Evil has suddenly become a familiar four-letter word, used in ordinary conversations to describe what's happening in the name of politics and religion.
When Ronald Reagan used "evil" to describe the Soviet empire, he was widely ridiculed by the left for going over the top, invoking a concept that offended our enlightened, morally relative age. What was "evil," anyway?
When the Iron Curtain collapsed, the people behind it validated that very description. The hell of the gulag was evil.
Evil accurately describes a Soviet political system in which people had no personal freedom. A godless government oppressed men and women who embraced religious faith, because religion was an offense against the state.
The Soviet leaders were instinctively anti-Semitic, but unlike the Nazis of the Third Reich they did not set out systematically to annihilate Jews. That was merely academic for all the Jewish victims of Soviet brutality, but as a point in history anti-Semitism was a facet of Soviet power, not the focus. Israel worked to free Soviet Jewry, making common cause with American Cold War aims.
The Nazi evil begat two wars, one against the Jewish people specifically and one against America and our allies. In fact, historians remain perplexed as to why the Nazis were willing to use so much of their resources to kill Jews when they could have more usefully deployed the money and manpower against the Allies. While American Jews fought as Americans against the Nazis, it was clear to them that if Hitler prevailed they would be vulnerable to the genocide machine, too.
The Islamist fanatics employing terrorism against the United States are, like the Nazis, waging war on two fronts, against the Jews and against Americans. These fanatics make no distinctions between Zionists, who want to preserve Israel as a secure home place for Jews, and Americans who want to preserve America as a secure land of the free and home of the brave. In their vocabulary, Israel is the Little Satan, America the Great Satan, distinctions only of size and power. The determination to destroy applies to both.
The American relationship with Israel becomes more crucial than ever. We are friends united by common democratic values and subject to a common threat to survival. The Muslim fanatics who celebrated with cheers when they watched the televised images of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in flames raise similar cheers at the news of suicide bombers killing Jews in an Israeli dance hall, shopping mall or pizza parlor.
The terrorists who target Jews in Israel and Americans in Manhattan and at the Pentagon are linked in sensibility.
This understanding must not be lost in our war against terrorism. When the Israeli travel minister was assassinated last month, Israeli soldiers were sent into Palestinian territory to find the assassins just as our soldiers were sent into Afghanistan to find Osama bin Laden and his assassins.
"Israel had the same right to enter Palestinian territory in force and arrest or kill terrorists as the United States acting in Afghanistan against Osama bin Laden," Zalman Shoval, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States and foreign-policy adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told me in an interview the other day in Washington. When Colin Powell condemned Israel for doing exactly that, it sent exactly the wrong message: "It encouraged the Palestinian side to draw the wrong conclusion, that the pressure is now on Israel and not on them."
The secretary of state attempted the other day to draw a distinction between "their" terrorists and "our" terrorists: "You start to run into areas where one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter and that's where you have to apply judgment. These are difficult calls to make. You can be quite challenged in explaining these differences with respect to the Middle East."
Indeed. Our State Department has a history of rising to the challenge of rationalizing violence against Jews, going back to the Roosevelt administration, when it turned a blind eye to evidence of Nazi extermination camps. The bias against Israel, an eagerness to make distinctions between terrorism there and terrorism here, is the sordid legacy of that rationalization.
"It is not a revelation that large segments of the Arab world - at all levels of society - are not just anti-Israel, but fanatically anti-Semitic." writes Andrew Sullivan in The New Republic. "And what possible excuse do we have not to expose and confront it with all the might we have?"