The mass murder of Americans by Arab terrorists last Tuesday may not seem an obvious topic of discussion for revisionists. This is especially so if one notes the strained links in the chain that goes from alleged Nazi enormities, to the Holocaust Industry, to Israel, and to these terrible atrocities. Yet historical revisionism, first founded in the wake of World War One, is the basis of Holocaust revisionism as well, and both are premised on the idea that the past is continually shaped and altered to fit the needs of the present. It is therefore only right that revisionists would have a stake, not in determining policy, but in making sure that the policies that arise from this massacre are rationally bound.
There is no need to go over the unspeakable details of the suffering endured by the thousands of our fellow countrymen murdered that day, slain by men whose devotion to their beliefs caused them to be sublimely indifferent to the vicious cruelty of their actions. Nor is there much need to go over the proximal causes of the massacres; clearly, America was caught unprepared by men with almost supernatural qualities of determination, focus, and patience. Fixing this part of the problem is easy, since lapses in security and intelligence are not hard to mend, so long as people pay attention. Meanwhile, the gaping hole in the New York City skyline guarantees that an awareness verging on the paranoid is likely to characterize most aspects of American public life for at least a generation. The larger problem involves the question of prevention, as well as the issue of retribution.
Defining the Problem of Islamic FundamentalismPrevention requires a clear and rational understanding of etiology. Plagues were once combated with prayers and bouquets, but continued to kill, because their true cause was not understood. We cannot allow ourselves to misapprehend the cause of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.
Given that the attackers were - as everyone suspected - radical Islamic fundamentalists, we have to go to the root of that problem first. The analysis of this issue by the pundits has generally gone in three directions, what we might call the irrational, the phobic, and the Judeocentric.
The irrational analysis holds that the 19 assassins were simply out of their minds, evil for the sake of evil, killing for the sake of killing. That is a satisfying analysis, largely because it is arrived at without having to think. A further problem with that kind of analysis is that it goes nowhere; it essentially concedes that nothing can be done to prevent such people from appearing, and so here prevention cuts immediately to the easy retribution of killing them and anyone who looks like them.
The phobic analysis, popularized in such exotic terms as "Hesperophobia" argues that the terrorists come from cultures which are so inferior to the west, and which are so ashamed of their inferiority, that they lash out in malignant hatred at their betters. (It is almost comical that one of the spear-carriers of this thesis is a lowborn Englishman.) But this analysis has almost as many defects as the first. If it is true that Islamic fundamentalists are bred by a sense of inferiority, we do nothing to disarm them with smug braggings of our own superiority.
On the other hand, there is one virtue to the phobic analysis: it is potentially more nuanced than the platitudes of the Judeocentric explanation. According to this school of thought, the roots of Islamic terror lies merely in the existence of the State of Israel, and nothing besides, and since Israel exists, the rest of the world is now compelled to fight a world war against terrorism. Or not.
In fact there are merits to all three approaches but their emphases tend to distort the truths they present. Yes, it is probably true that the men who carry out these attacks seem to be lost souls, people who, like our own Timothy McVeigh, were never able to nestle themselves sufficiently in the cares and loves of ordinary people. As a result, they allowed their beliefs and mental obsessions to assume huge and monstrous shapes. But then we have to ask ourselves why they lived such disconnected lives in the first place.
It is also true that the Islamic fundamentalists have a broad hatred of the west, and that it is not strictly limited to Israel at all. But this hatred is not founded in the shame of inferiority, it is founded in the shame of the insulted and injured. We find that many have lived under corrupt regimes with vast disparities of wealth for decades, all of this with the connivance of the west, supremely indifferent to their miserable lives so long as the precious oil is kept flowing at reasonable prices.
There is, indeed, a fear aspect to this hatred. Most were brought up in the typical structure of authoritarian and traditional groupthink, the fabric of which has been broken by the inevitability of trade, as surely as the villages, ghettoes, and peasant communes of Europe were sundered a century ago. Already degraded by the circumstances of their lives, now demoralized by the appearance of breakdown on all levels of society and morality, they advocate a great retreat to authority just as surely as did the European fascists and the Stalinists of Russia. Islamic fundamentalists are the potential totalitarians of the 21st century.
While the hatred of the west is a symptom of their own social disintegration, and is far more generalized than many wish to credit, this does not mean that Israel is irrelevant to the world view of the Arab terrorist. This is partly due to Israel being a highly visible manifestation of the west, and indeed this is the kind of view espoused by such chauvinist Israelis as Sharon and Netanyahu and by their American mouthpieces, Safire and Will. But there are ways in which the Israel connection does not hold. In the first place, it is debatable if Israel is fully a western nation. Although of course the Jewish people are integral to western culture, there seems little doubt, as Israelis as diverse as Amos Oz and Israel Shamir constantly remind us, that Israel carries out discriminatory practices against non-Jews that would be the cause of unstinting censure if carried out by any other self-professed bearer of western civilization. Indeed, the unequal distribution of wealth in greater Israel between Jews and non-Jews is almost a parody of a despotic Arab regime.
Second, and in a manner related not only to the above but also to the Judeocentric approach, it is a highly questionable tactic for Jews to argue that the mass murders in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania are due to Israel's troubles. It is one thing for Americans to give Israel money and weapons. Most of us don't pay that much attention to how our taxes are spent anyway. It is another thing entirely to say Americans have to have their citizens slaughtered in their thousands for the sake of a foreign power - any foreign power. What immediately comes next is that Americans will want to know exactly what they are dying for. It is the bet of many Americans, and indeed many Israelis, that the policies of the current Israeli regime will not bear such scrutiny. What this means is that to the extent that Israel's problems are linked to the deaths of our citizens, to that extent America will become a much more interested player in Israel's policies. This has nothing to do with the canard that Israel's existence is somehow at stake.
Where Do We Go From Here?In our analysis, the core issue in the Middle East that gives rise to Islamic fundamentalist terrorism is the disintegration typical of societies at a turning point in their evolution coupled with severe disparities in wealth and opportunity. Israel is a part of this, but not the whole part, and recognizing that the west will not oversee the destruction of a western outpost in the form of the Jewish state, no matter how defective that state may be, dictates in large part what our policies should be.
In the first place, there must obviously be some retribution. The terrorist cells who attack the west must be rooted out and destroyed. This is partly a matter of public expectation - in which case the destruction must be impressive - but it is also, at this point, partly a matter of survival. This involves no complicated weighting of right and wrong: anyone who wants to kill our citizens is simply wrong and has to be permanently put out of action. We can only hope that the massacre of our own innocents makes us now sensitive to the many innocents who have died as a result of our blind exercise of power in the past, and that we will exact retribution with prudent regard for innocent life.
In the second place it is obvious that the United States and the rest of the west must become much more involved in the Arab world. Isolation is no longer an option. The need for oil will not dissipate, and the erosion of Islamic cultural barriers in the face of the international market economy will not stop. We must meet the Arab people face to face, so that they will neither kill us from afar nor even want to. This means we have to look to our own painful western experience and help the crumbling regimes in the Arab world evolve. A civilization that gave the world Cromwell, Robespierre, Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin, has no business pulling rank on a civilization that produced Saddam Hussein or the Taliban: we must meet the Arabs as equals, elder equals perhaps, but as equals nonetheless. This may entail some diminution in our own wealth, and our own power, as more democractic and open Arab regimes make larger demands on our purse. Yet such a course will not only quench the fires of fanaticism, it will also be, in a very prosaic way, the right thing to do.
The United States and the west will not only be required to shake off its complacency and indifference with regard to the Arab world, but also with regard to Israel. Again, this is not a question of abandoning Israel. It is a question of Israel becoming as free and open as we want the rest of the world, including the Arab world, to be, and it means coaxing, and if necessary, leaning on the various players to compromise. Looking forward, a just settlement involving a two state solution based on the 1967 borders and with adequate compensation for any adjustments is the only possible outcome for anyone seriously interested in peace. In this respect, we must not only become much more actively involved in Israel's conduct, but also in the conduct of the Palestinian Authority: we must persuade them to give up their hateful anti-Jewish rhetoric, and in return we can provide them with dignity and infrastructure.
It is understood that none of these latter solutions will be colorful or even popular. They will lack the spectacular violence and finality that many Americans now crave and for quite natural reasons. Well, the American people will get some of that. But the road to final success in fighting the terrorism of Islamic fundamentalism will be a long one, requiring vision, commitment, and above all an engagement with the Arab world, an engagement that has been forestalled far too long.
Our dead fellow citizens deserve our condolences and a full measure of justice. But these are static forms of tribute. For their deaths to be consecrated, we must address the root causes of their murders, and we must engage that world which they were cruelly forced to depart. Their voices are stilled, their arms no longer outstretch: we remember them if we embrace the challenging world on their behalf.