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World War IV (Continued III) By: Norman Podhoretz
Commentary | Tuesday, August 17, 2004


At first, September 11 did seem to resemble Pearl Harbor in its galvanizing effect, while by all indications the first battle of World War IV—the battle of Afghanistan—was supported by a perhaps even larger percentage of the public than Vietnam had been at the beginning. Nevertheless, even though the opposition in 2001 was still numerically insignificant, it was much stronger than it had been in the early days of Vietnam. The reason was that it now maintained a tight grip over the institutions that, in the later stages of that war, had been surrendered bit by bit to the anti-American Left.

There was, for openers, the literary community, which could stand in for the world of the arts in general. No sooner had the Twin Towers been toppled and the Pentagon smashed than a fierce competition began for the gold in the anti-American Olympics. Susan Sontag, one of my old ex-friends on the Left, seized an early lead in this contest with a piece in which she asserted that 9/11 was an attack "undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions." Not content with suggesting that we had brought this aggression on ourselves, she went on to compare the backing in Congress for our "robotic President" to "the unanimously applauded, self-congratulatory bromides of a Soviet Party Congress."

Another of my old ex-friends, Norman Mailer, surprisingly slow out of the starting gate, soon came up strong on the inside by comparing the Twin Towers to "two huge buck teeth," and pronouncing the ruins at Ground Zero "more beautiful than the buildings were." Still playing the enfant terrible even as he was closing in on his eightieth year, Mailer denounced us as "cultural oppressors and aesthetic oppressors" of the Third World. In what did this oppression consist? It consisted, he expatiated, in our establishing "enclaves of our food out there, like McDonald’s" and in putting "our high-rise buildings" around the airports of even "the meanest, scummiest, capital[s] in the world." For these horrendous crimes we had, on 9/11, received a measure—and only a small measure at that—of our just deserts.

Then there were the universities. A report issued shortly after 9/11 by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) cited about a hundred malodorous statements wafting out of campuses all over the country that resembled Sontag and Mailer in blaming the attacks not on the terrorists but on America. Among these were three especially choice specimens. From a professor at the University of New Mexico: "Anyone who can blow up the Pentagon gets my vote." From a professor at Rutgers: "[We] should be aware that the ultimate cause [of 9/11] is the fascism of U.S. foreign policy over the past many decades." And from a professor at the University of Massachusetts: "[The American flag] is a symbol of terrorism and death and fear and destruction and oppression."

When the ACTA report was issued, protesting wails of "McCarthyism" were heard throughout the land, especially from the professors cited. Like them, Susan Sontag, too, claimed that her freedom of speech was being placed in jeopardy. In this peculiar reading of the First Amendment, much favored by leftists in general, they were free to say anything they liked, but the right to free speech ended where criticism of what they had said began.

Actually, however, with rare exceptions, attempts to stifle dissent on the campus were largely directed at the many students and the few faculty members who supported the 9/11 war. All these attempts could be encapsulated into a single phenomenon: on a number of campuses, students or professors who displayed American flags or patriotic posters were forced to take them down. As for Susan Sontag’s freedom of speech, hardly had the ink dried on her post-9/11 piece before she became the subject of countless fawning reports and interviews in periodicals and on television programs around the world.

Speaking of television, it was soon drowning us with material presenting Islam in glowing terms. Mainly, these programs took their cue from the President and other political leaders. Out of the best of motives, and for prudential reasons as well, elected officials were striving mightily to deny that the war against terrorism was a war against Islam. Hence they never ceased heaping praises on the beauties of that religion, about which few of them knew anything.

But it was from the universities, not from the politicians, that the substantive content of these broadcasts derived, in interviews with academics, many of them Muslims themselves, whose accounts of Islam were selectively roseate. Sometimes they were even downright untruthful, especially in sanitizing the doctrine of jihad or holy war, or in misrepresenting the extent to which leading Muslim clerics all over the world had been celebrating suicide bombers—not excluding those who had crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon—as heroes and martyrs.

I do not bring this up in order to enter into a theological dispute. My purpose, rather, is to offer another case study in the continued workings of the trickle-down effect I have already described. Thus, hard on the heels of 9/11, the universities began adding innumerable courses on Islam to their curricula. On the campus, "understanding Islam" inevitably translated into apologetics for it, and most of the media dutifully followed suit. The media also adopted the stance of neutrality between the terrorists and ourselves that prevailed among the relatively moderate professoriate, as when the major television networks ordered their anchors to avoid exhibiting partisanship.

Here the great exception was the Fox News Channel. The New York Times, in an article deploring the fact that Fox was covering the war from a frankly pro-American perspective, expressed relief that no other network had so cavalierly discarded the sacred conventions dictating that journalists, in the words of the president of ABC News, must "maintain their neutrality in times of war."

Although the vast majority of those who blamed America for having been attacked were on the Left, a few voices on the Right joined this perverted chorus. Speaking on Pat Robertson’s TV program, the Reverend Jerry Falwell delivered himself of the view that God was punishing the United States for the moral decay exemplified by a variety of liberal groups among us. Both later apologized for singling out these groups, but each continued to insist that God was withdrawing His protection from America because all of us had become great sinners. And in the amen corner that quickly formed on the secular Right, commentators like Robert Novak and Pat Buchanan added that we had called the attack down on our heads not so much by our willful disobedience to divine law as by our manipulated obedience to Israel.

Oddly enough, however, within the Arab world itself, there was much less emphasis on Israel as the root cause of the attacks than was placed on it by most, if not all, of Buchanan’s fellow paleoconservatives on the Right. Even to Osama bin Laden himself, support of Israel ranked only third on a list of our "crimes" against Islam.

Not, to be sure, that Arabs everywhere—together with most non-Arab Middle Eastern Muslims like the Iranians—had given up their dream of wiping Israel off the map. To anyone who thought otherwise, Fouad Ajami of Johns Hopkins, an American who grew up as a Muslim in Lebanon, had this to say about the Arab world’s "great refusal" to accept Israel under any conditions whatsoever:

The great refusal persists in that "Arab street" of ordinary men and women, among the intellectuals and the writers, and in the professional syndicates. . . . The force of this refusal can be seen in the press of the governments and of the oppositionists, among the secularists and the Islamists alike, in countries that have concluded diplomatic agreements with Israel and those that haven’t.

Ajami emphasized that the great refusal remained "fiercest in Egypt," notwithstanding the peace treaty it had signed with Israel in 1978. It might have been expected, then, that the Egyptians would be eager to blame the widespread animus against the U.S. in their own country on American policy toward Israel, especially since Egypt, being second only to the Jewish state as a recipient of American aid, had a powerful incentive to explain away so ungrateful a response to the benevolent treatment it was receiving at our hands. But no. Only about two weeks before 9/11, Ab’d Al-Mun’im Murad, a columnist in Al-Akhbar, a daily newspaper sponsored by the Egyptian government, wrote:

The conflict that we call the Arab-Israeli conflict is, in truth an Arab conflict with Western, and particularly American, colonialism. The U.S. treats [the Arabs] as it treated the slaves inside the American continent. To this end, [the U.S.] is helped by the smaller enemy, and I mean Israel.

In another piece, the same writer expanded on this unusually candid acknowledgment:

The issue no longer concerns the Israeli-Arab conflict. The real issue is the Arab-American conflict—Arabs must understand that the U.S. is not "the American friend"—and its task, past, present, and future, is [to impose] hegemony on the world, primarily on the Middle East and the Arab world.

Then, in a third piece, also published in late August, Murad gave us an inkling of the reciprocal "task" he had in mind to be performed on America:

The Statue of Liberty, in New York Harbor, must be destroyed because of . . . the idiotic American policy that goes from disgrace to disgrace in the swamp of bias and blind fanaticism. . . . The age of the American collapse has begun.

If this was the kind of thing we were getting from an Arab country that everyone regarded as "moderate," in radical states like Iraq and Iran nothing less would suffice than identifying America as the "Great Satan." As for the Palestinians, their contempt for America was hardly exceeded by their loathing of Israel. For example, the mufti—or chief cleric—appointed by the Palestinian Authority under Yasir Arafat had prayed that God would "destroy America," while the editor of a leading Palestinian journal proclaimed:

History does not remember the United States, but it remembers Iraq, the cradle of civilization. . . . History remembers every piece of Arab land, because it is the bosom of human civilization. On the other hand, the [American] murderers of humanity, the creators of the barbaric culture and the bloodsuckers of nations, are doomed to death and destined to shrink to a microscopic size, like Micronesia.

The absence of even a word here about Israel showed that if the Jewish state had never come into existence, the United States would still have stood as an embodiment of everything that most of these Arabs considered evil. Indeed, the hatred of Israel was in large part a surrogate for anti-Americanism, rather than the reverse. Israel was seen as the spearhead of the American drive for domination over the Middle East. As such, the Jewish state was a translation of America into, as it were, Hebrew—the "little enemy," the "little Satan." To rid the region of it would thus be tantamount to cleansing an area belonging to Islam (dar al-Islam) of the blasphemous political, social, and cultural influences emanating from a barbaric and murderous force. But the force, so to speak, was with America, of which Israel was merely an instrument.

Although Buchanan and Novak were earlier and more outspoken in blaming 9/11 on American friendliness toward Israel, this idea was not confined to the Right or to the marginal precincts of paleoconservatism. On the contrary: while it popped up on the Right, it thoroughly pervaded the radical Left and much of the soft Left, and was even espoused by a number of liberal centrists like Mickey Kaus. For the moment, indeed, the blame-Israel-firsters were concentrated most heavily on the Left.

It was also on the Left, and above all in the universities, that their fraternal twins, the blame-America-firsters, were located. Yet Eric Foner, a professor of history at my own alma mater, Columbia, risibly claimed that the ACTA report was misleading since the polls proved that there was "firm support" for the war among college students. "If our aim is to indoctrinate students with unpatriotic beliefs," Foner smirked, "we’re obviously doing a very poor job of it."

True enough. But what Foner, as a historian, must have known but neglected to mention was that even at the height of the radical fevers on the campus in the 1960’s, only a minority of students sided with the antiwar radicals. Still, even though they were in the majority, the non-radical students were unable to make themselves heard above the antiwar din, and whenever they tried, they were shouted down. This is how it was, too, on the campus after 9/11. There were, here and there, brave defiers of the academic orthodoxies. But mostly, the silent majority remained silent, for fear of incurring the disapproval of their teachers, or even of being punished for the crime of "insensitivity."

Such, then, was the assault that began to be mounted within hours of 9/11 by the guerrillas-with-tenure in the universities, along with their spiritual and political disciples scattered throughout other quarters of our culture. Could this "tiny handful of aging Rip van Winkles," as they were breezily brushed off by one commentator, grow into a force as powerful as the "jackal bins" of yesteryear? Was the upsurge of confidence in America, and American virtue, that spontaneously materialized on 9/11 strong enough to withstand them this time around?

Some who shared my apprehensions believed that if things went well on the military front, all would be well on the home front, too. And that is how it appeared from the effect wrought by the spectacular success of the Afghanistan campaign, which disposed of the "quagmire" theory and also dampened antiwar activity on at least a number of campuses. Nevertheless, the mopping-up operation in Afghanistan created an opportunity for more subtle forms of opposition to gain traction. There were complaints that the terrorists captured in Afghanistan and then sent to a special facility in Guantanamo were not being treated as regular prisoners of war. And there were also allegations of the threat to civil liberties posed in America itself by measures like the Patriot Act, which had been designed to ward off any further terrorist attacks at home. Although these concerns were mostly based on misreadings of the Geneva Convention and of the Patriot Act itself, some people no doubt raised them in good faith. But there is also no doubt that such issues could—and did—serve as a respectable cover for wholesale opposition to the entire war.

Another respectable cover was the charge that Bush was following a policy of "unilateralism." The alarm over this supposedly unheard-of outrage was first sounded by the chancelleries and chattering classes of Western Europe when Bush stated that, in taking the fight to the terrorists and their sponsors, we would prefer to do so with allies and with the blessing of the UN, but if necessary we would go it alone and without an imprimatur from the Security Council.

This was too much for the Europeans. Having duly offered us their condolences over 9/11, they could barely let a decent interval pass before going back into the ancient family business of showing how vastly superior in wisdom and finesse they were to the Americans, whose primitive character was once again on display in the "simplistic" ideas and crude moralizing of George W. Bush. Now they urged that our military operations end with Afghanistan, and that we leave the rest to diplomacy in deferential consultation with the great masters of that recondite art in Paris and Brussels.

Taking their cue from these masters, the New York Times, along with many other publications ranging from the Center to the hard Left—and soon to be seconded by all the Democratic candidates in the presidential primaries, except for Senator Joseph Lieberman—began hitting Bush for recklessness and overreaching. What we saw developing here was a broader coalition than the antiwar movement spawned by Vietnam had managed to put together, especially in its first few years. The antiwar movement then had been made up almost entirely of leftists and liberals, whereas this new movement was bringing together the whole of the hard Left, elements of the soft Left, and sectors of the American Right.

Treading the path previously marked out by his colleague Mickey Kaus on the issue of Israel, Michael Kinsley of the soft Left allied himself with Pat Buchanan in bringing forth yet another respectable cover. This was to indict the President for evading the Constitution by proposing to fight undeclared wars. Meanwhile, the same charge was moving into the political mainstream through Democratic Senators like Robert Byrd, Edward M. Kennedy, and Tom Daschle, though they also continued carrying on about quagmires and slippery slopes and "unilateralism."

I for one was certain that, as the military facet of World War IV widened—with Iraq clearly being the next most likely front—opposition would not only grow but would acquire enough assurance to dispense with any respectable covers. Which was to say that it would be taken over by extremists and radicalized. About this I turned out to be correct, while those who scoffed at the "jackal bins" and the "aging Rip Van Winkles" as a politically insignificant bunch turned out to be wrong. But I never imagined that the new antiwar movement would so rapidly arrive at the stage of virulence it had taken years for its ancestors of the Vietnam era to reach.

Varieties of Anti-Americanism

A possible explanation of the great velocity achieved by the new antiwar movement was that, like the respectable critique immediately preceding it, the radical opposition was following the lead of European opinion. In this instance, encouragement and reinforcement came from the almost incredible degree of hostility to America that erupted in the wake of 9/11 all over the European continent, and most blatantly in France and Germany, and that gathered even more steam in the run-up to the battle of Iraq. If demonstrations and public-opinion polls could be believed, huge numbers of Europeans loathed the United States so deeply that they were unwilling to side with it even against one of the most tyrannical and murderous despots on earth.

That this was the feeling in the Muslim world did not come as a surprise. Unlike in Europe, where the attacks of 9/11 did elicit a passing moment of sympathy for the United States ("We Are All Americans Now," proclaimed a headline the next day in the leading leftist daily in Paris), in the realm of Islam the news of 9/11 brought dancing in the streets and screams of jubilation. Almost to a man, Muslim clerics in their sermons assured the faithful that in striking a blow against the "Great Satan," Osama bin Laden had acted as a jihadist, or holy warrior, in strict accordance with the will of God.

This could have been predicted from a debate on the topic "Bin Laden—The Arab Despair and American Fear" that was televised on the Arabic-language network Al-Jazeera about two months before 9/11. Using "American Fear" in the title was a bit premature, since this was a time when very few Americans were frightened by Islamic terrorism, for the simple reason that scarcely any had ever heard of bin Laden or al Qaeda. Be that as it may, at the conclusion of the program, the host said to the lone guest who had been denouncing bin Laden as a terrorist: "I am looking at the viewers’ reactions for one that would support your positions—but . . . I can’t find any." He then cited "an opinion poll in a Kuwaiti paper which showed that 69 percent of Kuwaitis, Egyptians, Syrians, Lebanese, and Palestinians think bin Laden is an Arab hero and an Islamic jihad warrior." And on the basis of the station’s own poll, he also estimated that among all Arabs "from the Gulf to the Ocean," the proportion sharing this view of bin Laden was "maybe even 99 percent."

Surely, then, the chairman of the Syrian Arab Writers Associations was speaking for hordes of his "brothers" in declaring shortly after 9/11 that

When the twin towers collapsed . . . I felt deep within me like someone delivered from the grave; I [felt] that I was being carried in the air above the corpse of the mythological symbol of arrogant American imperialist power. . . . My lungs filled with air, and I breathed in relief, as I had never breathed before.

 

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