Distinctions on Terrorism

     Is the occupation of Iraq worth the price? That is 
the question coming to the fore as American soldiers are 
shot daily and the United Nations headquarters is struck 
by a devastating bomb that killed at least 20 people, 
including the UN's top official on the scene.

     President Bush is defiant, but his usual optimism 
was absent from his immediate comment. He blamed 
"terrorists" and "remnants of Saddam Hussein's brutal 
regime," but insisted that "the civilized world will not 
be intimidated."

     It's by no means obvious that the growing Iraqi 
resistance is drawn solely or chiefly from Saddam's 
loyalists. In fact that is doubtful.

     The occupation has imposed real hardships on Iraqis, 
a fact that our own recent power failure should have 
brought home to us; the Iraqis have been deprived of 
electricity not for a few hours, but for much of a 
punishingly hot summer in which temperatures have risen 
as high as 125 degrees. That is not only uncomfortable, 
but dangerous, and promises of a future democracy are 
unlikely to make it seem worthwhile to those who must 
endure it.

     Moreover, attacking military targets isn't 
"terrorism," a word that properly refers to random 
attacks on civilians for the purpose of creating a 
general fear in the population at large. Bush has used 
the term far too indiscriminately in an attempt to 
conflate the popular resistance he now faces with the 
"terror" he has declared war against. But these are very 
distinct things.

     Once again it appears that the U.S. government has 
bitten off more than it can chew. The shock of 9/11 has 
set off a chain reaction of excessive measures, from 
dubious domestic security policies to foreign war against 
poorly defined targets. While claiming to be 
conservative, the Bush administration has found new 
vistas of big government, tenuously related to "the 
common defense of the United States."

     Nobody knows where it will end or what it will cost, 
but the cost keeps getting higher and the end more 

     Typically, the federal government has kept growing 
under a Republican administration that talks about 
limited government. It has grown faster under Bush, with 
a Republican Congress, than it did under Bill Clinton 
when he had a Democratic Congress.

     The disturbing part is that the government is now 
top-heavy with new functions and missions that nobody 
even foresaw when Bush was elected. Few thought Bush 
would restore constitutional limits, but nearly everyone 
expected at least a certain retardation of the usual pace 
of government expansion.

     Then came 9/11, out of the blue, and all bets were 
off. The government's entire agenda changed, and changed 
radically, in a flash.

     Not only is the federal government huge, and 
growing; it seems frighteningly unstable. You have to 
wonder how long this can go on.

     Under Clinton, it seemed grossly excessive, but not 
unpredictable. It had bad habits, but at least they were 
habits. Now we have no idea what to expect.

Routine Accusations

     America's presumed majority of white Christians is 
always being chastised for prejudice and instructed in 
"sensitivity" toward minority groups.

     From time to time it occurs to me that sensitivity 
ought to be a two-way street.

     The current row over Mel Gibson's forthcoming movie 
THE PASSION is a case in point. Responding to charges of 
anti-Semitism, Gibson's spokesman has announced that the 
film has been altered to tone down or omit possibly 
offensive details in its depiction of Christ's Passion 
and crucifixion.

     Since the film attempts to follow the Gospel 
accounts literally, this implies that the Gospels 
themselves are anti-Semitic and need a bit of pruning. 
And here is where I think Christians are entitled to make 
a few suggestions on the score of sensitivity.

     It seems to me that a number of the country's Jewish 
organizations and publications could be reminded that 
Christians really don't enjoy being told that their 
religion is a fountain of bigotry and hate; that anti-
Semitism springs from their Scriptures; or that their 
doctrines, teachings, and leaders are responsible for the 

     Yet such accusations have become routine. They have 
appeared often in publications like COMMENTARY, in books 
by some Jewish scholars, and even in a tax-funded 
documentary film shown at the National Holocaust Museum 
(later withdrawn in response to protests).

     Throughout their long history the Jews have had many 
enemies. This is only natural; all nations make enemies, 
partly through their own fault, partly through others' 
fault. But the perennial charge of "anti-Semitism" 
implies that the fault is all on one side. Whenever there 
is friction between Jews and Gentiles, we are to assume 
that the Gentiles are always and entirely to blame.

     This hardly seems realistic, in the nature of 
things, but we can see something of the truth in the 

     There the Jews have created their own state, Israel, 
and made new enemies, chiefly Arab Muslims. In 1948 
countless Arabs were driven from their homes in historic 
Palestine, many by Jewish leaders like Menachem Begin and 
Yitzhak Shamir (both of whom would become Israeli prime 
ministers). In today's terminology, what they did in the 
1940s would be called terrorism.

     More than 50 years later, these Palestinian Arabs 
are still banned from returning to their homes, while any 
Jew on earth may "return" to Israel as a privileged 
citizen whenever he chooses.

     Yet Israel and its supporters ceaselessly complain 
that the Arabs refuse to recognize Israel's "right to 
exist"! That is to say, those bigoted Arabs refuse to 
accept the inferior status of their own people, and the 
right of Israel to oppress them.

     At the same time, Jews (with many honorable 
exceptions) continue to assume the role of perennial 
victims. They demand, among other things, that Christians 
edit the Gospels and change their religion to suit them. 
Has any Christian since the Middle Ages demanded that the 
Jews purge the anti-Christian scurrilities from the 

     None of this is to suggest that hatred of the Jews 
is justified, or to deny that it has often taken vicious 
and absurd forms.

     But we have heard all too much of that side of the 
story; indeed we hear little else, even as the other side 
of the story is acted out before our eyes.

                                        --- Joseph Sobran


Read this column on-line at 

Copyright (c) 2003 by THE WANDERER, Reprinted with permission.

This column may not be published in print or Internet 
publications without express permission of THE WANDERER. 
You may forward it to interested individuals if you use 
this entire page, including the following disclaimer:

"THE WANDERER is available by subscription. Write for information.
Subscription price: $50 per year; $30 for six months.
Checks can be sent to The WANDERER, 201 Ohio Street, 
Dept. JS, St. Paul, MN 55107.

"SOBRAN'S and Joe Sobran's syndicated columns are 
available by e-mail subscription. For details and 
samples, see, write, or call 800-513-5053."