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Jewish World Review Oct. 22, 2001 / 5 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Mort Zuckerman

Mort Zuckerman
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Getting the mayor's message -- THIS is a time for moral clarity. New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is a role model for us all. Since September 11, his leadership has been calm and decisive, and now he has dramatized the insidious nature of moral relativism by tearing up a check for $10 million.

The gift for the city from a Saudi prince was welcome. What was decidedly not welcome was the mendacious implication in his accompanying statement that the September 11 attacks were related to America's relationship with Israel.

The massacres at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in the Pennsylvania countryside cannot be explained, rationalized–still less, justified–by any supposed failing of American foreign policy. It was wicked. It was depraved. It was unconscionable. It was the work of psychopaths inflamed by an evil distortion of Islam. And now we–and the Saudis–must face the harsh fact that Saudi Arabia, a nation we have long supported, is a central disseminator of the poisonous spores of fanaticism. It is a measure of this menace that even a Saudi as educated, sophisticated, and familiar with America as Prince Alwaleed bin Talal feels he has to compromise generosity with hypocrisy. Mayor Giuliani's gutsy rejection of the prince's check forces all of us to contemplate the Saudi dimension of terror, and with it the nature of the Islamic doctrine it fosters.

Saudi Arabia is the home of a strain of Islam called Wahhabism. It is one of the most fanatical, intolerant, and extreme forms of Islamic fundamentalism. This version of Islam has been exported to many Muslim mosques in America, as well as to other Islamic centers around the world, many financed by the Saudi royal family. While crushing any extreme anti-Islamic challenges to its power at home, Saudi Arabia has sought to ensure its conservative religious credentials beyond the kingdom by supporting extremist Islamic organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood and even, indirectly, Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda.

Brainwashing centers. Saudi Arabia's actions since September 11 speak volumes about where its sympathies lie. When the FBI wanted to interview members of bin Laden's family in the United States, Saudi officials organized the evacuation of 24 members almost overnight. The Saudis have limited previous investigations into bin Laden's crimes and have refused to freeze his assets after the latest atrocity. They have refused to cooperate fully in the investigation of the hijackers, at least 10 of whom were Saudi citizens and six of whom got their visas there. The Saudis, along with Egypt, even refuse to provide Washington with lists of passengers on flights to the United States, even though most of the world's airlines furnish that information.

Saudi Arabia has provided money, religious teachers, schools, and even diplomats to help the Taliban control Afghanistan, even as bin Laden was insinuating himself into the fabric of the regime. In Pakistan, Saudi Arabia has been the principal sponsor of the Muslim fundamentalist "schools" that provide the foot soldiers for bin Laden's terrorist network. These are not schools as we understand them. They are brainwashing centers, closing–not opening–doors to enlightenment.

The long U.S.-Saudi relationship based on oil, money, and personal ties with the highest political echelons has made it possible for the kingdom to escape U.S. criticism for its corruption, totalitarianism, and violations of human rights. The suppression of economic and political modernization at home, combined with an extremist religious ideology that promises salvation through a struggle with the West, has produced thousands of young people who buy the thesis of a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West. As Osama bin Laden put it, "The world is divided into two sides . . . the side of faith and the side of the infidel."

Saudi Arabia isn't the only country in our coalition that relies on oppression and corruption. Take Egypt, a country we have given $50 billion in aid over the past 25 years. It sponsors an unending flow of vitriol and anti-U.S., anti-Israel bigotry from its universities, mosques, and government-supported media. Along with Algeria and Tunisia, Egypt forced Islamic extremists out of their homelands, and many have turned up in the West where, as Fouad Ajami put it, "they found fertile ground . . . with money and freedom to move about." Bin Laden has offered "this breed of unsettled men," in Ajami's memorable phrase, "a theology of holy terror and the means to live the plotters' life."

The plotters have three goals. The first is destabilizing Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The second is lending support to Iraq, and the last, the extermination of Israel. All three, obviously, are intimately bound up with America's role in the region, which is why the United States has become the lightning rod for extremist Muslim rage. Yes, bin Laden wants to push the clock back a few centuries and create a theocratic dictatorship. That's key to understanding the roots of his hatred of America. It runs deeper than objections to our policies and presence in the Middle East. It is hatred of modernity–of all the elements of Western civilization. The Muslim extremists resent America because it has succeeded so dramatically in an era of modernity and globalization. Israel is regarded with the same jealous fury, and would have been so regarded even if it had been a Christian country with similar attributes of success. The neighboring Arab and Muslim states are almost all failed states with average per capita incomes that run 5 to 10 percent of Israel's and are falling even further behind. Out of the same desert, Israel has created a modern, high-tech society, with a thriving economy, a rich cultural life, and a healthy democracy.

(The American administration, in its pursuit of alliances, has unfortunately excluded Israel from any public role in the global war against terrorism, despite Israel's longtime, front-line fight against terrorism. Indeed, the State Department has compromised its integrity by not including Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad on the list of terrorist organizations and by suggesting that the terror against Israelis is not in the same category as the terror against Americans, when all terror is equally evil.)

Freedoms. Professor Bernard Lewis, the pre-eminent historian of Islam, gives us the right perspective on the deep nature of the psychological struggle in which we are now engaged. In his discussion of the historical humiliations of the Muslims, he writes: "In the last three centuries, the West has dominated and enfeebled the Islamic world, which previously had thought of itself as more powerful and more advanced economically and intellectually." So the Muslim suffers "the undermining of his authority in his own country through the invasion of foreign ideas and laws, of ways of life . . . and finally the challenge to the mastery of his own house through emancipated women and rebellious children." They resent the fact that the ability of their traditional patriarchal societies to control their family and their clans was undermined by powerful outside influences, like social mobility and what we call freedom. President Bush put it well when he spoke to Congress: "They hate what they see right here in this chamber, a democratically elected government . . . They hate our freedoms, our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other."

America, then, has become the symbol of the domination of the infidel over the true believers, crusaders to be expelled from Islamic holy places and Islamic lands, and to be attacked until their will is weakened, leading to their withdrawal from the Muslim world.

Their terrorists' hope is that the regimes in Cairo and Riyadh would fail if only the Americans were made to leave. So they attacked the American presence in the gulf when they blew up the USS Cole and attacked the American alliance with Saudi Arabia when they destroyed American military barracks. When neither earned the appropriate retaliation from the United States, they were emboldened to attack America more directly.

Why? To avenge the historical humiliation of having been overtaken and overwhelmed by those they regard as inferiors. These extremists listen to those who say the old Islamic ways were best, that they should return to the true path of G-d to recover their dignity and their honor. But their resorting to violence represents a tragic misapprehension of that message.

Terror and joy. President Bush and his aides have made it clear that the coalition they are forming is against terrorism and not against Muslims and Arabs. That's why they have courted the leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and even Yasser Arafat. But they are, in Fouad Ajami's words, "allies in the shadows, but in broad daylight the rulers will for the most part keep their distance," because they know that in their streets, anti-Americanism is running rampant and the terrorist attacks on America have brought satisfaction, even joy. Which is precisely why Arafat shut down the media that took video pictures of the Palestinians exulting and dancing on September 11.

While America must be prudent about these alliances, they are perfectly legitimate to embrace for the moment. After the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, Winston Churchill, that arch-anti-Bolshevist, quipped that if Hitler invaded Hell, he would at least make a favorable reference to the devil. But we must all remember that if we sup with the devil, we should use a long spoon.

These alliances should not be structured in a way as to preclude the United States from going after the terrorist networks in these other countries, once we get rid of the al Qaeda network, which must be our first priority. But these countries will have to be reviewed carefully and continuously to see if they understand the need to draw the line between the terrorist and those who harbor them, and the rest of the world. In the interim, Washington must be unrelenting in its pressure if these states continue to nurture terrorism and foment anti-American violence.

Sooner or later, America will have to do what Rudy Giuliani did in New York, that is, label those countries and their leaders for what they really are, and respond accordingly with decisive action. As with the overwhelmingly positive response to Giuliani's decision to hand back the check to the Saudi prince, America will respond to strong and clear leadership that rejects compromise with terrorism anywhere, including those who try to rationalize their terror.

Lastly, we should encourage our leaders to take more firm and imaginative action to protect the nation. Partisanship has reared its head again in Congress over federalizing air security. Tom Ridge, our new homeland protection czar, has been given too few powers. Enough! What we need now is the kind of clear-sighted vision displayed by Giuliani at what is obviously just the beginning of a long national struggle.

JWR contributor Mort Zuckerman is editor-in-chief and publisher of U.S. News and World Report. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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© 2001, Mortimer Zuckerman