About the War on Terror

Yakov Rabkin
September 2006

a talk at McGill University, September 20, 2006.

President Bush cast the battle against Islamic extremism as a “struggle for civilization” that will set the course for the world in the 21st century. Harper believes that Canadians live in a “dangerous world.” In the wake of the arrests in Toronto last summer, he said that “we are a target because of who we are and how we live, our society, our diversity and our values – values such as freedom, democracy and the rule of law. The values that make Canada great, values that Canadians cherish.”

Harper lauded the Canadian “heroes” in Afghanistan for standing up “for Canadian values” and against the “menace of terror” in the deserts of Kandahar as their forefathers did in two world wars. He downplays the NATO dimension and invokes the UN mandate.

Mr Harper’s government web site contains 127 references to terror and 122 to terrorism. Compare this to 40 to peacekeeping, 26 to poverty, and 6 to solidarity.

The war on terror has changed public discourse and has challenged core Enlightenment values such as equality before law, cherished by Immanuel Kant and John Locke. Other values under attack include historical optimism, belief in the perfectability of humans, equality of all humans from birth (Thomas Hobbes). One observes “ethnization of all world conflicts”. In the war on terror, on no longer fights governments or their policies but, rather, a threat identifies with a community. This is the root cause of Harper’s reference to “the menace of terror”.

Israel may have pioneered this approach. For several decades, it has fought terror while refusing to recognize first the very existence of the Palestinians, then of the PLO and now of Hamas. More importantly, Israel has refused to recognize legitimate grievances of the Palestinians who have been dispossessed, exiled and occupied for nearly six decades. Their resistance has been depicted as terrorism rooted not in opposition to what the State of Israel had done to them but, rather, in “the murderous culture” allegedly promoted in Palestinian school textbooks. The conflict was thus reduced to an inevitable clash of civilizations. The only way to fight such as war is to kill a few enemies and keep the rest of them behind an iron wall, prophesied by both Ben Gurion and Jabotinsky.

Arguments about essential unbridgeable differences have become more frequent and more acceptable. These differences include religion, ethic provenance and culture. Some religions are clearly less equal than others. The recent speech by the Pope is another sign that the discourse is changing. He preferred to quote an obscure and apocryphal Byzantine source to refer to conversion by force rather than draw on the rich history of the Church such as the episodes of the Crusades or of the evangelization of the Americas. Whatever his motivation, the speech is significant in the context of the war on terror: there is no point to argue with those who do not accept reason.

It is significant that the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, an official appointed by the State, deplored the Pope’s reference. Rabbi Shlomo Amar, of Morrocan ancestry, said that “our way is to honor every religion  and every nation according to their paths, as it is written in the book of  prophets: ‘because every
nation will go in the name of its  lord.'”

The letter, written in  Arabic, and addressed to a leading Sunni Islamic  legal scholar in Qatar, was delivered to Kardawi by a leader of the Islamic Movement in  Israel, Sheikh Abdullah Naimar Darwish. Amar sent the letter first to  Rabbi Menachem Froman, chief rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Tekoa,  who is also an Israeli state official.

Rabbi Menahem Froman, has spent the last 25 years meeting with Hamas and other Islamic leaders, trying to forge a peace between Jews and Muslims based on religion and not politics. He reached agreements with the late Sheikh Yassin, all of which were scuttled by successive Israeli governments. As you know, Sheikh Yassin was later assassinated by Israeli air force.

In his  introduction to the letter, Froman added to Amar’s remarks, saying “every  Jew who learns the writings of the great sages – who, at the head of  them all stands Maimonides – knows that our great thinkers wrote in the  Arabic language, lived in Islamic states and participated with the great  Muslim thinkers in the effort to explain the words of God, according to  the paths of the sages and amidst the difficult blood battles that we  have had since the beginning of Zionism with the Muslims.

“We  know… that the war between the Jews and the
Muslims is the work of the  cursed devil. We know that
Islam is named after peace,” wrote  Froman.

He was also one of the three rabbis who attempted to contact Hezbollah during the recent war in order to negotiate a cease-fire. The rabbis emphasized the commonality between them and the leaders of Hezbollah that stands in contrast to the attitude of the Israeli government.

Back to Canada, the National Post reiterated today its customary position in the wake of the release of the Arar Commission report. “To suggest that all terror suspects can be treated like ordinary criminals is naïve”. Also in today’s issue, another editorial find that it would be naïve to increase the immigrations quotas. The reason invoked is also quite customary: global jihad.

While much of the rhetoric of the new Canadian government reflects that of the White House, there are significant local nuances. The French component in the state structure of Canada lends itself to accusations of ethnic nature. Thus, Barbara Kay, columnist for the National Post, interprets the support for Lebanon expressed in Montreal last August as a sign that an independent Quebec, left to its own devices, will become a Quebecistan.

As a result of the changes brought about by Canada’s war on terror, ethnic arguments are becoming increasingly accepted in other areas as well. Jan Wong, another Montrealer writing for Toronto’s Globe and Mail, was apparently the first to identify the three killers, who terrorized Ecole Polytechnique, Concordia and Dawson, as people of foreign extraction. She went on to suggest that their crimes were a reflection of the racism that they must have experienced in Quebec, where, according to her, talk of racial purity is common.

This rhetoric proper to Canada can be compared with recent articles in the United States about the subversive impact of the Hispanics on the culture in that country and a statement by Prime Minister Blair of the United Kingdom who was praising attempts to use genetic analysis to identify criminals. The debate about the admission of the Republic of Turkey, a militantly secular state, into the European Union also contains strong overtones of ethnic and religious stereotyping. These challenges to the Enlightenment values may spell out a major shift in the Western civilization.

President Bush may well be right. The war on terror may be a “struggle for civilization”. More precisely, it is a struggle for a different civilization, a civilization of official racial and religious discrimination, that many of us thought had been discredited in the wake of the Second World War. This may become the most significant result of the war on terror.

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