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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

Distinctions on Terrorism

(Reprinted from the issue of August 28, 2003)

Capitol BldgIs 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 remote.

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 Holocaust.

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 Mideast.

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 Talmud?

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

Copyright © 2003 by The Wanderer
Reprinted with permission.

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