From both the tactical and technical perspectives, the attacks were functionally identical. In London, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, religious fanatics carrying explosives on their bodies deliberately slaughtered civilians whose sole crime was taking a commuter bus to work.
And the commonalities between the suicide bombings in the UK and Israel extend to the realm of ethics as well. There is no moral difference between the bombing of the No. 30 bus in London’s Tavistock Square and the bombing of the No. 19 bus in Jerusalem’s Arlozorov Street. Unless, of course, someone is willing to argue that the murder of innocent Britons is abhorrent while the murder of equally innocent Jews is fine.
Yet this is the implicit message broadcast by many British and North American Muslim community leaders who have rushed to condemn the recent terrorist incidents in London. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) issued a religious edict stating that suicide bombings were “vehemently prohibited” by Islamic law. But this denunciation rang quite hollow in light of the MCB’s record of explicit support for deliberate attacks against Israeli civilians.
Throughout the bloody Palestinian suicide terrorist offensive that has killed over 700 Israeli non-combatants, the Muslim Council of Britain employed specious logic and sophistry to excuse the inexcusable. As wave after wave of Palestinian suicide bombers deliberately slaughtered Jewish women and children in the cafes and buses of Tel Aviv, the silence of Muslim leaders was deafening.
The most prolific Palestinian practitioner of terrorism is Hamas, an Islamic radical movement with well over 100 suicide bombings to its discredit. But when the Israeli Air Force killed two war chiefs who played key roles in the Hamas command and control structure, the Muslim Council of Britain sprang into furious action. The MCB proclaimed that these legitimate strikes against senior members of a armed terrorist organization were “criminal” acts of Israeli “state terrorism.”
And if that sort of selective outrage isn’t bad enough, the MCB also has a history of dabbling in the paranoid rhetoric of classic anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. In a press release worthy of the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Council denounced the “neo-conservative/Zionist design for a post-Saddam Middle East.” Thus Britain’s pre-eminent Islamic organization is peddling the myth that the war in Iraq was orchestrated by a cabal of powerful Jews.
And the record of some North American Islamic organizations is hardly better. The bombings of London’s Underground system motivated the Muslim American Society (MAS) to proclaim its “condemnation of terrorism and commitment to exonerate Islam from such acts.” But at the height of the blood-soaked Palestinian suicide terrorist offensive against Tel Aviv and Jerusalem three years earlier, the MAS sounded a different tune altogether. In April 2002 the Society published a press release that denounced “the relentless campaign by the government and the media to dismiss the noble Palestinian struggle against occupation as terrorism.” Just last year, the president of the Canadian Islamic Congress declared that all Israelis over age 18 “should be considered legitimate targets” for “suicide bombers as well as other means.”
Terrorism is the intentional infliction of military-calibre violence against civilians for political gain. It should not be relevant who the perpetrators are, or who the victims might be. And it must not matter that you find the terrorist movement’s ideological rationale to be congenial. One person’s terrorist cannot be allowed to be another person’s freedom fighter. The deliberate targeting of non-combatants must be declared an abomination, regardless of cause or creed.
But for years too many in the Islamic community has been trying to have their cake and eat it too. Even the more moderate Muslim organizations traffic in weasel word euphemisms that condemn or condone suicide terrorism on the basis of political convenience and affinity.
Such selective ethics have proved to be far too little, far too late, in halting the pell-mell cascade down the slippery slope of moral relativism that leads to the validation of terrorism. The tolerance that Anglo-American Muslim leaders have demonstrated for deliberate attacks against Israeli civilians has come back to bite us all on our collective posterior. It was only a matter of time before the same murderous tactics that wrought havoc on the streets of Tel Aviv would reach Manhattan, Madrid and now London.
The jihadist suicide genie is well and truly out of the bottle. We can no longer afford to allow the Muslim establishment to get away with its double game of modulated morality. By making explicit and implicit allowances for the slaughter of Israeli civilians, Islamic organizations establish a larger ethical precedent that endangers us all.
With the first explosion on the London Underground, the bill for the intellectual dishonesty of Britain’s Islamic community came due. We must move decisively to ensure that America doesn’t once again pay a similar price.
Ted Lapkin is Director of Policy Analysis at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.