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Monsters Breeding

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

Lee Smith
November 01, 2010
(KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images)
(KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images)

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.

Lee Smith is the author of The Consequences of Syria.