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Jewish World Review Sept. 28, 2001/ 11 Tishrei 5761

Suzanne Fields

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The fascist face of Islamic fanaticism -- If Israel didn't exist, the terrorists would still hate America. The twin towers of the World Trade Center were not symbols of Zionism, but of modernity. They celebrated the aspirations of free men and women of all classes and attitudes, multicultural in the best sense.

There were many differences among the people who went to work every morning in the offices, shops and restaurants of the World Trade Center, but it was no Tower of Babel. They spoke the same language of civil commerce, a common bond linking them in diversity and the sharing of ideals.

They rode elevators not to heaven (it sometimes seemed they would go that far) but to secular possibility and it was that possibility the terrorists hated. They hated the Western values that gave light both inside and outside the towers, even the windows with their breathtaking vistas on what free men could achieve.

Christopher Hitchens, a card-carrying liberal (he wouldn't quarrel with "leftist'') takes to task the anti-Zionists whom he calls "worthy comrades'' who rationalize terror as just "so many chickens coming home to roost.'' He finds this a pernicious argument of moral equivalence that suggests that those who support Israel are just as bad as the supporters of the terrorists. It's a fashionable argument in certain circles.

"But the bombers of Manhattan represent fascism with an Islamic face, and there's no point in any euphemism about it,'' he writes in the Nation magazine. "What they abominate about 'the West,' to put it in a phrase, is not what Western liberals don't like and can't defend about their own system, but what they do like about it and must defend: Its emancipated women, its scientific inquiry, its separation of religion from the state.''

I abhor most comparisons with the Nazis, which are nearly always far-fetched, but the many similarities between the Islamic fanatics and the Nazis are real and palpable. But this time it's America and the entire Western tradition rather than the Jews who are the targets of annihilation. Just as Hitler counted on the disorder of war to distract the rest of the world from noticing the extermination of the Jews, Osama bin Laden and his evil cult of terrorists counted on the disorder in Palestine to distract attention from the real agenda. And for a while, it did.

Like the death camps of the Nazis, the elaborate and massive organizational machinery for the attack on innocent people remains unfathomable to sane minds. David Ivry, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, made this point to me in an interview the other day. I asked how the Israeli intelligence services, reputed to be the best in the world with their encyclopedic knowledge of what's going on in the Middle East, could miss the clues that the planning for Sept. 11 must have suggested.

"We share all kinds of warnings but did not see the use of airplanes as bombs,'' the ambassador, once a combat pilot himself, said. "This has not been in the imagination of anyone. This is madness.''

That is precisely how much of the world reacted to the first early warnings of the Holocaust six decades ago. It was not in the imagination of anyone to see millions of innocent men and women and even children gassed and pushed into ovens. It was madness. "Once you have a terror that is directed against women, children, shopping malls, bus stations, train stations, schools,'' said Mr. Ivry, "once you're open to this type of terror, you're going to pay a price, and another price, and another price.''

Just as the Jews were a symbol of modernism to the Nazis, America is a symbol of the modern to Islamic fanatics. The terrorists call Israel "the little Satan'' because the Jews are too small to carry the weight of heavier symbolism. Hence America is the "Great Satan.''

America represents in a towering way everything these fanatics seek to annihilate. We are the red, white and blue flag in the face of an angry bull. That's why the flag has suddenly become so important to Americans since Sept. 11.

In that same issue of Nation magazine, Katha Pollitt reveals that she doesn't quite get it. She describes an argument she had with her daughter, who came home from school just a few blocks away from World Trade Center and wanted to hang out an American flag.

"Definitely not,'' her mother told her. "The flag stands for jingoism and vengeance and war.'' Her daughter disagreed: "The flag means standing together and honoring the dead and saying no to terrorism.''

This time the mother ought to listen to the child, because this time that flag says something else, loud and clear: "Never again.''

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© 2001, Suzanne Fields. TMS