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Monsters Breeding

The foiled Yemeni bomb plot shows why anti-Semitism isn’t only about Jews

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(KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images)
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The Message

Why terrorists from Yemen are trying to bomb synagogues in Chicago

The two package bombs addressed to Chicago synagogues posed quite a puzzle to some U.S. law enforcement officials. Since they “were addressed to religious institutions in Chicago,” said FBI Special Agent Ross Rice, “all churches, synagogues, and mosques in the Chicago area should be vigilant for any unsolicited or unexpected packages, especially those originating from overseas locations.” So, even the Jehovah’s Witnesses are in danger—and Muslims, too? Or maybe the FBI knows of some outstanding quarrel between al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and Louis Farrakhan’s Chicago-based Nation of Islam. Otherwise, why is Special Agent Ross going to such lengths to obscure the obvious fact that the package bombs were not a general attack on people of faith in the greater Chicago area, but an operation directed specifically at American Jews?

Almost as absurd is the theory introduced by British security officials, with some recent support from the White House, that the bombs weren’t going to go off in America at all. Instead, they were going to blow up the planes carrying them in mid-air. This narrative is, it seems, mostly substantiated by the fact that a UPS cargo plane crashed in Dubai two months ago—even as there is no evidence that this crash was an act of terror.

More to the point, the mid-air explosion thesis needs to explain why the two bombs had already been transported by two air-carriers and yet failed to explode. “This was a potential attack on U.S. business,” explained one British official, “and the impact could have been huge. Damaging the West’s economy is a key objective of al-Qaida.” But it is not clear how these attacks would have damaged the economy of the West. The practical effect would have been to close down express mail services, like FedEx and UPS, out of Yemen. A 20-minute delay on the New York subway any given Monday morning is apt to affect our trillion-dollar economy more than two cargo planes from Yemen with no passengers blowing up in mid-air. Either al-Qaida has entered the spectacularly pointless and silly phase of its war against the West, or the latest narrative doesn’t wash.

What we do know is that the bombs were addressed to American synagogues—not churches or mosques (or financial institutions)—and that our national security apparatus is visibly uncomfortable dealing with this established fact. Neither the president, nor his spokesman, nor the White House’s counterterrorism czar made much of the notion that this act of terror had specifically targeted the Jewish community. No one denounced the attempted murder of American citizens based on their faith. No one said that foreign maniacs who target Jews are part of a global sickness.

It is unpleasant to have to make the comparison, but instructive nonetheless: Had a mosque been targeted, or had American Muslims been marked for death, we can be sure that the president, rightly, would have denounced not only the act but the idea that it had singled out a particular section of the American people.

As I argued right after the prospective attack was first announced, we have accustomed ourselves to acts of terror against Jews by rationalizing them. After all, since Israel “occupies” Muslim lands in the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the Shebaa Farms—and since many people see all of pre-1967 Israel itself as occupied land—it’s not surprising if Jews around the world are going to have their blood spilled because of boundary disputes in the Holy Land.

But that’s not why President Barack Obama and his Cabinet are loath to point out that this thwarted operation constitutes a hate crime. Americans believe that the worst thing you can be accused of is racism, our “original sin,” as the former senator from Illinois once phrased it before he was elected the 44th president of the United States. We assume that other people must feel exactly the same way, even if it is clear they do not, as the Arabs do not. The common word in Arabic for a dark-skinned black person is abed, slave. In Egypt, the butt of almost every joke are the Saidis, those reputedly shiftless, not-too-bright, and dark-skinned inhabitants of Upper Egypt.

The Arabs are not particularly embarrassed by their racist feelings about Jews. Rather than detail the anti-Semitic offerings available all day and night on Arab TV, where wild fantasies about Jews drinking blood and stealing the organs of gentiles occupy the same place that hardcore pornography does on your average hotel pay-per-view menu, suffice it to say that the father of the UAE’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayid, who was thanked on Sunday by White House counterterrorism czar John Brennan for his help in foiling the Yemen package bomb attack, gave his name and financial support to a think tank in Abu Dhabi notorious for its hatred of Jews. The Zayed Center for Coordination and Follow Up hosted Holocaust deniers, promoters of the protocols of the Elders of Zion, and other assorted Arab and Western anti-Semitic intellectuals before it closed in 2003.

The Arabs recognize that we’re very sensitive about racism and anti-Semitism, which is why they know their calling Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman a racist resonates with us—even as the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to Washington openly calls for the transfer of all Jews from any future Palestinian state. We are the ones who quiver at the accusation of racism—not them. We would not dream of calling the Arabs anti-Semitic or racist because we fear that we have subjected them to our Western colonial racism, and we feel guilty about it. Indeed, many in the West have even gone so far as to ignore the evidence of 1,300 years of Muslim anti-Jewish polemics to claim that anti-Semitism is a Western import. To call the Arabs anti-Semitic would be shaming a people we have already hurt too much.

All of our noble sentiments toward the Muslim world would be fine, if it weren’t for the fact that our political correctness has created a context where it’s OK to dehumanize, terrorize, and murder Jews.

However, I have to say that when reading the comments to my pieces, I am routinely surprised that some readers appear to believe anti-Semitism is simply about the Jews. That is, that there are some in the Jewish community who would seem to prefer it if someone with a name like Lee Smith would stop stirring the pot and just let it alone. But as I said, anti-Semitism is not just about Jews; after all, it’s not a Jewish idea, any more than the Holocaust was. I like Jews as much as I like the next man on the bus. But I’m not particularly interested in the internal politics of the Jewish community. I am interested in anti-Semitism not just because it sickens me, but because it poisons American society as a whole, affecting both Jews and non-Jews.

If racism is our original sin, then anti-Semitism is the essential test of our character. Our current failure to recognize it and denounce it proves that our enemies have taken our measure. They know who we are. After killing 270 people, many of them Americans, over the skies of Lockerbie in 1988, Abdul Basset Ali al-Megrahi walked out of a Scottish prison last year to pave the way for British oil deals. It is not clear why Megrahi’s release caused shock, disappointment, and anger among American officials who demand the Israelis release Arab prisoners with Jewish blood on their hands as a show of “good faith.”

In Washington, the world’s superpower looks on in detached wonderment as we hazard educated guesses as to whether or not the Israelis are really going to attack the nuclear facilities of a regime that has called for another Holocaust. In our universities, professors explain away the Islamic Republic’s threats to destroy the Jewish state by claiming the translations from Farsi are flawed.

It’s not just about the Jews. As the most recent Wikileaks documents show, the George W. Bush Administration deliberately covered up the extent of the Iranian war against the United States in Iraq so as to save itself the trouble of responding to the killing of American soldiers by a foreign government. There was no way the American military was going to open up a third front in the war on terror, reasoning that that only made American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan more vulnerable—as well as American civilians at home whose government will not name and pursue their enemies. This is an old habit now of U.S. policymakers, and it knows no party. Democrats and Republicans alike play the same sick game. The Islamic Republic released the American hostages it had taken under the Jimmy Carter Administration to the newly elected Ronald Reagan—who blinked when Iran and Syria, via Hezbollah, killed diplomats and Marines in Beirut.

Rather than making our enemies pay, we’ve let them off time and again over the last 40 years, thus ushering in the golden age of international terrorism, which is helping to capsize the short-lived Pax Americana. Our leaders will not speak frankly to the people who elected them because they fear the American electorate has no stomach for it. War in the Persian Gulf that sends gas to $10 a gallon combined with terror attacks at home would ravage the American economy and our national psyche. So we are silent. And in our silence, monsters breed.

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Martin K says:

Im confused. You mean that the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the support of Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, the use of drones in both Pakistan and Yemen is really just a clever ruse to *pretend* to hunt and kill AQ? And that if the US just decided that its “enemies would pay”, then it would all be sorted? Fascinating.

Care to suggest some operative political steps that would be “making our enemies pay” more than they do today?

And further, you seriously, with a straight face, say that “we” (oh how I love the rhetorical “we”) do not call “arabs” racist? Seen Newt Gingrich and Pam Geller schmoozing lately? Seen the whole sneak-jihad craze of the Tea Partiers? Seen Robert Spencer on TV? Lee Smith, youre sao full of s%&t your eyes must be turning brown. Pathetic hasbara.

Another great article Lee. Frankly I was amazed to see the claims that the bombs were meant to go off in the air. If so, why were they addressed to synagogues? Pretending that a problem doesn’t exist won’t make it go away.

Silly beyond all belief.

Read my thesis and t=you wu-ill see that the US and Iran jointly carried out the Lockerbie bombing

A.L. Bell says:

To me, what was way more noteworthy about this than Obama’s response to this is that, if the report is true and complete, Saudi Arabian intelligence agents apparently prevented Al Qaeda from bombing two synagogues.

Saudi Arabian intelligence agents.

And Obama must be intensely conscious of what the targets were. He’s from Chicago. Rahm Emanuel is an observant Jew from Chicago. If the bombs had gone off, they would, essentially, have been a direct attack on Obama’s own synagogues.

If Obama really is under-emphasizing the fact that the targets were synagogues, maybe that has something to do with respecting the antisemitic neuroses of the Saudi Arabians.

rony s says:

The mid-air explosion theory is plausible, though. Imagine two planes exploding over an American city (that would explain why the packages did not explode sooner)…People don’t need to die ON the planes for terror to strike, and it is demonstrably easier to smuggle the bombs onto non-passenger carrying planes. Just like in NY, the planes are not the target but the delivery mechanism.
It is high time we stop trying to prevent the last attack by extrapolating our “logic” and assuming we understand theirs.

Frank Young says:

Well thought out piece and very convincing.

(Amazing isn’t it how many people use comment areas like this to spout anger, spew venom and advance absolutely ridiculous theories.)

I don’t know the facts of this case, but…

“Almost as absurd is the theory … that the bombs weren’t going to go off in America at all. Instead, they were going to blow up the planes carrying them in mid-air.”

Interestingly, in 1970, the PFLP-GC used altimeter bombs made by Marwan Khreesat, hidden in air mail packages destined for Israeli addresses. Two planes from Europe to Israel were damaged, one crashing and killing everyone. (see “Birth of Airborne Death”)

“After killing 270 people, many of them Americans, over the skies of Lockerbie in 1988, Abdul Basset Ali al-Megrahi walked out of a Scottish prison last year to pave the way for British oil deals. ”

Mmmm, that’s more myth than reality. The oil deals have not been illustrated or proven, just suggested. They ignore Megrahi’s potent appeal of conviction, dropped as if a condition of release.

And tying two points together, until the amazing Libya clues emerged in 1989 and were understood over the following years, the original suspicion of many was that PA103 had been destroyed by a Khreesat bomb commissioned by the PFLP-GC for Iran.

Robert Bear, Noam Chomsky, David Frum, Andrew Kilgore, Ariel Sharon, Margaret Thatcher, Desmond Tutu… (interesting roster, see “No one seriously doubts the Libyan’s guilt?”)

“Indeed, many in the West have even gone so far as to ignore the evidence of 1,300 years of Muslim anti-Jewish polemics to claim that anti-Semitism is a Western import.”

This is a classic but unfortunately typical bit of ahistoricism. Muslims believe they are followers of the one true faith. Of course they are going to have anti-Jewish, as well as anti-Christian, anti-Hindu, etc. polemics in their history. (Especially the latter, since Muslims consider them idol-worshippers and not people of the book.)

Anti-Semitism among Muslims, as demonstrated by the derogatory term “Semite” in the name (why on Earth would Arabs consider being Semitic a bad thing?), IS a Western import blended with traditional theological animus. The Mufti of Jerusalem’s German ties are well known, and former Nazi officers even advised Arab regimes.

Anti-Semitism, the belief in Jewish ontological evil (as opposed to theological wrongheadedness) coupled with a conspiratorial view of history, is political tool invented in Europe and exported to the Middle East.

Raymond in DC says:

Why would one expect Arabs or Muslims to use the term anti-Semitism when it was only created in the 19th century? And the notion of Jewish “ontological evil”, while to an extent imported from Europe (as well as the notion of all-encompassing Jewish power), landed on very fertile soil. Depictions of Jews as “sons of pigs and monkeys”, not to be trusted, allied with the Devil, and to be fought until the Day of Judgment is commonplace in Islamic source material (Quran and supporting commentary).

If indeed the plan was *not* targeting those Chicago synagogues, why were they the addressees? They could as well have picked a random name or company out of the phone book, and not drawn attention to the package. After all, why would someone in Yemen be in contact with infidel Jews?

ahad ha'amoratsim says:

Martin K
If I understand you correctly, Hasbara= term used to dismiss any analysis that does not view Jews and Israel as the root of all the world’s problems.
Apart from that, none of your comments detract the least from the crux of Lee Smith’s essay.

nes gahas says:

Whether or not the packages were meant to blow up in the air or on the ground, addressing them to synagogues was a way for the terrorists to stick it to the Jews. It tells Jews that they are targets, and as a bonus, it makes people who might not even realize their own anti-Semitic tendencies think: it’s the Jews that are causing the trouble, if Israel wasn’t evil and/or if there weren’t Jews among us, we would be safe. (But of course this would be a fallacious and immoral reaction.)

Paul Freedman says:

No arguments on the PC-suppressed glaring data points on Arab and Islamic anti-Semitism, racism, (and misogyny) but we dont’ know that the bombs were meant to blow up synagogues though readers are certainly on point to note that the mailing addresses were meant to place Jews in the crosshairs at the least, and create the setting for anti-Jewish terrorism, if not today than tomorrow. Unfortunately we have an American Islamophile President who cannot resist pandering across the spectrum of Islamic communities and personalities, not excluding known Islamist ringleaders who are brought into FBI and Homeland Security outreach. So recognition of the connection between Islam and the manifestation of these darker attributes will continue to be censored by the White House. Still, the entire Islamic terrorist sponsoring Levant, precisely because all too often in all to many nations, Islam is *not* a “religion of peace” cannot be dealt with solely on the basis of revenge given American societies understandable reluctance at this time to engage in a global religious war.

It is strange to think that anyone in Yemen would send any kind of package to a synagogue – anywhere in the world. If I were trying to blow up a plane in the air, I would certainly not wave the red flag of addressing it to a synagogue from a Yemeni address. It is incredible that no one in the shipping process noticed this. Amazing that the package got so far. Had it not been meant for the synagogues, it would have been addressed to some more innocuous address.

I just heard that the packages were sent to historical persons at addresses of places where there are no longer synagogues – so I guess my theory is not correct. The new theory is they were sent to synagogues to send a message in case the planes did not blow up -which thank goodness they did not. Still have question as to how packages from Yemen went so easily through checkpoints when they were supposedly sent to synagogues.

“Lee Smith, youre sao full of s%&t your eyes must be turning brown.”

Ooooh that is so original…did you make that up yerself?

Forbes says:

There sure are a lot of generalizations about “The Arabs” in this article. I’m sure they are all the same.

howard says:

It’s not that Israel “occupies” land in the West Bank, but that it occupies land in the West Bank.

howard says:

And I don’t say that to excuse bombs of course, but simply to reject the denial of reality in those insidious quotation marks.

John Doe says:

Is Lee Smith a pen name for Abe Foxman?

“The practical effect would have been to close down express mail services, like FedEx and UPS, out of Yemen.” UPS has left Yemen, I don’t know about FedEx but I know UPS was out of Yemen before news broke that, that was where the packages originated. It doesn’t hurt US business that UPS isn’t there any more, it hurts Yemeni business.

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