As Jewish leaders cry for footnotes to accompany the movie, let me put in my suggestions: It would be nice if everyone who sees the movie was encouraged to go out and buy the best-selling book “The Sword of Constantine,” a scholarly and extremely readable account by James Carroll of the dealings of the Catholic Church with the Jews for the last 2,000 years. It would also be nice if just one Jewish leader had the guts to say we will hold Gibson personally responsible for any Jew who is injured as a result of this film, and that includes all the children who will run home from school having been accused — yet again — of “killing God.”

Ivor Davis writes for The New York Times and Los Angeles Times syndicates.