Atlas Shrugged

There is something a little pathetic about the human tendency always to "look on the brighter side of things" and hope for a "turn for the better" even after the most colossal, most devastating defeats.

There is something a little pathetic about the human tendency always to "look on the brighter side of things" and hope for a "turn for the better" even after the most colossal, most devastating defeats. This tendency is especially blatant in this country, which invented the phrase "We will emerge from this that much stronger." Barely an hour after any calamity, you can see a certain kind of thought process beginning to operate. According to this process, catastrophes are perceived as sources of encouragement and strength. Here in Israel, smiles and laughter invariably accompany visits to wounded citizens and condolence calls by VIPs - After all, "We will emerge from this that much stronger" and "The necessary conclusions will be drawn." Perhaps it might even be appropriate to say the traditional Jewish prayer of thanksgiving (Hagomel) recited after someone has emerged from a precarious situation, because it is obvious that "It is truly a miracle" that the calamity was not far worse.

Something of this tendency can even be glimpsed in the reaction of Israelis to Tuesday's series of terror attacks in the United States. There were some whose immediate reaction was to conclude that from now on the rules of the game would be "in our favor"; that the rage of the wounded American Eagle would herald a general reawakening of forces in the war against terror; that what everyone is seeing now is not only the beginning of the end of terrorism in general, and Muslim terrorism in particular, but also a serious setback for Palestinian interests and thus a dramatic reduction in the threats faced by Israel. From now on "we will enjoy greater maneuverability in taking care of terrorism." It was only due to an extraordinary display of tact that no one came out with the statement that what happened this week in America "is good for the Jews."

However, as has happened many times before, it might turn out that this view of the situation is the kind of consolation entertained only by fools. Reality has proven that in most disasters the most banal of processes occur: Defeat is defeat is defeat, and, generally speaking, those who have been attacked emerge that much weaker, those who launched the attack emerge that much stronger, and the last word conveyed by the event is "Force always triumphs and violence always pays off."

Innumerable examples could be cited to prove this point. Just consider, for instance, what happened to Israel in the wake of the Yom Kippur War of 1973; what happened to Israel in the wake of the first intifada; what is happening to it in the course of the second intifada; what has happened to Israel in the wake of wave upon wave of Palestinian terrorism; and, in fact, what happens to Israel whenever violence is directed against it. Not only is Israeli blood shed, not only is Israel forced to make compromises or withdrawals, not only are growth and morale undermined, but Israel becomes more and more isolated in the world and even more hateful in the eyes of its neighbors. Another example of this point is the Rabin assassination. Where are the hopes of those who tried to console Israel immediately following that tragic event with the thought that the peace process "would emerge that much stronger" despite and because of the murder of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin? In point of fact, the assassination also murdered the entire process that Rabin had spearheaded. That process simply collapsed and plunged into oblivion, while all those ideas that Yigal Amir, the prime minister's assassin, symbolized triumphed.

In brief, although this might sound completely banal, it is better not to be a victim. Being a victim never pays, never brings in any dividends. And please, don't try this at home!

Those who have been weakened never emerge "that much stronger." Therefore, Israel should not delude itself into thinking that the bleeding wound in America's soft underbelly will necessarily "strengthen" all those ideas and ideals that the world's only superpower represents: The sense of personal freedom and security; the right of "the pursuit of happiness"; the total self-confidence that the Big Apple once symbolized; and the invigorating freedom of spirit that is so characteristic of Western, Judeo-Christian civilization. The terrorist attack on New York City is a severe, debilitating blow from which one can derive very, very little comfort. Certainly, Israel, which is just as much a target as America, can derive very, very little comfort from this attack.

First of all, as Israel's experience in the Middle East region has demonstrated, terrorism is a contagious disease that shatters every taboo and prompts perpetual innovation. Every bloody spectacle of death and destruction only provides inspiration and only sets a precedent, establishing a new standard for the liberation of all the moral inhibitions and fantasies of terrorists and their insane ilk.

Second, violence in today's world pays off because of the existence of the Patty Hearst syndrome (named after the daughter of affluent parents who "understood" and subsequently joined her own abductors). This is the sort of mentality that belongs in the "politically correct" category and which is now raising its ugly head, even in the wake of this example of absolute terrorism, as it tries to find some justification, some explanation, even some understanding for the most hideous mass murderers and as it tries, in a strange sort of symmetry, to immediately seek out in what ways the victim is to blame for the act. The crueler and more ruthless the murder, the more it indicates the extent of the distress suffered by the murderer and by the murderer's people and culture, and the more it thereby indicates the extent of the victim's share in the blame for the murder. Thus, the victim is not only murdered, but is expected to do a considerable amount of soul-searching.

Two days after the terrorist attack in New York City, newscasters on television networks around the world could be seen nodding their heads in understanding when Palestinian spokespersons once more presented them with the familiar symmetry of "American policy" and the "suffering inflicted by the Israeli occupation" as a counterbalance and as a reasonable, thoroughly logical explanation for the happiness, joy and dancing of Palestinians in response to the death of tens of thousands of innocent New Yorkers - and even as a justification for a genocidal policy toward the State of Israel. This kind of symmetry is also demonstrated in Israel when a suicide-bomber terrorist-murderer who has killed or wounded dozens of innocent Israelis generates an entire day of discussions (accompanied by self-recriminations) on the sad state of the sewage system in the suicide-bomber's village. In other words, murder - especially mass murder - has become accepted as a legitimate argument that can be used by the "weak." Suffering, "the humiliation of the Israeli roadblocks," the profound hatred, the degradation and their feelings of inferiority provide them with a license to kill.

But who are the "weak" really? When terrorism's dimensions become monstrous and totally indiscriminate, the "privilege of suffering distress" is shifted to the victims of terror, namely, to the civilization that is threatened and attacked primarily because of its creativity, its diligence, its successes, its rationality and its concept of human life as sacred. This civilization also has limits to the suffering it is prepared to undergo; however, since it lacks the profound hatred felt by its victimizers, it is by no means certain that the civilization currently under attack will rouse itself sufficiently to launch a sort of "revolt of the defeated," a kind of counter-intifada whose participants are fed up with being murdered on a daily basis (as if their murder has become part of some grotesque routine), while being expected, at the same time, to show empathy for the motives of their murderers, to be creative in seeking ways toward reconciliation and to feel guilt for just staying alive.