Jim Lehrer's Oct. 11 debate question about "hate crimes laws'' flew out of left -- I do mean left -- field and straight at the head of George W. Bush. It afforded Al the chance to posture and shine his rind for fans of this unprepossessing approach to political correctness.
Jim, esteemed ex-editor of mine, you ought to have known better. But on the next day, oddly enough, the question began to take on international relevance. A startled world got to see what real hate crimes look like.
They look like the wholly unprovoked assault by seething, wild-eyed Palestinian mobs on three Israeli reservists, whom members of the merciless mob beat and stabbed to death.
A still bloodier example: the murder of 17 American sailors in a terrorist attack on a U.S. naval vessel, the Cole.
The so-called peace process presided over by the United States rests on the assumption that desire, or at any rate, willingness for peace burns in the breasts of both contending parties. Last week's events expose the barren and naive quality of that assumption.
There are various preconditions for peace in the Middle East. Not the least or lightest of them, it would seem, is for Palestinians and other Arabs to stop hating Israelis. What's it going to take for that to happen? Hate crimes legislation endorsed by Al Gore and enacted by the United Nations? And enforced how? Hmmm?
The conviction burrows deeper than ever before into the consciousness of those who have watched the Middle East for a long time: The region doesn't teem with innocent lambs. Palestinians will object that since the current violence began, Palestinian casualties have vastly exceeded Israeli casualties. Fair enough. It is equally fair to note that if Palestinian mobs had abstained from throwing rocks at the police, no shots would ever have been fired.
There is this, moreover: How many Palestinian policemen have enraged Israeli mobs beaten and stabbed to death? How many Syrian or Egyptian ships have Israeli suicide crews sought to blow up? An aptitude for suicidal behavior is among the more disquieting traits of the Palestinian radicals. It calls to mind imperial Japan's kamikaze pilots, hurling themselves at American ships, knowing they themselves were to die -- not caring a rap, doing it for ... the greater glory of something.
A culture that breeds this kind of fanaticism and moral lunacy -- as imperial Japan bred it, along with death marches, beheadings of prisoners, and so on -- is a culture that, at the very least, you want to approach with some wariness. You can't tell when, like a mad dog, it will turn and bite. Certainly the sailors of the Cole couldn't have known they were about to be bitten.
The goal we Westerners seek for the Middle East is ... peace? What we might more usefully desire for the region is civilization. Yes, yes -- that's a word to make those on the left hold their noses. Leftists don't go around celebrating civilization -- the orderly arrangement of relationships and passions.
Leftist is the word -- one of a number anyway -- that properly describes the Arafatists, or that dominant portion of the movement that talks of bombing Tel Aviv and driving the Israelis into the sea. It is easy to talk, as Palestinians do, of corresponding offenses by the Israelis. Less easy is to demonstrate such offenses. The Israelis are part of a civilized tradition, the West, which goes off the tracks now and then, but more often stays in place. You don't find in Israeli rhetoric or actions the casual cruelty and hubris customary with the worst of the Palestinians.
It is sad to see circumstances operate thus. Not all Arabs, or even Palestinians, are of the wacko party. There exists now, as there has existed for more than a millennium, the very real entity called Arab civilization. It merits deep respect, as Westerners from the medieval Spanish to T.E. Lawrence and beyond have gladly acknowledged.
The hate-mongers do not live within this civilization. Civilization itself is what they hate, with its intricate code of restraints. Their most conspicuous attribute is hatred. Because they hate, a crime is no crime: a patriotic duty, rather; an act of "justice.''
We think we wouldn't mind these people running Palestine/Israel? If so, let us think again, and again, and again.