Date: Sun, Sep 5, 2010 at 8:22 AM
Subject: More on Mosque

The Ground Zero mosque - what US could learn from Israel


Life in our region has taught us that the first necessary step to
defending yourself is acknowledging that someone is out to destroy

In its basic form, the Ground Zero mosque debate boils down to a
conflict between two competing values – American freedom of religion
versus the sensitivities of the families of the victims of 9/11.

The freedom-of-religion argument suggests that if Jews sought to build
a synagogue at Ground Zero (or anywhere else, for that matter), they
would be within their rights. That’s the American way. The opposing
view suggests that while not every Catholic was guilty in the
Holocaust, and not every Muslim perpetrated the crimes of 9/11,
sensitivities still matter. Pope John Paul II had the decency to force
the Carmelite nuns out of Auschwitz, and Muslim leaders, too, ought to
relocate their project.

Similarly, the mutual accusations are parallel: If you are opposed to
the mosque, you are an Islamophobic racist. And if you’re in favor of
it, you’re simply insensitive to the pain of those who lost loved ones
in the attack.
But we Israelis have learned from our experience that matters are more
complicated. One need not be racist or Islamophobic to be concerned
about the mosque. For life in our region has taught us that the first
necessary step to defending yourself is acknowledging that someone
else is out to destroy you.

In the suburban, well-educated, politically and Jewishly liberal
America in which I grew up, we didn’t use the label “enemy.” “Enemy”
was a dirty word, because it implied the immutability of conflict.
Yes, there were people who fought us, but only because we hadn’t yet
arrived at a fair resolution of our conflict. We needed to understand
them, so we could then resolve the conflicts that divided us.

I still recall being jarred, when we made aliya, by the
matter-of-factness with which Israelis use the word “enemy.” But it
wasn’t a judgment or an accusation. It was simply a fact: There are
people out to destroy our state, who seek to kill us and our children.
And as the intifada later amply demonstrated, they did not yearn for
our understanding or our friendship. They wanted our demise.

YEARS AGO, we took our then teenage daughter to an evening sponsored
by the army, at which religious parents could ask questions about what
the army would be like for their daughters. Some of the parents were
downright hostile, clearly opposed to the prospect of their daughters
joining the IDF. At one point, an obviously angry father stood up,
turned to the base commander and asked (or more accurately hissed),
“Do you make the girls work on Shabbat?”

The room was perfectly silent, for everyone knew the answer. No one
moved. Even the base rabbi said nothing. He stood at the podium,
leaned into the mike and, lost in thought, played with his beard.

Suddenly, one of the three soldiers who’d been brought to address the
parents, a young woman with her uniform shirt buttoned up to her chin,
her sleeves extending to her wrists and her armyissued skirt down to
her ankles, looked the father right in the eye, and without being
called on, said to him, “Of course we work on Shabbat.” And then,
after a second’s pause, she added, “Gam ha’oyev oved beshabbat” – the
enemy also works on Shabbat.

It was a game changer. “What?” she essentially asked. “You think we do
this for fun? There are people out there trying to destroy us. Either
we’re as serious about this conflict as they are, or they’re going to

I hadn’t thought of that young woman in years, but ever since the
Cordoba Initiative controversy erupted, I’ve remembered her
repeatedly. For Israelis do have something to teach Americans, and
it’s very similar to what she said to that father. It goes something
like this: It’s fine to say that “America is not at war with Islam,”
to point out that most Muslims are not terrorists and that many
American Muslims are moderates. That’s true, as far as it goes.

But it only goes so far. Because America is at war and its enemies are
Muslims. Politically correct hairsplitting runs the risk of Americans
blinding themselves to that simple but critical fact. It makes no
difference what percentage of the world’s Muslims wants to destroy
America. There are enough of them that US air travel is now abominably
unpleasant and, more importantly, enough of them that more strikes on
America appear inevitable.

The US got lucky on Christmas Day when the bomber headed to Detroit
failed to detonate his explosives, and was lucky again in Times Square
in May, but less fortunate at Fort Hood. Yet those may be but the
beginning. We could, heaven forbid, come to see 9/11 as child’s play.

THE UNITED States’ future is under attack, but Americans resist
admitting it. PresidentBarack Obama has sent 30,000 additional troops
to Afghanistan, but he has also said that he intends to pull them out
by July. Can we imagine FDR declaring war on Germany, but then adding
that the war had to be over in a year, or in two? It would have been
laughable. And America would have lost. The US has to decide – is it
committed to destroying those who wish it ill, or is it willing to be
destroyed by them? Those, sadly, are its only two alternatives.

When my parents were teenagers, they watched as evil took hold of
Europe. But then they saw America turn itself into an unprecedented,
enormous military machine. For America’s leaders understood that if
the Nazis won, the world as we knew it would be over; we could either
destroy Nazism, or have no reason to go on.

But when my children were teenagers, a different evil took root across
their eastern horizon. This time, though, the world has feigned
impotence. Iran is at the nuclear threshold. Iraq was at best a
“non-failure.” The battle against the Taliban and al-Qaida may take
years, or decades, and may require many lives sacrificed if we are to
win. But America has grown war-weary. Obama is already planning to
bring the troops home; the word “terrorist” is increasingly off-limits
in the US because it is considered “politically loaded.”

Americans simply want the conflict to be over.

Its tendency to gentility is part of what has made America great. But
an unwillingness to call an “enemy” an enemy could lead to America’s
demise. For Islam’s radical leaders tell us clearly what they seek: a
world united under Islam, with America’s sacred freedoms eradicated as
a new “morality” replaces them. What is much less clear is whether
Americans are willing to fight – to die and to kill – to protect those

Whether or not the Ground Zero mosque ultimately gets built may not
matter nearly as much as whether or not Americans are willing to gird
themselves for the battles that sadly lie ahead. We Israelis
understand the fatigue that comes with war. We, like Americans, would
much prefer a world in which we did not have mortal enemies. We, like
Americans, would much prefer that our children went to college at 18,
and not to years of military service. But we’ve learned that anything
short of absolute clear-sightedness and honesty – coupled with
extraordinary sacrifice – could destroy us.

The same is true for America. The truly important question that the
“Islamophobia” accusation raises is not what will transpire with a
proposed building, but what will happen with a worldview. It still
remains to be seen if America will do what it must if it is to
guarantee the survival of the very values it is now debating. America
can remain the “land of the free,” but only if it is also the “home of
the brave.”

The writer is senior vice president of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem.
He is the author of Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War
that May Never End, which recently received a 2009 National Jewish
Book Award. He blogs at


Anonymous said...

I see. So when moderate American muslims wish to built a community center for swimming, basketball and arts and crafts, this is the same as Hamas wanting to destroy Israel.

Because America is at war and its enemies are Muslims.

Seems to me that there are plenty of homegrown christian terrorists right here, who want to hurt America and bring down the government. Should we outlaw the building of new YMCAs?

Can we imagine FDR declaring war on Germany, but then adding
that the war had to be over in a year, or in two?

American involvement in Afghanistan is nearing the decade mark, more than double the time we were engaged in WW2. That was a conventional war against a nation state. This is not. The better (though imperfect) analogy her is to Vietnam. Yes, had we so wanted, we could STILL be fighting there. But eventually we decided it wasn't worth it, and we stopped. The world didn't end.

Anonymous said...

Well, I was going to respond to this on several points, but the first poster nailed most of it.

One thing I will add:
Israel is 1) a JEWISH (i.e., a RELIGIOUS) state, and 2) at war with its neighboring states. The US, on the other hand, has 1) a constitution strictly FORBIDDING it from being a religious state and 2) is at peace with the rest of its continent.
Those facts tend to make most comparisons with Israel fairly irrelevant...which begs the question, why does the right keep trotting out such an irrelevant comparison?

Anonymous said...

Americans simply want the conflict to be over.

And that's why we absolutely must treat all Muslims as the enemy at all times. Wait, what?

Sorry, but Irael isn't the role model America needs when learning how to treat everyone fairly and respectfully.

Anonymous said...

to paraphrase the army major in vietnam, we had to destroy the constitution in order to save it.

Marc with a C said...

America has had a great many enemies, only some of whom are Muslim.

There are the Chinese, with whom we are locked in a deadly reciprocal embrace, the Russians, who increasingly seek to expand their influence globally, domestic terrorists of any number of political and cultural stripes (KKK, White Nationalist, Christian Identity, Posse Comitatus, racist Skinheads and the like), organized criminal organizations which seek to subvert our justice system and society, and a whole slew of others.

I, for one, do not feel like giving up my precious constitutional liberties and freedoms just because some Israeli says we should.

Taking advice on freedom and democracy from a country where a full third of the adult population is denied a vote is kind of like looking to Zimbabwe for advice on increasing your yearly maize harvest: not very smart.

M. Ray Crabbinson said...

My eyes! Could you make it any less legible?

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