Palestinians have successfully sold the notion that terrorism is really not terrorism but 'resistance to an occupation.' In many quarters this has become a dogma not subject to question. It's important to pay close attention to what Palestinian leaders themselves are saying and doing.
Just yesterday Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar proclaimed that the new Palestinian state will occupy not just parts but 'all' of historic Palestine, including 'Jaffa, Lod, and Haifa,' major Israeli cities. He said once again that Hamas will never recognize Israel and 'will continue to persecute the Zionists wherever they are, after we prove that the Zionist army can be defeated - contrary to what was believed in the past, that it is impossible to beat the Zionists.'
Could it be any clearer that 'occupation' is code for Israel's existence, and that is what Palestinians are really 'resisting'?
Zahar went further, saying that the 'right of return of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians is closer than ever,' a formula for turning what is now Israel into another Palestinian state. 'After we defeat the Zionists,' he went on, 'we will persecute them to eternity, and the sun of the freedom and independence of the Palestinians will burn all of the Zionists.'
It doesn't sound like he's getting ready for two states any time soon. At least not two states one of which is Jewish. And we know what will happen to a Jewish minority living in Greater Palestine. Zahar and his troops 'will persecute them to eternity.'
Zahar is also on record as saying that after the happy day arrives when Israel is destroyed, his people will turn to spreading Islam throughout the West, using force if that's what it will take. Hamas has even established training camps in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, a sign of its broadening international vision.
What we are seeing is not a war of Palestinians against an occupation. It is a war of Islam against the Jewish state. And this war has the potential to widen beyond the boundaries of Israel and its immediate neighbors.
It is already taking an ominous turn. 14 people were wounded, among them a mother and her three-year-old daughter, when a Grad rocket hit a shopping center in Ashkelon. At least two women and two children were wounded seriously. Islamic Jihad took responsibility.
A Grad rocket is heavier and much more deadly than a Qassam, and has a longer range. The favorite target of the Palestinians up to now has been Sderot, which, contrary to the impression some people seem to have, is not a settlement but a city in southern Israel. Ashkelon is considerably farther away. It has been hit by rockets before, but these Grads can reach Ashkelon much more easily and with more shattering effect.
Israel has reason to believe these Grads are coming from Iran. According to former deputy defense minister Ephraim Sneh, 'It's part of the Iranian war against Israel.'
Iran and Israel are already at war, but this war has been going only one way: Iran has been attacking Israel through its Palestinian proxies.
This is not even a suicide bombing. This is a war. It is not Palestinians fighting an occupation: if that were the case, they would not be trying to destroy Israeli cities and make areas within Israel uninhabitable. If Palestinians simply wanted the occupation to end, they would not be sending the clear signal that the more land Israel gives back, the closer the rockets will come to Israel's central population centers.
Listen to the Palestinian leaders. Listen to the Iranian leaders. They will tell you what this war is about. It is not a war for the 1967 borders. It is a continuation of the war of 1948, when Palestinians unequivocally rejected the UN plan for a 'two-state solution.' This war drew an infusion of energy from the Islamic revival, and it is now a religious war, rooted in the historical animosity between Muslims and Jews ever since Muhammad drove out the Arabian Jewish tribes. The earliest Islamic sources, including the Qur'an and the original biographies of Muhammad, are full of expressions of hatred against Jews, and preachers in mosques frequently use these references to condemn Jews today. These sources constitute the theological underpinning of a war that draws its fire from a religious zeal that cannot be quenched.
Sunni and Shiite Islam unite on one issue: a Jewish entity in the heart of the Muslim world is an abomination and an offense against Islam. It reverses the direction of Muhammad's conquests, and so opposes the natural order. It must be exterminated. Neither Hamas nor Iran makes any attempt to soften this message, or any pretense of supporting two states.
This war is more than a struggle for land. Land can be shared, but a divine mandate cannot be compromised. Only an examination of this war's religious roots will yield a full understanding of it. But this is an ugly truth that many are loath to face. Therefore terms like 'Islamophobia' have gained currency, a politically loaded, intellectually dishonest word that is meant to suggest that anyone who dares to criticize Islam must be motivated not by reason but by fear, and hence by racism. The word 'Islamophobia' itself implies that Islam is to be held above criticism, and equates criticism of a religion with bigotry. This is a clear attempt to stifle free inquiry into Islam's contributions to the problems we face today, and it must be rejected.
Criticism of Islam is not the same as anti-Muslim prejudice. The object of the former is a belief system; the object of the latter is people. It is possible to criticize a religion without fomenting hatred against the members of that religion. In fact, this is precisely the task that confronts us today. A religion is a set of beliefs, ideas, and practices. People are individuals.
We can, and we must, consider the destructive consequences of ideas. But if we use that as an excuse to justify a hatred of people, we become just like what we claim to oppose. It requires maturity and self-examination, but we must always meet people as individuals, never assuming without evidence what is in a person's heart, and never making generalizations condemning people we have not met and do not know. Muslims as people vary greatly, and many do not adhere to the most extreme forms of Islam (often misleadingly called 'Islamism,' as if they were not genuine forms of Islam, which they are. It is highly presumptuous for any non-Muslim to tell Iran and Saudi Arabia that they do not really practice Islam but some strange concoction called 'Islamism,' a Western term that is meaningless to Muslims).
There is as much variation within the Muslim community as within any other community on earth. Let us always judge others by their actions, not by our preconceptions.
Bearing this distinction in mind, we must make a place for the legitimate examination of Islam and its influence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We need this kind of honest and exacting dialogue, or we risk falling into one of two extremes. We may find ourselves returning religious hatred with religious hatred, as some do who now call for a Christian crusade against the Muslim world. Or we may fall into the comforting but dangerous deception that all religions are really the same, share the same values and proclaim the same message. Self-deception can never save us from conflict and will not save the world. But returning hatred with hatred will also surely destroy it.
So those who want to spare the world from the ravages of religious extremism face a tough challenge. We need the courage to be honest in naming what we face, even though by doing so we risk excommunication by the politically correct orthodoxy. But we also need the self-discipline to keep from becoming like what we see. We cannot fight darkness with darkness, but only with the light of reason and of a genuine spirituality that does not justify hatred based upon religious and ethnic distinctions.
And this is precisely the point: When religion does make a virtue of racist hatred, as Islam certainly does when it wars against Israel, then masking that fact with obfuscating language like 'Islamism' and 'Islamophobia' protects us from facing an inconvenient truth. Back in the day when Christian anti-Semitism was dominant, Christianity, not 'Christianism,' was responsible. Fortunately Christianity has reformed and has greatly changed. The world still waits for an Islamic reformation, but the signs are not encouraging.
If those who oppose racism really mean what they say, then it's about time they faced these issues honestly, instead of using the charge of racism to silence those who point to racism in very uncomfortable places.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.
Gunter, Lorne. 'As Goest Israel....' National Post, May 5, 2008.
Jerusalem Post Staff. '15 Wounded as Grad Rocket Strikes Ashkelon Shopping Mall.' Jerusalem Post, May 14, 2008.
Jerusalem Post Staff. ' Zahar: 'We Will Persecute the Zionists'.' Jerusalem Post, May 14, 2008.