Jewish World Review May 7, 2002 / 25 Iyar, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Two things that happened last September are key to what happens from here on out -- and both incidents occurred after Sept. 11.
First: On Sept. 23, 2001, Hamas supporters at a Palestinian university marked the anniversary of the year-old return to war against Israel with an exhibition celebrating terrorism. Highlights included an installation re-creating the lunch-time attack on a Jerusalem pizza parlor, killing 15, which came complete with body-part props, fake pizza slices and a black-masked "bomber" who obliged passing spectators by setting off play-explosions. Another tableau featured a mannequin dressed in the garb of a fervently-Orthodox Jew standing behind a large rock -- a large TALKING rock -- that said, "O believer, there is a Jewish man behind me. Come and kill him."
In other words, this was a real West-Bank crowd-pleaser. But while the show may have gone over in Nablus like Monet at the Met, it repelled the West -- at least the small segment that actually got wind of it. Despite relatively scant coverage, the genuine revulsion generated by this exhibition indicates that two weeks into the new age of terror, a celebration of civilian carnage, whether in New York or Jerusalem, was still shocking in the extreme and utterly incomprehensible.
Second: A few days later, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi remarked that the West -- at that point still definable by its unmitigated outrage over terrorist attacks great and small -- should take heart from a demonstrable superiority to Islamic society.
"We should be confident of the superiority of our civilization," Berlusconi said, because "it consists of a value system that has given people widespread prosperity in those countries that embrace it, and guarantees respect for human rights and religion." Such respect, he continued, "certainly does not exist in Islamic countries."
Judging by the widespread outrage Berlusconi sparked -- outrage emanating from the highest government levels in Europe and burning beyond the West -- he, too, had defined an outer limit of acceptable behavior. The Italian leader may have been addressing himself to the new world of Islamist terror, but he was also speaking in the old era of multiculturalism, where openly boosting representative democracy over repressive theocracy and dictatorships was also shocking in the extreme and utterly incomprehensible.
And now? To be sure, there have been no more Berlusconi-style bloopers. The assault on the West by radical Islam is more or less depicted as a security issue, not the "clash of civilizations" that it is. The open glorification of terrorism throughout the Islamic world, however, has only grown more brazen. While Westerners still wouldn't line up alongside Palestinians to see the exploding pizza-parlor exhibit, it's fair to say that many in the West, Europe especially, have become strangely numb to terrorism, particularly as practiced against Israel, and have even embarked upon a barbarous process of rationalization that seemed unimaginable just seven months ago. Back then, a chamber of horrors like the Hamas terror show would still end a debate, not -- now that the shock is over -- open one.
What accounts for the change? The answer may lie closer to the spontaneous chorus of enlightened disgust that greeted Berlusconi's affirmation of Western civilization than to a newfound affinity for terrorism itself. Writing in The Times of London, Mick Hume makes a point along these lines by describing the "anti-Israel turn in Western opinion" as a "symptom of the West's loss of conviction in itself." This is a profoundly important observation. As Hume -- a self-described Palestinian sympathizer, by the way -- goes on to explain, "In the eyes of many today, Israel's crime is to be the most forceful expression of Western values. The Israeli state is seen as a beachhead of Western civilization in a hostile world.
"That used to be its greatest asset," he continues. "Today, however, Western civilization has fallen into disrepute even within its own heartlands, and Israel's image has suffered accordingly."
For decades now, the relativist school of thought known as multiculturalism has been pushing Western civilization into disrepute. Maybe it has finally fallen. Something has shifted, certainly, reshaping the global topography to the point where most of what counts as the free world now gravitates toward the repressive forces of terror that surround a vibrant democratic society engaging, however fiercely, in self-defense.
That just might make this, then, the penultimate triumph of multiculturalism. In other words, don't count on the battle ending at Israel's borders, wherever they ultimately lie.
"A global consensus against Israel has taken shape among all those who hate the values of Western society," Hume writes.
What we didn't fully realize in September was how much of Western society that also includes. Which doesn't, needless to say, bode too well for the rest of us.
JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.