More than a few people have asked me for my reaction on last week’s failed al-Qaeda bomb plot out of Yemen that reportedly targeted Chicago synagogues.
So here are a few disconnected thoughts:
First and foremost, I’ll say it was incredibly heartening to receive so many calls of concern from friends and colleagues of all faiths. The very first such calls came from two friends from the Islamic community, who expressed their shock, outrage and solidarity in no uncertain terms.
The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago stands with our faith partners and the Jewish community in condemning the recent terrorist act to send explosives through cargo airlines to Jewish organizations in Chicago…
“We are thankful to our law enforcement agencies to uncover this plot before it could cause any harm,” said Dr. Zaher Sahloul, chairperson of the Council. “Illinois Muslims stand united with our Jewish partners and organizations in condemning this terrorist and heinous act. There is no place in Islam for terrorizing innocent people or spreading mayhem.”
Those who chronically ask why Muslim leaders are loath to condemn terrorism would do well to read the numerous such statements that were released last week by Islamic communities and organizations around the world.
Like many, I was surprised to learn that authorities eventually came to believe that the bombs were not actually meant to target synagogues, but were rather intended to explode in planes midair. Though the synagogue addresses on the packages understandably alarmed the Jewish community, it’s now becoming clear that this incident occurred within a much larger political context.
Harvard political scientist Stephen Walt rightly noted this point in a blog post:
Whatever the target may have been, the more obvious point is that these groups are still hoping to make Americans pay a price for our policies in the Middle East and elsewhere. They are angry about our close ties with Saudi Arabia, by the drone attacks the United States is conducting in Yemen and Pakistan, and by our unstinting support for Israel. And even though AQAP’s main target appears to be the Saudi regime, America’s unpopularity throughout the region makes attacking the United States a useful recruiting tool.
Salon’s Glenn Greenwald made a similar point in his inimitable style:
I’m sure that escalated military activity in Yemen along with roving bands of CIA hit squads will go a long way toward solving the problem of anti-American hatred in that country and the Muslim world generally. If only we kill more of them and bring more violence to their country, they’ll stop wanting to mail bombs to ours.
The bottom line for me: though we are justifiably concerned about anti-Semitism, we’d might at least be equally concerned over US policies and actions in the Middle East – and the ways they create a fertile breeding ground for these kinds of extremist ideas.
Still another thought:
Ironically enough, immediately before the news of this event broke, my wife and I had just watched the recent documentary “Defamation,” a film which vividly explores the ways anti-Semitism is experienced – and too often exploited – by Israel and the American Jewish community.
So yes, I’ll confess that following the incident among the many thoughts racing through my mind was the somewhat jaundiced conclusion: “Boy, will our community will make political hay out of this one…”
Sure enough, not long after we learned of the bomb plot, it was reported that several Jewish communal leaders in NYC lobbied elected officials to dramatically increase Homeland Security funding for Jewish institutions – and urged their constituents to do likewise.
I can’t help but agree with Mondoweiss’ take on the affair:
While these people may have been sincerely reacting to an immediate dramatic threat, there seems to be a bit of opportunism at play here. Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine, details instances like this where individuals, governments, and organizations take advantage of human-made or natural crisis to promote actions that will significantly advance their political, economic, and/or ideological plans.
A final semi-related thought:
The Jewish community would be foolish not to be vigilant about anti-Semitism – as well as the safety of our communal institutions. At the same time, however, I do believe our community must resist the temptation to view anti-Semitism as somehow unique or separate from other forms of prejudice.
When these kinds of troubling events occur, our community is too often tempted to circle the wagons and view the issue somehow as “us against the world.” Too often, we fail to see how anti-Jewish prejudice is inseparable from all forms of bigotry.
At the end of the day intolerance is intolerance. Whether we’re happy to admit it or not, we’re all in this together.