In the aftermath of Sept. 11, it seemed as if most of us were finally awake to the fact that Islamic fundamentalists had been engaged in a war against the West for years.
The result of this awakening brought about an American counter-offensive that knocked off the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, ended Saddam Hussein's reign in Iraq, and generated a wave of pressure that threatens to create bridgeheads for democracy in the Arab Middle East.
On the negative side of the post-9/11 ledger is the clear fact that much of our response has created new problems and failed to solve some old ones.
A new Department of Homeland Security and a change in the federal intelligence hierarchy was supposed to make us more secure, but other than making air travel more onerous it isn't clear that these reorganization plans have actually made that much of a difference.
Elsewhere, the conflict in Iraq may eventually turn out to be a turning point in the history of the Middle East. But the slow and painful pace of the counter-insurgency war has made it a natural focus of discontent, both domestically and internationally.
Most of all, with the passage of time, many Americans seem to have forgotten what all this fuss was about in the first place.
While complaints about the administration's mistakes in carrying out the war are often justified, the obsessive focus on one side of the equation makes it seem as if we are shadow-boxing with ourselves and not locked in a death struggle with a vicious foe.
But as dozens of London travelers learned last week, the war Islamists are waging against us was not hatched in the fevered imagination of Karl Rove. So before we all slide back into a post-London torpor, it is worthwhile to recapitulate a few important points by asking ourselves a few questions:
Are the attacks on the West the result of support for Israel?
The ideological basis for anti-Western jihad long predates the birth of the State of Israel, let alone the 1967 Six-Day War and the presence of Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza.
Islamists, as do most Muslims, deeply resent the ability of a despised minority like the Jews – in Islamic terminology, a dhimmi people – to establish a non-Islamic sovereign state in the Middle East. But what they really resent, and what their jihadist ideology is bent on reversing is the change in the balance of power between the Muslim world and the West, which dates back hundreds of years.
Isn't terror directed at Israeli targets – such as this week's bombing in Netanya – fundamentally different from those in New York, Madrid and London?
The reluctance of many media outlets to include Arab attacks directed at Israel in lists of international terror incidents attempts to create a false dichotomy between the American and British or Spanish blood shed by terrorists and the Jewish blood spilled in Israel. To maintain such a distinction is to assert that Israelis are somehow guilty while others are innocent. But those murdered on Israeli buses are just as innocent as those slain in London.
If there is any nation that is innocent in this recent terror war, it is Israel. No other nation in the world has ever made the sort of concessions in territory that Israel has given to the Palestinians in the 12 years since the signing of the Oslo accords. Instead of trading land for peace, it has exchanged land for terror.
If anything, Israel's futile quest to appease Arab ambitions ought to be a reminder to the West that similar attempts to mollify Islamic extremists – including the abandonment of Israel that so many in Europe desire – will not spare them.
Hasn't the focus on Islamic extremists living in the United States and Britain unfairly tarred all Muslims, and done more harm than good?
Though the overwhelming majority of Muslims are not Islamists, Muslim communities in the West have sheltered these extremists, and often given them leadership positions. Groups that purport to speak for Arabs and Muslims were slow to purge these people from their ranks, and even now, still make dangerous rationalizations for terrorism, both in Israel and elsewhere. The Justice Department's post-Sept. 11 probes of domestic terror supporters were long overdue, and should not be hamstrung by a foolish sympathy for those seeking to destroy us.
Attempts to overturn the Patriot Act or to change the subject from the ability of the terrorists to hide in plain sight to the supposed tyrannical nature of the investigations are a harmful distraction from the real danger that faces us. Discrimination against Arabs and Muslims is not merely wrong. It is also the exception – not the rule in American society – and rarely goes unpunished.
The problem remains the vulnerability of Muslims and Arabs to Islamism, as well as the refusal of too many of them to unequivocally condemn terror and to support counterterror measures, not the government's halting efforts to catch the terrorists and their supporters.
Is there a link between the rise of international anti-Semitism and the upsurge in fundamentalist Islamic terror?
The explosion of Jew-hatred in Europe has dovetailed with the growth in immigrant Muslim populations there as the Arab world has become a net exporter of anti-Semitism. Anti-Jewish conspiracy-theory mongers are the same people who provide the support and infrastructure for the terrorists. Separating the two is impossible.
Can the spread of democracy in the Middle East have an effect on the war against the Islamists?
That is a question that only the history of the coming decades will conclusively answer.
Skeptics rightly claim that if Arab countries were democracies rather than autocratic tyrannies, Islamists, not liberal democrats, would win. But liberalization of the Islamic world, and the eradication of regimes that use hatred of Israel and the West to control the rage of their subjugated peoples, is the only possible way to change the culture of hate that animates the terrorists and their supporters.
Concessions by Israel or the West will not end the jihadist dream. The transformation of the Arab and Islamic world into one where freedom – rather than fundamentalism – rules may seem like a fantasy. Without it, this war on Islamist terror will go on without end.
Jonathan S. Tobin is reachable via e-mail at: [email protected]