Tuesday, July 7, 2020 -
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Remember the pain

I received an email from a Jewish organization that operates in India (not Chabad). It said that after last week’s terrorist attack, it has become clear that terrorism is now a threat in India.


I received an email from a spokesman in Sderot, Israel. It said that Iran is at Sderot’s back door.

Sobering — if we’re listening.

India, which suffered a major terrorist attack in 2006, is only now seen as an insecure place to be? In 2006, 250 people were killed, but, apparently, because a Jewish institution wasn’t targeted at that time, it didn’t register that terrorism was a threat in India.

The US, which suffered a major terrorist attack in 2001, is seen by many as safe once again.

Yet, the Taliban are resurgent in Afghanistan.

Suicide bombings in Iraq are much reduced, but hardly eliminated.

Hezbollah has twice the missiles it did when Israel invaded Lebanon in 2006.

Hamas in Gaza — right next door to Sderot, and not only to Sderot, but also to Israeli cities further away from Gaza — is smuggling in weapons from Egypt.

George W. Bush is criticized for being harsh on terrorist suspects. Maybe he is. However, I haven’t heard a reasonable alternative. The Indian government, after all, is roundly criticized for “intelligence failings.” Which means, when you get right down to it, that India failed to preempt, to kill the people who were preparing to kill her citizens.

Israel is criticized for targeted assassinations of terrorists. But when a world, now upset by the prospect of dangerous tensions between India and Pakistan, fails to support governments that preempt terrorists, it makes it harder for governments — such as India — to avoid “intelligence failings.” A tone is set. A tone of denial. A tone that says: Full civil liberties must be reserved for would be terrorists before they are caught in the act. A tone that says: Governments that preempt terrorists are wrong, brutal and against peace.

You can’t have it both ways: Heaping criticism on India for “intelligence failings,” and heaping criticism on, for example, Israel, for going after terrorists of Hamas and Hezbollah before they strike; or on, for another example, the US, for assassinating terrorists of al-Qaida before they strike.

You can’t have it both ways: Assigning responsibility to the attackers of terrorists for the “collateral damage” that these attacks often tragically bring, rather than on the terrorists themselves.

Apologists for terrorism practiced by radical Islamic believers would have the UN criminalize the term, “war on terror.” That’s a lot more than censorship.

That’s living in denial.

I’ve been making the rounds lately, peddling a joke whose punch line I have the listeners fill in by naming their least favorite politician. More often than not, I get “George W. Bush.”

However, I have a certain sympathy for Bush. He’s been an operational disaster, from Katrina to Iraq to bailouts, I would agree. But he’s got it right on terrorism: We are under siege. We are under threat. The “we” is not just the potential victims of the murderers. With their evil, terrorists affect infinitely more than their immediate victims. Remember the old caps of pill boxes? How they just unscrewed? How there was nothing to press and twist —  and nothing expensive to make? These expensive, difficult, “secure” covers all began with a couple of people — no more! — poisoning  a couple of over-the-counter pills.

That’s terrorism: A relatively small act changes the lives of billions of people and costs the world billions of dollars.

Seven years after 9/11, does anyone remember how easy it used to be to board an airplane in the US?

The leaders who are tough on terrorism get this picture — the big picture. We are under siege, yet we are so easily given to denial, to forgetfulness, to routinization of the abnormal.

It is not enough to be pained at the moment for all who died in India. It is necessary, yes, not to give in. As Rabbi Yisroel Engel put it at the memorial last Sunday for the Jews who died in India, it is necessary to go back and sustain the kindness and spiritual work done there. But it is also necessary to carry the pain. This is the only way not to forget. Which is the only way to dampen the denial, to stay focused on the war on terror.

Civilization as we know it depends on our capacity to remember the pain and to back the policies necessary to defeat terrorism — to change the values, in the long run; and to fight the enemies, in the short run.

Read the related blog entry, “Within tragedy, light” on Rocky Mountain Jew.

Hillel Goldberg

IJN Executive Editor | hillel@ijn.com

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