Jewish World Review Oct. 4, 2001 / 17 Tishrei, 5762

Paul Greenberg

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Why do they hate us? -- THERE is apparently no limit to the naivete of Americans, which is one of our most charming qualities, and most maddening. Consider:

Here both Washington and New York have just been attacked in the most devastating and vicious act of terrorism in American history. What happened September 11, 2001, has been called another Pearl Harbor, but let it be noted that, while Pearl Harbor was a sneak attack, it was on a military target.

What happened September 11th was nothing but terrorism, an act of outright hatred against all Americans -- military and civilian. The haters made no distinctions. They slaughtered men, women and children indiscriminately -- those of high station or low. They killed Christian, Muslim, Jew and none-of-the-above. And any foreign visitors around, too. If evil has a face, this was it.

So what is the question being asked by our oh-so-enlightened voices on NPR, at academic forums and by all the calm, removed Peter Jenningses of the world? It is a simple one, charming in its naiveti, maddening in its imbecilic masochism:

Why do they hate us?

Surely only a nation so regularly blessed by peace and prosperity, cushioned by two oceans, accustomed to the best neighbors in the world in Canada and Mexico, would ask such a question. For the question assumes that human beings need a reason to hate. We don't. Any more than we need a reason to love. Neither hate nor love is reasonable. They are acts of good and evil, grace or malice.

Did the Nazis need a reason to hate Jews? Did Stalin need a reason to hate capitalists, a category that in his book encompassed any peasant with a hovel and a cow? Did Timothy McVeigh need a reason to hate his own government and his own people?

Strange: William L. Shirer never felt a need to explain why the Nazis hated everything free men stood for in his dispatches from Berlin in the '30s. Edward R. Murrow never had to explain why Hitler was bombing London. Ernie Pyle fell alongside the GIs whose bravery he chronicled and thereby celebrated.

But we had journalists in those days, not Ph.D.s in political correctness. Those guys would never have made it today; they could tell evil when they saw it. They were not scrupulously neutral between right and wrong. They were not objective, just truthful. Today they would all be dismissed in the journalism quarterlies as flag-wavers.

Americans now have reason to rage and demand retribution. That demand will be renewed by every funeral and at all the memorial services that will be held without even remains to bury.

But the haters need no reason to hate us. It is enough that we are who we are -- a free and powerful people. There is much we can do to stop them from killing us, but nothing we can do to stop them from hating us. Because we stand for something in the world. For freedom. And we can't change that.

It was part of our nature even before 1776, when we proclaimed that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. That declaration is heresy to the Osama bin Ladens of the world. That is why they hate us. It is not what we do but what we are, and what we represent, that infuriates them. What's worse, we are what the world is becoming, and they can't stand it.

They can't bear our happiness, our prosperity, our power and most of all the realization that others want to model themselves on us, and build their own free societies. We celebrate the light of freedom; they want to extinguish it. Some things are just that simple no matter how we try to complicate them. Like sheer, malignant hatred. Yes, the ideology and geopolitics and history of it all is complex, but not the hatred.

Why do they hate us? The implication of the question is that it must be because of something we have done. But even if American troops were withdrawn from Saudi Arabia today, and Kuwait was made a present to Saddam Hussein tomorrow, and Arab states from Algeria to Egypt and Jordan were left at the mercy of their own crazies, and Israel thrown to these wolves, the haters would not stop hating.

For nothing is ever enough to appease hatred. You would think we would have learned that lesson by now. Only fools think that the haters' current set of demands will be their last. Neville Chamberlain thought the Sudetenland would be Herr Hitler's last territorial demand in Europe, too.

The historically amnesiac think haters can be satisfied by making this concession or that, giving them this little country or that. If we granted every demand they now make, they would only exult in our weakness, batten on Middle Eastern oilfields and make all their world a squalid, groaning Afghanistan -- a tortured land whose principal export has become desperate refugees.

It is a delusion to think terrorism can be appeased. Violence feeds on itself. The demands of the demons inside every hater are never satisfied. Not even when they drive the hater to destroy himself along with others. For hatred has no final demand; its appetite grows with its conquests. Its idea of a perfect world is a heel forever smashing a human face -- its heel, our faces.

That is why, when great violence is done and mighty towers topple, and thousands are left to suffer and die, hatred exults. It throws a party, it tosses candy, it dances in the streets. It cheers. And it demands still more victims.

Why do they hate us? Because that is what haters do. Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden do not live to present their arguments in some democratic forum and abide by the vote.

These are not freedom fighters; they hate freedom. And they would make us all haters in their mirror image, and have us turn on enemies real and imagined with the same blind fury that has overtaken them. But they will not achieve that result, either. We will prevail not only over the haters, but over the hatred within ourselves. That is something else they don't understand about America.

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