With the gruesome attacks last week in Paris, Islamic terrorism once again announced itself as one of the foremost cancers facing our world today. Led by a phalanx of world leaders, three and a half million people marched throughout France in a mass call for an end to extremist Islamic violence and in solidarity with its most recent victims.
And yet we’re still at a loss as to how to fix this. World leaders lack a clear strategy and dance around the key issues, unable to confront them. There’s a lot we’re getting wrong but I’ll focus here on one crucial error.
As we have seen countless times with terrorism: instead of calling it the pure and inexplicable evil that it truly is, people instead seek to excuse it. They may not go as far as justifying an attack, but they’ll try and explain it away and find someone besides the terrorists to blame. They come up with some provocation that elicited the terrorist response and call for its elimination.
Just yesterday, I made an appearance on Don Lemon’s show on CNN to discuss the Paris attacks alongside Rula Jebreal, an Israeli-Arab journalist and writer. Rula and I have debated on television before. She began by saying that “Iraq, Syria, Palestine—these were the most secular places in the Middle East. The most secular, until 2003.” And then it came: she slowly introduced her blame-someone-else’s-policies approach to terrorism. “We see the rise of these extremists” she said, “and they’re connecting to certain policies.” Which policies might she be talking about?
Obviously, Israel. She went on:
“But I want to tell the Rabbi, this is really something that we learned from Selma, as you mentioned, when you uphold the supremacy of one ethnic group, this is not a democracy anymore, this is an ethnocracy. We need to reject that whether it’s in Europe, in Israel, or here in America. We can’t have segregation as an answer. It’s inclusion and unity.”
She tried to ease Israel into the equation by sandwiching it comfortably between references to Europe and the United States. But her real point was clear. Bringing up terrorism and going straight into accusations of ethnocracy is an outrageous accusation that is meant to target only one country: Israel.
Rula’s completely wrong and I made sure to point that out. I responded: “Israel has 1.5 million Arab citizens [20% of Israel’s population], there is no segregation, and we all know that.” Israeli Arab citizens have more rights than Arabs anywhere in the Middle East and live in full equality with their Jewish counterparts, serving in the Knesset, the Supreme Court, in all professions, and as a significant part of every Israeli University.
I continued: “With all due respect, Rula, you’re excusing violence and that’s very tragic. When you start bringing up that Israel’s policy, ‘It’s terrible that [Palestinians] are being targeted, Israel has to stop the segregation, etc.’ Let’s stop the nonsense. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. You are a Palestinian woman who has Israeli citizenship. You are allowed freedom of expression. No one tells you who to fall in love with, you don’t get shot by your uncle or by your brother because you fall in love with somebody your father doesn’t approve of. You live a Western life. You live with the kind of human rights that Israel protects.”
As for those who live in the West Bank, 97% live under the rule of the Palestinian Authority, where they could have enjoyed democratic rights had Arafat and Abbas not imprisoned them with a repressive autocracy. This week marks the tenth anniversary of the presidency of Mahmoud Abbas, even though his term ended in 2009. He rules as a dictator and has ended all elections.
On the contrary, Israel is the only country in the entire region where the population enjoys full and uninhibited democratic freedoms along with religious and gender equality. As an Arab woman with Israeli Citizenship, Rula Jebreal should be the first to know that. Sadly, with regard to Israel’s critics, such hypocrisy and misinformation is nothing new.
But be that as it may — what was the connection? Seventeen innocent people were slaughtered by terrorist monsters, and then a reference to Israeli Policy? There was only one way to understand this. Israel has experienced more attacks like this than any other nation, and Rula Jebreal wants to lay the blame for such terror squarely on an external provocation; in this case, it’s Israeli policy.
But it’s not just not her. After Charlie Hebdo was firebombed in 2011, the White House found fault not just in the violent arsonists who nearly burned journalists alive, but in the magazine as well. Speaking in the name of our commander-in-chief, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that while the Administration of course supports free speech and does not justify these attacks, Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon depictions of Muhammad were “deeply offensive to many and [had] the potential to be inflammatory.” “Obviously,” he said, “we have questions about the judgment of publishing something like this.”
When terrorists actually did manage to kill Charlie Hebdo’s journalists this past week, I expected the Administration to exercise better “judgment” in how it responded to the blatant attack on our freedom of speech. Sadly, I was mistaken. The White House Press office advised newspaper editors to hold back anything that might provoke any further attacks.
Referring to “the responsibilities that go along with exercising the right to freedom of speech” Press Secretary Josh Earnest told newspaper editors to consider the “safety and security of our men and women in uniform” before republishing any of Charlie Hebdo’s Muhammad cartoons.
Now, I am a man of faith. I deeply respect my Muslim brothers and sisters and the Islamic religion. I see no need to gratuitously insult someone else’s faith. But calls for restraint cannot be done out of fear. We cannot ever capitulate to terrorists who wish to destroy our values and way of life.
Of course, he made sure to point our that non of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons justified the violence. But he confused the issue and hinted that incitement could be one of its causes. And when you place something as a cause for violence, you’re affording it some measure of blame. With such brutal acts as the one’s we’ve recently seen, it might have been more prudent for the United States to announce its outrage at the violence and our determination to root it out. Instead, we offer this muddled message of not offering provocations. In doing so, we risk handing thugs and murderers even the small victory they seek in their blood-soaked endeavors.
When it comes to blaming the victims of terror, however, it is Jimmy Carter who takes the prize. Appearing on the Daily Show Monday night, the man who’s been calling for the United States to negotiate with the Genocidal Terrorists of Hamas decided to share his thoughts on the causes behind the Charlie Hebdo massacre. He couldn’t help but list the “Palestinian problem” as one of the causes of the Islamic terror. The situation, he said, “aggravates people who are affiliated in any way with the Arab people who live in the West Bank and Gaza…what’s being done to them.” As four innocent Jews slaughtered in cold blood were laid to rest in Israel, a former President of the United States had the gall to point a finger at the Jewish state, just as was done by the Malian terrorist behind the massacre.
Mr. Carter. Four Jews buying bread in a kosher super market before the Sabbath are utterly unrelated to Israeli policy, be it good or bad. Do you seriously not know that?
Terrorism is evil. Period. It has no legitimate explanation. It has no legitimate rationalization. And, most importantly, it has no legitimate provocation. There is nothing that can bring one to target and spill the blood of innocents other than an utter corruption of the heart and a total blackness of the soul.
Pointing toward some external factor only evens out the blame, unwittingly or knowingly indicting the victims. The cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo did absolutely nothing to deserve their murder and there is nothing they need to change to stop terror. Israel does nothing to incite death upon innocent Jews around the world, and there is nothing it needs to change to stop terror.
It is terror itself that must be stopped — plain and simple.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbis,” whom Newsweek and The Washington Post call “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the author of “Judaism for Everyone” and 30 other books, including his most recent, “Kosher Lust.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.