Let me state what is painfully obvious. Despite our most hopeful illusions, people are not really good, nor do they really practice peace. While power corrupts, absolute powerlessness corrupts absolutely, and there is no safe place, neither high nor low, for the most vulnerable of our citizens.
The world is always at war. People fight – it’s what we do. We quarrel, often in deadly ways, with other family members, and we fight bitter, brutal battles with anyone who is “different” in terms of gender, class, race, ethnicity, tribe, religion, and ideology. The planet is perpetually plagued by civil and national wars. Not to be outdone, persecuted peoples internalize the prejudice and hatred leveled against them and unleash it against others like themselves.
Despite what has been learned about the Holocaust, genocide has since become commonplace; it advances with arrogant impunity and is neither stopped nor punished by the international community. Rape – including repeated, public gang-rape – has become a calculated weapon of war. It is no longer (merely) a spoil of war to which drunken, woman-hating soldiers feel entitled.
Even so, world wars, especially those that may involve nuclear weapons, outclass (so to speak) this chronic buzz of destruction. We are poised on the precipice of just such a moment. Yeats’s “rough beast” is Islamic fundamentalism and it literally “slouches towards Bethlehem,” intent on destroying Judeo-Christian civilization.
The Muslim world has, by and large, been judenrein for quite some time. It has also become increasingly Islamified. The Egyptian dissident Tarek Heggy recently wrote to me about a visit to his hometown of Port Said. Now, he said, “women are everywhere sheeted and hate blares from every mosque around the clock.” Gone are the Jews and the Christians and the non-religious Muslims; gone is the cosmopolitan splendor of the colonial-era Islamic East.
The Taliban and Taliban-like ways continue to plague the girls and women of Afghanistan. Al Qaeda continues to morph and everywhere remains at large – though the battle is joined in Iraq. Bin Laden continues his career in global video-production from some cave or rat-hole in No Man’s Land along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Iran continues to call for the extermination of the Jewish state – and its president is welcomed by the United Nations and Columbia University.
The Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, against whom Al Qaeda has issued a death warrant, has been informed by his government that he is no longer safe in his home or his country. Ayaan Hirsi Ali had to flee Holland; the late, great Oriana Fallaci fled her native Italy; I have dear friends trying to leave England, France, and Germany, and others documenting the mounting tide of Jew- and America-hatred among European Muslims.
(At the same time, I know many Muslim dissidents who have found safer refuge in Europe and many Muslim feminists who are trying to rescue women from being battered, mutilated, and murdered on European soil).
Still, America and Israel remain the world’s last best hopes. American forces continue to engage the enemy in Afghanistan and Iraq. On September 6, Israel apparently bombed nuclear weapons in Syria that were acquired from North Korea or Iran. For once, the Israelis are neither denying nor admitting anything – nor are the Syrians.
More: As former ambassador Yoram Ettinger pointed out in a lecture at my synagogue, Israel’s economy during this last, awful period of permanent intifada actually surged forward. And the demographic statistics have been greatly misunderstood: based on Ettinger’s research, “the Jewish-Arab fertility gap has been reduced to one child (down from a six-children gap in the 1960’s.”
Like Nobel Laureate Professor Robert (Yisrael) Aumann, about whom I have written before, Ambassador Ettinger is urging that we look at the larger picture, examine the infrastructure, be prepared for the long haul.
Still, I remain distressed and uneasy, not only because the lives of both soldiers and civilians are being lost but because so many educated Americans continue to deny that we are really at war and that fundamentalist Islam (not merely terrorism) remains our Number One clear and present danger.
Too many Americans are clinging to their illusions for dear life.
Fall has come early this year and it is a soft and beautiful one here in New York. Construction is booming, huge new skyscrapers appear almost overnight, the long-awaited Second Avenue subway line is being dug out of the concrete. New Yorkers seem to be enjoying the weather, lingering at outdoor cafes, walking down streets and through parks, enjoying all the rich cultural offerings that characterize this capital of the world.