Jewish World Review July 19, 2005 / 12 Tammuz 5765

Paul Greenberg

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Now I get it | It's taken me while to understand, but watching the BBC the other night — and I've been glued to its nightly newscast since the bombings in London — it finally came to me, the difference between a terrorist and an insurgent. At least in the BBC stylebook.

When suicide bombers blow Englishmen to smithereens, it's a "terror attack." But when they blow up Iraqis, they're insurgents. It's apparently not their tactics that distinguish terrorists from insurgents on the BBC but geography. Or maybe just the identity of the victims.

Even in this brave new permissive world, the one dirty word that remains banned on BBC is, if you'll pardon the expression, terrorist.

Although now and then some honest announcer may forget himself and use the forbidden word instead of "militant." At least if the victims are English.

We're all Londoners now, after 7/7, just as we were all New Yorkers after 9/11. And Madrillenos after 3/11. At least for a little while. Till we start bickering again. What the BBC hasn't yet grasped is that we're all Israelis and Iraqis, too, and that all of us are in terror's sights, whether it strikes in London or New York, Bali or Casablanca, at a theater in Moscow or a school in Beslan . . . . They're all in it together, these killers, whatever their particular branch of the same, murderous fanaticism.

There will always be those who dare not risk offending by calling a terrorist a terrorist, who would much prefer to overlook the gore and just go about their business, maybe even muttering something about how those people have been killing each other for thousands of years, and it's certainly no business of ours to interfere, and it can't happen here . . . .

But it did. On September 11, 2001. It will happen again, perhaps here, perhaps elsewhere. Wherever it does, we're all in this together whether we want to be or not. And our greatest weapon in this struggle is something beyond arms and armor, television monitors and metal detectors. It is solidarity. And the kind of moral clarity that can still call terror by its right name — not insurgency or militancy but what it is: terror.

Terror that has no purpose other than to terrorize. To make us afraid. To make us retreat into some false sense of security, into the belief that if we will only accede to the terrorists' latest demand, if we will just pay the danegeld, they'll go away. (Until next time.) But slowly, painfully slowly, most of us are coming to realize the folly and cowardice of such a course. We've even started to call evil evil. Wherever it strikes —London or New York, Baghdad or Jerusalem.

This war on terror is being waged not on behalf of one nation or even group of nations but in defense of civilization itself, of the idea that there are some things, as the Brits would say, that are not done, that will not be politely tolerated, that constitute an attack on human decency itself. Like blowing up crowded buses. Or crashing airplanes into skyscrapers. Or leaving bombs at nightclubs and restaurants and on the subway. Or blowing up a school full of children.

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It was not until Pearl Harbor that most Americans realized we were at war not just with one treacherous enemy that had struck without warning, but with a worldwide ideology that threatened not just our democracy but democracy itself.

Only then did it dawn on most of us, as Nazi Germany and fascist Italy got in on the act, too, that . . . they're all in this together. Even then a few isolationists still held out, explaining that it was really a conspiracy, that Roosevelt had somehow cleverly maneuvered the Japanese into attacking us, that if only we had minded our own business, that the Versailles Treaty had really been unjust, you know, that the British were dragging us into this war, that it was all the Jews' fault . . . .

Now, once again, there will be those who blame the dead, the way that charming professor out in Colorado referred to the victims of 9/11 as "little Eichmanns." Listen carefully and you can hear the kind of ideologues who can justify — well, rationalize — anything, however murderous. The let's-not-be-beastly-to-the-terrorists crowd is still out there even if the latest horror has momentarily shamed some of them into silence. If they're quiet at the moment, they'll surface soon enough once the dead are buried, maybe even before.

You can be sure that even now, somewhere deep in Noam Chomsky territory, somebody's working on a pamphlet, a speech, a blog, an e-mail or maybe a book that will explain it all, and it'll be a best seller, too, at least in Paris. It'll explain how the Anglo-Saxons brought this on themselves, how these child-killers are but a natural reaction against the American hegemon, how it was the CIA or maybe the Mossad that really attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon . . . but fewer and fewer of us seem able to take them, or the BBC, very seriously anymore. Not all the words in the world can justify the murder of a child.

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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