By Suzanne Fields, September 27, 2001
If Israel didn’t exist, the terrorists would still hate America. The twin towers of
the World Trade Center were not symbols of Zionism, but of modernity. They
celebrated the aspirations of free men and women of all classes and attitudes,
multicultural in the best sense.
There were many differences among the people who went to work every
morning in the offices, shops and restaurants of the World Trade Center, but it
was no Tower of Babel. They spoke the same language of civil commerce, a
common bond linking them in diversity and the sharing of ideals. They rode
elevators not to heaven (it sometimes seemed they would go that far) but to
secular opportunity and it was that opportunity the terrorists hated. They hated
the Western values that gave light both inside and outside the towers, even the
windows with their breathtaking vistas on what free men could achieve.
Christopher Hitchens, a card-carrying liberal (he wouldn’t quarrel with “leftist”)
takes to task the anti-Zionists whom he calls “worthy comrades” who
rationalize terror as just “so many chickens coming home to roost.” He finds
this a pernicious argument of moral equivalence that suggests that those who
support Israel are just as bad as the supporters of the terrorists. It’s a
fashionable argument in certain circles.
“But the bombers of Manhattan represent fascism with an Islamic face, and
there’s no point in any euphemism about it,” he writes in the Nation Magazine.
“What they abominate about ‘the West,’ to put it in a phrase, is not what
Western liberals don’t like and can’t defend about their own system, but what
they do like about it and must defend: Its emancipated women, its scientific
inquiry, its separation of religion from the state.”
I abhor most comparisons with the Nazis, which are nearly always farfetched,
but the many similarities between the Islamic fanatics and the Nazis are real and
palpable. However, this time, it’s America and the entire Western tradition,
rather than the Jews who are the targets of annihilation.
Just as Hitler counted on the disorder of war to distract the rest of the
world from noticing the extermination of the Jews, Osama bin Laden and his
evil cult of terrorists counted on the disorder in Palestine to distract attention
from the real agenda. And for a while, it did.
Like the death camps of the Nazis, the elaborate and massive organizational
machinery for the attack on innocent people remains unfathomable to sane
David Ivry, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, made this point
to me in an interview the other day. I asked how the Israeli intelligence
services, reputed to be the best in the world with their encyclopedic knowledge
of what’s going on in the Middle East, could miss the clues that the planning for
September 11 must have suggested.
“We share all kinds of warnings but did not see the use of airplanes as
bombs,” the ambassador, once a combat pilot himself, said. “This has not been
in the imagination of anyone. This is madness.”
That is precisely how much of the world reacted to the first early warnings of
the Holocaust six decades ago. It was not in the imagination of anyone to see
millions of innocent men and women and even children gassed and pushed into
ovens. It was madness.
“Once you have a terror that is directed against women, children,
shopping malls, bus stations, train stations, schools,” said Mr. Ivry, “once
you’re open to this type of terror, you’re going to pay a price, and another
price, and another price.”
Just as the Jews were a symbol of modernism to the Nazis, America is a
symbol of the modern to Islamic fanatics. The terrorists call Israel “the little
Satan” because the Jews are too small to carry the weight of heavier
symbolism. Hence, America is the “Great Satan.” America represents in a
towering way everything these fanatics seek to annihilate. We are the red,
white and blue flag in the face of an angry bull. That’s why the flag has
suddenly become so important to Americans since Sept. 11.
In that same issue of Nation Magazine, Katha Pollitt reveals that she doesn’t
quite get it. She describes an argument she had with her daughter, who came
home from school just a few blocks away from the World Trade Center and
wanted to hang out an American flag. “Definitely not,” her mother told her.
“The flag stands for jingoism and vengeance and war.”
Her daughter disagreed: “The flag means standing together and honoring the
dead and saying no to terrorism.” This time the mother ought to listen to the
child, because this time that flag says something else, loud and clear: “Never again.”