Can America Battle the Islamic State Without Destroying Itself?

As both Jew-hatred and Islamic State gain traction, Jewish leaders - rightly concerned by terror - would be well-served to fight Islamophobia as the common foe that it is.

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
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Department of Homeland Security police officers stand watch outside the Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston, Mass., Wednesday, May 1, 2013.
Department of Homeland Security police officers stand watch outside the Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston, Mass., Wednesday, May 1, 2013. Credit: AP
Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

Is it possible to wage a war on terror groups without, in some sense, doing their bidding?

Thirteen years after George W. Bush first declared a 9/11-spurred war on terror, two months after Barack Obama announced that he had ordered the use of military force against ISIL, the answer may be no.

If, as Osama Bin Laden and others have suggested, the overarching strategy of Al-Qaida and its offshoots was to weaken America domestically and internationally by drawing U.S. armed forces into protracted wars of attrition in Muslim countries, it appears that nearly every response yet devised, plays into the hands of those whose goal is to see the United States ultimately destroyed.

Years of war, hugely costly in both human and material terms, have gutted America's options of response to military threats.

What we are accustomed to calling the American way of life, a sense of personal freedom which has long been synonymous with an ideal of unhindered mobility, confidence in a right to privacy, and a commitment to due process, has been undone by the pre-flight humiliations of Homeland Security, the eavesdropping omnipresence of the NSA, and the judicial trap-doors of the Patriot Act.

The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001, coupled with such subsequent outrages as the beheadings of journalists and aid workers by the Islamic State, have effectively ruled out the option of doing nothing.

But all modes and tools of response to terrorism have to be evaluated against the possibility that they may be doing more harm than good.

Reporting from the central Ohio town of Dublin, Ohio at the weekend, The New York Times' Eric Schmitt noted that when Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson visited a local Islamic cultural center "to offer a sympathetic ear and federal assistance" in an effort to keep youths from becoming attracted to Islamic State appeals to join its fighters, Muslim leaders and advocates bore a range of grievances.

It is a list which Israelis will find disturbingly familiar:

"They complained of humiliating border inspections by brusque federal agents, FBI sting operations that wrongly targeted Mislim citizens as terrorists, and a foreign policy that leaves Bashar al-Assad of Syria in place as a magnet for extremists," Schmitt wrote.

"Our relationship has to be built on trust, but the U.S. government hasn't given us many reasons to build up that trust," the Times quoted Omar Saqr, 25, the cultural center's youth coordinator, as saying.

Homeland Security and other U.S. agencies tasked with heading off terrorism have studied Israeli techniques on a tactical level. But they could learn much, as well, from what official Israel has increasingly failed at: Combating the spread of Islamophobia. In fact, in many cases, senior officials have taken pains to exacerbate the problem.

Last week, in one example among many, a step in favor of co-existence was abruptly soured by the response of an Israeli cabinet minister.

Israeli Arabs and Jews had made strenuous grass-roots efforts to lessen frictions ahead of a rare convergence Friday and Saturday of the somber Yom Kippur fast and the joyous, at times raucous Muslim festival of Id al-Adha.

In a move that contributed much to the eventual atmosphere of tolerance and mutual respect that held sway over the holiday weekend, Israel's High Court of Justice, taking a precedent-setting decision, gave a green-light Thursday to an Arabic-language radio station to broadcast on Yom Kippur.

The court quashed a ban that would have silenced the station during the first whole day of the Muslim festival. Arabs welcomed the move, and in mixed towns across Israel, were careful to postpone fireworks and other expressions of the Muslim observance until the day after Yom Kippur.

Communications Minister Gilad Erdan might have left well enough alone. But in a statement to Army Radio Sunday, he said "I very much regret the High Court's decision, which does harm to the sensitivities of many citizens of Israel, and to tolerance and mutual respect.

"The decision also harms the Jewish character of the state, and indeed, on the holiest day of the year to the Jewish people."

A rise in Islamophobia has been of increasing concern in the United States, as images of Islamic State beheadings held millions in horror.

On a Friday HBO television talk show, host Bill Maher sparked the anger of guest Ben Affleck by describing Islam as “the only religion that acts like the mafia” and which would “f---ing kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture or write the wrong book."

Also widely circulated – by both supporters and opponents - was the text of a Rosh Hashana sermon by Atlanta Rabbi Shalom Lewis, which leftist journalist Adam Horowitz described as being so anti-Islam that "it can only be understood as a call to genocide."

At a time when both anti-Semitism and the Islamic State are gaining traction, Jewish leaders are rightly concerned over terrorism. These same leaders would be well-served to fight just as strongly against Islamophobia, as the common enemy that it is.

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