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The Logic of Terror

August 6, 2006

“The Jews” received two high-profile apologies this week. One was from the publicist of a famous Christian actor, who went on an anti-Semitic tirade upon his arrest for drunk driving. The other was from the parents of an unemployed Muslim who killed one person and injured five others after opening fire at a Jewish non-profit. Each apology stressed the offender’s compromised state of mind: one was inebriated, and the other was mentally ill. Each apology “reached out” to the Jewish community, with one asking for help in dealing with personal prejudice, and the other asking that the incident not be held against the Muslim community. In both cases, prosecutors are considering hate-crime charges.

The Mel Gibson case has caused a media frenzy; the Naveed Haq case has not. It would be disingenuous to point out that Gibson did not actually hurt anyone, given the power of words in general, and the power of a movie star’s words in particular. (In our celebrity-obsessed culture, one has to assume that for every person moved to adopt by the example of Angelina Jolie, another person will be moved to hate by the example of Mel Gibson.) One difference between the two lies in the underlying motivation. In Gibson’s case, it seems safe to say that the prejudice is primarily religious. As a “traditionalist” Catholic and the auteur of “The Passion of the Christ”, his historically and theologically ignorant views on Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus are well-known. Haq’s rampage, on the other hand, appears to have been politically-driven. According to police, he was angry about the American occupation in Iraq and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

What do the two men have in common? Both regard “the Jews” as a monolithic entity, such that those living today are interchangeable with those living 2000 years ago, and those employed by a charity are responsible for the actions of two different governments. This is the logic of terrorism. It is the logic of Hezbollah. But it is also, in a different way, the logic of a government that in retaliation for the killing of eight soldiers and the kidnapping of two has to date killed 900 people, wounded 3,000, and displaced 1,000,000 – almost all civilians. And when criticism of that government’s policies is met with charges of anti-Semitism, the reverse logic is in play. The Olmert administration does not speak for all Jews, anymore than all Jews are responsible for the actions of the Olmert administration. This should be a no-brainer. But it is not. Is it really surprising, though, that those who oppose the war in Lebanon are labeled “anti-Semitic” and “pro-Hezbollah”? After all, those who oppose the war on terror are “anti-American” and “pro-Al Qaeda”. We should be used to it by now…

No matter what John Bolton thinks, terrorism is terrorism, whether committed by a mentally ill individual, by an armed militia, or by an elected government. And terrorism begins with the view that individuals are nothing more than representatives of larger groups, like religions or nationalities. It begins with the view that people are a means to an end – human shields or collateral damage – rather than ends in themselves. Terrorism begins with blanket statements like “The Jews are responsible for all of the wars in the world” – straight from the charter of Hamas to the lips of Mel Gibson. Compare that with the Israeli Justice Minister’s recent claim that “Everyone in southern Lebanon is a terrorist and is connected to Hezbollah.” As the US is currently learning to its cost in Iraq, terrorism is only encouraged when those who would stamp it out share the terrorists’ total disregard for civilian lives.

Guest Blogger Jennifer Heckart is a doctoral student at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

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