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Jewish World Review Oct. 30, 2001 / 13 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Julia Gorin

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The Importance of Being Focused -- IF ONLY they'd stayed focused

IF only they'd stuck to just killing Jews (a.k.a. Israelis), to keeping it about the land, about the Palestinians, about some foggy injustice-they'd still have the world going. But no. They had to go into a Christian church during Sunday services in southern Punjab, Pakistan, shooting at men, women and children. And shooting themselves in the foot.

People can't help what they are, and they'll show the world again and again, no matter how bent it may be on deceiving itself.

It's sort of like the Clintons. All they had to do was stick to sleeping around, compromising national security, and undermining American independence. But no. They had to go and steal the toaster, finally alienating the people who didn't understand about the other stuff.

Last year Palestinians were closer than they'd been since 1948 to their alleged goal of acquiring territories to eventually form their own state. Among rational humanity, such progress reinforces good behavior and is usually cause to be pacified and continue on the same track that reaped such reward. Instead, the Arabs lost it over Temple Mount, and all talks broke down.

The year before, militant Muslims in Yugoslavia were able to pass themselves off as hapless unfortunates being targeted for brutality by a Christian Serb government. So the world stepped in to help further balkanize the Balkans, and get the alleged unfortunates the piece of land they were after. And no one would have been the wiser. But again, they couldn't let well enough alone. Even with international armed peacekeepers sent in on their behalf, they had to go about shooting elderly Serb couples, Serb farmers, and other random Serbs.

And even then, we were happy to make up new vocabulary to validate what they were doing. We came up with the term "revenge killings." (Not to be confused with "hate crimes," which we reserve for Western democracies like ourselves. Because when it's rare, when it's the exception contrary to the rule, when it's aberrant rather than characteristic of a population, there must be a more insidious, sinister societal root for it.)

So they set to shooting at the peacekeepers, and invading Macedonia.

Even after they took another risk and attacked the U.S. last month, they were winning the war over here, with many Americans contriving that the attack had something to do with our foreign policy and overall Western "arrogance," and our scholars analyzing airplanes crashing into buildings as if it were some legitimate form of political expression, and our Associated Press abstaining from calling the perpetrators "terrorists."

But they kept on, and this week are forcing the world to ask what a tiny Pakistani Christian community has to do with U.S. action against neighboring Afghanistan.

Articles detailing the attack on the Pakistani church state that it is "unclear" whether the incident was related to the U.S. air strikes on Afghanistan. It is and it isn't, the only relation being that U.S. retaliation provides an excuse for more violence. They want to take over the world one way or the other, and if you give them a reason to expedite their mission, they'll take it. And we'll call it a "response" or "reaction" to something to make it all fit together somehow.

But we're connecting the wrong dots. And we're doing it because rationality yearns to make sense of our fellow man. When faced with atrocity and savagery in the modern world, when faced with the unspeakable, the mind scrambles to find some coherent context for it, to find a cause for the effect. It's like a defense mechanism trying to make a compartment in the brain for something the brain wants to reject. For the benefit of the barbarians, then, we've been connecting unrelated dots. While the more glaring dots, coming at us from everywhere like meteorites and hitting us over the head every day, we choose to leave unconnected, keeping the bigger picture unformed because we're too scared to look at it.

We're trying to make sense of the shapes that emerge from the lines we've connected, but it all comes out like some abstract modern art which you can't make heads or tails of and which lends itself to wildly varying interpretations. Meanwhile, we're missing the very tangible, traditional and specific painting hanging next to the abstract images, which paints a very clear picture.

Just last week we decided to not notice when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek inadvertently pulverized one line of our connected dots. He expressed satisfaction at what is happening, calling it progress because at least now bin Laden is talking about the Palestinians--which he hadn't been before. (So much for arguments rationalizing the September attack with our support of Israel.)

The world was even happy to fool itself into thinking that only radical Islam is responsible, those fringe extremists who are Islam's exceptions. But Islamic self-sabotage wouldn't have it, and while some danced in the streets, many other "ordinary" Muslims explained the militants' deeds in the context of political protest, thereby painting themselves with the same brush. Spurring journalists to look into the Koran for the first time ever to discover that the violence is not an exception but a dictate of Islam itself, the Islamic world is single-handedly attaching negative associations to the very religion of Islam and the mere identity as a Muslim-something which an enlightened world has to be literally dragged kicking and screaming into swallowing.

They have the sympathetic ignorance of the world on their side every time, and every time they persist in educating it. Perhaps they're rightly counting on the world's stronger persistence to stay ignorant, so that it comes down to a test of wills. After everything, they're asking that attacks cease during Ramadan, in the holy month of November-and we're taking the request seriously. Even though neither Ramadan nor Yom Kippur has kept them from attacking their own and others.

Perhaps it isn't self-sabotage after all. Maybe they're smarter than the rest of us. Day after day, incident after blatant incident, they've seen what they can get away with, they've seen their bad behavior be rewarded. It is up to us to determine whether they have in fact finally sabotaged themselves, or whether we will allow our coveted ignorance and reluctance to believe what we see to sabotage us.

JWR contributor Julia Gorin is a journalist and stand-up comic residing in Manhattan. Send your comments by clicking here.

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© 2001, Julia Gorin