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Jewish World Review Oct. 16, 2001 /29 Tishrei, 5762

Diana West

Diana West
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Whose definition of terrorism? -- EARLY last month, about a million years ago, the United States and Israel turned their backs on the international community and walked out on a United Nations conference on racism in Durban. Remember why? As Secretary of State Colin Powell crisply explained at the time, "You do not combat racism [with a conference] ... that singles out only one country in the world, Israel, for censure and abuse."

Those, of course, were the good old days, back before our nation had to acknowledge how much 6,000 people, two hundred stories, five rings and four airplanes meant to its peace and well-being. In retrospect, washing our hands of Durban's rising bile came naturally enough, an expression of high principle rather than high emotion. In other words, it was pretty easy back then to behave well. As far the United States was concerned, it was still a war of words, not deeds. No more. Now, as our government tries to stitch together a wide-ranging, international coalition against terrorism, we find ourselves seeking common ground -- some ground, any ground -- with many of the same states that only weeks ago we left in our diplomatic dust. And it turns out, those same states, largely members of the Arab and Muslim world, are slandering Israel again, this time not regarding such old saws as "racism" or "colonialism," but on the dire topic of terrorism.

It sounds fantastic. But having left the international coalition wide open to any country "committed" to ending terrorism, the United States has left something else wide open: the definition of terrorism itself. As a result, Arab and Muslim leaders have cranked up a massive disinformation campaign to depict Israel -- war-weary, terror-targeted Israel -- as a fountainhead of "terrorism" second only, perhaps, to Osama bin Laden.

First, there is the name-calling. From Mecca's Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia, Islam's most sacred mosque, Sheik Saleh bin Hamid declared his support for an international coalition to fight terrorism -- citing Israel as "a living example of terrorism in practice." Yasser Arafat, one of the great charlatans of modern times, briefly displaced his suicide-bombing countrymen in the news this week to "demand" that the nations of the world stop Israeli "terrorism." Meanwhile, in mostly Muslim Malaysia, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad offered to support the international coalition if only the United States and Britain would pick their terrorist-targets better: "I would support them," he said, "if they wanted to take action against Israel." Acting on the counsel of Messrs. bin Hamid, Arafat and Mohamad might not do much to end the threat of terrorism as we know it, but it would obviously do wonders for keeping that "international coalition" together.

Second, there is the "debate" about the "meaning" of terrorism. At a recent summit in Qatar, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the world's largest Muslim body, came up with an utterly baseless distinction between blowing up American civilians and blowing up Israeli civilians by condemning the former as "terrorism" and hailing the latter as "national resistance." Enlarging on this same theme, Syria, a state-sponsor of terrorism if ever there was one, joined with "moderate" Jordan to condemn "terrorism in all its forms"-- except, of course, pizza-parlor bombings in Tel Aviv and other examples of "the resistance of the Palestinian people." The Jerusalem Post picked up on this working definition of terrorism from the state-run Syria Times: "Terrorists are those [forces] of evil that violate human rights and kill innocent people." Sounds reasonable, right? Just wait: "They are not only the terrorists of New York and Washington," the Syrian newspaper editorial continued, "they are also the Israeli occupation troops that kill defenseless Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Bring them all to justice." Good thing Syria just won a seat on the U.N. Security Council.

The fact is, Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban won't be -- at least, shouldn't be -- our sole objective forever. The global terrorists that threaten the democracies are a far larger and more complex enemy. By our government policy, though, we have chosen to avert our eyes from crucial links in the Islamist terror network including Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad -- those vaunted "resistance" fighters of the Arab and Muslim world who still aren't on the list of groups whose assets we have frozen. Could it be that we have accepted a morally and expressively deficient definition of "terrorism" in order to fight terrorism? The stakes are higher now than they were in Durban, but the principle is the same. And what principle -- what purpose -- is served if it turns out that our objective -- defeating terrorism -- has been rendered literally meaningless?

JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


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07/13/01: Justice has not been served in the Loiuma police brutality case
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06/22/01: When "viewpoint discrimination" in our schools was not nearly so gnarly a notion
06/15/01: Lieberman flaunts mantle of perpetual aggrievement
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05/29/01: Campus liberals should be more careful
05/18/01: 'Honest Bill' Clinton and other Ratheresian Logic
05/11/01: Dodging balls, Bugs, and 'brilliance'
05/04/01: Foot in mouth disease and little lost Tories
04/20/01:The last classic Clinton cover-up
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04/06/01: For heaven's sake, a little decency!
03/30/01: The sweet sound of slamming doors and clucking feminists
03/23/01: America's magazines and the 'ick-factor'
03/09/01: Felony neglect
03/02/01: Who's sorry now?
02/23/01: 'Ecumenical niceness' and other latter-day American gifts to the world
02/16/01: Elton and Eminem: Royal dirge-icist meets violent fantasist
02/12/01: If only ...

© 2001, Diana West