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Arming Ourselves Against Barbarians

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, I expected there would soon be consensus across ideological, national, and other lines that terrorism is wrong — that no political goal or grievance justifies intentionally murdering innocent men, women, and children. I was wrong.

Last week, Pew released the results of a poll that found that Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, is viewed favorably by 76 percent of the population of Pakistan, ostensibly one of America’s closest allies among nations self-identifying as Islamic. Iran also is viewed favorably by 39 percent of Tunisians, generally regarded as among the most moderate of Arabs. In Egypt, 19 percent — a not insignificant minority — have a favorable view of al-Qaeda.

In America and Europe, fewer people smile on terrorists but many are determinedly nonjudgmental. Recall Reuters’ global head of news, Stephen Jukes, just after 9/11, saying that in the view of his news organization, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” Canadian author George Jonas, with his customary verbal precision, called that “an adolescent sophistry.”

Now consider the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), created under the leadership of the Obama administration to “provide a unique platform for senior counterterrorism policymakers and experts from around the world to work together to identify urgent needs, devise solutions and mobilize resources for addressing key counterterrorism challenges.” Twenty-nine countries have been admitted, but Israel, arguably targeted by more terrorists than any other nation, has been excluded. In remarks to a meeting of the GCTF in Madrid last week, Under Secretary of State Maria Otero failed even to include Israel in a list of victims of terrorism. Asked about this conspicuous omission, a State Department spokesman replied: “I don’t have the details of the undersecretary’s speech.” Your tax dollars at work.

Also in recent days: A resolution introduced by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) and Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) calling on the International Olympic Committee (IOC), at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics on July 27, to observe a moment of silence in honor of the eleven Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists 40 years ago in Munich received unanimous Senate support. But the members of the IOC adamantly refuse. Is that because they are not sure whether those who slaughtered the Olympians were terrorists? Or is it because they think it prudent not to offend any terrorists who may be summering in London? Could the fact that the victims were Israelis — or Jews — play a role?

If so, they would be expressing the prejudice most acceptable among certain fashionable elites. For example, Alice Walker has refused to permit a new translation of her novel, The Color Purple, into Hebrew. As Israeli author Daniel Gordis has pointed out, Hebrew “is the only language into which Walker has refused to permit translation.” She has no trouble with translations into Farsi, Dari, Pashto, or Arabic.

In Denver last week, there was the grand reopening of the Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab, a unique museum intended to help teach the public about terrorism of all kinds (not just the Islamic variety), why it’s a threat to all civilizations (not just the West), and how it can be defeated (determination and vigilance will be key). Before an audience of nearly a thousand, Denver Post publisher Dean Singleton moderated a discussion between former secretary of homeland security Michael Chertoff and me. Among the issues with which we attempted to grapple: The destructive potential of cyber-terrorism; the possibility that terrorists will use germs and viruses as weapons; the role of failed states and what it will mean if the rulers of Iran, who have been killing Americans for decades and threatening Israelis with genocide, are not prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Planted throughout the audience were protesters from an organization that calls itself “We Are Change.” Every so often, a member would stand up and begin shouting. One yelled “Terrorism is not real!” Another proclaimed that “bees kill more people than terrorists!” Another angrily insisted that the FBI has no proof that Osama bin Laden was responsible for 9/11 — to which Chertoff replied that not only can we be certain that the al-Qaeda leader was behind the attacks, but also that there has been “a landing on the moon.” The protesters were escorted outside, where they joined demonstrators holding a banner that read, “9/11 was an inside job.”

There were not many of these demonstrators, and they do not represent most people in Denver, America, or the West. But, as noted above, anti-anti-terrorists are hardly a rare species. And aren’t the members of the IOC and GCTF closer in outlook to them than to people like Chertoff and me — people who believe that terrorists, their funders, and their supporters must be confronted and crushed, not appeased and accommodated?

A generation before the attacks of 9/11, in 1980, in a book titled The Recovery of Freedom, the great historian Paul Johnson lamented that we have “almost forgotten how to arm ourselves against barbarism. We can, in fact, do it in only one way: by stating that terrorism is always and in every circumstance wrong . . . that it must be resisted by every means at our disposal; and that those who practice it must not only be punished but repudiated by those who share their political aims.” I’ve always found that logic compelling. I would have thought that by now most people — certainly those in the U.S. State Department, and those dedicated to the Olympic ideal, and American novelists concerned with bigotry — would have grasped it. I was wrong.

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