Archive for Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Terrorism is new genocide

November 25, 2003


When synagogues crumble for unnatural reasons and the faithful in those supposed sanctuaries fall and die -- as vehicle bombs prompted in Istanbul, Turkey, a week ago -- civilized society bears a responsibility not only to condemn the perpetrators, apparently al-Qaida or its cohorts, but to redouble its efforts to bring them to justice.

The same would apply had the attackers struck churches, mosques or other houses of worship.

And now, in the same city, more bombs have torn holes in the already devastated landscape, as well as in people's psyches. The scene illustrates the classic terrorist strategy -- multiplied by two and potentially more.

Terrorists often set off more than one explosive during attacks to maximize casualties, complicate rescues and advertise their firepower. In this instance, though, by returning to the scene within mere days and lashing out at the British Consulate and London-based HSBC Bank, they have dealt an especially powerful, counterintuitive blow -- as if to thumb their noses at the presumably enhanced security that followed the synagogue bombings.

It has been said that the struggle against terrorism is the war of the flea, and naturally the flea bites from time to time. In the great scheme of things, however, as the argument goes, though individual victims may suffer, the bites barely register and society moves on.

Perhaps, but that mentality could cause people to underestimate the power and reach of contemporary terrorism and the deeper problem surrounding it -- the astonishing intolerance that manifests itself at this advanced date in the history of civilization. Why not call the current spate of terrorist-inspired, callous disregard for human life -- whether it is directed against Jews or others what it really is: the new genocide?

The new genocide mixes craven destructiveness with transnational, ideological, revolutionary fervor, a phenomenon of global proportions heretofore not seen.

Little more than a year ago, I wrote a column from Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland, that philosophically likened the rampaging brutality of Adolf Hitler and Nazism to the rabid terrorism of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida.

Some readers, who failed to grasp the true nature and reach of al-Qaida, dismissed the comparison, as well as the idea that the terrorist network poses a threat of world-war proportions. Further, they pointed out that Hitler was a political leader who used state power and generally conventional means in his bid for domination, while bin Laden heads a loosely orchestrated, borderless group and employs unconventional tactics.

Actually, I made precisely those points in the column, then went on to develop my position, discussing the two men's emphasis on the use of force, cult-like status, contempt for freedom of choice, global ambitions, racism, eagerness to terrorize adversaries, secretive agendas and other similarities.

Although Hitler resides in infamy for his campaign to humiliate and exterminate Jews, he directed his wrath against all who stood in his way or who were deemed expendable. That was a version of the old genocide. Similarly, bin Laden urges his followers to lash out against the "enemy," namely the United States, American allies, international organizations, businesses and any other symbols associated with Washington and the West. Such is the new genocide.

Furthermore, by donning his mantle of narrowly interpreted and distorted Islam, bin Laden seeks to rally all Muslims, exhorting them to engage in the war that he wishes to wage -- that of Islam vs. the West.

Reality tells a different story. There is no such war. Fortunately for the world -- and unfortunately for bin Laden during the long term -- most Muslims see though his duplicity and want none of his extremism and violence, including many who embrace fundamental beliefs. They have taken a stand on the right side of this issue and support what most people view as civilization.

But Americans and their allies do have to worry about the minority, the millions brainwashed by bin Laden or upset by U.S. policies in the Middle East who believe that only violence against America and its interests will render them worthy and whole.

They are the miscreants who fly aircraft into office towers, lob missiles at U.S.-led forces in Iraq, attack employees of international organizations in Afghanistan, comb the planet for weapons of mass destruction, infiltrate scores of nations with nefarious intent, and drive vehicle bombs into synagogues, diplomatic outposts and commercial icons. Danger, destruction and even death fail to faze them, which makes curbing their excesses that much more difficult.

Although some commentators have described the Turkish bombings as designed to embarrass President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair during their recent meeting in London, I draw a different lesson. It is painful, but useful, to have periodic reminders that al-Qaida and its new-genocidal supporters remain a threat. Americans and their allies cannot afford to flinch, falter or fade in the face of that challenge.

John C. Bersia, who won a Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing for the Orlando Sentinel in 2000, is also the special assistant to the president for global perspectives. His e-mail address is

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