Jackson Doughart
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Are we all Israelis now?

Prince Arthur Herald, 24 June 2013

On September 12, 2001, the French newspaper Le Monde wrote “We are all Americans”, a message of solidarity with the United States. Apart from identifying the U.S. as the victim in the 9/11 (and not, as some would later say, an example of an imperial bully being served its just deserts), the formulation contained another message: that the rest of the West instinctively empathized and sided with America.

Twelve years on, the committing of terrorist acts by anti-Western Muslims has not ceased, as evidenced by the Boston Marathon Bombing in April and the killing of British soldier Lee Rigby in South London in May. But unlike previous events, these acts have not rekindled public support for Anglo-American military operations overseas. To the contrary, President Obama’s declaration that the War on Terror, “like all wars, must end”, has been greeted with acclaim. So has his promise to remove 34,000 soldiers from Afghanistan by 2014.

Of course, the broader conflict involving Islamist groups will continue with or without direct Western involvement, having expanded to such theatres as North Africa, Lebanon, and Syria — none of which exhibit promising signs for liberal democracy. Yet the willingness of West to commit its blood and treasure on the fate of these battles appears to be fading, perhaps at the moment when its engagement is most needed.

This development is not, I submit, a fruit borne of mere war weariness. Rather, we are reaching a tipping point in Western support for the Long War, which is related far more to the public’s changing understanding of the conflict than a waning disdain for the enemy.

Though politicians and pundits often believe in a moral basis for the war on terrorism, the justifications that have animated public support over the last decade are based on simple conflict logic: the West was targeted by an unprovoked and organized attack, thereby legitimating and necessitating a reaction apart from any grand ideal or principle.

But all of this is changing. In particular, it is becoming clear to many people that the West’s entanglement in the Arab-Israeli conflict is a security liability. They have good reasons to suspect this, for the existence of Israel is the principal grievance of jihadists. To a Muslim imperialist committed to the project of expanding Dar al-Islam, Israel is the ultimate insult. Palestine is a heartland of the Islamic world and Jerusalem is designated as a holy city. Losing that territory is of much greater significance than the loss of holdings in Europe, South Asia, or the Far East. Unlike Palestine, none of these places constitutes a center of Islamdom.

Adding to the insult is the fact that the possessors of this territory are Jews — the people who were dhimmis, or official second-class citizens, during the days of the Ottoman Caliphate, and who could be subjected to religious pogroms at the whim of their Muslim hosts. Association with this force is thus not something to be forgiven, and certainly a cause of deep resentment.

Given this reality, it is probable that many Westerners will be tempted to cut their ties of loyalty and morale with Israel in the hope of extinguishing any fodder for the jihadist mill. No longer will it be presumed that radical Muslims dislike the West for its open society or secularism. Rather, in the minds of many, it is our Israel connection that puts us in the path of harm.

However, there is an alternative. In lieu of abandoning their ally, Westerners could choose to view Israel in the way that Le Monde viewed the United States in 2001: as a player in a conflict whose side is worth taking, and a cause with whom one can identify.

In the latter respect, one might say that the recent terrorist acts in Boston and Woolwich were very much like the kinds of events experienced by Israeli civilians, though obviously on a much less frequent level. And the societal traits that fundamentalist Muslims loathe in Israel are the same traits that they hate in the West — unveiled women, civil rights for non-believers, and a legal system based on the rule of law, not adherence to a holy book.

Needless to say, this alternative would involve a far more principled attachment and justification to the war against Islamic totalitarianism. It is indeed, in some sense, a battle of choice. Support for this attachment would be more difficult to find, but if one believes that defending Israel and defeating jihadism are necessary objectives, this is an argument well worth pursuing.

Jackson Doughart jdoughart (at) gmail (dot) com